A woman from Glendale was throwing teacups against a brick wall on a recent Wednesday afternoon. As each cup shattered, she raised a clenched fist in the air.
“This one is my last boyfriend,” the woman said as she slammed a pitted baseball bat into the black plastic answering machine at her feet. The device shattered into several pieces, and she chased after each fragment with the bat, chanting the ex-boyfriend’s name. “Mark.” Slam. “Mark.” Slam slam slam. “Mark!”
In the next room, her young son lined up a row of empty beer bottles and, with a golf putter, sent them crashing into a corner. “Cool,” he muttered calmly after each bottle blew apart.
Seated at a lobby desk near these tiny explosions of glass and plastic, Steve Wilk smiled. “This is a safe place to lose control,” said the owner of Tempe’s Simply Smashing Rage Room, where people come to throw glass objects against walls and beat the crap out of old adding machines. “What we sell here is recreational, but it’s also therapeutic.”
Visitors are offered a neck-to-toe coverall, gardening gloves, a welder’s mask, and a shopping basket of breakables. “Other items are a la carte,” Wilk explained to a 50-something woman who said she was mad about various things in life that hadn’t gone her way. “In the room, there’s a chalkboard where you can write down things you’re angry about, then throw stuff at it. Or write a name or a resentment on a plate and smash it.”
Rage rooms are a thing. In Manhattan, there’s the Wrecking Club; in LA it’s The Anger Room; near Atlanta, you can smash stuff at the Break Room. Wilk opened Simply Smashing last November. At the venue’s first anniversary party, guests were given free tickets to the new Mark Wahlberg movie. There were refreshments and a raffle; the winner got to demolish a huge TV.
Simply Smashing was inspired, Wilk said, by a scene in The Blues Brothers movie in which John Belushi rammed his car through a shopping mall. When Wilk heard about a rage room opening in Canada, he knew it was time. “We get whole families coming in,” Wilk said. “A lot of students. Our youngest customer was 8 and our oldest was 72. Therapists and life coaches bring clients with anger issues. And we’re doing an awful lot of corporate teams. Yelp sent ten teams in so far. Fed Ex is coming in later today. This is the second group they’ve sent over.”
A middle-aged antiques dealer said he comes in regularly to smash dishes from the 1980s. “I hate ugly stoneware,” he explained. “I throw it against the wall and I yell the whole time. ‘Why do these saucers have decals of geese on them?’ It feels amazing.”
A corporate executive who’d driven in from Paradise Valley arrived with a list of grievances: the kid who’d rear-ended her daughter’s car, then driven off; the asshole in the ridiculous bike uniform who yelled at her for parking on his lawn; crazy people she had to deal with at work.
“People leave here with big smiles on their faces,” Wilk promised her. “Real calm.”
He’s had only one unhappy customer. “She said she’d only had an okay time,” he recalled. When Wilk asked why, the customer shrugged. “Those bottles were too hard to break,” she’d told him.
Most of Wilk’s breakables come from auction houses and public surplus places with broken printers and fax machines and old-style TVs to unload. Dishes come from the Salvation Army, and empty glass bottles are everywhere, he said.
Wilk’s liability insurance is high, but not outrageous. “We’ve maybe handed out a dozen Band-Aids,” he said. “We’ve had one injury in a year. A woman with cheap shoes stepped on a wine glass. The paramedics came. But then she was back three days later, and bought a membership. People love this place.”
Sixty percent of his customers come to destroy objects “just for the fun of it,” Wilk said. “The other 40 percent have something going on, something simple like a tough week at work or something big like they were just diagnosed with Stage Four cancer.”
More than half are female. “Women have as much anger as men, maybe more,” said Wilk, who previously worked selling mail-order prescriptions. “But they don’t have as many outlets to express it. They’re taught it’s not okay to be angry.”
There should be a rage room in every city, Wilk thought. “People tell me I’m doing God’s work,” he said, handing over a box of breakables to a pair of college students. “It’s really humbling, and it’s incredibly rewarding.”
“We have a saying around here,” he told the pair as they stepped into coveralls. “Most places if you break it, you buy it. Here, you do both.”