I could take him, I decide. Just have to stay on my feet. Then I wonder & why am I thinking about "taking" anyone? And boom, I am pile-driven by the chilling realization: Pro wrestling has, to some extent, claimed me.
It didn't take very long, either. This is, after all, only intermission of "Anarchy at Piper's Pit1" a 20-wrestler extravaganza staged at hallowed MacArthur Court, home to the UO basketball teams -- but not tonight. Tonight, May 11, Mac Court is housing a whole mess of rasslin.' And when I'm done out here I'm going to have to go back in there. The graveyard is right across the street from the Main Event.
What must be made clear from the very start, what must be emphasized and highlighted and hammered home, is this: Pro wrestling is dumb. Really dumb. But that's not all it is -- no, this maelstrom is too complex, too multi-faceted, for one adjective to encompass. Which is why I'd rather stay in the graveyard. Because it's fine and dandy to run rampant through the Heathen Temple and mock everything they stand for (it's downright fun, truth be known) but it's quite another to realize the heathens are fundamentally just like you, their unsettling enthusiasm manifested not by some sort of prenatal hardwiring or extra chromosome, but rather extended exposure to a blatantly American spectacle. "There but for the grace of God" and all that. We have met the slack-jawed yokel, and he is us...
Sweet Jesus! I zip up, turning around, and stare across the street, knowing what awaits me inside. Some of it, anyway. There's Li'l Nasty Boy2, billed as The World's Strongest Midget -- a moniker which, on my scorecard, gives me license to pepper the word "midget" throughout this article with no hint of remorse. The man claims to bench press 375 pounds and squat 600. He was on Jerry Springer a couple of years ago, constituting one-third of a heated midget3 love triangle. Li'l Nasty upended an entire wedding cake directly onto his lover's fiancée.
There's Carlton Turner, from Portland, who made the drive "to see Hacksaw Jim Duggan kick the shit out of that Canadian." Turner is a dyed-in-the-unitard wrestling fan, true-blue, and very intense. He yells advice to the wrestlers from his seat, which is two tiers up from ringside. His tips are given indiscriminately -- both competitors tend to get about the same amount of coaching. When they don't do what he says, which happens quite a bit, Carlton Turner comes unglued. "Table him6, dumbfuck!" shouts Carlton. "You worthless -- table him! Table! Table! Table him!" And so on.
Not that Morgan Peterson would agree with all that. Before the action starts, she's hanging out in the bowels of Mac Court, wearing a black two-piece outfit, looking decidedly bored. A cheap-looking navel ring glints metallic pink against her pasty stomach. When I ask if her job ever gets boring, she says, "It doesn't get boring, but it can get stressful sometimes."
"Ohhh..." she says, exhaling slowly. I watch the wheels spin as she searches for the most diplomatic way to handle the question. "Just hanging out with the guys all the time, being one of the few... " and she trails off. I nod like I know exactly what she's talking about, an arrogant lie on several levels. "Do you have to deal with that constantly?" I ask her, not entirely sure what my "that" represents, but assuming the worst.
"Mmm-hmm," says Peterson breezily, casual to the point of apathy. It's obvious she's made her peace with many aspects of the pro wrestling world. "Why do you put up with it?" I ask.
"I have since I was little ... I'm immune to it now," she says, and I am ambushed by a stomach-knotting sense of associative guilt, coupled with the stickiness of stumbling into a deep Badness pocket that I wasn't expecting to deal with on this goofy little jaunt. Staring down at my notebook, refusing to look back up until my stomach re-centers, I wonder when, exactly, she became immune.
There's "The All-American8" Josh Wilcox, who spent the past year or so playing in the now-defunct XFL, a football league with heavy ties to the pro wrestling industry. He started for the XFL champion Los Angeles Sparx, and scored their first touchdown in the very last game.
"You play for my favorite team!" says one adoring fan, who looks about 9, as Wilcox gives him an autograph.
"You'll have to find a new team now," he says, but this doesn't sound callous or bitter -- just sensible. The All-American seems to be at peace with the world, although the XFL folded less than 48 hours ago. It's illustrative of the hyper-hyped, alternate-universe aura enveloping Mac Court that the very placid Wilcox is slated to out-brawl 14 different wrestlers in the Grand Finale.9
People put their dreams too high & dreams
are nice, but reality sucks.
Shortly before intermission, my bladder tingling, I realize I am witnessing homoerotica on a massive scale. You betcha. Very few, if any, of the men who attended "Anarchy at Piper's Pit" will agree with me on this, but they are blind and wrong. After witnessing Dan Sevren, who will BEAT YOUR ASS, take on Springfield bouncer Mike Stam10, I am confident of this claim. Half-naked, greased-up men grunting and grappling for dominance, contorting each other into all sorts of highly suggestive positions in a quest for victory, make me think of Freud and guys who flex in front of locker room mirrors.
The Sevren-Stam match is notable only because it sparked this recognition. All the events are equally homoerotic, with the exception of one woman-vs.-man matchup, and heavy emphasis is placed on acts of violence to the testicles11, which never fail to draw a guffawing roar from the crowd. This scrotocentric approach is established early on, and culminates in Li'l Nasty Boy's attempt to crotch-chop Miss Pittsburgh from behind (and under) during the Battle Royale -- an attempt rendered comical when she turns around menacingly and Li'l Nasty realizes, to his dramatically conveyed chagrin, that women don't have testicles. This brought the house down.
When I speak of favorite moments, I am not being flip, or employing the relative (i.e., I dislike all 16th-century explorers, but I dislike Pizarro the least, so he's my favorite13). There are many occasions that yield a base, unmitigated sort of pleasure, rather than a kitsch appreciation/ironic detachment sort of joy14, which I experienced in spades. Put another way: sometimes I had the sort of fun that pro wrestling fans have. This grates on my nerves and begs for the "delete" key, but there it is.
To wit: Sabu's tabling of "Tornado" Tony Kozina. Sabu is a wrestler -- my new favorite wrestler -- although I accidentally referred to him as "Ragu" during my Carlton Turner interview, further hindering my efforts to talk shop with The Ultimate Fan.
"Holy shit!" I yell, enamored with the acrobatics, any trace of ironic detachment going the way of the table. Fans pound me on the back, grinning and nodding. Mac Court is roaring. People begin chanting, not for the first time, "Ho-ly shit! Ho-ly shit!"
Yes, that's right: Sabu broke a folding table with his ass. I went up to investigate the damage right after it occurred, and it looked legitimate to me. The particle board was jagged and messy-looking, not the sort of clean break you'd expect to see if the table had already been sawed partway. Kozina's head was about two-thirds up the table, and the break occurred just above that.
Less than an hour earlier, Tony Kozina had been telling me about his technique for being the beatee. "Relaxation," he said. "Go limp. Like the drunk driver who walks away from the scene of a bad crash." Kozina was another wrestler I enjoyed talking to; he looks mild and generally unassuming, aside from his long hair, bare chest, and two-tone tights. He has a "Tornado" video, which is sold alongside the T-shirts -- "anywhere from zero to five" per match.16
T-shirt sales were much more brisk, with the most popular designs mentioning Rowdy Roddy Piper. One shirt, white with a red collar and red sleeves, says FRATS! on the front, and has a bunch of names listed on the back. When I ask Art Barr, who is helping sell shirts, he tells me it's a "tribute" shirt. "'Frats' kind of means that they're all brothers, even though they're not around anymore," he tells me.
"Yeah," he says.
Other attire includes a black T-shirt that says "REALITY" followed by a check mark, another black one that says "I.C.O.N." but stands for nothing -- it's an empty acronym, which took me forever to find out -- and light gray "ARMY" T-shirts with the eagle symbol (found on $1 bills) emblazoned in green. These are real Army T-shirts, as in U.S. Army, and are not for sale. Rather, they are given away by three Army recruiters who have come to the match and set up camp right next to the souvenir people.
"What would I have to do to get one of those shirts?" I ask Sgt. First Class Eisley.
"Ask me," he says, handing me one. This happened very early in the evening, and because I was already sweating like & well, like a wrestler, I wore the ARMY shirt for most of my Total Coverage, a decision that drew strange looks from more than one interviewee.
"HELL comes to HIPPIETOWN!"
In the interest of making this article Be All That It Can Be, rather than some chopped-up narrative that flew too high and ran too long, I am going to present every remaining item on my list of Things That Must Be Mentioned in bullet format, to preserve some room for the Big Finish.
-- Referee Mark Watson, who always manages to be looking the other way when underhanded maneuvers occur in the ring. This is a time-honored pro wrestling referee tradition, and Watson pulls it off convincingly. So convincingly, in fact, that many fans scream for his blood at times. They also cheer and laugh when a wrestler backhands him after losing a match. "I love it," he says. "It's a rush, and I guess I like the limelight." Watson has done this about 1,500 times, by his count.
-- At one point there is a moment of silence and a "10-bell salute" for "the passing of Johnny Valentine." It is the ultimate mix of sobering ritual and through-the-looking-glass hilarity -- I bite my lip to keep from laughing, although I feel like a lousy person for getting this urge, because some of the fans surrounding me have their heads bowed.
-- Hacksaw Jim Duggan17 enters the ring to Brahms' "Requiem for the Dead," which cuts midway into a college football fight song. He sports a huge American flag and gets the crowd chanting, "USA! USA!" He also has man-breasts.
-- Mountain Dew was "very popular," according to Robyn Hamilton, who helped run the concession stand.
-- Attendance was figured at roughly 2,600, although Jeff Kafoury, the promoter who wasn't Rowdy Roddy Piper, wouldn't tell me the gross receipts. The ringside section sold out in less than two days, though, at $20 a ticket. First tier was $15 and second tier was $10. Kafoury said the crowd seemed a little smaller than what he was expecting.
-- During the Battle Royale, Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig spent a (very) good minute clubbing other wrestlers with Li'l Nasty Boy.
-- Cheers/heckles/chants heard from the crowd: "Come on, you leather-skinned bitch!" "Top rope, man, top rope! Stop fuckin' around!" "Borrr-ing!" "Kick 'im in the balls!" "Get in the ring, muh-ther fuck-er!18" "Ohhh! Ohhh! You just got rocked! Rocked!" Middle fingers also abound.
-- The top rope is blue, the middle yellow, bottom red. No one I ask knows why.
-- At the very end of the night, I accidentally stumble into the locker room, where most of the wrestlers are showering. I see one huge, white ass, then backtrack as quickly as possible. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
-- Morgan Peterson, who is "immune" to the man's world that is pro wrestling, told me early in the evening that "this is the deciding show. If I get noticed, I'll be happy... if not, I'll just do something else." When I find her after the last match, hoping to get a verdict, she is wearing sweats over her costume, staring at a wall below the court. She looks very tired. "No comment," she tells me.
The latter two conspire in one corner of the ring while Wilcox catches his breath. It doesn't look good for the All-American. They commence abusing him, and the crowd begins to get ugly, set off by the unfairness of it all. But Wilcox manages to throw the crafty Cuban from the ring with an impressive, judo-style maneuver. Then he and Perfect, the original matchup, grapple for a few minutes. They go back and forth, Good vs. Evil, etc., then Hennig throws Wilcox near the money-pole.
"Big mistake, Hennig!" someone shouts, and indeed it is, because Wilcox scurries to the top rope and grabs the cash, drawing a triumphant scream from the crowd. Perfect is distraught, seizing the money-bag from the hometown hero, which prompts Rowdy Roddy Piper himself to enter the ring.
This is the loudest the crowd gets all night, and it is loud. They love Rowdy Roddy. He gives Perfect the chance to do the right thing, then tries to take the sack from him. When Perfect resists, Rowdy hands out a frantic, six-second beat-down, even though he's wearing a suit. Perfect tumbles from the ring, utterly defeated, and Rowdy hands Wilcox the dough, thrusting the winner's hand in the air, both of them beaming. Approval is roared. Justice has been served.
Yes... I have been enriched. I have danced with the other2, linked by the sweaty, shouty environs of Mac Court and my personal, previously overlooked receptiveness for staged violence. The eagle knows, as does the Almighty Dollar -- which, of course, also says "E Pluribus" and without which none of this would have occurred. The opportunity for profit and constant over-the-topness of tonight's pro wrestling make it a Profoundly American Spectacle, and the fact that The All-American Josh Wilcox is 5,000 E Pluribuses richer makes my spirit soar.
I am not ashamed. Rather, I am humbled, and educated, and invigorated. My ears ring and my feet hurt. From this night forward I have a clearer, more complete grasp of humanity, both my own and others' -- although a certain amount of blissful ignorance has been tabled by this education.
Hell came to Hippietown, and I was tempered in its unforgiving crucible. What doesn't kill us, after all, only makes us appreciate pro wrestling.
2) A lot of the wrestlers wouldn't give me their real names. To be absolutely candid, I didn't try all that hard to pry. If more people know you as Li'l Nasty Boy than as the name you sign on your tax return, your name is Li'l Nasty Boy, at least in the eyes of this reporter. He would back me up on this, I am confident. (BACK)
3) Midget midget midget. (BACK)
4) L.N.B. was the very first wrestler I interviewed and probably the coolest. He has a bleached-blond rat/ponytail that is a different color and texture than the rest of his hair, which is dark and close-cropped. He almost goes up to my sternum and weighs exactly 12 pounds less than I do. We talked outside Mac Court, where it was sunny and beautiful, and when two lithe, giggly college girls walked toward us he said, "damn!" Then he said it again to make sure he had their attention, so he could tell them "I luuuv the nice weather." They had zero idea of how to handle this particular situation 4 Nasty blindsided them like a pro. A born performer. (BACK)
5) Sevren looks like a cop from some Whiteaker-neighborhood anarchist's very worst nightmare. He's beefy, with a black mustache, and has no problem with extended eye contact. More fans mobbed Sevren than any other wrestler I saw; almost all of them were gushing. The record will also show that Sevren was an extremely cordial fellow, to the point of deference 4 even when some smarmy little hippie from EW asked him "just how many asses (he's) kicked over the years" 4 and also the only wrestler I saw who bothered to warm up with some stretching exercises, which seemed significant for some reason. (BACK)
6) I didn't know what this meant, either. And Carlton Turner was occupied, utterly immersed in an apoplectic sort of rage. No reasonable person would have interrupted this man to ask him what, exactly, he was turning blue over& but ultimately, Turner's wrestler won with the table move. Which will be described, in detail, later on down the line. In my opinion, it was the most impressive moment in the ring all night, and deserving of a larger font. (BACK)
7) Specifically, adolescent and college-aged males, who by my rough estimate constituted about one-third of the crowd. (BACK)
8) Not empty wrestling hype. Wilcox really was an All-American tight end, twice, for the UO football team. He graduated in 1996, and a lot of the fans at Mac Court view him as a hometown hero. The media hover around him constantly, smelling the "local angle," and current UO football players line up to bark at him and punch his arm and otherwise pay tribute. He enters the ring to the UO fight song. (BACK)
9) A freewheeling Battle Royale (although everyone 4 fans, promoters,
wrestlers 4 chooses to pronounce it "Battle Royal") that starts off with
Wilcox and Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig, a grizzled, leather-skinned veteran
of the pro wrestling circuit and OSU alumnus. Other wrestlers scurry into the ring
at two-minute intervals. There's a pole attached to one corner of the ring, with
a white "money sack" at the top, about six feet above the top rope. This
represents a $5,000 windfall for the wrestler who grabs it. But I'm getting ahead
of myself. (BACK)
11) I personally witnessed the following acts of testicular violence: kicks, stomps, head-butts, dog-chain-abrubtly-lifted-between-legs (which occurred in the "Dog Collar Match," wherein two wrestlers are linked by a six- to eight-foot chain attached to a pair of collars), top-rope trauma (both opponent-caused and "accidental"), and palm-strikes. But I wasn't watching the ring all the time, so a fuller spectrum could probably be provided by someone who sat through all eight matches. (BACK)
12) I just realized that profanity flies thick and fast up to this point in the article, and will probably continue to do so. Whether this is due to the often profane nature of the spectacle I witnessed, or my own incapability to fully convey the experience through any other verbiage, rest assured that many other phrases were tested before (and after) this particular epithet was settled upon, and "sorry bastard" was the only one that would do. The commingling of condescension/marginalization and incendiary, momma-related insult most closely represents the sort of posturing that was submitted for the benefit of a future TV audience. (BACK)
13) A truly ham-handed example, but you know what I mean. Or
you don't. (BACK)
15) See "homerotica" graphs above. (BACK)
16) No "Tornado" videos were sold in Eugene that night, according to those working the souvenir table. (BACK)
17) Does indeed "kick the shit" out of The Masked Canadian, earning him lots of cheers and presumably sending Carlton Turner home happy, or at least satisfied. (BACK)
18) Some 4 but just some 4 of the fans were visibly drunk and didn't mind admitting it. This particular heckle came from a college-aged girl who was leaning on her (equally sloshed) friend for support and slurring all her words, except those six, which she kept repeating with perfect enunciation, taking a little extra time between each syllable to get it right. While profanity abounded outside the ring, it seems only fair to say nothing of the sort occurred in the ring. Every wrestler seemed to understand the suits' desire to market them as a family-oriented show, and stuck strictly to unfettered violence. (BACK)