Monday, September 11, 2006

Clash of the Titans (or why local wrestling is so good)

It was the typical Friday night after work inertia. Once I get settled in and get comfy on the ubiquitous couch, it’s hard to get out on Friday night. Couch and TV time are the Great American Narcotic, the opiate (the curse?) of the working classes. Isn’t this the reward for our laboring in the fields? You know, rest from ye labours and all that? Even when you promise people, this inertia is so strong that it makes you break promises and suffer the social repercussions.

(DFZ gettin' into mean mode.)

Despite my efforts to stay home and to convince my wife of the same (who didn’t want to go either), she was busy getting herself ready to go out. I resigned myself and caught a quick nap on the couch while she got ready. Soon, we were heading west towards WV State University to spend an evening not at the opera, the symphony, the Vandalia or even a party, but to watch the LOCAL WRESTLING. What?

Let me say something right here: while some of you culture vultures cringe at the mere thought of watching grown men pummel each other, consider what it is that I preach every week on my music show-diversity. Last night, this old guy privately ate a bit of crow realizing that I live in such a precious, snobbish culture bubble that my own credo of diversity doesn’t seem to apply but to a rarified and preordained selection of social and musical activities. Go to an art gallery? Sure. Check out a French film? Come on in. Watch wrestling? How gauche! What’s funny is that I saw a few colleagues at this event, but I told one of them that his “secret” was safe with me. He knew immediately what I was making light of.

(Yes, this is a college professor AKA Professor Danger)

It was the “September to Dismember” AWA APEX Wrestle-O-Rama Hell Fire Tag Team Wang Doodle Fest and we knew the headliners. In fact, the Falcon (DFZ) is a friend and we were there at his invitation. Held in the Davis Fine Arts Center (Irony, anyone?), this event can best be described as a surreal spectacle.

We met our friend there and grabbed some seats. The spectacle was well underway when we arrived and we came in at the end of a match where a “controversy” was erupting. Complete with a high blood pressure, over-the-top MC trying to work the crowd up, the “play” was already in full swing.

All men being merely players, the wrestlers taunted and threatened each other until push came to shove. Faux fights broke out and then stopped. All the while, the crowd was mixed in reaction. No feeding frenzy here. The audience was promised that the winners would be determined later and that a public announcement would appear on the website. Ok, let’s move on. This shtick ain’t working.

(Mr. Black enjoying himself.)

At first, it took some time to adjust to this event, but far sooner than I would have ever predicted, I was really enjoying myself. I won’t lie: we laughed sometimes so hard and so long that my ribs hurt. It is both ridiculous and serious. Ridiculous because there is no suspension of disbelief and yet you know that some of this stuff is crazy dangerous and really painful. Then there is the cringe, hoping that the athlete is not seriously injured or knowing that someone is sure going to be sore the next morning.

The house lights dimmed and Act Two began. The cast changed to Beautiful Bobby and his tag team member Loverboy Dennis. I am not lying. Dressed in blue tights with their names displayed upon their hind quarters, these guys looked like seasoned veterans whose seasoning was an 18th century recipe. Old Denny in particular was looking a little bit too long in the tooth as we turned to each other and said, “How old is this dude?” “Hey Den, the home just called and curfew is at ten.” Beautiful Bobby, if he ever was such a creature, long passed that exit many mile markers ago. Their opponents were bleach blond dude and a kid that didn’t look old enough to drive and way too small to be in the ring with Bob and Den. But, on with the show!

Bleach blond fell out of the ring a few times, the young kid got whipped into the ropes which was countered by Loverboy Dennis getting his arm occasionally twisted behind him. Several times Denny exclaimed to the ref (Another young kid. Don’t they ID these kids before they make them officials?), “Hey ref! He was grabbing my hair! He was grabbing my hair!” I appreciate his point of view as the poor man wanted to keep what little remained. Beautiful Bobby stood mainly outside the ring, waiting to be tagged. Curiouser and curiouser methinks. Den and Bobby are declared winners.

Act Three is a bout between two guys who seem intent on seeing who can slap each other’s chest the hardest. These guys are great athletes, but the pacing was a bit slow.

All the while, the crowd was a strangely silent at times. This crowd was not the most enthusiastic and an eerie silence would prevail; broken by the occasional individual outburst. This was not a gathering of crazed male rednecks, but a balanced mix of families. Odd, it was like they were watching TV, talking among themselves, with only collective applause or booing. Civilized? Perhaps. Surreal? For sure, good readers, for sure.

Finally onto the Main Event! Death Falcon Zero and his compadre Professor Danger (known as the Grapes of Wrath) to tag team the Scufflin’ Hillbilly and Mr. Black for the title of Hardcore Champeens of the World (I have no clue.). Professor Danger enters looking like he should be behind the accounting books and certainly NOT in the ring. “How much does he weigh? What the heck is he doing up there? Man, I’m taller than he is.” These are our comments. He is a villain, someone to be hated and scorned by the crowd. Some folks are into this. He points a finger to his head, symbolizing his “infinite mind”-brains over brawn I suppose. The obvious: why would a smart guy get in the ring? A question he has no doubt pondered more than once.

Behind him, comes our friend, DFZ, the only wrestler tonight who wears a mask. He told us to boo when he came out as he is also a villain, an evil guy. We cash those chips instantly and can’t resist the best roaring welcoming shouting and cheering that we can muster. It’s exciting to see someone you know up on the stage, the focus of the house’s attention. DFZ works the crowd with some taunts and a flexing of his “guns”. He was born for the stage. The crowd is into this and seems alive for the first time of the evening. This is what they came for: bread and circus, blood and guts, and good versus evil. The “good’ is the tag team of the Scufflin’ Hillbilly (pictured) and Mr. Black.

DFZ and Danger work very hard and do some very dangerous, no doubt painful and insane things for our amusement. Hillbilly and especially Mr. Black are some extra large dudes, making it hard to do some flashy things, but the “evil” duo’s flying kicks, over the head body slams, and flips are flawlessly executed. Is this stuff real? Well, you can’t fake jumping off the ring and smashing a table in two or for that matter, being thrown out of the ring onto a table for the same effect. Ditto with being hit in the head with a metal chair. I heard the clank as everybody else did and we did a collective cringe. This is nuts, plain and simple.

DFZ and Danger have an “unexpected” win, but instead of glory, the MC, in true wrestling spectacle style, begins a long diatribe about how he has put up their antics all year long and although they have won the title and the belt that goes with it, BUT it’s payback time. From backstage, wrestlers run out and gang up upon the hapless winners, leaving the audience in what appears to be a cliffhanger. DFZ and Danger remain motionless in the ring until some people literally carry them off. Ok, could have been a better ending, a more positive finale, but time to exit.

“It’s just my job five days a week.”

After the show, we talked with DFZ’s sister who was there with their mom and dad. Dad’s health has not been so great lately and now is using a wheelchair. We notice Beautiful Bobby pass by us in his street clothes. He declines a kid’s request for an autograph. We find out that he recently suffered a heart attack and that was why he was so inactive in the ring. In fact, both management and colleagues tried to dissuade him from participating in the event.

We walk to the parking lot, where we wait for the Falcon so that we can figure out where we can get some refreshments after the show. Mr. Black goes by with his wife and baby following behind him. He is pulling a small suitcase, no doubt containing his stage clothes, passport and dossier. You’d never know that this guy was a wrestler. He wears a baseball cap and keeps his eyes on the ground as he goes by. Some other players walk by, engaged in conversations with girlfriends or colleagues. It’s the end of the gig. Show’s over, time to go home.

We meet up with DFZ at a local “sports bar” (Oxymoron anyone?), and end up sitting on the kitchen side of the place in order to avoid the karaoke. The karaoke is so loud and the singers are so bad that they sometimes stop our conversations mid-sentence.

“Whisky for my men and beer for ma hah-sez…”

“Oh my God. That’s talent; being able to sing in three keys at once.” In fact, I admire people who have such nerve as to get up and sing so terribly off-key and don’t seem to be bothered by it at all. No Pavarotti myself, I still take performing way too seriously to ever do that. While I admire it, our ears can’t bear it for very long and we kept closing the door between us and the noise. One of the wait staff apparently overhears our complaints and deliberately leaves the door wide open. Apparently our musical criticism is not welcomed. Too bad, I shut the door hard as soon she leaves.

I ask DFZ about some of the stunts. One in particular had the 300 lb Mr. Black jumping off the ring and trying to land on DFZ while he lay upon a table. Mr. Black ended up crushing nothing but the table.
“That wasn’t supposed to happen that way. I wasn’t supposed to move.” said the Falcon with a devilish grin. We all laugh.
“How did he react?”
“He called me a [ ].”
“What about Professor Danger being dropped onto a table, but nearly missed?”
“That was the other guy’s fault.”
“So, you have to trust the other guy quite a bit when doing these crazy stunts?”
“What about when you guys hit one another?”
“There’s a rule: never hit someone harder than you want to be hit.” Sounds like the Golden Rule to me.
During the final moments of the match, DFZ got kicked in the face causing an already visible black eye. This stuff is insane.

Our food order is taking way too long and after watching the kitchen staff, whom I have dubbed Baffled and More Baffled, it is easy to figure out why. More Baffled seemed perplexed enough as he funneled generic ketchup into the Heinz bottles. Finally, the jaded, snarky girl behind the bar (standard for these type places) directs the food to us. I inhale my burger like I haven’t eaten in days. Watching wrestling is hard work, ya know?

DFZ looks up and there walks by the Scufflin’ Hillbilly. Not an hour ago, they looked like they were going to kill each other, but this exchange is friendly and sounds like two pros talking shop. Later, bleach blonde and many of the other athletes are there, dressed in street clothes and acting like regular folk; far, far removed from their overblown stage personae. This is, despite the “sound and fury,"both entertainment and a business.

The night is getting late for we old folks, so we excuse ourselves and leave our friends with the karaoke still at high decibels, heading home after an evening which gave me a glimpse into a world far outside my precious paradigm. While I was glad to go and see old DFZ do his thing, don’t expect me to get season tickets. A T-shirt maybe, but hell, I don’t even go the symphony. Who am I kidding? I am born for the DVD-couch arena.

Precious or not, culture or not, there is bliss.


The Film Geek said...

When I was a kid, Shirly Love hosted a local wrestling show out of Beckley for WOAY. It came on at 11:30 pm or midnight, on Saturdays. Anyway, that played a real role in how much i came to love small town, independent wrestling. Like carnival workers (is that spelled carnies?) there is a real culture within pro wrestling. Common values, morals, practices, etc. And yu gotta respect people who are drawn to--and can live in--that lifestyle.

Enjoyed the post a bunch.

SB said...

Hey Eclectic guy,

After searching the web, I finally found you. DFZ was supposed to mail me this link, but him being him, I had to find it myself. Great post. I'm sure the match was awesome and I wish I could have been there. Shoot me an email at some point. It was great to see you guys the other night.


eclectic guy said...

I have already. Thanks SB.