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Monday, May 24, 2010

Pro-Wrestling Meets Appalachia

Every once in a while I have these little moments of epiphany where I suddenly look around and realize that I'm not in the Rockies anymore.  Usually it's something subtle, like when I smell lilacs (which are rare down here) and I get desperately homesick, or when I see a Cadillac drive by with a "Git-r-done" bumper sticker, and I get confused.  But recently, the culture of public space has been making my status as resident alien to the South to me much more clearly than anything else.

For instance, take the street-side vendor.  Seeing people hock things on the side of the road isn't all that unusual; you see fruit stands and whatnot occasionally out west.  But I'm still not used to seeing a guy in overalls and a lump of Copenhagen in his lip set up shop on the highway selling "Boled P-Nuts" [sic] or "Shrump" [also sic] off the tailgate of his truck.   The strangest thing, up until last week, were the traveling garage sales that sprout up, like mushrooms, in vacant lots and grassy fields next to the road.  I can understand selling your stuff in a yard sale... but why pack it all in your van and roll it all out on the pavement next to the Kroger on my street? 

But what I saw two weeks ago in my neighborhood absolutely took the cake.  What I ran into was this: 

Bush-League Professional Wrestling

That's right: a bush-league semi-professional wrestling troupe set up a portable ring a block from my house and held a full-out wrestling entertainment extravaganza.  There were five different matches, complete with a tag team event featuring three male wrestlers and one female personality who styled herself as "Miss Las Vegas."  And I, I'm a little surprised to admit, enjoyed it in a weird sort of way, and for a weird reason.  So without further ado, here are some of the highlights:

So, it all started when my husband and I were working out in the yard and we started to hear music playing-- first the national anthem, then a lot of bad eighties "I love America" music.  My husband gave me a funny look.  "Is that from that ring they were setting up in the parking lot?"  He asked me.
"A ring?"  I asked.  
"Yeah.  For wrestling, I think.  They were setting it up on my way home,"  he said.
Oh, right.  I'd seen the bright red van in the parking lot in the old deli, but hadn't thought much about it.  So, naturally, I dragged my husband, kicking and screaming, down the street so I could get a few shots with my camera.  

The atmosphere was... interesting.  There were probably fifty people or so gathered around a makeshift ring; I had to step over a couple empty forties and a cooler to get to the front.  The crowd consisted of a lot of locals from my neighborhood, but it was mostly kids there to take part in some carnivalesque party-going.  The wrestlers came out to entrance music one at a time with tired, construction-worker bodies in spandex and boots, and they started working the crowd, thumping their chests, signing autographs.  

The first thing that struck me was the extent to which these guys go out of their way to honor the time-old traditions of WWE wrestling.  For instance, the trash-talking:

Bush League Professional Wrestling

They actually had an honest-to-goodness "commissioner"  of the "league" out there on a microphone overseeing this whole thing.  (Commissioner?!  For a league of about a dozen Appalachian amateurs?)  Every match had to start with some old-fashioned trash-talking about the commissioner in the corner, like this fellow above is doing.  Lots of boos and hisses came from the crowd. 

Then there was the match itself:

Bush-League Professional Wrestling

Let's be honest-- this was about the campiest thing I'd seen in a while. These guys aren't as good at stage fighting as the real pros, so you could see daylight in between punches, but they went at it with a lot of gusto.  But the ones who really got into the fight were the kids who showed up to watch:

Bush League Professional Wrestling

 This trio was an absolute blast to watch-- jumping, shouting, trash-talking back-- and they never once gave me the impression that they thought it was anything but real.  This kid in the middle absolutely loved it:

Bush League Professional Wrestling you can see from his reaction here.  Here's one of the kids watching, transfixed, during the final countdown:
Bush League Professional Wrestling

And, as I watched the show, and the crowd, and the kids getting electrified at the action on the stage, er, I mean, the ring, I kept wondering: what was the point of all this? And as I watched these middle-aged, saggy men in Lycra and covered in tattoos try to fill the role of larger-than-life heroes they could never equal, and as I watched the crowd, cheer, boo, hiss and catcall right along with them, it suddenly struck me: holy crap, I'm watching a medieval morality play The action on the stage, and the crowd interactions, to my mind, were indistinguishable.  This was a campy, kinetic exercise in justice and virtue, complete with capes and masks, calling forth something much larger than tired old men in wife-beaters and sporting beer guts. They were Joe Appalachian Everyman versus Corporate America, "Bootlegger" Mankind struggling against "the Man," Titivillus, the Devil Himself.   

So that's how, two weeks ago, I figured out that pro wrestling just off my back porch in Appalachia brought medieval studies to life far more than the papers I've been writing.  And it's also the first time that the South has made sense.


  1. proper entertainment - Did that funeral director fella turn up? :-)

  2. I have to admit, I had a lot of fun despite myself!

    As for the funeral director guy... there was some sort of equivalent all in black, wearing a luchador mask. Unfortunately, my battery gave out in my camera right then and I had to leave-- so I didn't get any pictures of him.