By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Dude, what’s up? It’s Mr. Fantastic! Yeah, fuck you too. Dude . . . Sorry, I don’t even know if I was allowed to say that word. Let me rewind that. Yeah, beep you too. Was that better? Cool. Give me a call back. Of course, it’s now the day after I originally called you. It’s now Wednesday. It’s like 12:01 according to my car clock. And because it is my car clock it is the most important car clock in the world, and therefore that time is correct. So no matter what your little answering machine says — 11:55, 12:15 — it’s 12:01. I said it is, therefore it goes, because I am, to you, the most important person in the world. I am to everybody that knows me and soon to be to the rest of America and soon to be to the rest of the world the most important person in the world, because, with your help, I’m not only going to be a star. I’m not just going to be a superstar. I am on the verge of being the first ever superduperstar.”
There was a pause on my answering machine, and then Chris Jackson continued: “I just fuckin’ demolished a tumbleweed going about 106 on the freeway. I hope that didn’t fuck up my car. And if it did, I’m suing you ’cause it’s all your fucking fault. Okay, Jesus, keep it real.”
There are a couple of things you should know about Chris Jackson. Though he looks no older than 15 or 16 years old, he just turned 22. Until recently, he lived with his parents. His dad fixes video games for a living, and his mother does “something involving tax preparation.” Neither of them received an education beyond high school. They live small lives but are relatively happy, perhaps a bit scared of other people. Chris has spent most of his 22 years stranded in the Inland Empire city of Upland, which expands like forever to the east of Los Angeles. If you drive along the barren stretches of this bedroom community long enough, you begin to forget that there’s such a thing as a horizon. This can be taken literally or metaphorically. Chris, for example, has rarely ventured past the boundaries of his hometown. In ’91 or ’92 his family went on a road trip to Nevada and Washington, but he hasn’t left California in the past decade. “Have you ever been to San Diego?” I asked. “I’ve been to Sea World,” he replied.
Another thing you should know about Chris is that he is literally a 90-pound weakling. His arms are so thin you can articulate every bone and every joint. The meat, the muscle, and the freckled flesh that covers those bones seem almost an afterthought. He’s claimed to be 5 feet 8 inches tall, but that’s debatable. “At the moment I weigh 92 pounds,” he told me once, “and, at most, I’ve gotten up to a buck-oh-five.” When you meet Chris’ gaze close-up, he has what looks like the beginning of crow’s-feet at the corners of his young eyes. One is tempted to call him fragile.
Chris, though, is a 90-pound weakling who would make Charles Atlas proud. What makes his size and weight notable is that he is an enthusiastic participant in the strange pastime that has exploded across suburban America over the past couple of years — backyard wrestling. The young men who do it dress up in outfits worthy of their professional analogues in the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, formerly WWF) and perform as characters of their own invention. Some of the kids Chris has associated with go by names like Scorpio Sky, Youth Suicide, Super Chunty and Ryan Rage. Chris, of course, is Mr. Fantastic.
As in the WWE, backyard matches are staged and highly theatrical. There is blading (self-cutting the forehead to produce dramatic spurts of blood), there are good guys and bad guys, and props with which to bash the competition. Only the backyarders are a bit more creative. In addition to wielding the folding metal chairs and ladders used in the professional rings, they utilize an array of less familiar tools — fluorescent-light tubes, flaming baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire, thumbtacks.
The idea for these accessories came from smaller professional federations like the now-defunct ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) and the still-extant XPW (Xtreme Pro Wrestling). Many of the kids are dedicated aficionados of pro wrestling’s more underground strains. Essentially, they are geeks playing out the fantasies of a hardcore fan. As Spock look-alikes are to a Star Trek convention, they are to simulated combat. Unlike a Trekkie convention, though, backyard wrestling matches can get bloody.
Consequently, there has been a predictable media response: segments on 20/20, the cover of USA Today and angry editorials in local newspapers, special reports on MTV, and even a series of exploitative, Girls Gone Wild–style videos advertised on late-night television. All of them play up backyard wrestling’s violence, and most miss out on its lighter side. If the kids are ambitious and intelligent — as Chris and his cohorts are — backyard wrestling can be funny, less like Fight Club than a summer-stock production with questionable special effects and a crew of daring but slightly inept stuntmen.
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