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
“I do it for the love of entertaining people,” said Chris. “And I do it to see if I can walk away from it. One time I fell 13 feet onto concrete, and, you know, I walked away from it. It took two or three days to walk correctly, but . . .
“It’s also the shock value,” he added. “It’s watching people stand in front of the TV watching [videos of] poor, little, defenseless, 90-pound me fall 13 feet onto straight concrete. But the main reason I do the things that I do is the love. You know, I will literally go out there and talk shit to a 6-foot-3-inch, 350-pound guy just to see smiles and laughter coming from the crowd.”
The transforming effect of celebrity — no matter how minor — is a powerful lure for kids like Chris: sheltered, suburban and a little bit ridiculous. Their very surroundings discourage them from thinking any big thoughts other than those revolving around the television. Fame may be the only metaphor they have for understanding the world, the magical device through which they might transpose their small lives onto the larger grid of public consciousness. Chris is emblematic: In spite of the logical progression an outsider might draw — dead-end job, dead-end life — he tries his darnedest to grasp the prospect of fame in little ways, every day. One day, he hopes, the reality of Chris Jackson might disappear, to be replaced by the fiction of Mr. Fantastic.
I first met Chris at the Ontario Mills Mall, one of a half-dozen football-field-size shopping centers that pop up as you approach Upland on Interstate 10. Ontario Mills is so large it is broken into “neighborhoods.” As I entered the complex, a recorded voice on the public-address system announced: “You are passing through entry 10 into neighborhood 10.” The message repeated in Spanish and what sounded like Korean. Just inside the sliding doors was a great knobby tree made of fiberglass, and within its leaves were large swaying butterflies, a giant caterpillar wearing a construction helmet, and enormous grapes that looked like soap bubbles. The voice continued: “Pick up a free coupon book with over one hundred dollars’ worth of savings at our information booth in neighborhood 8.” That meant great deals at stores like Tiny Tiny Computers, the Glamour 2000 frame shop, and The Cutting Edge, with its unparalleled selection of beer steins, bowie knives, wine-bottle openers and leather-sheathed Jack Daniel’s flasks.
Chris was employed by the Pro Wrestling Shop. The more marginal vendors at the Ontario Mills Mall — E-Z Bonsai, Fancy Belts — made do with small pushcarts strewn about the floor. The Pro Wrestling Shop was one of them. Positioned between an Old Navy store and an accessories boutique called The Icing, it was packed with T-shirts, books and videotapes — mostly featuring mainstream WWE talent like Stone Cold Steve Austin, Olympic gold medalist–cum–pro Kurt Angle, and the ash-complexioned Undertaker. It also sold some soft porn starring the pneumatic female counterparts that have grown ever more prominent in the WWE. One video was titled Divas in Hedonism.
Chris was sitting on a stool in front of the cart’s register shooting the shit with Eric Guzman, a lumpy, rough-looking kid born to Mexican-immigrant parents. The two were friends from high school, co-workers at the Pro Wrestling Shop and fellow backyarders — Eric goes by the name Hardcore Jack. Both of them were swimming in the suburban-teen mall workers’ uniform of choice: oversize polo shirts and clunky black combat boots. When I approached, they stopped talking. Chris and I walked over to the food court and sat down beneath a giant fiberglass hot dog.
As he envisioned it, I had come to conduct a “shoot,” as defined in a catalog back at the Pro Wrestling Shop: “Take someone in the wrestling biz, sit them down and have them tell the truth about everything they’ve experienced in their career both in and out of the ring. This isn’t an interview with a wrestling character, these are the thoughts and stories of the man behind the persona. This is as real as it gets.” This article, then, would be Mr. Fantastic’s autobiography. So how, exactly, did Chris Jackson’s backyard-wrestling story begin?
“I first got interested in wrestling through family,” he said, straining over the mall’s ever-present soundtrack of dance-pop and lite FM. “When we were young, pretty much everybody liked it, but as I got older, that group of everybody got smaller and smaller. It was in junior high when it‰ wasn’t really, you know, ‘popular’” (Chris made air quotes). “At this point it was like 10 or 20 people at the most that were still into wrestling. Somehow you find those people. You come across somebody that likes it. They know someone that likes wrestling, and you know someone that likes wrestling, so you all start hanging out during lunch, hanging out after school, and for whatever reason you get talking. ‘Yadda yadda yadda. Hey, why don’t we have an event of our own?’ We started doing it as part of a high school project. I was in graphic-arts class, and our final was to make a five-minute video of basically anything. Me and Eric got six, seven, eight, probably like 10 friends together, and just wrestled.”
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