By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Luem stopped. “Let me ask you,” he said. “Do you feel like your life tells a story?”
XSANITY VS. SCHIZO
L ast spring, Chris had a match in a semipro wrestling event at the Disney GOALS (Growth Opportunities through Athletics, Learning, and Service) ice rink in Anaheim. The rink abuts the Anaheim Marketplace, “Orange County’s Largest Indoor Swapmeet,” an establishment mostly frequented by the area’s large immigrant population. The ring, behind the swap meet at the center of a large steel cage, was lit by spotlight and streetlight and bounded by a blue ring of rotten wood. Small billboards advertised Bilt Rite Trucks and Zamboni.com. The kids had rented the ring for the night for $500 and were charging $20 a head, but few of the spectators seemed to be paying.
Eric Guzman, Chris’ friend from the Pro Wrestling Shop, greeted me at the entrance wearing a hooded sweatshirt promoting the nü-metal band the Deftones. “The talent is supposed to be here early, but they’re way late,” he said, exasperated and apologetic. His hair was long, frizzy and black, his skin touched by acne, his Doc Martens half-unlaced. He claimed to have been a wrestling fan since the age of 4. “I don’t just watch WWE,” he said. “I watch everything. Mexican wrestling, Japanese, everything.”
To the eyes of an outsider, the scene inside was desolate. Some 40 kids sat on two aluminum bleachers on either side of the ring, a ratio of three boys to every girl — mostly malformed, high school–shooter types. (There were lots of big black boots, long trench coats, and T-shirts for the masked metal band Slipknot.) One goth girl wore a Phantom of the Opera T-shirt. Mixed in were some Latino kids, cholos dressed in quasi-gangster uniforms — white wifebeaters, clean blue jeans and shaved heads. One of them had the letters “O.C.,” for Orange County, tattooed at the base of his skull beneath a close-cropped bit of stubble. Here were all the makings of Nirvana’s classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video. “Some live in nice neighborhoods,” Eric said of the crowd, “some don’t live in nice neighborhoods.”
When “the talent” arrived, they outnumbered the audience. They were dressed as flamboyantly as a person could be by stocking up on gear at Wal-Mart, Hot Topic and the local costume shop. A short but highly defined Asian boy with cocky ’tude walked around shirtless, his wavy black hair brushing at his ankles. A white teenager named J.J. looked like a landlocked surfer in a blue Billabong pullover, khaki jams and suede black sneakers. He seemed incongruous, as if he’d walked off a South Bay beach and ended up in East L.A. Chris Jackson arrived not in the guise of Mr. Fantastic, but wearing a hooded Baja pullover on top of street clothes. He sat down quietly on the bleachers.
A wrestler named Kevin a.k.a. Black Eagle walked into the rink with his own teenage camera crew in tow. “It was more fun in the old days,” Eric told me. “There were no egos back then.”
The eight matches on the bill followed in not-so-rapid succession — Aztec Warrior vs. Dale Havoc, Shadow vs. Badd Blood, then Silver Tyger vs. Pinoy Boy (“Pinoy” being slang for Filipinos residing in the U.S.). Each match was punctuated by a 15-minute intermission to prepare the ring. Some of the kids used impressive moves drawn from lucha libre, Mexico’s highly acrobatic style of professional wrestling, but much of the evening seemed interminable. The kids would enter the ring to heavy metal, preen a bit, then chase each other around, delivering fake blows accompanied by stomping feet or loud, open-handed slaps across the face. If they got in a high spot (a flashy maneuver that people like), they’d draw either heel heat (booing) or face heat (cheering), depending on how sympathetic the character was to the crowd.
More impressive were the audience’s running footnotes — satiric, culturally jaded and tinged with hints of ethnic tension. “Meh-hi-co! Meh-hi-co!” they cheered for Aztec Warrior. “Eat him like a bean burrito!” At one point, a wrestler named Mr. California was bludgeoned by a vintage computer keyboard until a rivulet of blood crept from behind his ear. “Hey, I coulda used that!” someone yelled. “Don’t worry,” another joked, “it wasn’t Windows XP compatible.”
For most of the evening, Chris seemed unusually quiet. In our previous meeting, one-on-one, he was a self-aware, hyperarticulate and wildly funny kid, albeit one wrapped in intense defense mechanisms — putting his wrestling persona before his real one. But sitting there amid the kids on the bleachers, he simply blended into the crowd. As we got closer to the evening’s headline match, he livened up a bit, commenting on the referee, a guy who sometimes wrestles under the name Big Daddy Swing.
“He sucks as a ref and a wrestler,” said Chris. “He’s too fat. Once he wanted to do this move where he bends me over and gets behind me, and I was like, ‘Hey, Big Daddy Swing, I don’t swing that way.’”