Monday, September 07, 2015

Lucha Libre

Great poster eh? I didn't design it.
I was taping down the power cables for the DJ. It was 30 degrees in the shade. The crowd was growing, and we were way behind schedule. Organizing a Lucha Libre wrestling exhibition was not something I am equipped to do. There were a thousand different things demanding my attention: one of them, to my irritation, was Sana, who was refusing to get out of my hair.
I called over Ricky “The Janitor”, who was my entree into the local wrestling scene. The day before, I had shown Sana the posters of the wrestlers I’d made up before the event, and she’s told me she liked the guy with the fuzzy ears on his head.
“Hey Ricky - is Kidd Foxxx here? Could you introduce Sana to him?”
The Janitor took Sana to where the other wrestlers were standing - Invictus, The Mercenary, Kid Prodigy - and called one over to Sana.
I went back to taping down power cables. A minute later, Sana returned, wide-eyed.
“So, did you talk to him?”
“No, I was shy. But you know, he wouldn’t tell me his real name. Even your friend didn’t know his name. The only people that know his real name are his parents.”
Sana "The Ruler" with Kidd Foxxx.
 Later, I saw Kidd Foxx in our jury-rigged backstage area and told him what Sana had said. He grinned wide enough to crack the greasepaint fangs on his face.
“Really? She gave me a backstory? Man, my kids are going to love that!”

Now, I have had some low-level adventures in my life, and have been lucky to meet some interesting people doing it. But there is nothing in my history to date that would lead anyone who knows me to expect Lucha Libre Wrestling Promoter to appear on my resume.
The Wrench, the Heel-in-Chief. 
Not long after moving to Chicago, unable to work and more-or-less a full-time stay-at-home Dad, I decided to start volunteering for a local group that advocates for, and organizes events in, the nearby park. The Unity Park Advisory Council (UPAC) has been around in one form or another for 20-odd years, and essentially forced the city to turn a run-down playground surrounded by parking lot into a well-serviced and heavily used green space with an extensive playground.
By the time I joined, the political fighting was long over, and the group’s primary focus has been organizing events in the park. They’ve got quite good at it over the years, and have a solid roster that attract great crowds - Art in the Park, Pumpkinfest and Earth Day are all staples on the neighborhood calendar.
I had time, spend too much of my mental energy on social media, and wanted to work on my photoshop skills, so I started insinuating myself into their communications and fundraising efforts. This year, they voted to just make me in charge of that part of their work.
As such, I have had more-or-less total control over the group’s Facebook page, so I was the one who received a message, last December, from a local woman whose brother was an amateur wrestler. Would UPAC be interested in putting on a Lucha Libre show for the community? 
The answer was, of course, yes, Yes, a thousand times YES. Or at least, it was from me. The rest of UPAC was more restrained in their enthusiasm, but gave me the go ahead to see if I could pull it off.
Now, to say that I was entirely unqualified to do this is an understatement. Logan Square, where I live, has been working-class Hispanic (Latino? I’m not even sure what term is better) for decades, but has been gentrifying rapidly. My family and I are very much a symptom of the gentrification. I know no Spanish, nothing of wrestling of any style, and have less than three years in the neighborhood.
Fortunately, Rachel (the young woman who approached us) and her brother “The Janitor”, had all the connections we needed, and lots of ideas. They would arrange for the ring, the MC, the referee, and the talent. Rachel hit the fan conventions and scored autographed headshot from WWE superstars for our raffle. The Park Council (coordinating through me) just needed to handle everything else - permits, insurance, publicity and whatever costs came up. The wrestlers asked for nothing other than pizza and water.
I figured that our costs - transport for the ring, food and insurance could be covered if we could get local businesses to be “match sponsors”: they’d get promotion and their banner on the ring if they kicked in a donation of a certain size. 
Here’s the thing I discovered: it turns out that people are really happy to have their businesses associated with shirtless, sweaty men in masks. We very nearly had to turn our late-responding sponsors away (mind you, the last one gave us 100 beers for the wrestlers. So we found a spot for them).
Our publicity followed a similar pattern. Within a day of me putting the announcement up on Facebook it had been shared all around Chicago. I know that sounds pretty lame in the standards of internet viral images, but our park isn’t even big enough to hold a soccer field. Our bigger events attract 600 people that drop in over the course of the day. Our last movie in the park brought in 2-300. This one was attracting thousands of views.
Our event brought in probably 1,000 people (at least one carload of which had driven down from Milwaukee for the show) and it was FANTASTIC. I hadn’t seen any wrestling since I was a kid, and wasn’t a big fan then. I’d never seen it live, but let me tell you, I was really impressed. 
Those guys were working HARD - there is a lot of acrobatics going on under the full summer sun - and they were super entertaining. How many other human endeavors are there where you have to throw a 300 pound guy across a ring, act like a Shakespearean villain, while wearing a full-head mask wearing spandex shorts in the blazing sun? I might add - they all did this essentially for free. One of them (I don’t know if he was Mike Strong or “Mike Strong”) fell asleep at the after-party because he’d been up the entire previous night at his job as a truck-driver. He’s kind of my hero now.
Mike Strong, triumphant.
Anyway, the crowd got loud, early and often. They cheered the good guys, they boo’ed the bad guys (they also cheered Bazooka, one of the bad guys, but he was pretty irresistible - theatrically teaching the ref to count to three, hollering to the crowd in Spanish, carrying on a back-and-forth conversation with his wife during the match). The safety tape we set up to keep people back from the ring barely held from the weight of young boys straining to get closer to the action. Pretty much none of the matches we were told were going to happen occurred in the order they were supposed to or with the wrestlers we’d expected, but no one seemed to care.
For her part, Sana was entranced. She was spellbound throughout and even though Kidd Foxxx lost (he was betrayed by Invictus, his tag-team partner and left to the mercy of Luis “The Wrench” Morales and Johnny Andrews), she still had a fantastic time - though she wanted to know if there are any girl wrestlers. Turns out there are - one was at the event, and chatted with Sana. We are apparently going to her first match next month. 
I think Sana might have a new life goal. I am not entirely sure that I would be all that disappointed if she pursued it.