I'm not expecting a call from Pro Wrestling Illustrated for my wrestling photography skills. Blake Arledge need lose no sleep tonight, because there is no way I'll steal his gigs anytime soon. Something inside told me yesterday to charge my camera battery in preparation for this afternoon's "Durm Mania!" show in Durham, my adopted hometown of now 14 years. Somehow I managed to ignore that still quiet voice. As a result, I had to rely on my none-too-up-to-date smart phone to capture the main event, pitting GOUGE wrestling stars Jaheem the Dream (big as a house) and musclehunk Mike West (substituting for local rap artist TOON, who was injured earlier in the show) against tag team champions Mickey Gambino and "Handsome" Frank Stalletto. (TOON and a mysterious masked man, who I'm pretty sure was Jimmy Jack Funk, Jr., in rare heel mode, cheered on from ringside and, of course, interfered when circumstances presented themselves.)
The show was a collaboration between GOUGE, based in nearby Raleigh, and Durham's own Luchadoras (masked lady wrestlers with a heavy mexicano flavor), along with the local NAACP, to register voters for November's big election. The house (Motorco--a trendy bar and music club within walking distance of where I live) was packed--all ages, races, native languages, and lifestyle choices. My friend Barbara met me there--her first live wrestling show. (She loved it.) The bad guys insulted Durham, full well knowing how intensely Durhamites love their city, calling it "nasty" (when everyone who lives here knows it's "dirty Durham"--get it right, assholes).
Some of the pictures look like primitive infrared photography. Others look like they were shot from a tilt-a-whirl. If I thought any of you would believe me, I would pretend they are intentionally expressionistic. All of them are brightly backlit by an open window facing the elevated seats where most of the fans were.
Since they don't tell a story, as most good wrestling shots do, I might as well fill you in on it. It's a tag title match, originally slated for Jaheem and TOON to take on the champs. But earlier in the show, when TOON was talking about his desire to move from rap to the ropes, Gambino, Stalletto, and a slew of their evil cohorts attacked him and mercilessly beat him. Jaheem and Mike West came to the rescue, but too late. Jaheem sought a volunteer from the audience to fill in for his wounded partner and found none (he mainly canvased among female fans who weighed no more than 90 pounds), finally settling on West, tan, modestly affable, and stacked like Hercules.
A wigger rap battle between Jaheem and the champs' unscrupulous manager, The Grogfather, (in which duel Grog and his men rapped the lyrics to The Beverly Hillbillies) ended with an easy win for the Dream, who involved the audience in his rhythmic diatribe against Gambino and Stalletto. Most of the actual wrestling battle featured West alone versus the two heels. It was give and take, with the bad guys fighting unfairly and viciously. For reasons of his own (and out of narrative necessity), Mike did not tag Jaheem in for the longest time. Twice, "Handsome" Frank directed particularly cross words at me, much of it lost to my ears in the din: something about "he-men" and my perhaps excessive hooting (and drooling) over Mike (I've a sneaking suspicion Stalletto is acquainted with this blog), and then later when somebody referred to Gambino as "a lady," Frank leaned over the ropes and said, again directly to me, "He must mean you!" When at last Mike did tag out, the champs and Grogfather, along with other sinister and illegal cohorts, ganged up on Jaheem, dragging him to the ring apron. West stepped in to assist his partner and was attacked from behind by Stalletto. West actually pinned Stalletto to a five count (the crowd counted), but (of course) the ref was distracted by the mayhem at ringside. When the ref turned back to the in-ring action, Stalletto reversed and got the pinfall, thus retaining the belts. But when everybody had left the ring but Mickey Gambino, the four ladies of the Luchadoras rushed in, brandishing a makeshift pro-Durham sign, and held Mickey down for TOON to deliver a well-deserved punch or two.
Naturally, having just suffered some verbal abuse over my fanaticism for Mike West, I asked Barbara to take a photo of me with him at ringside. The picture is a bit of a blur, but at the very least I got some hero sweat on the palm of my hand, shirtsleeve, and collar. Following the match, I splurged on a couple of burgers at King's Sandwich Shop, a 70-year-old roadside institution with burgers that remind me of what burgers used to taste like when I was a kid. Then I taxied a couple of my gay friends to the airport, and they were (as usual) mildly and tolerantly appalled at my taste for grunt-and-groan rasslin (long may it thrive). So it goes.