Borrowed Bucks Roadhouse in Grand Forks, North Dakota, has recently hosted the following events: Sexy Santa; Miss Hawaiian Tropic International; Springbreak Trip Giveaway; Pajama Party; Snowbunny Party (not the Craigslist "casual encounters" kind); Mr. Boxerball (not "Tyson" but "Joe"); and the ColgateÃ‚Â® Country Showdown. Many of these events are sponsored by 97FM KYCK, "The Valley's Hit Country." Every week Bucks hosts "Bottomless Thursdays" where "$2 Chuck Norris and Jag Bombs" can be "enjoyed" between 11 p.m. and midnight. And yes, Bucks Twitters. And while all those events sound fun (really), I went to Bucks on Friday to watch the Micro Wrestling Federation.
The MWF bills itself as "the worlds [sic] most professional Micro Wrestling athletes," which raises questions about the world's less professional midget and dwarf wrestlers. Founded in 2000, the MWF tours year-round; it played a brutal schedule of 65 shows in 2008, and claimed an average audience of 500 people per show. MWF events can be booked in three classes: six-midget, eight-midget, and the ten-midget event (known as "MidgetPalooza").
The official line from the MWF goes through the expected empowerment messaging that society has come to expect from our freak shows: "[Fans] walk away from one of our unique events feeling as though they know the Micro Entertainer as a talented performer." It's not all that different from the empowerment messages often thrown around with porn stars or strippers. Or bloggers.
What you get when you book an MWF show is really all in their promo video. Voice-over done by the exact same guy who does all the nation's monster truck rally commercials. A drunken crowd cheering "Midgets! Midgets! Midgets!" An audio clip of Mike Myers doing the Austin Powers fat Scotsman "Ahhm bigger than yooo ahhhr. Ahm 'iyer on the food chain." Explosions. A fat midget with no pants on. A Lilliputian chipmunk-voice yelling "Be there!" A midget getting hit in the nuts with a pool stick? Of course! And a call to "support midget violence."
Bucks is typical of the venues played by the MWF, although sometimes they play Knights of Columbus halls and labor temples. The walls outside and in are decorated with the now-common nostalgia items from the good old days-the days when no self-respecting American would have entered a place so shamelessly soulless. When I arrived at 9 p.m., the (plentiful) handicap spots were all full.
The cover was $20, the average door for these events, and upon entering I was immediately hit with a wall of rock. Speaking as a rural headbanging teen at the time of its release, I am qualified to say that Motley Crue's "Dr. Feelgood" still has tremendous legs. Like so many of their songs, it is bound to endure to see the day when it is regarded as the most top-notch of its stripper-friendly early-90s peers. The other wall of stuff I was hit with was smoke. North Dakota does not yet have a ban.
Also boding poorly: a guy in the front row in a Michael Vick jersey.
Midget wrestling has probably been around since the middle ages. Midget wrestling, as we know it, has been around since the early 20th century. The height of the sport's popularity was the 1950s. It has flirted with the mainstream: Wrestlemania III in 1987 (which featured the legendary Hogan vs. Andre the Giant match) saw two "full size" wrestlers-King Kong Bundy and Hillbilly Jim-team up with four midget wrestlers-Haiti Kid, Little Beaver, Lord Littlebrook, Little Tokyo-in a main-event match. Beaver, 52 at the time of the match, suffered a devastating back injury from Bundy; he died eight years later.
Midget wrestling lost much of its popularity after that. Still, the WWE has brought back midget wrestling in limited amounts; its most renowned character, Hornswoggle, wrestles in the guise of-wait for it-a leprechaun.
In what CNN's Lou Dobbs would consider representative of labor markets in general, Mexican midget wrestlers have remained popular despite their American counterparts' decline.
The show began. "Standing four-foot-four and weighing 292 pounds… it's… Meatball!!!!" A small man, who looked as if he does in fact weigh 292 pounds, strutted in from somewhere in the back of the bar, through the crowd, to the ring. For anyone who has never seen one of these regional insanities, it can best be described by the scenes in last year's Oscar-nominated The Wrestler. There is no gangway. No explosion of fireworks. It's poorly lit. The ceiling's low. It smells of beer and smoke. The chairs are metal and fold. The ring is in the middle of the bar and the midgets, each in character, fling one another against ropes, suplex, pile drive and generally fly around even when only slapped across the chest with a weak backhand. They dive off top rungs. They kick out on two-counts. Also just like the WWE: before the first event starts, the crowd is cheering "Fight! Fight! Fight!" and "Kick his ass!" but after the third two-count kick-out, a lot are back to ogling the shot girl and texting.
Also, a girl goes about selling roses to couples, as if this were a quiet Italian restaurant. One guy, clearly slouch-slurring toward the title of "Drunkest Dude of the Night," buys one.
The MWF is terrifically well managed. There is a soup-'em-um phase in which the MC introduces the wrestlers. And then a long break before and between matches so the excited crowd can hit the bar for $2 Buds. It's not just that the well-oiled show is choreographed for Dick and Jane's enjoyment; it also has the profitability of the bar in mind. Also, twenty dollars is a staggeringly high ticket price here for anything. There were at least three hundred people in the bar, a tremendous crowd for a North Dakota event that isn't a Fighting Sioux hockey game or a Tea Party.
Here is some of the commentary by the crowd, executed over a span of about fifteen minutes:
"Choke that goddamn beer!"
"Ric Flair bitch!"
"…pop your cherry…"
"She can't stand 'cause she's got a pin in her leg."
"He's pretty cut for a midget."
A note about the "shot girl." The classic shot girl is a woman who has the job of pushing through a forest of horny drunk Neanderthals to sell what looks like Windex out of high-school chemistry test tubes. It may pay better than some other jobs but it is thankless and tragic to watch. At this event, it appeared that the classic test tube shots had been augmented with a new "syringe" shot. In utilizing these beverages, mooks buy a giant plastic medical-looking syringe and inject the terrible drinks down their gullets. I am shocked; growing up on a working dairy farm, the last time I saw these exact same syringes was when they were full of bull spunk and the vet was using them to artificially inseminate heifers.
Besides the "is it exploitation?" stuff, the MWF has flirted with controversy before. A show in Ohio last year drew the attention of Canton Liquor Commission. From the local paper's report: "…complainants have said only the women in the Micro Wrestling Federation wrestling group were nude and have alleged at least one was a porn star."
Ignoring the fact that it's not illegal to be a porn star, yet, one has to wonder who would attend an MWF event and complain about anything. The Ohio bar owner claims he was set up by his jealous competition. The city suspended the bar's license; the bar sued the city. And so goes the drama of small town entertainment industry.
No such luck for me. The performers were all men. Trixie Dynamite, the sexed up star of the MWF circuit who is supposedly soon to appear in Playboy, was not here. I was bummed, because I understand her entrance music is Warrant's "Cherry Pie," which begins: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh Dirty! Rotten! Filthy! Stinkin'!" and just gets better.
Regarding "midget." If the inclusion of a single midget at a "normal" wrestling event is an exploitative side show, then what is a midget wrestling event made up only of midgets? The MWF position on the term is that it is inoffensive "as long as its [sic] used to promote the Micro event and not used in a derogatory manner towards little people." Seems understandable. The advocacy group Little People of America disagrees, saying the term is no different from a racial slur.
But for an advocacy group like Little People, the paradox, lost on nobody, particularly the Micro Wrestling gang, is that it is hard to claim on one hand that little people should be able to do anything "normal" people can do but then on the other hand protest midget wrestling, which is in no way different from normal wrestling, except, you know, with midgets.
One irony of this event was that even though the crowd certainly wasn't all that altruistic, most of the worst exploitative jargon came from the MWF show itself. In one instance, to goose the crowd, the MC yelled, "Who wants to see some midgets fight?!" Later, during one event where two characters taunt each other pre-fight, one said: "You look like a midget Mighty Morphin' Power Ranger!"
I would propose that the MWF is both exploitation and not at the same time. It is all intent. Take this particular crowd. Whatever the giving-it-their-all MWF performers want to think about their audience's attitudes, the fact is that it seems many came only here for the "freak" value. That isn't to say the MWF should stop, or even that this is necessarily "bad," as much as it's just universal. When the Lower East Side's Arlene's Grocery hosted an amateur female Jell-O wrestling contest, there were probably a good number of reasons given for attending, with the real one being "exposed boobs."
When I got home, I was a little wired from the Buds. I turned on the TV. I had the option of watching plus-size people dance competitively to lose weight and win prizes, amateur hookers throwing themselves at a washed-up rock star to win prizes, a "matchmaker" pimp serving willing, live sex dolls to shameless millionaires, women who didn't know they were pregnant giving birth, WWE wrestling, a psychopathic ex-wife of a Sheen boy, numerous addicts living out their possibly premature recoveries, two pathetic egomaniacs raising eight doomed children, a gaggle of narcissistic middle-age women trying to be models for prizes-and a family of midgets, just being midgets amongst others.
Previously: The Great American Teen SUV Death Race
Abram Sauer writes about things that are far away.