Every so often there comes a post that doesn’t really know how it wants to be written. What is its voice, its style? What, even, is its purpose? The post does not know. The post is worried. Perhaps it is not a post after all. Perhaps it will never be written, and all of its little gems will simply sink into the deep. But eventually each post tends to find its voice, if it truly wants to be written, and this post has been clamoring since Friday night. It is one of those rare occasions in which the post and the experience unfolded at the same time, with the experience itself exhaling as the post took its own next breath, and it is precisely this symbiosis that makes the writing so challenging. Enough with this dive into the meta, however. Let us look at this thing they call Hoodslam. I promise, I shall strive to do the experience and the post justice.
Alright. I would say I’ve had a fairly eventful life so far. I’ve seen things, you know? Strange and amazing things. What I saw on Friday night, though, was downright surreal, and I’m still not entirely sure that I didn’t dream it. As someone who has a tenuous grasp on reality at the best of times and who currently finds himself somewhat between realities, for lack of a better way of putting it, the hours I spent at Hoodslam did nothing to dissuade me from believing that life occasionally just goes off the rails.
I joined an old friend of mine, whom I shall call Alistair Higgenbotham, for the sake of anonymity, on a trip to the Oakland Metro Operahouse for a night of sheer bafflement. I knew only that wrestling was on the menu, but if I had envisioned something like a poor-man’s WWF (I’m old, I still say WWF), I was in for a surprise. Far from down-and-out versions of Hulk Hogan and The Rock, Hoodslam was a strange amalgamation of ebaum’s world throwbacks, video game characters, and strange permutations of my beloved friends from Saturday morning cartoons. And those were just the ones I recognized. Case in point: the debut match took place between Scorpion (of Mortal Kombat fame) and someone named Cereal Man. It’s worth noting that Cereal Man had a plush cereal box for a head, from which he withdrew smaller boxes of cereal to distribute to the crowd at the opening of the fight, before removing his own head to reveal a smaller (human-sized) one beneath, face hidden by a luchador-style mask.
Interestingly, it was one of the few nods to luchadors that I saw in the ring that night. Another fighter (for what else can I call them?) named El Flaco Loco also wore a luchador mask, but I believe that was the only other one, aside from the referee. I had expected to see many, although I must admit, if you told me that a gang of spiders raided the place halfway through and carried off several fans, I’d have a hard time not believing you. I’m still not certain just what I saw. That, I think, was the brilliance of the entire performance, and a performance is precisely what I feel it was.
Everything about the evening was expertly staged and choreographed to ensure the maximum return on our $10 investment. Entertainment was the order of the night, and the folks at Hoodslam know their business well. Whether you find the actual nuts and bolts of amateur wrestling appealing, whether you imagine yourself diverted or disturbed at the idea of grown men (and women, in one match) appearing to beat the proverbial stuffing out of each other, whether you have given up on this post out of absolute disgust at the very topic, these Hoodslammers are savvy. They have found a way to turn what is at base one of the most male-dominant, testosterone-driven farces I have ever witnessed into an event that manages to embrace so many varied groups that I was hard-pressed to identify a key demographic among the lot. The requisite flannel and eccentric facial hair that identify both hipster and redneck alike were certainly in appearance, but they were hardly the majority that I had expected. Goths, metalheads, jocks, punks, and geeks, with a fairly even distribution of lads and lasses among them, all made up the rank and file of Hoodslam fandom. And then there were the inappropriate T-shirt people. My sole recollection, sadly, is one that advertised Ass Juice with the phrase, ‘Outta our ass, intta your glass!’, with a cartoon skeleton…depositing…said juice into a receptacle of indeterminate nature. Yes, it spanned the whole spectrum that night. As my friend Alistair pointed out, however, there seemed to be very few people over forty. There were also no children, due perhaps in part to Hoodslam’s admonition: ‘Don’t Bring Your F’n Kids!’ So it may be that there is a dividing line after all.
But what is Hoodslam? I’m still asking myself that. I’m still trying to remember what I actually saw, as distinct from what I half expected to see next that (likely) never materialized. Sadly, the lights were out for most of the show, spotlights focused on the ring, so I couldn’t even take any notes. As I said above, the experience and the post were evolving together, and I frantically tried to repeat things to myself over and over in hopes of remembering them, while at the same time trying to take in as much as possible. The result is this very disjointed post regarding a very disjointed experience. Believe me, though, it would have been a disjointed experience no matter what.
The night began with a very long line. It was wrapped around the building for a block and a half by the time we got there (around 9:30, if memory serves, but as I’ve said that’s no given) and continued to grow as we waited. We inched forward for a while, but finally it started to move more quickly. A woman with a microphone was going down the line, accompanied by a cameraman, and they were interviewing attendants and asking Hoodslam trivia questions. That was my first clue that there was a cult following here, that this was something more than just a quirky night out. Inside was a warehouse-like atmosphere, right down to the exposed rafters and steel-studded crossbeams that ran above our heads. There was a bar to the left, and further back some stairs led up to a caged area where a metal band was thrashing away. The lead singer was none other than the woman who had been interviewing people outside, and she wasn’t half bad. Dead center and set almost against the far wall was the ring, and presiding over it was a man I would later come to know as Broseph. Broseph Joe Brody, ringmaster of the all-human circus. It was about to commence.
A sense of camaraderie that borders on group-think quickly developed. This was achieved through chanting, choral repetition, and call and response. Like I said, these folks are savvy. While Scorpion fought Cereal Man, I got my first taste of this. Over and over again, one fighter or another would have an opponent pinned, and the count to three would begin, inevitably stopping at ‘2’ for the first several times. A cry of ‘1! 2! Oh! Only 2!’ would be heard, followed by echoes from the crowd, ‘Oh! On-ly 2!’, twin fingers raised to drive the point home. And when the matches really got going, there were frequent shouts of the Hoodslam slogan: ‘This is real! This is real! This is real!’ And at times (though only at times) it really did look it. I call them fighters because, as in pro wrestling (to the best of my knowledge), there is a lot of punching and kicking involved. There are also lots of headbutts, body slams, clotheslines, piledrivers, and moonsaults (yes, I had to look up that last one, and there are lots more crazy names for equally crazy moves–this one involved doing a back flip from one of the posts and landing on your opponent…I saw many a moonsault Friday night). None of it is designed to actually hurt, but after a while that doesn’t matter. It begins to feel all too real, and before long, it’s hard to believe that Juiced Lee didn’t just roundhouse kick El Chupacabra to the face.
Which brings me to the names. Yes, video game characters abound. Ryu from Street Fighter was in attendance (reference was also made to Guile), along with a few other characters from that game, as was the aforementioned Scorpion. Even the Peanut Butter Jelly Time banana put in an appearance. But those all paled in comparison to the likes of Doc Atrocity, Johnny Drinko, Drugz Bunny and, my personal favourite, Batmanuel. There were so many more that are lost to me now, but the match ups alone were worth the entrance fee. And the names of the matches were also wild. There was Broetic Justice (just about anything that can be bro-ified was, well, bro-ified–Barney Stinson would have high fived this guy for sure), and the great ‘Blunts versus Booze–Tag Team Grudge Match’, which featured drunks versus stoners who would chug a bottle of booze or smoke a blunt (as you might have guessed) whenever an opponent could not get up from the mat. The stoners won, in case you wanted to know.
Alistair and I wondered aloud about whether it was actual booze, but we didn’t bother asking about the blunts. The entire place smelled like [insert your preferred weed-saturated environment here], and it was clear that no one was concerned about what was being smoked. In fact, Broseph himself had announced at the beginning of the event that if anyone heard the code word, it meant the cops had arrived and everyone should dump their stashes. What was the code word, you ask? ‘Blueberry pancakes’. So two words. And there were blunts and joints and pipes and even little bongs. I tell you, contact high is spelled H-O-O-D-S-L-A-M.
The fights went on and on, as did the chanting, though there were occasional breaks for Broseph to serenade the audience, pour booze into waiting mouths (or spray it onto fans from his own) or announce raffle winners–100% of the proceeds of which, by the way, go to an Oakland after-school program (I think? It’s something cool like that. The dearth of information on the internet about this and all other Hoodslam-related material is astounding). So, you see? A redeeming quality. Something for everyone at Hoodslam!
Finally, there was the Battle Royale, the winner of which gets to fight in the Golden Gig (I’m not sure exactly what that is, but apparently it is Hoodslam’s biggest honour to win it). This final event pitted two fighters against one another, with an additional fighter coming in every minute. The only way to be eliminated was to be thrown from the ring, both feet touching the floor beyond. People had been thrown out before (landing atop rapturous fans), but this was nuts. How these folks didn’t break something is beyond me, yet everyone seemed able to stagger to their feet. Batmanuel did not make it to the end, sadly. Nor did Drugz Bunny, Link from Zelda, or Cereal Man. I honestly don’t remember who won, and it’s not on their website yet that I can find. But someone did win. I am certain of it. And that someone felt very special, I’m also certain.
But then it was over. The lights came on, and everyone milled out of the place, dazed. It was as if we had been abducted by aliens en masse and were emerging from what we would later convince ourselves was some impossible shared hallucination, wondering where we were and how we had gotten there. Frankly, by the time it had all come to an end, my mind was so sluggish that it would not have surprised me to turn around and find that we had just emerged from an abandoned building–that it had all, in fact, been a dream. At least until the first Friday of next month, when Hoodslam returns to rock Oakland yet again.