Hoodslam!

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 photograph by Mikul Eriksson and Syra McCarthyversions 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.

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Exile’s Return

My eyes are on fire,
And smoke billows from my lungs.
I have passed through flame
To emerge with skin
charred and cracked,
With hair fizzled.
My heart has burst from unbearable heat,
And my soul is all but seared.
It was a long journey,
And though I have traveled far,
It is not nearly done.

Weary and wasted,
I followed light’s slow descent
Into the land of evening,
Pursued by voices from the ether,
With words of songs both familiar and un-:

Strap from you tether
Unwinds.
Some kind of madness is
Swallowing me whole.
I think I’m breaking down
Again.

They tease me,
They trip me,
They loose my feet from the stirrups,
They send my head swirling,
They threaten to cast me down from the saddle.

But other words break in,
Unbidden, yet welcome:

Carry on, my wayward son!
There’ll be peace when you are done!

They echo through the night,
Off mountain walls,
Through forest halls,
And they set my heels back down.
My back is straight,
My head aloft,
The danger of falling
Has passed for now.
A thought emerges:
I am my own soundtrack.

My faithful steed,
From East of Mississippi way,
Lumbers beneath me,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Veteran of many a campaign,
Ever-present confidant
And comforter.
We have passed through the fire
Together.
We have arrived in this place
Intact.
We may rest now.
We may heal now.
But then we must toil anew.
It is a strange sort of paradise,
But for now,
For better
Or for worse,
We have returned.

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Quitting the Light

As we hurled ourselves into the darkness, the-approaching-darkness from www.examiner.comthe clouds boiling toward our advance, I do not believe that there was a single one of us who turned his head to look back. Whatever was there was past. But it was not even that, for the past at least informs the present, shapes the future, no matter how irreconcilable it may become. What we left behind us that day was barely a memory. It had no place where we were headed, and so we set it down at our feet and continued on. We sloughed it off like something dead and useless, as if we were being reborn and crawling out of our protective shells to find them coarse and ugly–abominable things that we would sooner not recognize as the transformative and life-giving vessels that they had been. This was how we quit the light. No farewells, no final glances or mental photographs or fond reminiscences of the life that had been. We rushed toward the darkness, and it embraced us. We knew the light no more.

What choice did we have? Who could have turned his head and not his mind? What heart could ever glimpse that fading glow and not retreat, not return? What soulless thing could behold that promise and not long for it, and in that longing forsake its duty and cower in the remnants of light before the encroaching shadows? And so what hope might we have had if we had let ourselves believe that there was something more than darkness, that there could be a path other than the one we marched, if only for a whisper of a moment?

But that is what we abandoned along with the light. We abandoned the hope of light, even the desire for hope, and in doing so we condemned ourselves, however pure our ambitions or holy our task. We turned our backs on the very thing for which we fought, for to see it again would have meant its destruction instead of merely our own. Our courage was born in our forgetting, and even now I dare not think on this too long. Just as I dare not look behind me for fear that I might see the light and hope, for fear that I might not see it and despair. Just as I dare not look to my left or my right, for fear that I might confirm what I have long suspected: that I am the last one facing forward, the last of the willfully hopeless, inching further into the dark, alone.

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Sleep Walk

And when we sleep,Sleepwalk
Let us loose ourselves fully from the waking world–
Unbound from its mortal constraints,
Disentangled from conscious fears and notions.
Let the light not meet our shuttered brains,
That we may escape,
For as brief a spell as may be,
The illumination of our darker reaches,
Awakening within that shadowed space
To find it glow at light’s surrender.
Let our wanderings there be pure and unencumbered,
Unlike in those gossamer dreams,
So thin as to be transparent,
The kind that bend around us
As if to stand in for reality,
But in a way that is ineffectual and transient.
They recede almost as quickly as they appear,
And although they pretend at being
Specters of the imagination,
They contain much of the waking world in them.
They do not have the power to create,
Only to enhance,
Interpret for their own ends:
The room becomes a hall,
Thoughts of loved ones become people,
And traffic from the street outside
Adds color to the otherwise faded and fading quality
Of the realm that fights so halfheartedly to exist,
If only for the smallest and most insignificant of moments.
Instead,
Let us drink deeply of that nether world,
That place of power lost and forgotten.
Let us linger there with hearts of wonder,
Seeking neither knowledge nor understanding,
But healing and acceptance.
Let us think little and feel much,
Interact with what is real within us
Rather than with the shadows of what we have experienced without.
And let us approach with awe
That subtle hum that lies at the core–
Become lost in its presence,
Become found.

But on waking,
On waking let us journey slowly,
Release the world we have traveled in sleep
With the calm awareness that we need not cling to its memory,
For it is a part of us that can never be lost,
Only forgotten,
And even then not forever.
Let us carry with us that acceptance,
That healing,
Into the world of the light.
Let them illuminate our waking lives
And stream out with a brilliance all their own.
Let us greet the day with passion,
Not longing for the place we left inside.
Let that boundary between those worlds,
So thick and strong while we were away,
Be permeated from beyond at the time of our return,
That the sensory realm,
So blinding and seductive,
Might be tempered in its perceived importance
By the hallowed presence with which we are filled.

Let us walk the world not as sleepers, though,
But as those who have truly slept.
Let us embrace our wakefulness
Not with reluctance,
As we might a hollow alternative to what lies within,
But with an outpouring of enthusiasm,
As a celebration of a world that is filled with other beings,
Each possessed of inner fire.
And let us hope,
Dear friends,
That they, too, have known true sleep,
That they have escaped this place and returned
To share what they have dreamt,
To bring back some of that light
That thrives only in the inner blackness.
Let us return fulfilled and awakened,
That those who sleep with open eyes
Might see and close them,
Release the fear and fall into the dark,
To return once more themselves,
Perhaps one day to remind us
When we ourselves have forgotten how to sleep.

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Floored

You find yourself on the floor. Although you’ve been there for a while, you’re not quite sure how you got there. Did you wake up there? Have you even been asleep? Did you fall? At some point these questions are less important than the more immediate one: why are you still on the floor? And then you remember what you were doing just a few minutes ago. You were trying to stand. It’s easy to do, so just do it already. What are you waiting for? Up! Off of the floor! But you’re still there. You haven’t moved. You know that you can move; you just shook your head, shrugged your shoulders, put your palm to your face, wiggled your toes. So what’s the problem? How to begin is the problem. You’ve forgotten how it starts. But how could you possiblyimage courtesy of ev2bk.com have forgotten? It seems like such a simple thing, standing up, but you just don’t remember how to get going. Every time you muster up the nerve to try, you either get distracted or you’re too busy trying to figure out how to begin. So. Now it’s time to just do it. You analyze it logically. For the first time? You’re not sure, but that doesn’t matter. You’re going to figure this out. The beginning is the hard part. After that it should be a breeze. You remember it being easy once you get past that first step. But where does it start? It’s got to start with the legs. You feel like that’s a given. The legs and the feet. You really don’t know how else it could start. But how could you possibly be sure? Maybe it’s one of those things that seem so obvious but are really much more complex. Like walking, for example. But you should focus on standing first. Perhaps the legs really aren’t the way to go. So you try starting with the arms, but as soon as the thought crosses your mind you’re overcome with how silly it seems. How could it go arms first? You remember what the end result looks like, at least you think you do, and the arms don’t seem to be involved at all. Or are they? Do the arms come into it? You try it with the arms, lifting them the slightest bit from the floor, but you’re no closer to being upright. It can’t be the arms, then. How is this supposed to go? Surely it’s not the elbows, or the knees! It has to be the legs. There’s just no other way that makes sense. It’s decided. Start with the legs. Legs then feet. Or knees? No, not the knees. The knees come…they must come later. But what do you do with your hands? Hands seem so important, don’t they? Shouldn’t they be doing something? And what about your head? That’s the most important thing. It should start with the head. Yes. It definitely must start with the head. You move your head, but you’re still on the floor. You think about standing, but you’re still on the floor. You try not to think about standing, to fool yourself into remembering by accident, but you’re still on the floor. Seconds stand up and walk away, joined by minutes, and yet you lie there. Why don’t you get up and follow them? They are leaving without you! But how? Where to even begin? Seconds and minutes have it easy, but you have an entire body to contend with. But it’s been so long already. So much time has passed. You need to get up before you waste more. How long has it even been? And how did this even happen? How did you get on the floor in the first place? Did you wake up there? Have you been asleep? Did you fall? That doesn’t really matter right now, though. You can figure that out later. After you get up.

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Faces

image courtesy of designsmag.comThere is a stranger at the bottom of my mug. He waits there for me every morning, to stare up at me with tea-stained eyes peering out from a liquid face. It emerges, slowly, with each sip. Cautiously at first, reluctant to leave the comfort of the heat, but as the rich concoction begins to cool, more and more of that blanket pulled away and down my throat, the man begins to reveal himself. The brow slips into view, the quivering surface of the drink like an uncertain blade, deciding where to cut the image, what to strip away. But the man fights the blade, and as the line sinks lower, he raises his eyes to mine, silently announcing his presence, mocking my inability to look away, to pretend that I have not noticed. He is there, pressing his face higher and higher above the shrinking pool. Earl Grey cheeks gleam from below the brow; a Darjeeling nose pokes unavoidably in my direction; Jasmine eyes fix themselves upon me. Always, always he is there.

But the face is not the same. How can one man have so many faces? One man, doubtless the same in every way, but with faces as varied as tea itself. There is the Smiling Man. The creases in his forehead are enough to give him away, long before I meet the laughter in his eyes and the wrinkles in his bulging cheeks. He makes me smile as well, and it is this face that I like best on the stranger who occupies my mug. There is a kindness, a mirth, a joyful outpouring of love and acceptance that radiates from it with the steam that wafts up from the bottom to meet me. This face knows no pain, it knows no heartache. It longs to share, and I hope that it understands how much I long to share my happiness in return.

The Smiling Man, however, is not always the one that I see. There is also the Sad Man. His face sags and droops, waterlogged and soggy, and his eyes are full of bitter tears. The tea-line rises and hides his grief, then falls to send another stream of hot liquid running down his cheeks. It calls to me, the landscape of this face. It is a face that aches to be known, to escape the confines of this mug, to be embraced and kissed and loved. There is longing there, and when I meet this face I can feel this longing in myself. His pain becomes my own and lingers after he has withdrawn. If only I could lend him the peace that the Smiling Man always lends me.

And there are more still that lie in wait. The Weary Man and the Hopeful Man. The Confident Man and the Lost Man. The Frightened Man and the Healthy Man. They come unbidden, they come as they will, and I love and fear them according to their nature. But there is one that I dread the most, one that comes when I most need a friendlier face, and this is the Ugly Man. The Ugly Man is not sad, but dejected. His features are set and cruelly turned. There is no anger, but there is hatred, and he locks me in his loathing eyes, drawing me into that miserable visage as if to swallow me whole. Not depressed, but wretched, resigned, abandoned by his very self. He is blight and pestilence, and in this he revels. There is no end other than what he has already become, and the face has atrophied into stone. Unmoving, unyielding. He is terrifying, and if he could possibly twist his lips into a smile, the knowledge of this terror that he inspires would surely surely move him to do so.

Would that I could choose, would that I could decide for myself each morning whom I would find there, down below, staring up at me. I would choose the Happy Man, the Fulfilled Man, the Joyful Man, the Carefree Man. The Nervous, Worried, Desperate Man would never darken my mug again. The Spiteful Man and the Sick Man would stay far away, and the Angry Man would let go and allow another face to greet me. I would see the Smiling Man, his eyes wet with laughter, and never more fear that the Ugly Man might creep up from the dregs to torture me. That face would be gone, with the rest of his kind, and leave only warm, inspiring faces behind to lift me up and give me cheer. If only it were my choice, which face I would see there. I would choose a happy one. Always a happy one.

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Our World

Image courtesy of severinghaus.org

We live in a world
Where every leaf cries out
To be touched
To be caressed
To be fondled.
Where every twig and branch
Every twist and braid
Of a wrought iron fence
Every concrete frond
Of an ornamental fern
Longs to be traced,
That we may know its face
That it may impart a bit of its wisdom,
A bit of its soul,
In that moment of contact.
That we might recognize inside of it,
And inside of this moment,
And inside of this space,
A bit of the secret contained within.
That we might learn
That it carries life within it
That it is a being all its own
That it does not need us to exist,
But that it wishes to be known
To have its face remembered,
If only in that moment
When the fingers,
Casually or causally,
Meet its cool and welcoming surface.
To be touched.
To be known.

We live in a world
Where pens and pencils call
With silent voices
To be held
Stroked
Cradled.
They wish to be touched,
Not only to be known,
But that they might pass on their gift
Of eternal life.
The sharpest point is dull,
And the pen that remains full
Is soon dried out.
They mire in solitude
Half alive
Unfulfilled
Leading neglected lives.
But to be blunted,
Oh, to be blunted!
To be emptied,
Oh, to be emptied!
Such reward,
To be of use,
To know purpose at last.
Blunted
Sharpened
Blunted.
Emptied
Filled
Emptied.
Used and used and used up,
But for a purpose.
But with intent.
But in good faith.
So much wisdom to capture
So much history to record
So much laughter to inspire
So much sadness to reveal
And happiness to share.
For ink and lead both know
That within them lies the key
To immortality.
They alone possess that gift.
It is theirs to bestow,
If only one would claim it
Pick them up
Touch them
Caress them
Fondle them
Empty and blunt them
Fill and sharpen them
Put them to use.

We live in a world
Where the people we love
Love people.
Where the people we know
Know people.
Where the people we think about
Think about people.
The reflections in our eyes
Reflect the eyes of others,
Others unseen by our own.
The people we care about
Care about people.
The impressions they give us
Are given to them,
By us
By others
By themselves.
When we close our eyes to them
Close our minds to them
They live on.
When they are gone from us
They are not gone.
They live and laugh and love and linger
In the thoughts and minds and eyes
Of others.
Others known and unknown to us.
The people we long for
Long for people
Long for memories
Long for the future
Long for the lost moments,
Uncaptured, not forgotten,
Long for the real and the unreal
Blur reality and fiction
Choose what to keep
Choose what to discard
Choose where to be within themselves.
And these people
Long to be touched,
As we do.
They long to be held
To be caressed
To be fondled,
As we do.
They long to be blunted,
Oh, to be blunted!
They long to be emptied,
Oh, to be emptied!
And sharpened
And filled
And blunted
And emptied
Used and used and used up,
But for a purpose.
But with intent.
But in good faith.
As we do.

So touch them,
These leaves and branches.
Pick them up,
These tools,
And use them.
Fondle and caress these people you love,
These people in your life.
Do not let them go.
Empty and fill them,
Blunt and sharpen them,
And they will fill you,
And they will blunt you,
And they will empty you,
And they will sharpen you.
They will caress and fondle you.
They will use you and use you and use you up,
But for a purpose.
But with intent.
But in good faith.

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