Seated in a sparsely padded folding chair placed in the middle of rows and rows of sparsely padded folding chairs atop a dingy flakeboard floor, the only thing I can concentrate on is the smell.
Usually in the presence of an overpowering odor, I breathe through my mouth, but this smell is so bad, I can't bear the thought of tasting what I'm smelling, so I just breathe in, hoping for sweet relief when my synapses fry and I can't smell anymore.
It's old hot dogs and stale beer; it's burnt popcorn and body odor. It's part unventilated gym and part fraternity house on a Sunday morning.
It's the Richmond Coliseum with the World Wrestling Federation in town.
Let's get right down to it.
Never mind the youngsters screaming epithets and being congratulated for it. Never mind the same youngsters misogynistically crying out for the various, surgically enhanced female performers that graced the squared circle. Forget about how disturbing all of that is.
I'm not having fun.
I hadn't taken a knee-jerk path to this conclusion. As my friends and I pulled slowly through heavy traffic into a parking garage on 7th Street north of Broad Street May 16, I began to feel a thrill. Like being among the single-minded patrons of a NASCAR race, there is unabashed excitement in a mass of people. Unashamed, cheesy commercialism is fun, too. Hordes of small Steve Austins stride by wearing "Austin 3:16" T-shirts. There are just as many Rock supporters in shirts showing an electric-blue bull and a "Lay a smack down!" exhortation. There are even giant black foam hands of the type seen at football games only these have a different finger extended.
We find our seats without any trouble, a mere six or seven rows from the ring. And I admit that as the hard-rock soundtrack shuts off, the lights go down, the WWF announcer takes the stage, and fans rise from their seats cheering wildly, I am cheering right along with them.
Sadly, the announcer's introduction is for me the high point of the night.
The action commences with a tag-team event between The Hardy Boyz and Too Much. As soon as Too Much enters the ring, shouts of "Faggot" and similarly homophobic epithets ring out, notably from the 8- or 10-year-old sports fan sitting next to me. I should explain. The members of Too Much wear black and (oh my God!) pink tights, and mix a lot of primping and posing into their "fighting."
Needless to say, Too Much loses to the powerfully masculine Hardy Boyz, and heterosexual wrestling fans everywhere rejoice.
I'm not an expert judge of talent, but I had been confident that the Hardy Boyz would win, because everyone cheered them, and everyone booed Too Much. That is a formula quickly established and unerringly followed throughout the evening's 10 bouts. For a ticket that costs in excess of $30, you'd think they could have included a bit of suspense, but apparently not.
The evening trudges along, slowly building in excitement and volume as the more well-known wrestlers come out. Test quickly dispatches Prince Albert, Al Snow beats Hardcore Holly by slamming him into a table (sources seated higher up in the arena tell me that the exceptionally clean break Holly made in the table was clearly the result of some prefight sawing) and Ken Shamrock obliterates a Disciple of Apocalypse.
By the time the Godfather struts into the ring for the seventh bout of the evening, the crowd is really getting into it. The first note of a competitor's theme music on the arena's loudspeakers raises the spectators out of their seats, and the patrons fortunate enough to have floor seats leave them and flock en masse up to the ring as far as the fences and guards let them.
The massive Godfather, all 320 pounds of him, causes a lot of this, in part because he is apparently popular, and in part because he is a self-confessed "pimp," and to prove this fact, he brings four of his "hos" up to the ring with him. Everyone wants a very close look at the hos' implants, mostly visible through very skimpy minidresses.
Just in case Godfather's cred as a pimp is in question, all you need to do is read the glittery script on the back of his vest for proof: "Pimpin' Ain't Easy."
At the site of the hos, the boy on my right, clearly driven mad by his young hormones, shouts wildly for the Godfather's hos. He isn't alone. And since Golddust doesn't have any hos, but rather a very fat male sidekick named Blue Meanie, he's called "faggot" extensively by the fans.
Of course Godfather wins, and he and the ref enjoy a little victory bump and grind in the ring, and then leave. Fortunately for my neighbor, the next match features Road Dogg Jesse James against Owen Hart, who is accompanied by his companion Debra, clad in a very small purple miniskirted suit. My young neighbor, and thousands of others in the arena, begin calling for "puppies," which I soon realize means Debra's breasts.
The boy is rewarded for his enthusiastic call for the goods with big approving laughs from many of the adults around him.
The night's main event features The Rock defeating The Big Boss Man. After their match ends and the lights come up, the exodus from the arena begins. As we file out, mothers and daughters, fathers, brothers and sons gather up their handmade "Big Boss Man Sucks" signs and their big foam hands with the raised middle finger and slowly march home. Walking back to the parking garage in the midst of all of these families who have just spent time yelling for "puppies" together, I wonder to myself, "Whatever happened to taking a kid