Okay, so here's what happens. I receive an e-mail from a fairly well-known local musician. For the yin/yang purposes of glorifying this individual's existence while simultaneously preserving the honor of his family, we will call him Gary Polecat.
In his missive, Mister Polecat relates numerous things. Chief among them, at least from my perspective, is the fact that, this very eve, he will be quite possibly the only male entrant in a nightclub mud wrestling competition.
Now, we all know that getting scantily clad women with various self-esteem issues to fight one another in a large kiddie pool one-third full of wet dirt is an age-old ploy for drawing men into bars. It's like the Wet T-Shirt Contest. Or Foxy Boxing. Or Ladies Under 40 Without Panties Get Free Valet Parking, No Cover And Open Bar Until Their Inhibitions Are Properly Lowered Nite. It's a dance-club staple.
But the Liar's Club, on Florida Avenue about a half-mile north of Hillsborough, isn't your average meat market. Not to put too fine a point on it, it's a freakshow, and I mean that in the best possible way. It's a haven for drinking-age punk rockers, industrial/fetish music aficionados, folks who take White Zombie's fashion statement way too seriously, and Seminole Heights hipsters safe in the knowledge that they can crawl home after last call. In the year or so since the Liar's Club successfully gave local karaoke dive The Spinnaker a hellbilly makeover, it has more than earned its reputation as a bar where the alternative is the norm and the khaki-clad pussy hound is the outsider.
The idea of filthy ladies going at it there for cash or a bar tab is roughly akin to the concept of Sid Vicious digging his way out of his grave to turn in a set at a Chuck E. Cheese's.
When I arrive a little after 10 p.m., the crowd is sparse, but Senor Polecat is in attendance, and fortifying his determination with $1.50 Sam Adamses. I'm given a raffle ticket at the door — judges for each round will be chosen by lottery. The club's small dance floor sports a large blow-up pool full of sludge, a tiny blow-up pool full of clean water, and a hose with a high-power nozzle; it's cordoned off with yellow crime scene ribbon. Rococo faux-plaster faces signifying the seven deadly sins hang over the bar, eyeing a stage which has been kept bare. Tonight is still karaoke night (think Sisters of Mercy, not Elton John), and we audience members will butcher tunes before and in between rounds of the new main attraction.
The usual eclectic crowd — tattooed, thrift-stored, pierced, dyed, punk, metal, indie, office-gig — filters in. Seriously, who out of this group of people is going to smack somebody else around, ankle-deep in sediment, for a $100 bar tab or $50 in cash? I mean, besides the eminently polite but occasionally excitable Gary Polecat? It doesn't seem like our kind of thing; then again, none of us ran screaming from the room when we laid eyes on The Pit. Shit, it's why I came.
The referee, scenester Eric Donaldson, makes his entrance in a full wetsuit, mask and snorkel.
Shortly after 11:30, an appointed emcee (who looks a bit like Andrew WK's older brother) instructs us to take out our raffle tickets. It's time to select the judges for the first bout. I pull my mustard-colored stub out of my shorts. I've never been to anything like this — personally, I'd rather just hit a strip club — and I kind of want to hear my number called in that way that we all automatically want to win. But I'm safe in the knowledge that the odds are against me and really, hey, this is kind of fucked up, you know? It's always better to be an anonymous crowd member when this sort of thing happens.
I'm the second judge chosen for the first bout, my digits and fate yanked out of a plastic beer pitcher.
I get onstage, collect my dry-erase board, bum a smoke from a fellow judge and wonder exactly what it is we're supposed to do. Herr Polecat isn't party to this fight. Instead, it's two sisters, both of whom might be over 18 but neither of whom will be drinking legally for quite a while. They're dressed in strappy wifebeater undershirts and spotlessly new men's briefs. I feel like a bit of a perv.
The bell rings.
The girls go at it with enthusiasm, egged on by a small but spastic crowd. Professional wrestling sucks; two young women flailing in a mud puddle and catcalled by a throng you never expected to get into such a thing does not. They're quickly covered with what looks a hell of a lot like excrement.
"Takedown! Three points!" screams our emcee, eyeballing us to make sure we've got it, just in case a representative from the Society of Semi-Violent Girl-on-Girl Entertainment drops by to check our scorecards, or something.
I write down "3 Points" on my dry-erase board, for some reason. The judge next to me, a younger man wearing uniform black and a spiked wristband, wishes loudly for "some titty."
Eight points later, one of the sisters wins by pinning the other. In the muck. You can't pin somebody against the translucent walls of the pool; you have to get 'em right down in that swamp for the kill. They remain friends, however, and are hosed clean as such.
My fellow judges and I, apparently more garnish than actual officials, are dismissed. Karaoke ensues, broken up by the soundman's repeated requests that many, many more females sign up for the pool party.
A huge, gargantuan, oceanic expanse of time goes by. I absolutely kill The Cult's "She Sells Sanctuary," and not in the good way. There only seem to be six of us, out of the 100 or so here, willing to volunteer for the non-muddy interactive part of the program. A young woman named Jocelyn handles Billy Idol's "White Wedding." Another young woman, in thigh-high fishnet stockings and airbrushed makeup recalling Daryl Hannah's character from Blade Runner, does Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker" while a close friend simulates cunnilingus on her.
Eventually, three more judges are drawn from the pitcher and Monsieur Polecat's name is called. In a cataclysmic stroke of misfortune, however, he is paired with a stubble-headed dude who's got a foot and a half and maybe 50 pounds on him — no other females signed up to take a dip. The larger guy makes short work of him, the emcee decides they should go for two out of three, and the larger guy makes short work of him again. I'm not a mind reader or anything, but I'm pretty sure that Gary's not too stoked about the way events have unfolded. He's a good sport, however, and takes his post-match hosing off like a good sport who thought he was gonna wrestle some girls and ended up getting flipped like an omelet (a dirty omelet) by some guy.
I'd like to think he learned something from the experience. I know I did. I learned that nobody, no matter how "alternative," how cool, how counter-culture or removed from the questionable mores of sheep-life thrills, is immune to the siren song of spectacle.
And if you think you are, maybe you just haven't been selected to judge a mud-wrestling match at a cyber-goth rockabilly bar yet.
Scott Harrell can be reached at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by e-mail at [email protected].