The man was leering at her, fingering his waistband.
"See how she's smiling? Ooooh, she wants this!"
The woman in question was my wife, and the man yelling at her was dressed in tiny red trunks, boots, and a purple feather boa. In addition, he was only four foot nine.
"'Cause I've got it all," he continued, flexing and gyrating just inches from my wife's face. "Money, gold, and something you ain't had in a long time--muscles!"
Aw. Why did he have to bring me into this?
TERROR COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES
It's meat-locker cold at Sandy Barr's St. John's Flea Mart, where on Tuesday nights, a tattered ring becomes the centerpiece for wrestling. Drawing a motley crew of 12-25 audience members per week (half of whom are related to the wrestlers), it's a far cry from the mile-a-minute glitz and glamour of World Wrestling Entertainment. For one thing, many of the wrestlers have only been at it a few months, and their in-ring inexperience can make for some painfully drawn out matches. There's no entrance music blaring from loudspeakers to get the crowd (or performers) jacked up. The wrestlers, who range from about 20-45 years, 140-340 pounds, enter from backstage dressing rooms, frequently looking like school children marching out for a piano recital. Eyes trained on the ring, most of them walk right past the audience with a look of mixed concentration and terror in their eyes.
But then there's Lil Nasty Boy.
Born Danny Campbell, Lil Nasty Boy is the sparkplug phenomenon that ignites the Flea Mart on Tuesday nights. The first time I attended, I felt like an intrusive outsider, doubly conspicuous with my striped scarf and sizable flash/camera unit. The only paying customers (as far as I could determine) were a couple who brought their seven-year-old son.
The first match featured grandfatherly Sandy Barr himself (a long-retired wrestling legend filling in for a no-show), who padded to the ring in trunks and flip-flops. His opponent emerged from a separate dressing room--the man I came to know as Lil Nasty Boy--and immediately I was intimidated. Midget or no, this guy looked mean as hell and itching for a fight.
I was dying to take his picture, but terrified of drawing attention to myself. My fears were in vain; he had found a more worthy target--the seven-year-old whose dad had gone to take a pee.
"What are you looking at, kid?" he snarled, flexing and lurching in the boy's face. The child looked like he was about to burst into tears. "I know what your Mom's looking at. You've never seen that look in her eyes before, have you?" You could actually see the trauma settling into the boy's consciousness. "That's because I've got the gold, and that's what the ladies love," Nasty continued, referring to the tag-team belt that covered most of his groin and stomach area. The kid then made his tragic error.
"Is it plastic?" he asked.
It was as if he had accused Nasty's mother of being a filthy slut. Nasty went ballistic, slamming his belt into the concrete floor.
"Does that look like plastic? Does it? Does it?" he howled until his tag team partner, Insane Dwayne, restrained him from assaulting the child.
I damn near swooned. In this most bizarre of settings, a belligerent midget (his preferred term) came out and reduced a second grader--25% of the paying audience at that--to tears! Was I entertained? I was out of my skin with excitement.
LIL NASTY BOY AND "THE DUNGEON" OF CALGARY
Campbell, 39, was born in Vancouver, BC and decided as a child to become a wrestler after watching Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, Dutch Savage, and Harley Race religiously on TV. In 1984, he started toeing around the edge of the business and became the loudmouth manager of a biker tag team calling themselves The Lowriders. Then in 1987, Campbell went to Calgary to train in the infamous Hart Brothers camp. The Harts were "the First Family of Wrestling" in Canada, and their training camp, nicknamed "the Dungeon," is legendary for its brutal, masochistic methods of toughening guys up.
"I suffered a lot in the Dungeon," Nasty said. "Got real stretched out. That's why pain means nothing to me now."
While there, he built up his stamina, endurance, and tolerance for pain. He also learned about ring psychology--how to put together a realistic, captivating wrestling match, something he tries to pass on to the younger wrestlers in St. Johns.
"I try to keep it old school and make it look real. A lot of it's gone Hollywood these days."
THAT SNAPPING SOUND
One Tuesday night saw the return of the Hoquiam Kid, a young Latino wrestler, just recovering from a compound fracture in his left arm.
As Hoquiam made a genuinely enthusiastic, high-fiving pre-match dash around the ring, Nasty bellowed, "Oh boy. Looks like I've got another arm to break." Once the match started, Nasty continued to taunt the younger wrestler by making snapping motions in his opponent's face.
Nasty's in-ring style is a nuanced blend of two broad approaches--chickenshit cowardice swirled with pit bull intensity. When his opponent has any kind of advantage during a match, Nasty bails to the ropes, complains of cheating and bad refereeing, pleads for time-outs, and does anything in his power to avoid being man-handled. However, when he gains the upper hand (usually by cheating) and smells blood, he is as vicious as any wrestler I've ever seen.
After the match, Hoquiam ran his mouth off and called Lil Nasty Boy out. The ref tried to separate the two but wound up getting tossed out of the ring. By wrestling standards, it was a pretty conventional pull-apart. Only this beating didn't end. And it seemed to get more real and physical by the minute. Lil Nasty Boy was seething with rage, pummeling the younger wrestler, who was barely getting a punch in. There were no body slams or suplexes taking place--only punches and kicks that appeared to be making full contact. From everything my eyes were telling me--and I've watched a lot of pro wrestling--a real fight had broken out in the ring.
Of course, it was all part of the show.
I later told him how that segment had freaked me out, how I thought he had snapped.
"That's what you gotta do," Nasty said. "I have to make it believable to myself, because if I can't believe what I'm doing, how can my fans believe? Contact's not going to kill you. It's only a little bit of physical pain."
THE NASTY WAY
After training in Calgary, Nasty joined an all-midget circuit on the East Coast. After leaving the midget league, he began to wrestle "the big guys" out of necessity. Nasty has subsequently wrestled in front of 48,000 fans at Madison Square Garden and shared the same bill with icons like Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart. He claims the size of the crowd doesn't affect his performance.
"I put on the same show if it's two people or two thousand people," he tells me. "A lot of wrestlers get too involved with what they're doing inside the ring and forget there are fans out there. If you don't involve the fans they get bored, and you've lost the point of what you're doing out there. It starts to look like two guys working out in the ring."
The last time I saw Lil Nasty Boy wrestle, he and Insane Dwayne were tagging against the Hoquiam Kid and JR Barr. Nasty performed as if he were auditioning for Vince McMahon himself. In between his usual arsenal of crisp, technical wrestling moves, he sunk his teeth into Barr's leg, grabbed a cane from a lady in the audience to pummel Hoquiam with, and took time out to yell at my wife.
Nasty, old enough to be his opponent's father, stole the show once again and had the audience calling for his head.
"Every match I'm in, I can either get the audience to love me or hate me," Nasty said in a matter of fact tone. "I do everything I can to make sure the audience gets involved and has a good time. This shouldn't be like watching wrestling on TV--this is a live performance. And as far as whether or not being a midget has helped or hurt me as a wrestler, I can tell you this: size don't mean nothing."
See Lil Nasty Boy every Tuesday night at 8pm at Sandy Barr's Flea Mart, 7220 N. Burlington Ave in St. Johns. Tickets are $5-8.