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B. R. A.W. L. in the valley: No Woman Left Behind by M.R. Smith

“Have you heard about this new women’s arm-wrestling league?”

Kingston’s Keegan Ales manager Tommy Wolfe just had to tell me about this, while pouring me a Mother's Milk at the bar. He freely admits he thought it was a dumb idea at first, and went basically to jeer and confirm his suspicions. Came out a complete convert. “Man, you wouldn’t believe it—the costumes, the characters, the entourages! People were going bananas! Best time I’ve had in I don’t know how long.”

After seeing some YouTube footage myself later, I had to concur. Imagine all the fun of pro wrestling without the steroids, mega-macho, and actual hostility and people getting hurt (or appearing to anyway). OK, without the wrestlers. Add in fierce, funny, and imaginative women (and some guys), throw in some “gambling,” costumes, entourages, celebrity judges, an MC, a DJ, and a rowdy crowd. Whether it’s performance art or sport, B.R.A.W.L.—Broads Regional Arm Wrestling League—is becoming a regional phenomenon that may be the most entertaining thing you’ve ever done for a good cause.

Girls doing things considered “guy” activities—and vice versa. This has been a recurring theme for good friends and Rosendale artists Jacinta Bunnell and Julie Novak, who, along with Irit Reinheimer, are behind GirlsNotChicks.com, creating coloring books designed to empower young girls to step out of traditional gender roles, to envision themselves the victor in the fairy tale instead of the victim. When displaying books at a craft fair one day in December ’08, Jacinta was approached by Bard College senior Lily Bechtel—who started telling her about her mom, who was involved with a women’s arm wrestling team in Charlottesville, VA. Jacinta: “My jaw dropped. Then she said they would come in costume, my jaw dropped a little more. Then she said they raised money for charitable organizations that benefit women and girls. At that point, I wasn’t even breathing.”

Jacinta and Julie got fired up, made some calls, and quickly formed an organizational committee. Friends enthusiastically embraced the concept; wrestlers and entourages were ready to go. Lily’s Bard College connection made the Black Swan in Tivoli the logical site, and in April and May that year the first B.R.A.W.L. bouts occurred. Though everyone thought they would be a ton of fun, it was way more raucous and exciting than expected. And profitable too, raising substantial funds for the Family of Woodstock’s Domestic Violence Programs, and the B.I.R.T.H.E. program, which assists pregnant teens, partners, family and friends with pre-natal care, labor and delivery information, and parenting skills.

But the first bout wasn’t without controversy. The champion Nurse Hatchett had been observed receiving a potentially performance-enhancing injection pre-match. And the night’s take mysteriously disappeared, only to re-appear in the possession of a celebrity judge—Magenta Delecta—who then used the ill-gotten gains to purchase the entire league. (“I own these bitches,” she was overheard cackling.) Through quasi-religion and mind-control methods, she manages to control her thralls, using some sort of shamanic transubstantiation on what appear to be Necco wafers, which she places on each wrestler’s tongue pre-bout, intoning “this is the Body of B.R.A.W.L.” It seems to be effective, but yet there are dark murmurings . . .

The show begins with MC Lady Thumb Prince (Julie), who welcomes the crowd with a motormouth patter that could sell a used car to a used car salesman. Lady Thumb Prince has something of a checkered past, having been banned from the World Thumbwrestling Federation (WTF) for “inappropriate conduct,” but the rebel image has enhanced her cachet, and with a successful book tour (“Thumbthing For Everyone”) she is poised for stardom as the “Ryan Seacrest-but-actually-entertaining” of ladies arm-wrestling.

The Prince introduces the Celebrity Judges, who are generally not really celebrities (except in their own minds), but rather invented personae—often ex-wrestlers or wannabes pathetically trying to stay close to the sport. Celebrity Judges are there to be bribed and manipulated in any way possible, and to soak up undeserved adulation. Previous CJ’s have included rap pseudo-star Lil’ K, “skater” Tonya Hard-On, white-collar criminal Lucretia O, and the afore-mentioned Magenta Delecta. They’re there to be admired and reviled. And to cheat like crazy.

The Ref (Michael Wilcock, aka Michael Truckpile) is introduced. The Ref is all business, thoroughly impartial, and a brutal stickler for the rules . He announces the rules: pinner is the winner, three fouls you’re out. Fouls called include touching the other wrestler anywhere but the hand, false starts, lifting elbows or butts (both cheeks; one is OK). The Refs favorite penalty is a full DQ for a wrestler who, when losing past the 45° angle, attempts a foul to keep from being pinned. Tweeeeet. . . you’re OUTTA THERE.

Then, it’s time for the first bouts, where four pairs of eight wrestlers face off—one after the other—with the winners going to semi-finals, and the championship final. The first wrestlers squeeze into the ring area with full entourages of up to four in full costume and attitude. Entourages immediately begin working the crowd, exhorting them in various ways to bet on their patron competitor. It should be noted clearly here that there is no actual gambling happening, the “bets” are actually donations made in the spirit of sweaty ringside odds-making, with appropriate yelling and see-ya-and-raise-ya-ing. Though it all gets put together in the donation kitty at the end, people get very specific about whom they are putting their money on, and the resulting competition welcome, not to mention lucrative.

Entourages are essential—not just for bet extraction, but tending the needs of the wrestler. Sweatlana Slamabitch [Jackie McDonald] depends on hers for Absolut essentials. “Sweatlana’s entourage is awesome! Coach Kutchakokoff brings me shots of vodka…Sweatlana—an ex-gymnast—sweats profusely, so he has a towel over his arm, wiping away sweat, when necessary re-applying the sweat with a spray bottle, massaging her when needed, handing her a chalk bag…”

She then reveals her true attraction to the sport. “I liken it to underground Mexican cockfights. (At the Swan) it was like a dark, dirty venue full of people doing something that felt slightly illegal.”

The audience forms a circle around the center ring, where the wrestlers face off with elbows on red foam bricks, with additional bricks at the takedown positions. The matches themselves, while thrilling, take relatively little time, but the charged-up atmosphere from the bouts can bring folks sap to a boil. At the end of one finals, a guy at the Swan threw down a quick Benjamin to wrestle the champ, and got his wish (he got beat too). Left-handed Betty Blowtorch was knocked out early—the three-heat matches, which alternate right-left-right, tend to favor righties—but audience members demanded she get to take on any comers left-handed. All were dispatched.

It’s definitely not squeaky-clean—multiple nefarious techniques are utilized. Feared wrestler and New Jersey skater-girl “The One Arm Slam’It” (Michelle Tommasi) entered the ring with sunglasses and headphones, causing the psyched-out opponent to scream, “Oh crap! She’s using sight-and-sound deprivation!” Bee-hived hell-housewife Bunny Bruiser (Shannon Springer) clearly promotes substance abuse, fueled by copious martini and Valium intake. Goldirock’s entourage of Three Bears were cute and cuddly “with their furry little ears,” until it was time to collect the bets. Then they started acting like bears. Some would say inappropriately.

But girls—you too can become a B.R.A.W.L.-er. It’s as easy as sending an email to hudsonvalleybrawl@gmail.com with your wrestling name, concept, and entourage. Auditions couldn’t be more simple: other than being willing to be subservient (or at least give lip service) to Magenta, one must simply do the following: 1) prove you can lift a school bus, 2) prove you can pull a steamboat, and 3) have a willingness to lick a sweaty competitor. Literally. With your tongue.

Changes may be coming with B.R.A.W.L., however. At a recent meeting, Magenta (Jacinta) made all aware of her unbridled capitalist dream of taking the sport all the way—big shows, bright lights, lots of money. But the more “liberal” Iron Maiden (Amy Worley) and Soviet Sweatlana chafe under her bourgeois boot, and finally the metallic madam—whose raw power and prowess apparently inspired a British rock band to perform under her name as tribute—explodes, “We can not be bought and sold! And the Collective may come back to bite you on your ‘Delecta-ble’ butt.” Magenta snorts, retorting: “You want fame, fortune, glory? Or do ya want . . . GRANOLA?” The meeting is in danger of dissolving into a free-for-all, but the stern presence of The Ref reminds the feisty women that there is a time and place for conflict to be resolved: later this month at Hyde Park Roller Magic and Kingston’s Keegan Ales.

However, Tommy at Keegan’s might be in for a little surprise. Jacinta recalls, “Tommy’s first question to me on the phone was ‘you ladies shave your armpits, right?’ I said, ‘does it matter?’ He said, ‘I guess that’s a no.’”

Oh, he’s gonna find out all right.

Broads Regional Arm Wrestling League (B.R.A.W.L.) will be appearing Su 9/20 at the Hudson Valley Horrors Half-Time Show, at Hyde Park Roller Magic, 4178 Albany Post Rd. (Rte.9), Hyde Park, 7 PM; and Fr 9/25 at Keegan Ales, 20 St. James St., Kingston, 8 PM. Visit brawlnewyork.wordpress.com for more info.



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