Menace Jr. is a polymath—a wrestler, DJ, and Santería practitioner. When the son of his dead father’s rival revives a generations-old feud, he takes up his father’s luchador mask and risks revealing his last, and most shameful, title: sociologist.
The Cowboy Bible
For José Alfredo Jiménez Ortiz
I was born in a corner. In a wrestling ring. At Gómez Palace. I’m Lagunero. I’m rudo—a thug, a rascal. I’m a Menace.
I’ve always lived in San Pedro Amaro de la Purificación, in the state of Coahuila. The best Western of my childhood—Rue des Petites Epicuros, Paris, July of 19**—starred my father, masked, playing his old plastic sax on top of the ring. His name was Eusebio Laiseca, but he was known that night in Belgrano as Menace I, an RCA corporate shareholder. In addition to being a Greco-Roman wrestler and having a weakness for Raquel Welch’s ass, he formed part of the famous norteño duo, El Palomo and El Gorrión.
I first stepped in the Laguna Olympic Arena when I was five years old. I still remember my father, his back flat against the canvas, improvising some free jazz with his double quartet. That day, between the twelve strings and the four corners, before Don Cherry could jump off a post with his toy trumpet, I bared my obsessions. The first, the barrier created by my father’s mask (the mask he wore to fight was like a burladero, a wall that shelters fleeing bullfighters), and the second, the Bible he gave me when he defeated Santo, the Silver Mask. A Latin American paperback, bound in denim. A beauty, its color ranging from the intensity of Blue Demon’s mask to a Levi’s 501 fade. My father baptized it The Cowboy Bible (a.k.a. The Country Bible) and I couldn’t let it go. It became my security blanket. I was the new Linus. The Linus of the neon ring.
At sixteen, I saw two junkies die: Menace I and Menace II. My father left me his masks, cape, and boots, handmade courtesy of some Anglosexual groupies. I didn’t drop out of school. I had a degree in analysis and in the discrepancies between Side B, the bonus track, and the hidden track. One night, as I was working on my thesis about the influence of MP3 technology on imitation wrestler suits, El Joven Murrieta announced the return of a legend on the ten o’clock news, the headlining appearance of Santo’s Son. That’s when I climbed into the ring.
I debuted Sunday, December 21st. My godfather was Yelero Aguilar. A semifinal match. Australian relievers. The Ministers of Death I and II and Menace Jr. versus Tony Rodríguez, The Gentleman Falcon, and Little Falcon. Referee: Sergio Cordero.
We climbed into the ring accompanied by international cheerleaders. The Cousins, a female group from Argentina, sang, Watch your hands, Antonio, ’cuz Mama’s in the kitchen. Depeche Mode’s Never Let Me Down Again played in the background. That’s when I discovered my wrestling style, what would later be called Neo Vulgar Retro Kitsch. The kind of experimentation that had me playing Ministry with Rocío Banquells and Los Ángeles Negros, Los Terrícolas, and Los Caminantes, with María Daniela y Su Sonido Lasser.
No wrestling arena ever has AC, parking, or clean bathrooms. Since I had won the First contest at the Coahuila 2002 facilities with a set of cages I called First Adolescents, the critics called me a fan of Technologic, Daft Punk’s new video. Another group that was not too upset about my scandalous rise in popularity called me the boy genius of Lagunero painting.
The Cowboy Bible is like Black Mathematics or like a Little Brown Book. Before each match, I’d open the Bible in the dressing room in front of an altar dedicated to Yemayá, Eleguá, Changó, Ochún, and Obatalá. As a sacrifice I would offer up whatever pop single was playing on the radio and then I’d eat a chicken heart. When it came to Santería, I was privileged. The Cuban gods protected me in combat.
Because Gómez Palacio has always been the exquisite and proud birthplace of so many celebrity wrestlers, my solo and group shows grew in proportion to my detractors. The boxing and wrestling commissioner, in a sublime move, sentenced me to tour the Torreón-Gómez-Lerdo circuit.
The Ministers and I were victors everywhere. At the Municipal Auditorium, the crash cathedral, we unmasked the masked Diaboliques I, II, and III. They were triplets who worked at a butcher shop in downtown Gómez Patricio. My agent, making sure we had a dramatic lineup, got us a stellar fight, our last as the Three Musketeers, because he knew I needed to abandon the classic power trio format—bass, drums, guitar—in order to launch myself as a soloist.
My first individual performance was at the Laguna Coliseum. Wrestling fans are no different than film fans or ballet buffs. They are dying to say fuck you to the referee, to piss on the linesman. That’s when I started to suffer from withdrawal. It happened during hand-to-hand combat against the Great Markus. In the darkness of my dressing room, naked and possessed, I had sacrificed a Mecano single. I was going through cold turkey because of The Ministers’ absence. As I climbed into the ring, I showed the Cowboy Bible off to the audience, to the firefighters, to the cops, to the press. I put my hand on my heart and promised to abide by Murphy’s Law. The bell rang and the Great Markus said, Just take off your shitty little Wranglers and let’s play billiards. I won by knocking him down, twice. The first and second time.
My opponents were always rudos or exotics. My manager and Little Saint Jude Thaddeus—all that yakking’s gonna win you a smacking—said that a gladiator like me, who can take on Whoppers and Dagwoods with ease, should not waste his talents on conventional choreogra- phy. Blood should splatter the seats and stain the blondes.
The existential angst trailing these little rubber wrestlers who’d never even broken out of their packaging moved me to write and positioned me not only as the city’s youngest visual art critic but, to date, the only one. My column, Contemporanea, is still running Thursdays in the Milenio Laguna newspaper. As arbiter of visual arts, I was unsparing. I became a local tyrant.
My next exhibition was at the Plaza de Toros. I confronted Blue Panther, the Lagunero teacher. An italic rain was falling at the start of the show, and the lusty ring girls refused to go out without an umbrella. I left the dressing room holding an inflatable doll. The ovation was thunderous. It looked like Santos Modelo territory, headquarters for the Santos Laguna Warriors. There hadn’t been anything like this in wrestling since Hurricane Ramírez went out with Tonina Jackson. The Plaza is an appropriate place for experimentation. The bullring arena and the elements allow for a greater expansion of jazz-rock fusion and for trying out a few things with funk.
A mini-tour through San Pedroslavia and Pancho I. Mamadero prepared me for a more extensive trek through the barrio sands of Piernas Negras, San Pedrosburgo, Monterrey, and Estación Marte. I played almost every position: catcher, center fielder, and soliton. I was ready to take part in a riot of atomic magnitude to benefit the Red Cross, and I owed everything to my manager and the Holy Child Anacleto.
Because of my nasty glamor skills at the mixer, the turntable and scratching, the Public Records Office proposed giving me the state youth award. I was up against artists, rockers, writers, but the sitting government gave it to me for my timeless contributions to the people’s welfare. Still, a vocal community protested—especially the tiny frivolous faction of distinguished society ladies I called The Casserole Vanguard and reviled as chewy Ponderosa- brand wieners, uptight damsels who raised the profile of the engraving workshop to the rank of artistic affiliation. Then they just gave the award to a wrestler. A rudo. It was so fucked up, they should have given it to Martín Mantra.
Naturally, the award gave me the air of a pop star. The kind of envy provoked by all Laguneros inspired my detractors into even more taunting, and they gave me an appropriate, unbeatable, leonine nickname that was the truest of all: La Diva.
The battle between the volunteers for the Oblivion Cross was scheduled for Gomitos. At the Olímpico Laguna. A deluxe finale. Vintage relievers. Santo’s Son, Fishman, Doctor Wagner, and Aquarius versus Scarlett Pimpernel, Sexypisces, Super Super Super Super Porky, Silver Arm, and Menace Jr.
In order to tend to the son of the guy who filmed the psalms as if he were a favorite Taco Bell client, I drew a pentacle on my dressing room door and dropped a Mariana Ochoa CD in the middle. When I found out I’d be playing a few arm wrestling tournaments with my foremost rival, I appealed to all the magic a santero wrestler can scramble up on Skype.
As was to be expected by now, I appeared onstage with the Cowboy Bible held high. For ambient sound, there was Juan Salazar’s rendition of Amor de la calle. The fight was filmed for television. Wrestling’s heavy division meets wrestling’s heavy division. The fight got ratings that rivaled religious fanatical DJs. We were disqualified. To the beat of rudos rudos rudos, Dr. Assassin leapt from the second row dressed in civilian clothes, and we kicked Santo’s Son’s ass until we tore his mask and confiscated the martyr’s blood, urged on by the screams of the crowd: Fuck him, fuck that fucking dwarf.
I took the mic for our team and challenged Santo’s Son. Every saint deserves a chapel. The crowd. The crowd. I dared him to risk his belt. The defeated dwarf came up to the booth and grabbed the mic. I accept. I accept, Menace Junior. You’re nothing. You’re only good with a team. Menace Junior, by yourself, you are nothing. With those love handles of yours, no surgeon will take you on. You’re nothing.
The silver dwarf’s many performance dates had the promoters scheduling our show for after he got back from a two-month tour of Japan with Savoy Brown. My agent and little Saint Jude Singsong concluded we had to do some maintenance on our equipment, get a new life preserver, oil the joints, and change some of the padding. The point was to make a profit. And to get in shape after the insult about my weight and show up at the gig with more experience under my belt.
The first prized mask I grabbed was the Purchase Award at the DCCCXLVIII New Art Biennale in the state of Coahuila. After that, the display cases on the kitchen counter in my house grew in number and variety. After only a month and a half of training with a coach, my value on the market shot up. I invested in Thai pyrotechnics and started smoking $245 cigars. They were splendid.
Then I got myself a scalp. The Coahuila State Journalism Prize. My free pass: Prolific-plus. A grupera hit. A blend of Lidia Ávila and Martha Villalobos, the naughtiest, most savage and bloodiest of the lesbian wrestlers in the porno industry.
The second prized mask I earned for myself was a scholarship from the Coahuila State Foundation for Afternoon Sewing and Arts Research. The project was the writing of a complete essay, the definitive book that would explain the relationship between my theoretical concepts about comeback wrestling, architorture, and electronic music at ranch weddings.
I made my final preparations the weekend the silver dwarf returned. It was at the French Alliance gallery. I called the exhibition, To Die in the Desert. The press indulged me. According to the malicious gossips, the coverage was generous. But that’s a lie. The press merely recognized my talent. The phrase for which they most detested me came from Ignacio Echevarría in El País: Menace Jr., the hip-hop empire’s absolute magnate.
I freaked out that masked dwarf. Before he’d gone on tour, I was just a little unrefined brown sugar cube, but now I was a motorized mafioso terrorist. He’d need something a little more dangerous than a whip and a chair to avoid getting his little pocket trumpet of a head popped off.
Certain celebrity weddings had recently taken over the entertainment media and established an overwhelming tedium. They sold the fight as a vile mise-en-scene to a network that decided to hit its competition in the balls by broadcasting it via an open channel. No pay-per-view here.
The spectacle was called The Cursed Spring. The arena was packed. Yuri’s voice got lost on home theater speakers among the barking vendors and the famished crowd, delirious and drunk. Beerpop. Noxious lunches. Gorditas with cholera.
First up on the widescreen was Santo’s Son. His mentor was El Solitario. Mine was mini Espectrito. I left the rudo dressing room saturated with smoke. I’d made an offer of three Pandora LPs I’d burned between convulsions, untranslatable chants, prayers from postcards picked up on the highway.
I went dressed as a Cartesian seminarist. As soon as the guy in charge of composing the soundtrack to reflect the wrestling audience’s passions saw me take a step toward the ring, he put on a song by the great Sonora Dinamita:
Ae ae ae ae. Ae ae.
Ae ae ae ae. Ae ae.
Cry, heart, cry.
Cry, heart, cry.
Cry, heart, cry, ’cuz your Lagunero ain’t coming back.
There’ll be two or three takedowns with no time limits to win the national welterweight championship. From the extreme rudos, the pride of the Lagunero District, La Diva, also known as Menace Jr. From the technical team, The Silver Mask, also known as Santo’s Son.
Your Lagunero’s going, babe.
Going and not coming back.
Your Lagunero’s going, babe.
Going and not coming back.
Before any sound was heard, before the bell rang, a boy came up to the ropes to take a photo with me and a very sexy lady came over to give me a kiss. The place was divided. The dwarf’s popularity didn’t convince the rowdy thugs in the nosebleed seats, those guys who were only familiar with mortadella for lunch.
As soon as the action started, I planted myself between the four posts, opened my Cowboy Bible and began to preach in Yoruba: Black tongue, son of Menace, cumbianchero. I had the crowd spellbound, they were with me: Kill him. Kill him, Menace Jr. The sermon continued:
Jesus gonna be here.
Gonna be here soon.
You gotta keep the devil
Way down in the hole.
I beat Santo’s Son with three takedowns. They didn’t disqualify his suicide block, or a single hold, or even his straddling me. Cowboy Bible and belt in hand, I filled the mic with my maniac street preacher voice: Hey you, dwarf, campy film star, I challenge you to a match, just mask versus mask, no referee. Just us. Whipping our leather, whipping our courage. The star of so many ridiculous scripts responded: I accept, Menace Jr. Next week, right here, just one takedown.
Thursday, a day of tributes for the illustrious sport in Gomitos, we received notice that we were banished from the Olímpico Laguna. The reason given was that the first-division crowds threw too much stuff into the field. It happens frequently in soccer. So the match would take place behind closed doors and be broadcast on a national network.
The arena was empty. Just the second-string sound engineers hanging around their systems. We went up to the ring at the same time. Each one took his position at his corner. Behind the turntables.
It wasn’t a fun or dramatic match. My opponent wiped the floor with me. He was his father’s son. His collection of European vinyl was his advantage. It was huge. Broad. More than 2,500 records ready to go and fill a whole night of raving.
I did my best to get the most out of what I had, but no matter what kind of juxtapositions or genre acrobatics I played or sampled, no matter my programming or effects, the dwarf and his skills totally outdid me. All his equipment was first-rate. The needles, the earphones: everything was imported.
The sacrilege I’d committed two hours earlier of breaking dozens of records proved irrelevant. The Cowboy Bible didn’t respond either. I tore at it, implored it, cursed it, and still failed.
I didn’t wait for word from the authorities to take off my mask; I failed and did it myself in front of the cameras. I said my name, declared my profession as a sociologist, and handed the trophy over to the winner.
On my way to the rudo dressing room, I placed the Cowboy Bible on the third seat of the front row and walked away with the idea that I might challenge Santo’s Son in about a month, mask versus hairpiece, in my hometown, in San Pedro, Bahía.
From THE COWBOY BIBLE. Used with permission of Restless Books. Copyright © 2016 by Carlos Velázquez. Translation copyright © 2016 by Achy Obejas.