Here we go again. That’s what I was thinking. Yet another trip to the Oxford for jelly wrestling. Could I bear it? I certainly wasn’t carrying with me the “fresh anticipation” I’d felt just two weeks ago: the curiosity of trying out something new, the concrete experience of seeing something for yourself which is so locally famous. To run through the whole routine again? The strippers doing the same set of yogic maneuvers? The traipsing back and forth between main bar and back room? The fake cheering for the fake contest between fake opponents, narrated by the fake MC? How to experience this anew?
This trip was organised by the Sydney Ladies Artists Club, following Lisa’s gender-conscious ponderings after our last visit. Her idea was to get a significant posse of ladies together – just enough to tilt the mood of the room and slightly shift the event. We had observed, from our previous expedition, that the five girls who came along with our group had a positive impact on the enjoyment of some of the performers. I think the performers felt a certain solidarity when they saw women out in the audience cheering them on.
As it turned out, last night the mood certainly did tilt, but not at all due to our “intervention”…
As we entered the pub, it was immediately clear that things were not going to turn out as we had expected. The place was packed, much more so than before. There were large groups of young men lurking at the edges of the room. Members of the audience were checking each other out. All the tables were taken. We were standing in a thoroughfare. People kept brushing past. I felt an uneasy nervous tension.
Strangely, this tension seemed to evaporate when we passed into the back room for the wrestling itself. There were so many folks in attendance – “standing room only” – that the event lacked the intimacy (if you can call it that) which I had detected last time. It was this intimacy, I thought, which gave the whole thing a sort of hokey backyard flavour, and made me feel like it really mattered that I was there. By contrast, I could zone out in this bigger crowd, and nobody would be any the wiser.
On the other hand, the wrestlers themselves were much more “into it” than before. Claudia, who we had seen (last time) stripping with such panache, was now a wrestler.
(This puts paid to my two-tier theory, that there are wrestlers and strippers, and that the strippers, on account of their costumes, superior flexibility, and solo performance routines, occupy a higher rung on the ladder.)
Claudia was now in the jelly ring herself. And she was “going off”: ramping up the audience into an ever-louder cheer squad.
One young lady in the crowd, who may have been rather drunk, and wearing a green dress, was punching her fist into the air and cheering as she sang along passionately to the songs which blared out through each bout. These songs were sort of Green Day/Blink-182 ish songs, you know, that kind of priveleged US frat boy mid 1990s post-punk revival idea…You know what I mean?? Anyway, this girl knew ALL the words.
Claudia attempted some pretty risky athletic moves, at the sight of which I imagine even WWE wrestlers would tremble. At one point, she bounced atop the inflatable side of the ring – one, two, three times, in a mock-menacing way – then dive bomb/somersaulted into the jelly, landing flat on her back. I’m sure Anne – who is a registered nurse – was watching with the same trepidation as me. Later, I noticed Claudia wearing a wrist support band…
After this fairly raucus beginning, we filtered back into the main bar. A proportion of the evening’s punters had already left. And by the end of the second round, the place seemed even more empty. I guess, by now, all of the girls “had been seen”. There was no new flesh to be revealed. The only difference in the final round is that it’s an “all-in-battle”, so I suppose you get more writhing-flesh-per-unit-glance…
Because of this exodus, by the beginning of the last wrestle the room had regained its intimacy. One of the special features of the final round is the attempt to drag a member of the audience into the ring. This time, because of her visibility, the Green-Dress-Girl was targeted. And this is where things began to turn nasty.
Green-Dress-Girl had been dancing on top of a chair, singing along as usual. All four jelly wrestlers gestured towards her, coaxing, shouting “c’mon!” The boys in the crowd cheered her on. They began chanting: “In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring!” But it was clear that Green-Dress-Girl did not want to get in the ring. In my opinion, that’s where it should have ended. A little teasing, a little persuading, and then stop.
But the MC, who was obviously flustered by the failure of this campaign for audience participation, yelled into his mike: “C’mon! You CAN’T dance like that on a chair all night and then NOT get in the ring!”
At this point (and here I get a bit technical) the atmosphere moved from persuasion to coercion. Claudia jumped out of the jelly pit, scattering punters to both sides as she lunged for the Green-Dress-Girl. They had a tussle on the carpet at the back of the room, as Claudia tried to pick her up (!) and literally carry her into the fray. Green-Dress-Girl cried out “I paid my seven dollars to watch, like everybody else!” The attempt to drag her in failed. Claudia returned to the ring, amidst the deafening boo of the crowd, and the wrestling recommenced, sans ring-in. The wrestlers were clearly disappointed, and they flung jelly at the Green-Dress-Girl as a kind of half-baked punishment.
At the end of the match, Claudia and the Green-Dress-Girl confronted each other, yelling abuse and insults into each others faces. The boys in the crowd clustered around, again chanting “In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring! In-The-Ring!” There was a strange logic to this suggestion – as if a fight between the two of them, in the jelly, would resolve the fact that one of them was, in fact, resistant to the idea of getting into the jelly in the first place…
Things weren’t looking so good. We were worried about Green-Dress-Girl. She was pretty safe in the pub, with the nice burly bouncers clearing the decks, but what about once she stepped outside? How would she defend herself from the frustration of these men, who by now were shouting “TEASE!” and demanding mockingly: “TITS OUT FOR THE BOYS!” It was getting ugly.
Anne’s feeble cry – “No Still Means No!” – fell on deaf ears.
We funneled out onto the street. Two groups formed: the supporters of Green-Dress-Girl, who were looking out for her until she could jump into a cab; and “the boys” who gathered at a safe distance down Crystal Street to recommence their jeering. We loitered in the middle, wanting to make sure she was OK, but not really wanting to get directly involved unless absolutely necessary.
Eventually both groups disappeared into the night. We were left milling around on the sidewalk, keyed up and needing to debrief. We chatted with a man sitting on a bus-stop bench. I noticed he was the same fellow who had himself been dragged into the ring the fortnight before. I asked him whether it had been a set-up, or spontaneous. Well, he said, it wasn’t a set-up. He was actually a friend of one of the wrestlers, and came along to support her. That’s why she dragged him in. And his jeans? What happened? Did he go home completely sopping wet? Yep, he said. It was a bit cold, but I went home and got changed, and then we went out again…
His sober tones restored us a little. We all said goodbye, and I walked Josie down Shaw street before peeling off towards home.