"Smoke City" Michael Chin

Madeleine cradled my ankles in her arm pits, my body bent into a crescent, legs long and oiled, feet bare in the customs of Smoke City Wrestling. I moaned the way she’d told me to backstage. A sound of pain that could as easily be mistaken for a sex noise, because that’s what the men had come to hear.

I understood in that moment how wrestling might be sexy. The two of us wore booty shorts and sports bras, skin shining, athletic bodies pushing and pulling against one another.

My left ankle slipped loose My leg crashed to the mat. The hold hadn’t hurt, but the fall did a little.

Madeleine crouched into a half crab, some semblance of a grappling transition, like I’d fought partially free but she nonetheless still had me, all the while positioning my body to be more comfortable, less prone to actually getting hurt.

Madeleine was a safe worker. She’d been wrestling in Smoke City for five years and prided herself on knowing this variation on professional wrestling as well as anyone.

We sold sex to the men who drove in to Smoke City—a casino town—for card games and booze and to see what other trouble they might get into over long weekends. I came to the territory on the premise of good pay days, no travel, little of the wear and tear that comes with full-impact wrestling matches. Other girls reassured me if I could check my dignity at the door, it was a good place to cool my jets for a year or two and pad my bank account, add years to my career from giving my back a break from power bombs and spine busters in favor of sexy looking holds.

My first night in, I wasn’t so sure.

I won, but it didn’t mean anything—even less than the typically predetermined outcome of a professional wrestling match. Madeleine had been up front that most of us would take turns winning and losing, and the only exceptions were the girls with resting bitch face who worked better in dominating roles and girls like Lucy—a real girl-next-door type who sold better than anyone, so men would clamor to hear her whimpers escalate over the course of a match until the climax, screaming her submission.

I picked up the duke with a figure four leg lock that saw Madeleine shriek and stretch out her long neck in a way that drew a roar from the crowd. She ravaged fistfuls of hair and cast her tearful desperation at one man in the front row before screaming, “I give up! Please stop hurting me!”

I didn’t love that type of submission—the kind reserved for only the most cowardly jobber in most wrestling territories. I’d learn that was the nature of Smoke City Wrestling for the loser to be rendered a trembling, inconsolable mess whom the men in the crowd might fantasize about massaging the sore body of. I didn’t love what I had to do either, standing over her body, biceps flexed, a foot on her heaving bosom. They called it a victory pose, inviting flash photographs.

“Isn’t it all kind of voyeuristic?” I asked Madeleine in the locker room.

She smirked. “It’s wrestling.”

I’d shared a locker room with Dragon Princess when she’d talked about how it was a nobler pursuit to use physicality to entertain the masses by pretending to hurt someone rather than really hurting someone. I’d heard Pit Bull Peters talk about offering entertainment that transcended language—a narrative men like his Polish immigrant father could understand fresh off the boat, before he picked up the English language. I, myself, had mused wrestling storytelling might help us all better understand the human condition.