Dispatches

Piledrivin’ Patriots

Joe Bongiorno

Photograph: Brian Howell

On parle français icitte!

On Saturday nights the basement of a church in the Hochelaga neighbourhood of Montréal transforms into an amateur wrestling slugfest. This is my first Inter Championship Wrestling show and I have arrived early. On the church lawn, at the entrance to the basement, a man wearing black shades reaches into a stock pot with a pair of tongs and pulls out an ear of corn for a woman in a pink football jersey and army pants. She sinks her teeth in and stares at me, half-smirking. It’s the you-ain’t-from-around-here look. Despite recent pushes for gentrification, Hochelaga is a working-class, and staunchly francophone, neighbourhood, known for its ladies of the night and supervised injection clinic.

Men and women in worn-out jeans are lying on the church steps, some eating corn on the cob. The stairs lead down to the wrestling ring, which is encircled by rows of folding chairs and wooden tables.

A woman handling money at the entrance looks up from a wad of five-dollar bills. “Blé d’Inde? Want some corn?”

I nod my head. “Wrestling.”

She waves me over. “Two dollars,” she says.

“I’ll take a hot dog, too,” I add and hand over the change.

A sign in bold letters indicates that no alcohol is permitted or served on the premises.

I take a seat in the front row. Over the course of the next ten minutes, the room fills with people. An announcer in a black suit and pink bow tie introduces the two rival gangs in the first fight: L’unité Freak and Les Fucking Fuckers. L’unité Freak don a crossbones and leather biker look; Les Fucking Fuckers wear diamond encrusted chains and silver rings, an aesthetic that might be described as hip-hop mafia. The two crews stand opposite each other, pointing fingers, raising fists, throwing up gang-sign-like hand gestures and flaunting golden belts emblazoned with a map of the Earth and the word “Champion.”

The first brawl begins. Tony Stallone, a middle-aged, large-gutted, grey-haired member of Les Fucking Fuckers, takes on an equally grey-haired member of L’unité Freak in purple garb. The stage rocks. Backhand slaps echo. Elbows fly. Flab reverberates. Tony corners his L’unité Freak competitor and hoists him onto the top rope, but the L’unité Freak wakes from his daze and reverses the balance of power. Dropkick! Tony is pinned to the ground. 1-2-3! It’s over. Stallone is out cold.

The bell rings.

The crowd boos the heel of the next fight, the leader of La fierté Canadienne, a large Black man who flaunts a red and white T-shirt with a maple leaf logo. As he makes his way down to the ring he sings “O Canada,” his hand on his heart. The crowd jeers. A woman in her seventies throws up her middle finger, as does a little boy. The leader of La fierté Canadienne taunts the crowd in English and waves a Canadian flag as he circles the ring in which waits his opponent, the reigning champion of L’unité Freak, clad in Quebec blue.

“We are in Canada!” shouts the leader of La fierté Canadienne.

“On parle français icitte!” cries his L’unité Freak opponent.

One of the L’unité Freak goons by the ringside yells something indecipherable through his Hannibal Lecter mask. The word Québec is scrawled across the chin.

An old woman bangs her cane on the metal railing. Beside her, a girl of about twelve stands up from her seat, holding a toddler in her arms. “Décâlissez!” she shouts. A fan in a denim jacket repeatedly yells, “CAN-A-DA,” turning the country’s name into a heckle.

“You shut your mouth! Toothless prick!” the leader of La fierté Canadienne responds.

A pair of teenage girls scream through mouthfuls of popcorn. “Parle français au Québec!”

The leader of La fierté Canadienne shakes his fist. “French Canadians are worthless!”

“Cana-chien!” yells the man in the denim jacket. “Je sais que t’as voté pour Trudeau!”

“C’est mon cousin!” yells one of the La fierté Canadienne goons.

This is a different sort of crowd than the one at the all-female femmes fatales show I saw a few years ago, also in a church basement, but in a different part of town.

Hochelaga-Maisonneuve had been one of Montréal’s separatist Parti-Québécois strongholds since 1989, when the district was created, until only recently, when it succumbed to Québec Solidaire, another separatist party. In the 1995 referendum, 65 percent of voters here cast their ballots for separation.

The battle of patriots degenerates into a theatre of dysfunction. Members of L’unité Freak and Les Fucking Fuckers jump into the ring. The referee is distracted by one of the L’unité Freak goons in leather, who frees one of his fellow L’unité Freaks, who in turn climbs into the ring and sucker-punches the leader of La fierté Canadienne from behind. He’s winding up once more when a La fierté Canadienne enforcer steps in and throws him over the ropes. Outside the ring, a Les Fucking Fuckers wearing a white bandana tied in the front in the style of Tupac Shakur, faux-gold necklaces, and wielding a wooden cane strikes a L’unité Freak on his bandaged arm. He goes down, crying in agony, waving his arms.

The wrestlers and the audience shout “Ta gueule!” at each other. The pregnant woman in front of me shouts insults through a half grin. The man beside me watches with an expression of utmost severity as he chews on a pepperoni stick.

In the 219 federal election the Bloc Québécois resurged in Québec, while some Albertans are calling for separation. Perhaps a new wrestler, Wayne Wexit, an oil rigger, will enter the fray and face his counterpart, Rémi Purelaine, the Quebec nationalist. I imagine a Canada in which patriots from the nation’s provinces and territories piledrive each other in a free-for-all jamboree—family squabble turned bar fight.

I take another bite of my hot dog. The leader of La fierté Canadienne gets back on his feet, suplexes his L’unité Freak opponent and pins him down for the count. One of the La fierté Canadienne enforcers waves the Canadian flag, singing the national anthem in broken English, amid the jeers and boos. The leader of La fierté Canadienne triumphantly raises his arms in the air and struts off, brandishing the championship belt, until next Saturday when he will duke it out again.

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Joe Bongiorno

Joe Bongiorno writes fiction and non-fiction. His writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in Canadian and American publications including Geist, Event, Freefall, Broken Pencil and Carte Blanche. He was shortlisted for the 2018 Freefall Prose and Poetry Contest and he won the Event 2019 Speculative Writing Contest. Bongiorno is currently working on a novel and a short story collection. He lives in Montréal.

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