A Stumbling Otis Original
We were broke, bored and fifteen. It was the final weekend of a six month long wrestling season, by then we were beyond burnt, body and mind. As a finale to our self-induce torture we would be trapped either on a greyhound bus, a sporting arena, or a motel room for five straight days; who could be surprised this story ultimately can be reduced to a delicate interplay of fire and the groin.
High school freshman often struggle to qualify for the state wrestling tournament, competition can be fierce, but in 1988 four gangly frosh boys from the thriving metropolis of Cut Bank, Montana made the cut.
I haven’t asked any of these peoples permission to use their name, frankly I don’t give a shit but just to be nice I’ll use nicknames henceforth. A motley lot we made; I was 6’2” but competing in the 140lb weight class. I had a big ass nose and blonde hair. I looked like an anorexic Big Bird stalking the mat in my gold singlet. Inversely, “Binko” was a squatty, little bastard about as wide as he was tall, we’ll get to know Bink soon enough. My other teammates were “Jar” and “CP”: CP was the cute, quiet one with exactly the kind of boyish mischief in his smile that all the cheerleaders liked. I’m pretty sure he got laid early and a lot, but no one would’ve known which is of course why it happened. Jar was sly and tough with a hint of natural meanness, the kind that made him a true master at fucking with people. He wasn’t as much a smartass as a craftsman. I always admired that about Jar.
It was the last trip of the season but we loaded the bus as always, sharply adorned in acid wash jeans and high top Nikes. We jockeyed for seats nearest the back, nearest the elders holding court upon their bench-seat dais. The doors closed and away we rolled, Captain Ron our steadfast driver and my father at the helm. It was a six hour ride to Billings, Montana.
The Metra Arena, traditional home to the Montana All-Class State Wrestling Tournament, is your standard steel and concrete, multi-use expo found generically across city and college campus nationwide. Seating about twenty thousand, it could even be considered modest against its NCAA and NBA peers; but to me, to us, four hill-billy, farm boys from Cut Bank, Montana it might as well have been Madison Square Jarden, Yankee Stadium… The Coliseum even, complete with warrior ghosts still crossing blood covered swords to the cacophony of gore thirsty crowds hysteric to the rafters.
Hey, what can I say, we were what we were, small town kids, shit-heal farm boys …we had one stop light in our town, a six lane street was frightful urban labyrinth, back then we drove 125 miles to eat at McDonalds. That’s not a joke.
It really was no exaggeration to say, for us first-timers walking into the arena was just like the scene in Hoosiers when the team stares wide-eyed and star struck at their own state tournament venue.
The rest is a long ago blur….it was huge, chilly, impersonal rooms filled with nervous teenage boys, edgy giggles, hushed tones. The mechanized slap of jump-ropes piloted by experts, muffled and barely distinguishable squawks of a PA announcing weights and rooms and class, sudden booms of applause, deathly hushes of concern, this was the soundtrack to our next few days. Thinking back I can’t imagine the smell, the sick/sweet smell of the place, however unnoticed at the time.
Teenage boys stink, this I’ve come to know, but there it was amplified by a thousand bodies, by fear and sweat, dehydration, tears and joy, blood, glory and popcorn; all with the chemical honey undertone of vinyl rudder. Mat rubber and disinfectant, a smell unique to itself, a smell still in my dreams. Goddamn, I can imagine it must have taken weeks, or a rodeo, to clear the stank from that arena after an all-class State Wrestling tourney.
Goddamn, I can imagine it must have taken weeks, or a rodeo, to clear the stank from that arena after an all-class State Wrestling tourney.
I must digress. In case you don’t know the glamorous protocols of high school wrestling. In such a competition each contestant is allotted two loses. The weakest qualifiers get the honor of being matched against the top seeds in the first round. The four of us plebes certainly had that honor. If you’re defeated in the first match its common to grapple in another match quickly; which means that if you get your ass kicked again it’s over! Done! You have just spent six hours on a bus, starved for weeks, trained for months, missed parties, missed dates, all to be rewarded with another 60 hrs spent in an approximated gym. Well, really its more like this: on a bus to a motel, motel to bus, bus to arena, arena to bus to motel…… bus, arena, motel……bus, arena, motel…. It’s like a pre-pubescent Groundhog Day…its life stuck on repeat. So that, fair reader, is exactly how and why Binko decided to light his own nuts on fire!!! Boredom! Idle hands doing the devils work.
YEP, you read that correctly, Binko, the clown prince of the freshman four decided to apply accelerant and flame to his own testicles. I witnessed it, this is absolutely true. Now, let’s start back at the beginning.
We were broke, bored and fifteen. We couldn’t roam the hotel, not with Coach V patrolling the halls, we’d been warned already. None of us had learned to drink, not yet. Besides, smuggling booze required friends on the outside, an entourage. An entourage required being cool, we were not cool. We had mullets.
It was a Super Eight, not the Holiday Inn, nothing but network TV. There was not even a chance to see boobs on Cinemax. Cards were dull, untrue stories of women ravaged already retread. We were stir-crazy until a discovery was made; a lighter.
Forward we crept, like cavemen to the primordial flame, and, of course you know the first question uttered,
“Who as to fart?”
The nondescript room then immediately turned into a yoga studio of contorted teenagers squatting and bending, tucking and rolling all in an attempt to manifest a balloon of belly gas. Alas, after months of cutting weight, of reduced calories no one had gas. No amount of grunting and squeezing could yield a plume of methane. We had a lighter but nothing to light.
Brutal was our rollercoaster of emotion.
Sarcastically someone, Jar if I had to guess, suggested that Bink should light his nuts on fire…….funny, till he called the bluff , pushed down his elastic band and put the little orange flame to the top of his curly pubes. It crackled and snapped like a mini campfire complete with a wee curl of foul smelling smoke.
We all laughed, it was fucking funny. It stunk so bad, like some crazy mix of farm animal, barbershop and spent firepit. This, of course, just made it all the more comedic. I mean, HE BURNED HIS NUT HAIR. How do you not laugh at that, especially when you’re already giddy with boredom? Charged by the silly energy, the spotlight of attention, famous words were then uttered,
“Bink knows!” That is all he said, “Bink knows” and into to the bathroom he vanished. Please keep in mind that this was 1988 so it should be no shock that he reappeared with a shiny blue can of Aqua-Net Hairspray. He wore a madman grin. While holding a white bath towel he laid out his plan.
The plan was logic based, no doubt. If a small spark of burning pubic hair was funny then if you increase the flame you increase the humor. It was exponential.
Down again went the elastic band on his sweatpants but new to the equation was the light spritzing of cheap hairspray. A snap of the thumb brought the lighter to life, the orange flame linked with misting of spray on hair and a pretty blue flame danced to life from the top of Binko’s pube thatch……. We cackled.
Listen, it was completely stupid, and perfectly beautiful. Beside the immediate and visual comedy in seeing a propane blue flame leaping from your buddy’s nuts there is also the less obvious, cerebral element of taboo, of carnival bizarre, of freak show wonderlust. He was lighting his OWN nuts on fire, ON purpose. This is a concept deeply entertaining; this gets belly deep guffaws from a troop of shivering, flint age, Neanderthal and from non-fat, venti frappaccino drinking yuppie commuters alike. This is rich to the core of humanity. Don’t act like it’s beneath you. If you had been in that room you’d be laughing, don’t think you wouldn’t.
The first attempt with hairspray produced a small blaze leaping to approximately Binko’s belly button. He immediately tamped it out with the waiting towel in his other hand. It was quick and clever and it did draw giggling applause from the group. Common sense would demand that if a spritz of Aqua-Net lead to six inches of burning humor then more spray meant more humor.
Bink tossed his towel and another to Jar and I.
“K, help me put it out!” he confidently delegated. ‘YEAH, Ok buddy! SUUUREE! No problem, WE got your back’! That was the unspoken sentiment that flashed through the room. His safety is our first priority….yeah right.
Down went his sweats till they are nearly to the knee in the back, his dink is like a coat hook snagging the front of the sweats so only the root of it and his entire patch of unkept pubic hair is visible. Bare-chested he glances to us all, a splinter of precaution in his eye. We leered back like rabid hyenas all nodding YES, YES,
YES. Its FFFINNE said our eyes.
Reassured Binko lets loose the Aqua-Net, the first time it was a quick squirt/squirt this time he held the button down; blatantly coating this hair, stomach and dick base. He sprayed and sprayed till there was clear fluid literally dripping from his entire groin …..
he was wet with hairspray. Another nervous glance, again we nodded GO! Then the flame sprung in his hand, inching toward his crotch it went.
He exploded unexpectedly fast. The flame reached the radiating fumes a fair distance from his body. It surprised us all. There was an audible pop of air as his entire body was completely engulfed in blue flame. He spun and thrashed like a movie stuntman, howling and coughing at once. His fire fighting support team was seized by spasms of laughter. Binko was alone and on fire.
We beat himself in the crotch like an ape gone mad. This just made it funnier; he was not only burning alive, he was punching himself in the nuts furiously trying to kill the flame. This pleas and grunts had also become simian-like shrieks as he swatted and spun and shook and danced with blue flames encapsulating the majority of his body core.
Even now typing this, thinking back over twenty years, I can’t help but fucking chuckle. Oh my god it was a funny site. The frantic flailing, the fire, the aurora of hair smoke swirling around him like a bad magician trick, the girly shrieks and moans. The other three of us convulsed with hysterical laughter. Quite a sight it was.
It smelled like someone was burning a heap of dead dogs, totally putrid.
Before we could realize it our laughter was nearly became retches due to the smell. Again, this just made it more hilarious and harder to stop laughing.
The flame quickly burned off the alcohol in the hairspray and essentially put itself out in a matter of seconds. He was not even slightly burned, modest damage at best. The aftermath, however, did reveal visible evidence making the episode impossible to hide. He had singed off is eyebrows, eyelashes. The entire front of his hair was nothing but crispy, brown stalks. When he touched it is crumbled like thousand year old parchment. Even his nose hair was brown and lost to the inferno. Bink’s face was a raw, sunburned pink and now almost completely hairless.
We, of course, had made room to room calls to tell the tale to other teammates but the entire team didn’t immediately know the story as we mounted the bus in the morning. Within minutes the coaches, my Dad and others were asking what the smell was, those that knew tried to capture our giggles in our hands and coats. The murmurs of complaint over the smell continued, Bink still smelled like barbequed horsehair. Finally the ever crotchety Coach V stood up and yelled,
“What the hell stinks?” and without even waiting for a response continued, “BINKOWITCH what the hell did you do this time? “ Since the cat was clearly out of the bag the whole bus erupted with laughter. Someone yelled for coach to inquire about the status of his testicles. Grumpy and impatient Coach V wasn’t up for quizzes; he stalked back to where Binko was sitting.
“Jesus boy, you smell like a goddamn scorched mule. What the hell happened?”
It was a demand. I’m sure visions of charred walls, of a teeth grinding fire chief and ever mounting liability payments to Super 8 were beginning to boil beneath his trademark brown felt cowboy hat.
“I lit my balls on fire Coach,” replied Binko very matter-of-factly. The notoriously hotheaded Coach V simply starred, almost distantly reminiscent, then turned and walked back to the front of the bus without a word. Not much to say to a statement like that.
>>>>>>>> The End