In Search of the Cricket Master: Clean and Handy

* Getting real tired of politics, so *

In Search of the Cricket Master:

Clean and Handy

 Through the Slug National Network there came a startling report from Gene Slacks which could not be ignored: Cricket wrestling, a Chinese pastime akin to the cock fights of Puerto Rico, had entered our borders. The NYC SFS Bureau knew that a story of such social import could only be handled by their new reporting duo, a post-modern day Woodward and Bernstein, that is, Splinter and Roaddawg.

 They decided there was only way to do this properly, dress up like part German heroin dealer/part ’70s TV detective. All of the following is true, or so says the two who danced with the Cricket Masters.

11:00 am: Discussions on tactical maneuvers began in the NYC war room. Though Splinter went on a beautiful tangent about a biker who can take shots of whiskey with one hand and roll a joint with the other, they knew they had to focus if they were to grasp the grasshopper, nay, the cricket, out of the master’s hand. A quiet intensity swept over the boys as they realized their defining moment was at hand. Splinter started the meeting with a short history of the cricket, its wily ways, what to do if the henchmen of the Cricket Master corner us in a blind alley, and a brief biography of the last known Cricket Master. His eyes were cold. Unflinching, he’s deadpan deadly. Roaddawg listened intently, hurriedly jotted notes on his manila brief, then stood to address the room: “We’re definitely getting high though, right?”

11:20 am: Now with all of the preliminary information, which included watching The Legend of O for fighting techniques, the boys broke from the war room with crickets and breakfast meat on their minds.

11:25-11:40 am: Roaddawg attempted to the use an ATM machine. He first had to wait for the woman in front of him to finish with her banking. After taunting the hapless woman for five merciless minutes, she finally gave up and coldly walked away from the machine. Now it was Roaddawg’s turn at the ATM. He would later describe the catastrophe as follows: “…and that’s when I realized it wasn’t a normal ATM, but a device of pure evil. A device built for one reason and one reason only: to humiliate the user. I mean, who has six different checking accounts? Why did it need to know my date of birth, my girlfriend’s home telephone number?? Though vaguely concerned he might have wired $6,000 to the Portuguese Freedom Army, Roaddawg finally secured some funds from the devil spawn. As he walked away, a man standing in line mumbled, “What, did you forget to take the test?” And with that taunt, the circle was now complete. The snake had swallowed itself. Marijuana may have been involved.

11:40 am: Splinter and Roaddawg ate a solemn meal, knowing it could well be their last, at a Dominican diner across the street from the ATM of Cruel Zen. They ate and continued with their tactical discussions, “Have you ever with slept with an Asian woman before?” “No, but pagodas make me horny as hell.” All the while they were being serenaded by the softer side of Sears stylings by one Bryan Adams, circa 1985.

1:00 pm: Fed, rested and ready, Splinter and Roaddawg descended upon Chinatown like ninjas in the night. Nothing could stop them now in their search of the Cricket Master.

1:01 pm: Except this, which is best described by Roaddawg’s initial reaction, “What the holy-mary-mother-of-sweet-jesus-peter-christ-in-the-name-of-all-that’s-good- and-holy-ghost-and-god is this thing?” It was, simply enough, a three foot by three foot mountain-scape waterfall thing with wading pools and bonzai trees and little figurines smoking pipes. And then there was this yellow marble ball that magically spun and levitated around on the water all the time, though the water must have been hot because there was steam coming off of it. And, oh yeah, there were some lopsided christmas-light looking things here and there. Above the mountain-scape-whatever hung a little sign that read: “Money Pours In From All Sides.” Splinter and Roaddawg thought long and hard about this fortune cookie message and how it could possibly apply to the contraption before them. They were not successful. Some things are just outside of Western comprehension. Marijuana may have been involved.

1:15 pm: Like bloodhounds, the boys were back on the trail. They moved three steps over to the street vendor responsible for the sidewalk monstrosity. “Excuse me,” Roaddawg began, “We were wondering where we might scare up a little crickets wrestling.” She smiled, stamping her feet against the cold, “Crickets?” “Yes ma’am. We’re just two honest boys from the Midwest looking for some hot cricket action.” (Reminder to the reader: Splinter and Roaddawg are dressed like Mantis and the Fall Guy, respectively, all the while sweating innocent folks about crickets. “They knew we weren’t cops,” Roaddawg said later. “They knew no cop would be acting the way we did, but they were seriously confused as to exactly who we were.”) She smiled again, “Crickets? No, no, no.” At this point Splinter stepped forward, playing the part of bad cop, “Look ma’am, we know all about the crickets. No use in to trying sweet foot out of this one. Why don’t you just give it up and make all of our lives easier?” The smile left her face… morbidity crossed her voice, “Restaurant, two doors down.”

1:26 pm: Restaurant, two doors down. Splinter and Roaddawg case the joint from the sidewalk. It looks like the diner from Big Trouble in Little China. A couple of cross-armed, blood sport-style cooks stared out at our heroes, looking like they were ready to give Splinter and Roaddawg’s ‘Little Chinas’ some big trouble. Likely tragedy is narrowly averted when the boys notice the menu taped to the door, paricularly the appetizer section. The street vendor had not meant the living, wrestling kind of crickets, but the dead, chocolate-covered kind ($4.25).

1:32 pm: Splinter and Roaddawg, being habitual and lifelong quitters, are almost ready to quit when a spurt of inspiration explodes in their collective consciousness: “In order to find the cricket,” they reason, “one must become the cricket.” And, like good crickets, with the sound of one hand clapping ringing in their ears, they headed directly to the Canal Street Mall, a cavernous warehouse space in the middle of Chinatown.

1:48 pm: Splinter and Roaddawg go undercover into the warehouse posing as two white boys doing some Saturday browsing. On the second floor Roaddawg slinks up to an elderly cashier, “Crickets,” he says, testing the water. The cashier’s eyes dart quickly to Roaddawg’s, then quickly away. A sly smile creeps across Roaddawg’s face, “You know about the crickets, eh?” “No, no, no,” the elderly cashier said, shaking his head like Rain Man. But Roaddawg would not be denied, he always brought his A game when it came to seeing small insects grope each other, ?C?mon man, where the crickets at?” The elderly mans pointed a stuttering finger at the stairwell, “Third floor,” he said. “Don’t worry,” Splinter said, patting the old man’s shoulder, “We won’t tell them it was you.” And off our heroes went, where only gods dared to go.

2:00 pm: The entire third floor was cased with no signs of crickets, no hints as to the whereabouts of this forbidden fruit we call Cricket Wrestling. But then, as if the clouds had suddenly parted and released a single shaft of sunlight to illuminate the path to enlightenment, Splinter pointed skyward and said in a soft, awe-inspired voice, “Look, Roaddawg.” Roaddawg looked. Above their heads, strung from the rafters, hung millions upon millions of cages: wire cages, wooden cages, big cages, little cages and every other type of cage imaginable. Just then an employee walked by, a man in his mid-30s, wielding a pole that could only be used to pull these cages from the rafters. “These are the cricket cages?” Roaddawg asked, nodding at the rafters. The man with the pole was stunned. For a moment he didn’t know what to say. Then he fell back on that old, old anthem: “Crickets? No, no, no.” Roaddawg didn’t let up, “All these cages, they’re for the crickets. We know they’re for the crickets.” “No, no, no. For birds,” the man with pole responded. Directly above his head hung 20 or 30 cages of different shapes and styles, but all about four inches tall and four inches wide. The man with the pole couldn’t keep his eyes from slowly drifting upwards toward them, the cages clinking like a telltale heart. “You can’t fit a bird into one of those,” Roaddawg said with a certain indignation. “I have to go,” the man said and, before our heroes could move, he was gone.

This cricket roadblock temporarily dampened Splinter and Roaddawg’s spirits. But soon they were lifted again by all of the fine products offered for sale at the Canal Street Mall. Splinter’s eye was caught by a navy blue, Chairman Mao-style jacket ($40, marked down from $67.95) and a plastic penguin toothpick dispenser ($2.95; toothpicks not included), while Roaddawg’s fancy was captured by a pair of red suede pants with ‘LL Cool J’ emblazoned along the side ($15) and a box of ginseng ‘erotic tonic’ tea (10 vials, $4.95). The crown jewel was Roaddawg’s purchase of a little boy figurine that peed when his pants were pulled down ($1.95), named Weepy the Wee Wee. The ginseng ‘erotic tonic’ made Roaddawg’s lips and tongue numb.

2:30 pm: Splinter and Roaddawg decide that trying to ‘be the cricket in order to find the cricket’ was a stupid idea. They then decided: ‘In order to find the cricket, we must think like the Cricket Master. We must go where the Cricket Master would go: the OTB.’

2:32 pm: Sensing that their mission was nearing the climax, Roaddawg and Splinter made a quick stop to get in full battle regalia. They chose matching orange and rose colored shades, huge and rimless, with thick and silver frames ($6 each). They looked like the forsaken children of The Deerhunter and a string-bean heroin honey got on the cheap off the late night streets of Alphabet City.

2:40 pm: Splinter and Roaddawg entered the Chinatown Off Track Betting establishment. The room was a dark shade of foggy green and smelled of rotten luck, lost paychecks, and Taco Bell. The faces are mean, but Splinter and Roaddawg are not intimidated. They had come too far to this Cricket Heart of Darkness to be turned away by mortal fears. They were playing for keeps.

2:42 pm: Roaddawg spotted his mark. He was a 40-year old man with neatly parted hair and wire-rim glasses. There was something light and ordinary about his surface repose, but a fire burns in his eyes… the classic tell of the true Cricket Master. “Excuse me,” Roaddawg said as they approached the man, “Do you know where a guy like me might see cricket wrestling?” It started off the same, the way it had so many times before, “No, no, no.” But his words were not out of fear and secrecy. They were quick like the cricket’s sudden spring. “OK. I just heard that there’s some cricket wrestling around town and we’d really like to get in on the action. We got a young cricket who is trying to work his way off the mean streets of the south-side of Chinatown, and we want to see some of the other contenders.” His quick English breaks the pensive calm: “Where did you get this information?” Roaddawg shrugs, “I hear things, the streets talk.” The man slowly nodded, “You are too late. The crickets of which you speak wrestle only in the summer months, August.” The man continues on, telling our heroes of the sport’s illegality in America, and how it has been driven underground, and survives by way of the cricket’s hop: never holding matches in the same place twice. As he speaks it becomes increasingly evident that Splinter and Roaddawg are equal parts Danielsans to his Mr. Miyagi. The Cricket Master went on: “The crickets are passed around. You hold one in each hand and decide your cricket. When this has been done, the crickets are then placed in a bowl or shallow cardboard box.” He brought his hands together, interlocking his fingers, “Their arms lock like this.” As he spoke a warm glow came over his face and, as if in some dramatic revolt against the laws of Newton, he seemed to no longer stand, but elevate and hover above us in the crossed legs and locked fingers of the cricket. It was like watching some incarnate Siddhartha… the cricket, his river. Marijuana may have been involved.

 Then they wrestle and roll around until the winner flips the losing cricket out of the ring. Once the bets are paid, the losing cricket is undressed. Roaddawg asked, “What do you mean, undressed?” The Cricket Master nodded, “Yes, the loser’s legs and wings are laid to rest.” Confusion still lingered on Roaddawg’s face. The Cricket Master began to lose his patience: “Torn off. The wings and legs are torn off and the bodies are given to the children.” Confusion turned quickly to horror as comprehension sank in. The truth of the cricket changes a man. The Cricket Master refused to have his picture taken or his name identified. So it goes in this dark underworld.

 Some may argue that cricket wrestling has no place in American culture. Some will say that it is a cruel, immoral sport that denies crickets their rightful claim to the American Dream. But really, it’s hard to imagine anything more American than wrestling crickets in a dark alley way or on a forbidden rooftop. Our Cricket Master, a die-hard regular at the OTB in Chinatown, calls to mind so many other great Americans. He is our blue-collar Kathy Lee, our low-profile Michael Jackson. Like them and their great works, cricket wrestling is ultimately about what everything great is about: the children.

And oh, we’ll have our upstart cricket ready by next August… we will be back.