Two ODs and a Vanilla Ice Concert
“Even if a bitch wants to look at you dirty, just shake a titty at her, she’ll laugh.”
So says Christy, a topless Juggalette who hitchhiked to Cave-in-Rock from Florida two days ago, trying to explain to me why she feels comfortable enough to go shirtless here, like she is now, even when she’s, as she says, “a total prude” back home. I feel myself aiming my chin at the middle of her forehead as I interview her, overcorrecting for my natural urge to glance down at her chest.
“Do you feel safe here?” Matt Lieb asks, perhaps projecting our own unease.
“This is the free-est and safest place on this planet,” Christy tells me, her green eyes getting big, the remnants of some mostly-washed off clown make-up marking her cheeks and forehead. “Because even if somebody wants to say ‘Hey, lemme touch your boobs,’ like, if I say no, they’re gonna respect that. They may f*ck with you a little bit, but that’s family.”
To make an obvious analogy, being at The Gathering of the Juggalos does feel like crashing someone else’s family reunion (obvious because they tend to chant “FAM-UH-LEE!” every 10 minutes). For one thing, it’s not that big. At 9,000 to 10,000 people, it’s a fraction the size of most music festivals, probably because it’s hard to travel this far out in the middle of nowhere on a lark, which is obviously the point. You end up seeing the same people over and over. They all seem like old friends, and almost to a person will tell you that this is the only place where they can truly be themselves, even if you didn’t ask. Of course, with our cameras and notebooks, we’re still outsiders and can’t relax at all, constantly feeling awkward, ignorant of the customs. But for the most part, people like Christy are happy to explain, open to the point that even self-described prudes seem blasé about being half naked on camera.
“If I say ‘hey, I’m not interested,’ or ‘hey, I’m taken,’ they’ll just point at whoever I’m dating or whatever, and be like, ‘hey, your girlfriend’s got some nice tits.’ People are more respectful here than you’d think,” she says.
I’m thinking respectfulness is easier to achieve among the Juggalos, and just as the thought crosses my mind, a golf cart with seven dudes in it pulls alongside Christy, slamming to a quick stop.
“Yo, my homeboy just wanted to see some tits, that’s why we stopped,” the driver says, by way of explanation. The racial make-up of the cart is about half white guys and half black, all with hats pointing different directions, like a street gang in an eighties movie.
“Yeah, bounce your tits,” the passenger says. Somewhere in the distance, an M-80 explodes.
“Whoop whoop!” Christy says, flashing her gummy smile, raising her arms over her head to oblige.
“BOUNCE. BOUNCE.” a guy on the back of the cart says into a bullhorn, the words coming out in a robotic monotone. Probably one out of every seven or eight guys here has a bullhorn, so almost every event, large or small, gets treated to this kind of crudely amplified peanut gallery.
The guys drive off, fulfilled, and I’m left to wonder: is it possible to seem innocent and vaguely rapey at the same time?
Christy gets to talking about fam-uh-lee, which is amazing and accepting and wonderful. She doesn’t directly reference troubles with her regular family, and in fact says it was her brother and sister who turned her into a Juggalo when she was 14. “They made way too much sense to not get along with,” she says.
But she’s been hitchhiking with her boyfriend (who’s sleeping on the grass about 10 feet away) for the past two years, a journey they started in Arkansas two days after they met each other. I ask her what she’s going back to after this, and she says “Probably I’m just gonna hitchhike around some more.”
Christy makes offhand reference to her mom ODing at one point, almost as an afterthought. We don’t press her on the details, but we get to talking about the fatal overdose that happened earlier that day, which by now everyone has heard about. Word travels fast among fam-uh-lee. Christy says “What I take from that is that, at least he was with his people, you know what I mean? I mean, it’s terrible and it’s a tragedy, but at least if you’re gonna die, you can’t hope for much better than being surrounded by your family, you know?”
Talking about it later, Matt Lieb, our resident former heroin addict and thus our heroin expert (though not an ODing expert), just shakes his head. Trying to find a silver lining to a 20-something year-old guy dying in a puddle of his own blood and puke at a rap festival in a swamp is the most naive thing he’s ever heard, as far as he’s concerned.
I feel like both he and Christy have a point.
A few hours earlier, a red ambulance had roared past as we were making our way back to Big Balla campsite from the Freakshow stage, where the wet t-shirt contest had been held. We don’t think much of it at the time, and we’re actually surprised that it’s the first ambulance we’ve seen, given that, well, we’re basically at a festival full of drugged up clowns throwing fire crackers at each other. I don’t even want to know how far the nearest hospital is from here.
Later news reports explain what happened. The dead kid is later identified as Cory Collins, a 24-year-old from Harrisburg, Illinois, who had a 6-year-old son. Collins had asked a stranger to sleep in his tent around noon, and a few hours later, the tent owner, who was himself high on mescaline, found Collins dead of a heroin overdose.
The incident took place near the seminar tent, central on the Gathering grounds. The man who died reportedly came from the direction of the “drug bridge” two to three hours before his body was found, feeling sick, and asked the owner of a large camping tent if he could have a place to sleep for a while, citing “family” (in reference to the Juggalos’ sense of community) in his plea. He was granted accommodations alongside four other individuals who were already sleeping.
When the owner of the tent, who admitted that he had taken mescaline earlier in the day, returned around 2 p.m. to check on the man, he found that the body was cold. He explained that he went to lift the man’s arm up (which reportedly displayed track marks) to check his pulse, but when he did so “the guy’s whole body came up — rigor mortis had begun to set in — and blood came out of his mouth.”
Our source explains that the man then frantically began trying to wake his sleeping friends, telling them that there was a dead man in the tent with them. “These are four dudes that had been sleeping with a corpse.” His friends initially thought he was joking or playing a prank. [RiverfrontTimes]
I’ve never tried mescaline, but that sounds like a horrible trip.
Not knowing any of this at the time, we only saw that the drug bridge had been blocked off by two semi-truck cabs on either side with a temporary guard rail erected down the center of it. The idea being that you could still walk across it, but now it was too narrow to allow both a walkway and the drug market it had hosted earlier, with people sitting on ice chests, advertising their drugs on cardboard signs. The market was eventually moved about 10 feet past the bridge, where it was marked with glow sticks on the grass spelling out “DRUGS.”
As for the drugs themselves, I never once saw 25i or N-Bomb, despite dozens of local news reports about the Gathering including the sentence “the drug of choice this year seemed to be 25I-NBOMe, aka 25i or N-Bomb,” — always in that breathless, local news “could your child be involved in Satanism??” kind of way. Mostly we saw weed, psychedelics, and pills of all kinds, everything from Oxy to obscure ADHD drugs. One guy was offering Trazadone, a 30-year-old antidepressant usually prescribed for insomnia, which sounds like the exact opposite of a party drug. You got the feeling that a lot of the Juggalos had just raided grandma’s cabinet and were sharing the spoils.
In the lull between the wet t-shirt contest and the oil wrestling – both of which are must-see events for the purposes of sociological study, obviously – we wander aimlessly through the stalls of carnival food, the pro wrestling stage. On the way, we pass the Psychopathic Radio tent, which is basically a big shed full of strippers dancing on poles, all presided over by Wolfpac, a Psychopathic Records rap-metal (I guess?) group who also make porn DVDs. Broadcasting live every afternoon (broadcasting to where I have no idea, since presumably most of their fans are here), it’s sort of like a Juggalo Howard Stern show. We pass just in time to see Skylar, the winner of the wet t-shirt contest, who’s also apparently a Wolfpac Girl (she did seem like a professional), fresh off her Faygo-drenched simulated analingus, now preparing to rip out a skinny Juggalo’s nipple ring with her teeth. The nipple guy, skinny and with dark braids, preps for the big moment by interlocking the fingers of his hands behind his back, gritting his teeth. Skylar puts her teeth around the ring on his right nipple, above which he has “JUGGALO” tattooed in old English lettering, and yanks her body straight backwards. The crowd cheers. The amateur masochist yells triumphantly. Skylar goes to wash her mouth out with Faygo, the Gathering’s answer to proper sanitation.
Skylar repeats the process on the other nipple, above which the guy has tattooed “WICKED J.” Afterwards, Matt Lieb interviews the guy about why he did it.
“I love Wolfpac, and I will never stop loving Wolfpac. Wolfpac was here when I didn’t f*ckin have nobody. What did I grow up with? Nothing. Did I have a mother? F*ck no. Did I have a father that cared about me? He cared about me, but he wasn’t there when I needed him. When I got my Psychopathic CD at 8 years old and I found out about Wolfpac, I knew they would be my family till the f*ckin’ end and they’d never do me f*ckin wrong. And the only way I could prove my sacrifice to Wolfpac is to have my nipples ripped out.”
“Alright, cool,” Matt says, stopping his recorder. Because what else is left to say? Besides “whoop whoop,” of course, which has become quite the useful catch-all.
Back at the Freakshow stage, the sky darkens overhead as the crew of SlickChix wrestling attempts to inflate their wrestling ring, initially without much success. The guy who seems to be the leader keeps calling for any SlickChix wrestling crew to get their asses to the Freakshow stage, shouting over the drone of the air compressor, struggling in vain against the flaccid heap of a ring. Apparently a significant number of his crew has gotten lost on the way to the Gathering, or possibly detained. What was billed as “the sexiest Chix in America tour with women straight from the pages of their national magazine” turns into another plea for volunteers from the crowd. It’s hard to say whether this was meant to be part of the show or a last minute scramble, but the crowd doesn’t seem to mind, even despite the gathering rain.
We realize the press lanyards that we’ve been tucking under our t-shirts allow us to watch the action from a dry position onstage, behind and above the wrestling ring, and we head back to take full advantage. Backstage, seven or eight girls are lined up in their brand new white t-shirts with “CHIX” printed on the front, and we pose for pictures with the dwarf referee (classic comedy, that). We’re playing right into the slightly exploitative, the-presence-of-a-dwarf-means-we’re-totally-partying! mindset this is encouraging, but this phenomenon has been going on since the Middle Ages, so I figure our participation probably doesn’t matter much, in the scheme of things.
“Can we take a picture with you?” I ask the ref.
“F*ck yeah, dude. I’m so faded,” he says.
We take our places on stage, me next to a heavily-tattooed dwarf with stunted Thalidomide arms where his hands come out of his shoulders. Presumably he’s part of the titular Freakshow, which is scheduled to go on at the Freakshow Stage right after the oil wrestling (they’re running about an hour behind).
SlickChix’ master of ceremonies, a forty-something guy wearing glasses and a ball cap, is apparently enmeshed in some kind of legal battle with Girls Gone Wild’s Joe Francis, and after an obtuse, esoteric cokeheadish ramble about his legal situation, he leads the crowd in a chant of “F*CK JOE FRANCIS!”
It seems a bit self-indulgent, but the crowd is happy to oblige. They just really like three-word chants.
They finally get the ring inflated and the action begins. The first match is between an extremely nubile young girl in raccoon eye make-up and a butch woman with a short haircut who dedicates her fight to her wife, standing near the stage, who just beat cancer. The crowd cheers. Every fight needs backstory. The nubile girl lies on her back smiling, while a guy in a blue baseball hat rubs oil on her bare legs and on her round breasts underneath her shirt. We see our camp neighbor, Mike, who’s apparently been deputized as a photographer, photographing the action near the stage, wearing a shirt that says “I want to f*ck your corpse.”
The wrestling starts, and predictably, the nubile girl gets trounced, though she becomes an instant fan favorite when she whips her shirt off between rounds. She has a fantastic torso. The combatants hug after the match, and despite the obvious “LET’S SEE SOME TITTIES, BITCHES!” vibe of the event, the participants seem to be genuinely enjoying the release. At least they get to be active participants in this one, instead of just standing there while guys squirt Faygo on them like in the wet t-shirt contest. There’s a bit of a Fight Club vibe to it.