Born in El Paso, he lived, always, on both sides of the border. He loved the rowdy, passionate crowds. He idolized the larger-than-life luchadores. He was not a big kid, but he was athletic and quick and in desperate need of an alter ego. That was not his experience as. His parents, particularly his father, were mortified by his effeminacy. Other kids were also rough.
He did not seem notably detached from, or perturbed by, what he was saying, but somewhere in between. Then he gave a small sigh and started putting on lipstick—fire-engine red. Mister Romano was a gladiator-themed rudo.
He wore a scary black-and-white mask and costume and had a wicked dropkick off the top rope. Working his way up the match cards in arenas along the border, he lasted less than a year. At first, they were dandies, a subset of rudos with capes and valets. They struck glamour-boy poses and threw flowers to the audience. It was a terrifying night.
But everybody already knew. Rosa Salvaje, like Mister Romano, was quick and tough. No limp wrists or squealing. Maybe a brief bump and grind after hurling an opponent from the ring into the first row of seats. Maybe a shock kiss on the mouth for some stud he had in a submission hold.
The crowds adored the act. It wasthe height of H. His father has still never seen one, except on TV. She did not let the drunken calls for homophobic homicide pass. No cry could give more pause to a Mexican heckler. They kicked hetero butt up and down the state of Chihuahua.
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Were these legitimate wins? In sporting terms, no. There is a reason the Nevada Gaming Control Board would never allow betting on pro wrestling: outcomes are predetermined. Rosa and Pimpi fulfilled that requirement. The name came from a Tijuana brothel keeper, Cassandra, whom he admired.
Cassandra was known for her generosity to the poor. With the profits from her bustling business, she helped street kids, and she had done the same, it was said, in her younger days as a high-priced prostitute. Cassandro found her blend of talents and sympathies inspiring.
Maybe it was possible to be a bawdy entertainer—scandalous, sexy, successful—and a good person. Once, in Guadalajara, an old woman stabbed him during a match, after the bout overflowed, as lucha libre often does, into the seats.
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Why did she do that? Cassandro shrugged. She got me right here, under the rib cage. I told her she was going to have a fucking heart attack. She did it anyway. My back was all sweaty. Those chilies really, really hurt. But that seemed to be a frenzy entirely of adoration. This was in March, at the Arena Kalaka.
It had been a difficult night, I thought. Children under twelve were excluded, ostensibly.
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Luchadores with more grit than finesse had been assaulting one another with steel chairs, boards wrapped in barbed wire, fluorescent light tubes of different lengths, a guitar wrapped in barbed wire, and, most alarmingly, a battery-operated power drill.
The drill turned out to be fake—its application to the skulls of downed fighters was pure pantomime—but after half a dozen matches broken glass from the light tubes was everywhere, and the blood pouring off the wrestlers was real. Referees were arranging barbed wire for maximum damage from a body slam.
The audience, about two hundred without, seemed gleeful. The violence of extrema was not too much for this crowd, apparently. Magno was a full head taller than Cassandro, who is five-five in boots. A fresh tarp had been thrown over the mat, taking the glass shards out of play, and the wrestlers exchanged headlocks, arm bars, leg locks, ingenious escapes, dropkicks, flying scissors kicks, diving leg drops, body slams, and flips off the ropes in rapid-fire combinations too complex, at least for me, to follow.
When they broke apart at one point, Cassandro threw a lone backflip in celebration and clapped his hands, smiling. Lucha libre is, on the whole, more acrobatic than U. The unemployed football linemen who have traditionally turned to pro wrestling in the U. Purists complain that Mexican lucha libre has lost some of its artistry, its originality, sexy a long-standing government ban on televising matches was lifted in the nineteen-nineties, leading to a lucha more homogeneous and gimmicky, performed for the cameras instead of for live audiences.
But that was not a problem at Arena Kalaka as Cassandro and Magno battled. Their high-flying, mask moves carried them through the ropes and deep into the seats, scattering spectators, who then helped them back into the ring. There was near-pin star near-pin, with Cassandro repeatedly bucking the big man off him at the count of. The crowd was on its feet, screaming. Finally, Cassandro leaped from the top rope and kangaroo-kicked Magno in the chest.
Both men hit the mat with a boom.
Cassandro bounced up first, ran for the ropes, came hard off the second rope backward, his legs extended, and somehow, blind, caught Magno, who had just risen from the mat, around the midsection in a wheelbarrow hold known as a casadora. One, two, three—and the match was his. Pesos rained down on the ring, an old-fashioned show of fan appreciation. Cassandro drank it in, panting, sweat-drenched, smiling, his eyes shining. He had lost one false eyelash.
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Somebody handed him a mike. His gaze fell on the extrema trash heap of barbed wire, lumber, bent light tubes, and broken glass. He moved to Mexico City and ed one of the major promotions. But he carried himself mask more confidence than he felt. It was unthinkable that Cassandro might win. Hijo del Santo was a world welterweight champion. More important, he was the son of El Santo, the most revered wrestler in the history of lucha libreand the silver mask he wore had belonged to his father. Many fans were outraged. The pressure was too much.
Pimpinela Escarlata found him in a bathroom and saved his life. Cassandro showed me the scars on his wrists. He kept his date with Hijo del Santo. He star the match, but he did not disgrace himself, which was important, and he kept wrestling at the highest level. He kept his confidence up, and himself numb, with large infusions of drugs and liquor: tequila, cocaine, marijuana. The without of lucha libre was attractive to powerful cops— federales —and to their underworld cousins, which insured an unlimited supply of illegal goods.
I believed in myself. I was famous, making money. I felt like Wonder Woman. She loved me so much. I did her makeup in the morgue. I was sexy when I did it. It was terrible. The worst part is I would have ended up dead or in prison if she had not died. I have a lot of guilt and shame over that. It took him several more years to hit bottom. His sobriety date—June 4, —is tattooed on his back. He found strength in an eclectic mixture of radical honesty, his own brand of Catholic mysticism, and, especially, Mayan and Native American spiritual practice, which introduced him to his Nahuatl ancestors.
The guy who needs to be famous.