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Advancing A Piece

Anthony Butabi & Brittany Wonder at Hoodslam

Anthony Butabi & Brittany Wonder at Hoodslam

I didn’t realize until recently there is a very active wrestling community in Oakland and it is Hoodslam… and Hoodslam is Dope. I was introduced to it around the July 4th holiday and my best friend and me wanted to come see a full Hoodslam show. He was busy Friday which left me solo-bolo. I grabbed a beer, stood ringside and watched a night of wrestling and performance unlike anything I’d seen before. Since the community and the event are still so new and raw to me, I’m still unable to talk about it articulately. Even sitting here trying to frame the night for you… my mind pulls images that I can’t do anything with: Street Fighter vs. Mortal Combat characters… There was a dude in a gorilla suit, or I should say a gorilla who’s only human attributes are ‘his hands and sneakers’… There was a 4 way tag team match where two opponents brought out garbage cans full of weapons — graffiti’d stop signs, crutches, computer keyboard– to wop wrestlers upside the head with. There were men and women, cartoons and videogames, a live band, a stripper… I’m at a loss. Maybe next month when I go back I’ll give a better report. Right now I can only say: I don’t know exactly what happened, but I was with it!!!


Usually, Saturdays I head down to the Farmer’s Market to grocery shop for the weekend. This time, I just needed breakfast and stopped by the booth where, I have to admit, I’m crushing on this Korean woman because whenever I’m around her I’m thinking a lot more than I ever say aloud. I stopped by to check in and get a turkey-swiss croissant and there was this moment when I wanted to say more or as my chess-teacher would say: Advance a Piece, but couldn’t. Her vendor neighbor wouldn’t stop talking about how he’d improve her turkey croissants (Sigh: he had good ideas, though. Damn!) and then more customers started line up behind me and she moved on and I stayed stuck where I was.

Wow, That’s… deeply symbolic, actually…

So I did move on: I drank my coffee and ate while a grey haired musician sang 16 Tons and it seemed every person around me brought a child as accessory– pushing carriages, leading toddlers. Then I wandered down to Jimmy’s house since I promised and promised I would. Two blocks from his apartment I called and got his voicemail. I sat in the park.

There is another friend I was supposed to call back and haven’t been able to. I was also stuck on a moment between us I haven’t been able to move past. I needed to call her and yet sat there on a rock in the silent park, stroking her name on my cell phone as if it might grant a wish for courage. But I couldn’t do it. I whispered to myself I was a coward and called Jimmy’s number again. This time he answered and I went upstairs to his apartment.

He sat at one end of the kitchen table taking his blood pressure. A woman whom I knew sat at the other end playing nurse. I gave them some ginger molasses cookies I bought at the market and she poured a fruit smoothie she’d just made, then sat and talked endlessly. She showed me digital photographs she’d been taking while story after story poured from her. She is a plant fed only by the light of attention.

She eventually left to go to work. After a while, Jimmy’s phone rang. Another friend came by and had free passes to the Art and Soul festival downtown Oakland.

Art and Soul has been going on more than 10 years. I had friends who worked there for many of those years, giving up on it back in 2011 after it became too commercial and expensive for local vendors to rent booths.

Jimmy’s friend, Ken and his wife pulled up in front of the building and picked us up. We drove over to a parking garage behind the main stage. It was late afternoon and I was surprised to see so few people. What happened?

We parked and waited. Ken’s wife had a friend who worked security; she greased his palm and he got us inside the event which was awesome, even as the event itself was barely worth paying for. We did a lap or two, bought mini-sweet potato pies and was treated to free ribs by a supermarket that had a booth. We bought plates of fried catfish and jambalaya and as we ate, a woman passed and asked about the potato salad we were eating. Ken’s wife said: It looks better than it tastes, which could be said of the event itself. But I looked at the woman who asked and wondered in the back of my mind… Was she in marketing? Did she really have that much interest in potato salad or was this some kind of survey?

We sat for two musical performances, both excellent. Both bands none of us had heard of. The unsigned Vintage Trouble and gorgeous guitar work of Ray Obiedo. But Jimmy’s mind was already on the blues line up scheduled for tomorrow and was only interested in the women passing us in remarkable, curve revealing dresses and staying awake after eating buttery soft pork ribs.

Ken and his wife dropped us off at Jimmy’s apartment, then drove into the rest of the afternoon. I walked to the liquor store with Jimmy as he loaded up on wine and champaigne for later that night and the weekend. If his intended Bid Wist game went on that night, it did so without me. I’d been hanging out for hours and was exhausted. But I was glad I came: earlier, I got to see a project I did with Jimmy air on cable tv. The woman who was visiting gave me five dollars for a copy of my poetry chapbook. I got in Art and Soul for free, and Ken fed us fried catfish and jambalaya between compulsively buying ties (His wife: “You bought another tie??”) and Black Panther t-shirts. The weather was nice, the music awesome, and the women gorgeous. What else is there?

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