Rock, Paper, Rumble
El Pollo Masquadero Enters Downtown's Strangest Tournament
was a palpable element of danger in the air on Saturday, March 13 as I
made my way to the second annual Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament in an
outdoor space beneath a bridge near Santa Fe Avenue. I had never
fancied myself a street fighter, but on this night, I was El Pollo
Masquadero. On this night, I was a tough guy.
Kent Hayward, aka "The Professor" (left), throws down at the second annual
Rock, Paper, Scissors tourney. Photo by Paul Morrissey.
pulled on my shiny blue and white Mexican wrestler's mask and tightened
it, threading the laces behind my head. In my newly acquired anonymity,
I felt suddenly invincible, peering through a cushioned covering of
foam and vinyl. I took a deep breath and entered the makeshift arena.
scene was electric. A DJ blasted a playlist of almost-danceable
melodies from an earlier decade. A concrete wall doubled as a movie
screen, featuring a constant loop of Bollywood film clips and Indian
music videos. In the midst of it all, two large white circles were
painted on the street's asphalt. This is where the action would take
The rules are the same as they have been for millennia:
Two contestants face off, fist-to-fist, and count to three. Rock beats
scissors; scissors beat paper; and paper beats rock. The winner of each
"best of five" match advances to the next round. A referee in each
circle mediates the action while the crowd gathers around to cheer on
their favorite contestants.
Many of the competitors assume some
sort of role, much like professional wrestlers. Last year's champ was
Da Burglar, a stealthy wizard in the ring, who competed wearing a nylon
stocking over his head. This year's roster of colorful characters
included the Barber, who came equipped with actual scissors and combs;
the Professor, who sported a tweed jacket, bow tie and walnut pipe; and
Mary Ann, decked out in denim cutoffs and a midriff-baring blouse, an
homage to the "Gilligan's Island" character. I chose the persona El
Pollo Masquadero, Spanish for "The Masked Chicken," because I wore a
mask and, you get the idea.
The tournament, which was organized
by Downtown resident Mark Dischler, began around 10 p.m. with a
qualifying round. Some 40 people signed up. Once I anted up the $5
entry fee, I stepped into the ring.
first challenger was a young woman who called herself L.A. Cheerleader
No. 1. Her brown hair was pulled into pigtails, tied with yellow
ribbons. She wore a pleated white and navy blue miniskirt with matching
sweater. A pair of white tube socks completed the ensemble. L.A.
Cheerleader No. 1 was vivacious and full of spirit, and she brought her
own, well, cheerleaders: L.A. Cheerleaders 2 and 3.
I took a
deep breath and tossed out paper, which trumped her rock. My rock beat
her scissors. Then I went back to paper. It was a clean sweep.
second and third rounds also came and went swiftly, as I intimidated my
opponents, with a homespun blend of footwork and name-calling. Plus, I
often led with scissors.
By midnight, I had acquired a minor fan
base. Strangers approached to pat me on the back and encourage me on to
victory. At least two people asked to have their photo taken with the
mysterious El Pollo Masquadero.
felt a ripple of fear when I saw my next opponent, another Hispanic, El
Zorro (actually, I'm from Utah, but in my mask, no one was the wiser).
The masked marauder was clad entirely in black, a cape draped over his
shoulders and a wide-brimmed hat fitted to his head.
myself, pulled out a rock and took a lead. A few seconds later it was
over: I found myself in the final four. The championship was within
My next opponent was Rubik's Cubed, a handsome man in his
20s who wore street clothes and bore one secret weapon: a constant,
piercing stare. Rubik was intense. His confidence was unwavering. He
started with paper, which bested my rock. He followed with rock, which
crushed my scissors. Although I fought hard, in the end his intensity
proved too much for El Pollo. I was eliminated in four matches.
my defeat, I shook Rubik's hand. Then, with a dramatic flourish, I
removed my mask. An audible gasp went up from the crowd and there were
even a few cheers. By this time, it was 2:30 a.m. I was exhausted. It
had been a grueling evening. I didn't stick around for the final
matches, but I later learned that Rubik took the title. At least I had
lost to a true champ.