Rock, Paper, Rumble

El Pollo Masquadero Enters Downtown's Strangest Tournament

by Michael Call

There 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.

I 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.

The 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 place.

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.

My 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.

My 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.

I 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.

I steeled 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 reach.

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.

After 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.

3/22/04

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