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Visiting Medieval Times.

posted by Mel on 6/05/01

Admission: Forty Dollars. Picture: Twelve Dollars. Forgetting your brain and overbearing sense of self-importance for two hours of blissful stupidity: Priceless.

One of the major perks to sharing your life and your joystick with a card-carrying fangirl is the lack of boredom that occurs when attempting to plan social outings. The merging of action figure collections, heated debates about which was more underappreciated--Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or the Coen's The Big Lebowski--and the occasional indulgence of certain fetishes by donning an orange turtleneck and matching socks are solid pros for the cause, but nothing can spell out G-E-E-K-L-O-V-E like a refined taste for the finer kitsch of life.

Jenks is a joshi ninja girl of the art. Through her influence and far-reaching connections in the realm of the cheesy, we've toe-tapped through the Calico Ghost Town, the Cabazon Dinosaurs, The Madonna Inn, the tackiest treasures that Vegas has to offer in its sucktacular tourist-trapping underbelly and Los Angeles' finest tributes to the beauty of biting the bullet. Jenks is the perennial wildgirl of the shit that mundane society won't touch: if they spurn it, she's gotta have it. The side effects of being repressed in a four-walled cubicle and slow-baked beneath halogen lights for nine hours a day are a terrible thing to beholden for the normal, but it's all part of the daily weirdness in our bizarre kingdom of Burbank.

The case in point for our purposes today was the pressing question of Hodge's twenty-first birthday. No mere celebration of party poppers and pointy hands, this landmark date required a special kick in the teeth for all those who chose to be involved--at long last, young K.O. would be setting aside the bottles of model glue that he's usually stabbing up a nostril and taking his rightful place at the counter of Greendale's premiere corner stores, legally empowered to purchase a bottle of mash liquor in an inconspicuous brown paper sack. These were reasons worth going the extra mile for, and it was on those grounds of delusional purpose that we found our destination..

Medieval Times.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the franchise, Medieval Times is both a critical aspect in the lives of children fortunate enough to come up in California, New Jersey, Toronto, Dallas, or any half-dozen other featured cities, as well as the closest some of us will ever get to enjoying a pro wrestling spectacle within spitting distance. With a lot more horse piss. And a much heftier pricetag. And a turnstile fascism so potent, it makes the Magic Kingdom look like marshmellows and dreamtime in comparison.

Socked away safely in Buena Park, about a cannonball's fling from the aforementioned Disneyland and right down the street from Knott's Berry Farm, the Southern California Medieval Times is one of those abridged entertainment hotspots that benefits greatly from its location. Half of Orange County is appropriated Disney territory: when the millions upon millions of tourists who descend on the Anaheim stretch to visit annually need a place to kick up their loafers and enjoy an overpriced family experience with local relatives, this is the answer. And with thousands of Angeleno children who accepted the place as a part of the childhood canon--the statistics of kids who either threw a soiree at Medieval Times in their innocent years or attended someone else's must be numbing--this place has managed to transcend the usual mire of tourist trash and established itself as a legitimate weekend event.

Erected as sort of a Pic-n-Save RenFaire, Medieval Times is an arena and supper show built on mulleted knights beating the living shit out of one another with heavy saps and sticks. Depending on which section you happen to be stuffed into--each with as much elbow room as the thankfully defunct Inglewood icon and sardine-can impersonator the Great Western Forum--you'll be cheering for one of the color-coded heroes or knaves as they engage in fancy games of skill and the occasional homicide.

There's no denying that these guys subscribe to the same standards of carnie professionalism that you'll find at any quality indie pro wrestling show, but the spectacle is by far overshadowed by the slaughterhouse business practices. For all the rhetorical flak spat by suburbian anarchists looking for something to rage against, Disneyland ain't got nothin' on Medieval Times when it comes to comparing humans to cud-chewing cattle en route to the slaughter. The fatheads working at Disney in Walt's wake have at least realized the need to provide show enough to distract away from the dollar-fifty boxed juices and souvenier static.

But Medieval Times is much more old school Vegas. By the time the last ounce of blood's been drained on the sawdust, you half-expect a pair of Sicilian bruisers named Mitts and Bruno to make the rounds in the bleachers, extorting any loose change or wayward dollar bills from the tourists stuffed on sodden ribs and boiled chicken. It's an admirable system of business in a car-wreck sense, and somehow reassuring that not every successful venture need to subscribe to Starbuck's pantywaisted commandments of customer service. In a society homogonized so badly on both sides of the counter, at least someone is still treating the paying customers as just that.

The evening started on a note of ill omens. Black sky, oil on the freeways and bumpers kissing from Las Feliz to the fringes of the Anaheim Empire, all arranged neatly beneath the standard miasma of automotive death expectancy and exhaust fumes. It was a square three hours before we made the mob scene stuffed into the entry gates, the battle cry from the ticket stand to be in your seats "An hour before showtime" apparently having as much effect on our itinerary as the rest of Southern California's population. We were finally herded at the sharp end of a stick through the gates and let loose in the building's atrium, where Hodge emerged from a group of frightened children. He was a rare creature, even by his standards: cigarette screwed into his lips, a checkered crown perfectly doffed atop his skull and his eyes leaking the usual amount of sociopathic radiation. A knave in a yellow and purple silk cape blurted something about "No smoking in the-", but the birthday boy was already slipping back into the line of thinly-veiled chaos with a heroin grin. Under the turnstile and into the salmon stream, just another good and angry patron mired in claustrophobia and paranoia about missing the opening act.

The supression began almost as soon as we were out the rain. I was jamming a finger in my ear to block out the shrieking of about fifty kids that were mobbing my calves when some goon in a squire outfit demanded to know if I wanted to take a picture with the king or queen. I replied in the resoundingly agitated--no, just give me a crown to the green team, and I'd be squared and out of his hair. No eye contact, no recognition, simply the question again.. louder. I cocked my head and glanced at Jenkies and Hodge, who were apparently hip to the language of the cash register.

"What the fuck is he talking about? We're on the green team, right?"

"No, you have to take your picture with the king or the queen," Hodge said. "The king, bitch. We're taking our picture with the king."

I glanced back at the hockhead, who was giving his co-worker that familiar look of minimum wage irritation. The one where you don't have the balls to roll those eyes up outright, so you turn your head just far enough over to where you may or may not be out of the patron's line of vision. When he snapped back with that stupid grin still faint on his lips, I jabbed a hand past his face at the stubby monarch with the white grizzle. The King it would be, by command of the court psychopath. Hodge nearly vanished as he turned sideways to go around our pal at the red rope, but didn't make it onto the photo podium. He was confident enough. Moving swiftly towards the King's left flank, taking those loping bindlestiff strides, nearly there when the entire operation seemed to come to a dumb halt. All employee eyes were on us, and at least five different crown folders snapped in synchronicity:

"One to a picture! One to a picture! Only one to a picture!"

You would expect certain breaks in protocol to be made for a birthday, but falling in with the zero tolerance policy for anyone getting away with a loose nickel, the bastards were about to draw swords to get Hodge out of the shot. The poor freaks looked like they were about to call the cops.

"It's his twenty-first birthday, we've gotta get a picture together for it," I reasoned to the guy behind the oversized digital job. He ignored me and fiddled with the zoom lens.

"Only one to a picture," the human hamburger holding back a herd of crazed kids repeated. I nodded graciously, as if I hadn't heard them the first seventy fucking times. The flashbulb exploded, and I joined Hodge behind the velvet curtain. But not before the King grunted some words of encouragement that I'll be sure and carve into the granite of my tombstone:

"Only one to a picture. Have a great rib."

Yes, a great rib indeed.

When you happen to be eight years old, the Medieval Times show is like Fantasmic on crack. All the right switches get flipped--the bad guys wear wicked black leather, there's a wizard throwing fireballs, and the arena seems like could house Hannibal's entire elephant cavalry and still have room for a couple schoolbusses. One of the greatest and most damning proofs of lost innocence is when things once magical are converted from the realm of the unbelievable to the realm of the tragically kitsch.. it was no better summed up than what was laid out before me when the photograph of such dire contention popped back up on the table. The serving wench sulked by and set it up next to my watery Coke before plodding off, unresponsive as a post when I tried to ask how much it would cost. It was a perfect shot to sum up the occasion, really. The King and I. A goof and his dread lord. Pupils dilated and skin chalk-horrible from the overexposure. Something to scare my grandkids with, the time I realized that I could still see the childhood in my eyes while picking through a chicken that felt like a sink sponge and the worst coffee in the Americas.

"How much for the snapshot?" That was Hodge, growling at the minimum wage wench as she tried to sneak by.

"Eight dollars."

Hodge grinned over at us, plucked the picture and its handsome cardboard frame up between two fingers, and used it to wipe the barbeque sauce off his plate. Though the Ring of Steel games the knights thundered through on their steeds were entertaining enough, they couldn't compete with the look of utter disgust the photo girl turned our way when she retrieved the unwanted merchandise and got a fistful of brown hickory shit. A decade of subtle lunacy plus, and it was still the inane shit that got the best grins from us all.

Aside from the nostalgia kick and capitalist stranglehold, the show itself is a mixed bag of camp: for the forty bucks you get wrung out for, you're treated to watching a guy swing a chunk of meat on a rope to lure a falcon into fancy flying tricks, the aforementioned Appaloosa ballerina act, and some sort of chicanery involving a black knight and a new champion being selected for the realm. The guys work their asses off over the two hours they're forced to brain each other with prop swords and fall off their stallions, and I had a new and profound respect for the Rib King after watching him go into a catatonic stupor under ten thousand pops of the flashbulb and then come fighting back for another hundred and twenty minutes of dialogue with the audience and actors.

It's simple, dumb entertainment that's easily digested over a garbage meal. But that's exactly why any self-respecting geek should sit in on a show at least once every decade--in a world where giving the rude eyeball at anyone with three percent body fat or higher at the Derby is considered the hot topic for Saturday night, it's refreshing to stuff your face like a prisoner on Death Row and scream like an idiot for some guy in stage armor. There's no pretense at Medieval Times when the show gets going at a good enough keel to eclipse the cash hook, just very basic carnival kicks on a sports entertainment lean.

And to get your real money's worth, be sure to file out of the bleachers early and take up a proper vantage point at the joint's 'Knight Club' (HAW HAW HAW) for the mutant courtship that takes place after the forces of evil have been put on their collective ass. With the darkness threatening the realm having been vanquished, the stout and revitalized young heroes set forth to tap some Anaheim RenFaire groupie ass. It's incredible that anyone in Orange County would be bored enough to get gussied up and take a whack at a one-nighter with a glorified lawn jockey, but that doesn't deter the entertainment factor of watching the Green Knight slip some forty-year-old substitute English teacher his number and a meaningful wink. Like the pretense we've alluded to before, embarassment is also a refreshingly taboo subject within the fortified plaster walls of Medieval Times--just ask the groups of white-collar prisoners busting loose on the dance floor to Hot Chocolate.

It ain't cheap, it ain't a revelation, but like anything that doesn't know the value of its own shame, it's definitely worth doing once. Cash in that paycheck for the week and take a walk in the shoes of the unabashedly sucktacular... it might be the best seven or eight hundred bucks you get shivved for this year.

Mel
mel@whatever-dude.com

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