Nerve Classics: Shazam!

Me and the fetish wrestlers next door.

by Sarah Clyne Sundberg

Maybe it's the bourbon, but lately, we've been feeling nostalgic. With writing this good, can you blame us? "Shazam!" originally ran in 2009.

I am on my couch with a book when I notice something in the window across the street: a woman, clad in a pink '80s tin-foil wig and a zebra-print leotard. She's jumping up and down. I stare for a while; she notices me and does a shimmy in my direction. I look away.

I've come to expect this kind of thing of the building across the street. Another woman in the same building is in the habit of having sex, backlit, in her loft bed in a bay window. (Admit it. You'd look too.) After the tin-foil-wig incident, I discuss these goings-on over IM with my downstairs neighbor. He tells me a girl from his old high school lives there. "Does she look like a superhero?" I ask. From his description, his former schoolmate sounds like the short-haired, curvy, muscular girl who's begun to appear around our neighborhood, dressed in combat fatigues, a red beret, a leather vest and heavy boots. I suspect she is also pink-wig-and-zebra-print woman. "You know, she has a website," he offers, helpfully sending me the URL.

Her website confirms that superhero woman and zebra-print woman are one and the same. The site turns out to be a vehicle for her "out-and-about action-hero persona," Zelda Blaise. I learn that she is involved in fetish and lives the "action-hero lifestyle." There are pictures of her in various action-hero situations — dressed in ninja gear scaling the wall of our local Verizon colossus, or in a red beret, with a fake gun and a cartridge belt on an empty Brooklyn lot. You can buy these photos online, it seems. She also does fetish wrestling and something called "grappling."

I'm extremely tempted to find out more — in the name of nosiness and journalism.

She notices me and does a shimmy in my direction.

Being that I first got wind of her through a combination of website- and window-watching, I feel vaguely stalkerish contacting her for an article. But spurred on by boredom, ego, greed and desire to find a good story, I send her an email.

I've just begun a time-consuming graduate program, and my relationship with my girlfriend of the past few years has pretty much disintegrated. I'm feeling trapped, more staid than I wanted to be; in need of sniffing around more dramatic lives to shake me out of my own inertia.

Zelda Blaise gets back to me fairly quickly, sounding enthusiastic about being the subject of an article. She explains she's the leader of a group of female wrestlers who call themselves the Furies. Each Fury has a nom de guerre and a persona detailed on the website, complete with vital stats and wrestling capacities. She proposes I meet her and the other Furies at their practice space, Fight House, a large martial-arts studio in Chelsea. A few days later, I am on my way.

At Fight House, tot karate is going on alongside a capoeira circle and serious Muay Thai. Zelda Blaise, dressed in a Body Armor t-shirt and hot pants, rolls around on a padded mat with a tall gangly guy with a long grey mullet. I recognize him from around the neighborhood and from the website: Captain Karm.

I stand around for a while, feeling sheepish, square and very conspicuous. No one seems to notice me. Thankfully Lele Kent, a slender woman with a '80s femme brush cut comes to my rescue. She cheerily explains what's going on. Meanwhile, Zelda and Karm keep at it for a good fifteen minutes. At one point, Zelda throws Karm onto the mat, then puts him in a leg-vice until his face turns a scary shade of purple. "It's a bit hard to get her to disengage," Lele Kent says. But after a while, Zelda Blaise abruptly stops wrestling and somersaults up from the floor to pump my hand vigorously.

She explains that I'm seeing the serious side of the Furies. They are practicing for legitimate submission-grappling competitions. They also do performances at fetish clubs and events, as well as private fetish-wrestling sessions with clients.

More people drop in to practice. Besides Lele, Zelda and Karm, I meet Lord Puny, a skinny-fat guy in his mid-twenties, and Chas, a jovial and trim man in his fifties with the accent of a well-educated Londoner and an undying enthusiasm for all things martial-arts-related.


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