"Yes, it's miniature bullfighting," she says with finality, and hangs up.
What does that mean? Is it a smaller version of the south-of-the-border real deal? Or is it the bulls that are small? Or -- dare I hope -- are the bullfighters themselves little?
There is no time to lose. At the Cow Palace, I cough up the $25 and enter the promenade, which is strangely empty. The deserted breezeway and the odd lack of arena noise have me primed for disappointment, but a smattering of applause draws me in. I step through a cement passageway into the brightly lit seating area.
Gathered inside is a small but enthusiastic crowd. Most of them are in family units of four or more. The men wear pale straw cowboy hats and tight bluejeans, the women nylons and skirt ensembles with clutch purses arranged primly on their laps; the children look sharp in little suits and ties or lacy dresses with patent leather shoes. It is a dressy affair, a family outing, and despite the stark lighting and grungy cement walkways the group appears to be in high spirits as they wave small Mexican flags in the air at the spectacle below.
On the arena floor, transformed into the plaza de toros, are a dozen smiling dwarves decked out in flashy matador outfits. They gyrate clumsily, executing a number of choreographed dance moves while whipping their brightly colored capes in time with a Spanish pop song. Members of the crowd point out their favorites.
Next, two full-size figures enter the plaza. These are the banderilleros -- costumed figures who tease the bull and run interference for the matador. One is dressed as a hobo, the other as a drag queen with an overexaggerated bust and long blond wig. The banderilleros bring with them a young, sleepy-looking bull. The hobo uses a bright cape to get the animal's attention, which results in his getting chased to the top of the plaza fence. The crowd titters. The hobo jumps down and whacks the bull's rump with a foam mallet. Peeved, the bull charges at the nearest mini matador. The small bullfighter twitches his cape and spins out of the way. Eyeing another target, the bull charges, this time stepping on the matador's cape and ripping it out of the small man's hands. The bull snorts with pleasure and paws the bright material. The crowd gives a disgusted "aww."
A dwarf dressed as a faux toreador -- complete with foam horse attached to his costume -- runs full speed into the arena. He charges at the bull, taunting it with noises, while the drag queen banderillero yanks the animal's tail. The bull makes contact, lifting the toreador into the air with its undeveloped horns. The man falls to the ground and the bull runs across his body while the crowd boos. A banderillero comes to the rescue, helping the toreador to his feet; unfazed, the bullfighter wants more, but instead the hobo leapfrogs over the animal. By the time the bull turns to pursue, the hobo has dropped his baggy pants, exposing lacy bloomers. The crowd cheers.
Intermission: On the field, four babes in black-and-white chaps and halter tops engage in a bit of line-dancing while they lip-sync to some pop crowd-pleaser. It's as if an episode of Spanish Star Search has crossed over into the Twilight Zone, but the crowd loves it as much as the bullfighting itself. The men clap; the women look amused; 6-year-old boys focus their little binoculars on the girls' rumps.
"Oh, shit," grumbles one exasperated 12-year-old girl as she whacks her baby brother. "I didn't want to come. It's old and weird. But my father likes it, and Mom said it would be nice for the family. My grandmother's here. I just want to go home."
On the arena floor, the dwarves, now in cowboy outfits, have returned with lassos in hand. They practice on each other, roping and hogtying each other's small limbs. The crowd laughs with glee. Another bull is released, but try as they might the small cowboys can't bring it down. The crowd hisses.
"They should just wrestle," laughs a ruddy man with perfect hair. Indeed, the next act is a musical number that involves a miniature mariachi band falling on a tuxedoed hotshot and beating the shit out of him with foam instruments. The crowd roars. Next, three tiny women in evening wear start a hair-pulling catfight over a midget Elvis look-alike; then a wee Selena comes up into the crowd to rip shirts off of several male audience members. There are even some horse-riding acrobatics, but clearly the musical numbers are most appreciated by the crowd. During the final roundup -- which features the performers dressed as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and dancing to "Macarena" -- a good chunk of the audience leave their seats to line up at the plaza door for photos and autographs.
I wander toward the door as well, though I am unsure what I will do there. "It's for boys," explains a father, his son in tow, "but I guess you can go if you want to."
Turns out he's wrong. At the entrance young female fans lean over a small concrete wall as the diminutive superstars make their way backstage. Behaving like true groupies, the girls smile and coo but are reduced to shy giggles whenever the matadors toss them a wink or a bawdy word. An invitation backstage is too much for me; already I'm as close to a David Lynch set as I ever want to get.
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By Silke Tudor