Who's ready to see a midget bleed tonight?"
The 4-foot-6-inch man with the microphone was born Steve Richardson, but tonight he's Puppet the Psycho Dwarf. He's kneeling in the middle of a sagging wrestling ring. Over the next 30 minutes, the structural integrity of this red-canvas square will be challenged with an onslaught of blood, sweat and piss. The soundtrack: the beehive whine of tattoo needles digging into freshly sanitized flesh.
This is the Immersed in Ink tattoo convention at Harrah's Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and at the moment, everyone is watching Puppet.
"I'm a dwarf," he says in a tar-coated croak. "Do you know what the difference between a midget and a dwarf is? With a dwarf, the torso is full size. So if I sit down next to you, we can look each other in the eye. Now, here's something you didn't know. There were eight dwarves in Snow White. I was the eighth! They wrote me out. Know why? Because my dingaling is part of my torso. Snow White didn't bite a poison apple. She choked. Oompa, loompa, doopity doo."
While Puppet works through his routine, Little Kato waits behind a set of makeshift curtains, getting into his crimson shorts. Like Puppet and Turtle, his two partners in tonight's Half-Pint Brawlers show, Kato stands less than 5 feet tall. Changing clothes takes some time, especially fitting the pads onto his knees. Bone spurs grind in his neck. He had scheduled an MRI before this show, but his health-insurance carrier disputed the test's necessity. Not that its results would have stopped him from being here tonight.
As Puppet finishes his jokes, Turtle climbs into the ring with as much grace as he can manage. Unlike his partners, Turtle can't wrestle. He needs a cane to walk. "He's a fucked-up midget with a rod in his spine," Kato says. "He ain't blessed."
Turtle finds his own ways to entertain. While Kato straps on the last of his gear, Turtle urinates into a beer pitcher. Puppet hands it to a woman at ringside, who attests to the crowd that, yes, this is genuine urine. With the fluid's authenticity established, Turtle pours a glass and proceeds to drink his own waste in one agonizingly long pull. Not content, Puppet offers the shirt off his back to any woman who will make out with Turtle for five seconds. The winner beats three other women trying to make their way to the ropes. She mounts Turtle for what seems far longer than required.
"He does this every time, and some of these girls that get in there ain't even fat," Kato says.
An hour before Puppet asks the crowd to howl for midget blood, Little Kato (real name Chris Dube) sat at the casino bar, a can of Coors Light open in front of him, the aluminum pinched in the center where his thumb gripped it. On his right was a woman named Rocki Elliot. On his left was Raychael McDuffy. Both had driven from Omaha to see him wrestle.
"I tell you, I'm getting pretty pissed off," Dube said. Event organizers had refused free passes for his friends. "They say it's not in the contract, but that's bullshit. It shouldn't have to be written in. It's just being fair. I'm performing here. They're making enough money." Dube wouldn't talk about his contract, but at an event like this, he usually makes about $1,000.
McDuffy, a 28-year-old brunette with an hourglass figure, has known Dube since she was a girl. "He was on a break from wrestling when I met him. He was my mom's friend. He just seemed like this nice guy," she said. "He's got a temper, though."