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The Ground Floor

I met Darin Rossi standing in a thick, gooey pool of fake blood, on an early-December night in Los Angeles. He wore a striped umpire’s uniform and had the beefy look of a lapsed athlete entering middle age: thick chest and neck, black hair gelled with heavy brilliantine and combed straight back. We were both waiting in a slow-moving line for the bathroom, between fights at the inaugural event of a crypto-gothic fight club called the Foam Weapon League (FWL). We made small talk, discussed other fight clubs we’d seen. I squished my sneakers against the floor and felt them stick. He did the same, and we laughed. Even the organizers had been unprepared for this detail – there was so much fake blood! After each fight – or were they battles? – the assistants got down on hands and knees to wipe the floor as clean as they could with gobs of thin paper towels. Everything was improvised. How hard would it have been to buy a mop?

Rossi didn’t mind. He’d once been a Major League Baseball umpire, but since the early 2000s had transitioned into a career in film, television and commercials, playing an umpire. He blew his whistle with the confidence of a professional. Did he miss it – the real thing?

Rossi shook his head. ‘Everyone hates the ump.’

Of course – any sports fan knows it.

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