Thursday, December 14, 2006

"And in this corner..."

I'm about to explain something that has perplexed those who know me.

Some people have vices like gambling, drugs, porn, and booze, and though I have dabbled in some of the aforementioned, I have one more. Those of us with this vice have all the traits - hiding it from people, denial, secretly indulging in it, finding others who also have this vice, etc. What I'm speaking of is...professional wrestling. I know, I know, I know what you're thinking. My eldest brother has often asked me with a mixture of confusion, contempt, and pity, "You're educated and cultured - why do you watch that crap?!?"

The answers are many. I'll take you back to the beginning and tell you how I got hooked. 6th Grade. Anthony Wayne Junior High School. Art class. My friend, Ralph, and the other guys at my table kept talking about these characters with names like Bulldog Brower, Mighty Igor, The Mongols, and the Italian Connection. Turns out they were talking about professional wrestling, in this case the now-defunct IWA (International Wrestling Association) which aired Saturday nights at midnight on channel 9. My curiosity piqued, I asked the parental units if I could stay up to watch it. Their bedroom was just off the living room. I guess I was disturbing their Saturday night fun, because Dad came out in his white briefs and said, "Fer crissakes, what are you watching? Why don't yo go to bed??"

Finally, midnight arrived. The show opened with the roll call featuring the aforementioned stars plus Eric the Red (viking guy carrying a big jawbone), The Love Brothers, Ernie Ladd, Tex McKenzie, and of course, the champion of the world, the masked Mexican sensation and man of a thousand masks and a thousand moves, Mil Mascaras (above is a portrait I painted of him)! Keep in mind, I was a diehard comic book collector, and this was way before computer special effects and "Superman" was a decade away, Spiderman and XMen movies were TWO decades away. I was captivated by all these larger than life, colorful characters who didnt take anything from anybody. Good vs Bad, plain and simple. A bad guy picked on a good guy? Well, he turned around and belted him! This was pure enticement for a skinny adolescent. I started doing flying dropkicks on the couch in my pajamas. My bathrobe was no longer a mere bathrobe - it was a sequined robe with my name gleaming on the back as I strode to the ring! I wasnt a gangly boy anymore - I was a 6'4", 250 lb stallion!!

Anyway...halfway through the program, these two guys were fighting and a bad guy runs in and they double team the good guy. Suddenly, out runs this huge muscular guy in a cool mask and a cape! He climbed up the ropes to the top turnbuckle, does a "sunset flip" (dives over the guy, grabs him around the waist, rolls forward holding him, the guy comes over and falls with his shoulders to the mat) and then he beat the hell out of him!! It was the heavyweight champion of the world - Mil Mascaras!! My jaw was literally hanging open and I jumped up! This was a comic book superhero come to life! I never saw such a thing - it was a dream come true! It was amazing; and I was hooked bad.

Several months later, the IWA was appearing live at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ. I begged my father and he took me and my friend, Ralph. I was still young enough to have that all-encompassing excitement you get as a kid when you're psyched for something and was bouncing off the walls. The Capitol Theatre was set up like a concert venue/cinema, so the ring was on the stage, rather than in the center like at an arena or school gym. This didnt dampen our enthusiasm one iota. Dad bought me this bad black and white photocopy of Mil Mascaras and a program at the concession table. The champ fought Eric the Red that night, and I distinctly remember Eric standing on the ring apron waving his bone and yelling at the crowd. Finally, Mil reached over, grabbed him by the neck, and flipped this 300 lb viking over the ropes and into the ring - with one arm!!! The crowd was unglued and that first time seeing pro wrestling live was something I'll never forget. The IWA only lasted a few more months, as the dominant northeast regional promotion, the World Wide Wrestling Federation now know as the WWE, ran the upstart IWA out of business. This was before the national expansion and wrestling was still divided up into regions and closely guarded. The WWWF started running shows the night before or opposite the IWA in the same town with surefire stars like Andre the Giant appearing, so people spent their money on their shows instead of the IWA and they eventually went out of business. However, the WWWF show replaced the Saturday midnight IWA show, so I was able to get my fix. I hope this explains my attachment to rasslin, and for those reading this who share this addiction, know that you are not alone.