The Unbearable Banishment: Rasslin' with my dad

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Rasslin' with my dad

One of the few places my dad took my brother and I when we were kids was the professional wrestling matches in the old, now demolished, Cleveland Arena on Euclid Avenue. The Cleveland Area was the site for Alan Freed's Moondog Coronation Ball, which is considered to be the first rock and roll concert. The show was oversold and ended in a near riot (of course).

 A snowy night at the Cleveland Arena

The Arena might have had historical value, but by the time we were going to wrestling matches there, it had become a broken down hulk of a building in a terrible neighborhood. One night, we saw some poor guy get hit by a car that must have been going 60 mph down Euclid. It happened right in front of us. He was knocked high into the air and was spinning with his arms and legs spread out like a pinwheel. He was carrying a box of popcorn and he never let go. He hit the street and the popcorn flew everywhere. My dad said, “Do you guys want to go have a look?! We said no thanks, dad. I knew he wanted to.

My brother and I were big wrestling fans. We watched Championship Wrestling on channel 43 and Big Time Wrestling on channel 61. Going downtown to see our heroes do battle in the flesh thrilled my tiny 12-year old bones to the very marrow. I had NO IDEA the fights were fixed and the outcomes predetermined, and I was embarrassingly old when I finally realized it.

Bobo Brazil

A massive black man. A face. (That‘s what they called the good guys.) During one match we attended, Bobo’s head was smashed into the turnbuckle by the heel. (That‘s what the bad guys were called.) While he was shaking his head and regaining his senses, the heel snuck a metal folding chair into the ring and smashed Bobo over the head a few times. (The ref didn't see the chair. That should have been my tip-off that something was up.)

A huge black woman sitting right behind me started crying hysterically. Real tears and weeping! She stood up and started screaming at the top of her lungs, "Git up Bobo! Git up!" Our seats were so far away that there's no way he heard her.

Of course, Bobo got up. (They always got up.) And, boy, was he pissed about the metal folding chair. Every wrestler had a signature closing move that got him out of a jam and Bobo's was the Coco Butt. It's an exotic name for a head-butt. He applied a few Coco Butts to the heel and the woman behind me started laughing and shouting, "That's RIGHT Bobo! That's RIGHT! KILL him! KILL HIM!" It was fantastic.

This hairy bastard was Wild Bull Curry.

A heel. During one match at the Arena, someone about 20 rows up held up a big, cardboard sign that said, “BOOOO! FAKE!” I was incredulous. What do you mean fake!? Wild Bull was even angrier. He climbed out of the ring, ran through the crowd, up into the stands, grabbed the sign and ripped it to shreds. I suppose it was a plant but it was real drama to me at the time.

This was may favorite heel. Pamparo Firpo, the Wild Beast from the Pampas.

When he appeared on TV, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He had a voice like gravel and would punctuate his sentences with, “Oohhhh YEAAAAHH! He would drool and dribble all over his beard. He would taunt his opponents while petting a shrunken head (shown above). His closing move was the Claw Hold. He would clamp his big hand on the top of his opponent’s skull and squeeeeeze. His opponents would howl in pain. God, I loved it.

This was Johnny Powers, The Man of the Hour. He was the biggest face in Cleveland. A pretty boy. A star.

His closing move was the Power Lock (shown above). He’d get his opponent’s legs all twisted up and they’d be in so much agony they’d slap the mat and end the match. But then disaster struck. A heel (I forgot which one) discovered a COUNTER MOVE to the Power Lock. (You roll over.) It was a sad Saturday afternoon when that happened.

Power’s arch nemesis was Reginald Love. He and his brother, Hartford Love, were The Love Brothers.

They were the heel’s heel. They dressed in hippie beads and psychedelic wrestling tights. I later discovered that in real life, they weren’t actually brothers. And Reginald and Hartford weren’t even their real names! They said they chose those names because they "wanted to sound like snobs."

Once on Championship Wrestling, Powers was admiring a wristwatch that had just been presented to him for his birthday from the Cleveland chapter of the “Johnny Powers Fan Club.” Reginald walked into the studio, made fun of the watch and called Powers "a donkey." Powers said, “I have something you don’t have…fans.” Reginald countered with, “Well, I have something you don’t have…A HAMMER!” He took a hammer out of his back pocked and smashed the watch to bits. They started wrestling on the studio floor. Excellent! I read in a Powers interview years later that he had no idea Reginald was going to do that. It was completely unscripted. He really was angry that the watch had been smashed.

This was more than a decade before Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage and all those pussies. It lost something for me when it became stadium-spectacular. The only wrestler from that era worth a damn was Brutus the Barber Beefcake. His closing move was to knock his opponent out with a sleeper hold and give them a really shitty haircut before reviving them. That took balls.

Another evening on the way home we stopped off at the L&K Diner for sundaes. My dad started flirting with the much younger waitress. She asked how he wanted his coffee and he said, “Blonde. Like you.” and he winked. I was embarrassed.


Blogger LibraryGirl62 said...

This made me SO HAPPY!!! My dad used to take us to see those same wrestlers in Hara Arena in Dayton. Some of my best, happiest times! I LOVED Bobo, and Iron Sheik and Gorilla Monsoon and Haystacks Calhoun and I saw Andre the Giant and I had such a crush on Tony Marino and I am going on like am 8 years old and with my dad again. Thanks for the memories.

August 23, 2012 at 11:45 PM  
Blogger Gorilla Bananas said...

Just as well you lost faith in Powers, because I don't think smooth-chested dudes like him are supposed to be heroes for heterosexual males. For all his protestations, I bet he had a smile on his face when 'Mr Love' (or should that be 'Mr Lurve') wrestled him to the floor in the TV studio.

August 24, 2012 at 2:32 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

I could never understand my MIL's fascination with wrestling. This post gives me a glimmer.

August 24, 2012 at 3:09 AM  
Blogger Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

I don't know whether to admire your memory of all those blokes' names or despair at the misuse of the human intellect.

I saw similar "acts" in Scotland in the 50s-60s, but only on TV. I can still remember my Grandma screaming "break his neck" whilst still clutching the family bible, as was her wont when faced with anything even slightly tempting.

Let's face it, wrestling is a load of bollocks.

August 24, 2012 at 5:12 AM  
Anonymous daisyfae said...

glorious, glorious memories for me as well! firpo. he was mine. as though the sesame street cookie monster became a human and beat the crap out of people... all the girls in the neighborhood picked their favorite - mine was firpo. and then we'd 'play wrestling' in the back yard. i got to be an incomprehensible, slobbering monster! great preparation for motherhood.

oh, and your dad? yeah. if that's a glimpse, i can see why you have some issues there...

August 24, 2012 at 6:53 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Hi Library Girl. I was a Haystacks Calhoun fan myself. A big, 500-pound hillbilly. I think his closing move was the "Big Splash." Is that correct? He'd dropped his girth on some poor heel.

GB: Powers was worshiped by young boys all across Cleveland. Makes one wonder, doesn't it?

Pat: You are a demure flower and I can't imagine why you'd see anything in wrestling. But it was like catnip to me when I was a kid.

TSB: If you had attended a few matches you might have a different opinion. What a festival of madness and controlled chaos they were! I know it's bollocks, but I didn't know it at the time.

August 24, 2012 at 6:56 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

daisy: Oh, LORD! You're absolutely right! Firpo had the same speech pattern and vocal grovel as Cookie Monster. As for dad, I think that was his attempt at "connecting" with us. He was just a butcher. Literally. He was a meat cutter by trade. He didn't have any people skills.

August 24, 2012 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Kono said...

Channel 43, damn, John Lanigan, Super Host, i never saw the wrasslin but if i'm correct i think i saw Bear wrestling at the old Cleveland Arena, but let's face it i'm lucky if i can remember my own name half the time and yes Bear wrestling was Man v. Bear... the Bear always won.

August 24, 2012 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I, once again, have to tell you how really fantastic I think your blog is. You simply cannot get discouraged either by number of followers or by crits by readers. Your stuff is just beyond words. Meaningful, poignant, terrific reminisces, great pictures, awesome insights, emotionally affective memories and interactions. I LOVE your blog, by far my favorite of the 20 or 30 I check practically every day. The only one I can even put in the same category as a favorite is SLOTH, and it is simply a different blog, driven by pictures and not the verbal insights you offer. Just put this simple follower down as someone who thinks you have a gift, and an obligation to continue to share it with your followers. Keep up this incredible work please, your stuff on your children, art, museums, NYC, etc. is just so cram-packed with rich emotional cream filler that we would all cry if cannot get our fix. So enough about you thinking you are not touching us or that you do not have enough followers. Better the 100 or 200 that think you are a genius than 10,000 that don't know their head from a hole in the ground. Keep on truckin' please!


August 25, 2012 at 3:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Think you've pulled there mate.

I loved the wrestling, until I realised it was fixed. We had some great characters - Big Daddy, whose nemesis was Giant Haystacks. GH was a gentle, religious man. My friend had a little chat with him once in Morecambe when he nipped out in the interval to sit on the seafront by himself.

Then there was Kendo Nagasaki, the oriental (probably from about as far east as Grimsby) masked man of mystery who, in a momentous event in my childhood, was ceremonially unmasked with his consent, after years and years of his opponents trying to pull the mask off.

Many more as well. Then the disillusion sets in.

August 25, 2012 at 6:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why am I being blocked on your comment page??

August 25, 2012 at 7:56 PM  
Anonymous Paulo1 said...

O.K. that worked, so what am I doing wrong ?

August 25, 2012 at 7:57 PM  
Anonymous paulo1 said...

O.K. now I'm really confused, I'll try tomorrow.

August 25, 2012 at 7:59 PM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Kono: Do you remember Count Alucard on channel 43? I later (much later) figured out that that's Dracula spelled backwards. Duh. You are too young to remember The Ghoul, right?

Richard, you have an uncanny knack for giving my ego a shot of adrenaline just about the time I'm ready to fold this thing. I'd like an audience. So sue me! But I'll hang in there. Thanks, as always, for your kind words.

looby: Yeah, I hated finding out it was fixed, too. It took all the fun out of it. But the blood and hurt were for real. That's something you can't take away from those dudes.

Paulo: I hate that you have technical glitches with this site. I can assure you that nobody is blocked! My ego won't allow it.

August 25, 2012 at 9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good piece

August 26, 2012 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A delightful ramble through the memories of one with such an eloquent touch with both pen and heart-strings.

Andre the Giant once stopped a bout when he saw a butterfly land on the canvas while he was performing. Even hard rocks have soft edges it would seem.

August 27, 2012 at 4:45 AM  
Blogger The Unbearable Banishment said...

Anon: If you like it, then you should've put a link on it. With apologies to Beyoncé. Are you unaware of my egomania and neediness? Are you new here?

CF: Is that a true story about Andre the Giant?! I hope so. It's fantastic. Thanks!

August 27, 2012 at 6:59 AM  
Blogger Kono said...

I do remember the Ghoul, in fact i know guys from western Pa. who've watched the Ghoul and they're even younger than me, apparently he kept that gig up until there were no more little independent stations left or something.

August 27, 2012 at 9:23 AM  
Blogger savannah said...

i thought i'd left a comment, but i guess i got lost in remembering my grandpa and his love of the fights, sugar! he turned into a very different guy when he watched the fights on tv. being the only girl and the only grandchild who lived nearby i was absolutely no use at all to him! fortunately for me, the MITM's grandpa was also a fan, so from almost the beginning of involvement grandpa mac LOVED the MITM and his knowledge of the sport! thanks for the reminding me. xoxoxox

August 28, 2012 at 7:16 PM  

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