The string of seven and eight hour nights worth of sleep keeps chugging along. I must be doing something right. Recently I got two thousand dollar pledges to help with Art’s legal fight so that put me in a good mood. I’ll have to write and send out a first fundraising letter soon now that my time is getting freed up. Claudia does want me to check with attorneys to make sure there is nothing illegal about my helping a friend and colleague beat back an inquisition.
I spent an hour this morning in the cool spring air beating the heck out of cushions and pillows to get rid of dust mites. Every little cloud of dust that wafted over my patio from each whack with my old Wilson tennis racket was gratifying. I gave up with about 70% of the cushions complete and blisters had set in. I turned then to finishing the last of the newspapers that I have been stock piling.
One of them contained an obituary/story I found interesting about Vern Gagne. It reminded me of a handful of related stories about the world of professional wrestling I grew up with.
I remember driving through rural Missouri on a family trip in grade school when my Dad pointed to a car with a big handmade sign over its trunk. It announced the car’s driver “Haystacks Calhoon”. Dad told us that Haystacks was a professional wrestler and I was pleased to see a celebrity even if I didn’t know exactly who he was. We Kansans pronounced it “wrassling” and its practitioners were “wrasslers” even when you spelled it the right way with a “t.”
I paid scant attention to the professional wrestling shows broadcast out of Kansas City, just enough to know the sobriquets (nicknames) of a half dozen of the colorful characters who preened before their adoring fans. I was surprised when I moved to Minnesota in seventh grade to see a whole new cast of characters on the local wrestling shows. That’s when I learned that the whole nation was divided into a dozen wrestling fiefdoms each with its own world champion. That sort of championship, along with the histrionics of the athletes I would have preferred to be stoic, confirmed my disinterest in their world.
I really didn’t need to hear my physical education teacher, Luverne Klar, telling me in high school that professional wrestling was phony. He had been one of the light-weight wrestlers on Vern’s University of Minnesota Wrestling team. Mr. Klar never tired of telling his classes how disgusted he was with the sham. He never forgave Vern for becoming a millionaire by claiming that professional wrestlers were serious athletes. Claudia had him for homeroom and didn’t much care for him but Mr. Klar once defended me from a bully and I had a sort of soft spot for the old curmudgeon.
Then I found myself in college with the son of Vern’s business partner, the wrestling “promoter” Wally Karbo. Wally’s shtick was to complain about the bad wrestlers and how he was going to deal with them for their bad behavior. He had no grace or wit but the seriousness of his boring complaints was oddly entertaining. His son, Steve, caught my interest immediately because of the association. Steve joined my fraternity as a pledge immediately after I went “active.” He was several years older than me and had just come back from Vietnam.
I immediately took a dim view of him because of my goody-two-shoes remove from this father’s shallow and seedy world. But Steve had a few surprises for me. He once told me of an epic drunk while he was in Vietnam in which he commandeered (stole) a jeep and drove it around all night in a stupor with a loaded M-16 intending to shoot anyone who tried to stop him. He swore to me that had he been stopped he would have killed somebody but such was his luck that no one bothered him and he quietly, if drunkenly, returned the jeep.
I’m not sure why it came up but one night I began reciting the famous soliloquy from Hamlet: “Time creeps by in its petty pace” that Mrs. Fitzsimons had required her English students to memorize in my senior year of high school. I only memorized that single verse for a C, much to Mrs. Fitzsimons’s disappointment. I refused to memorize two more Shakespearian sonnets to get an A for that unit. She told me they would enrich my life but I’m not a fan of memorization. I still don’t know the 23rd Psalm or the Apostles Creed – by heart anyway.
It had only been a year since I’d memorized my Hamlet so I could get through it but stopped about twelve lines on where my memorization had ended. I was trying to impress the Vet with my superior knowledge. And then Steve Karbo continued the recitation. He must have recited two or three pages of the text at breakneck speed before I was sufficiently humbled. Lesson learned. After that I was happy to work for him at the local armory when he put on a wrestling card although I did feel a little sorry for Scrap Iron Gadasky who was a regular loser on every card he wrestled.
There is one more story concerning Steve involving the most shocking bit of personal history I’ve revealed on my blog but, as this is an election year, I feel no need to complicate my notoriety or the political task I have set for myself. I’ll wait until I write about my Mom if only my fellow board members stop giving me so much reason to write about them.
I’ll mention the last time I met Steve about thirty years ago. It was at a country club in Mankato. He was nervously popping pills when I asked him if he’d managed to achieve the ambition to become a millionaire before age thirty. He told me he had managed that.
Steve died a few years later. Heart attack I think.