Ahhhh… Saturday. In my entrenched middle age, Saturday means taking Griffin to a Little League game, maybe renting a movie, washing the car… general old-dad messing around. I like Saturday.
But, you know… I used to LOVE Saturday. I used to live for Saturday. Not because of the lack of school; I liked school all right. Not because of the ability to sleep in. Not even because Saturday was allowance day and I could go feed my sugar jones with a furtive run to the Meister’s Buy-Rite candy department (another story in and of itself).
Nope. I loved Saturday because it was WRESTLING DAY.
The late 60s and early 70s had a lot of things going for them, including the Amazin’ Mets, naked hippie chicks, and the Meister’s Buy-Rite candy department. But that paled in comparison to the luminescent glory that was Portland Wrestling. Living in Ashland, we beheld the magnificence via cable TV. Channel 12, I think but that hardly mattered. What mattered were the 90 soul-consuming, mind-inflaming minutes of epic grappling.
Sure, we knew it was fake. We knew that Lonnie “Moondog” Mayne didn’t really eat that turnbuckle. We knew that the matches were rigged. We didn’t give a fuck. We just wanted to see some action. We were in early adolescence, with hormones raging and a taste for the old ultra-violence. We wanted fake blood!
If you worked it right, you could build your Saturday around Portland Wrestling. Jeff Miles, my next door neighbor, had a perfect yard for whiffle ball. We’d play a half hour or so of Whiffle Ball, just to satisfy our moms that we had not spent the entire day inside watching TV. Then, we’d go inside and spend the entire day watching TV. Japanese monster movies were first — Godzilla, Rodan (not Rodin… that would have been a leeetle too much culture for us) and Mothra. Tiny Japanese twins, caged and singing to a nuclear mutant to provoke him to emerge from his slumber and fight another nuclear mutant… is there any wonder my generation grew up so WEIRD?
And, is there any wonder my generation can actually pronounce the word “nuclear?”
Be that as it may, we’d soak up some monster movie action. Then, kung fu movies. Always, always, ALWAYS an old guy with a pointed hat and a long beard, flying, disappearing, kicking the ass of some other guy. This is how I learned about world culture, from kung fu movies and Godzilla flicks.
By then, we hadn’t moved for several hours. It was wrestling time. Tom Peterson’s grim visage filled the screen, telling us to wake up and buy a lot of crap merchandise from his store. “Free is a very good price!” Frank Bonema came on, looking like an unhealthy version of the Cigarette Man from the X-Files. Chaos ensued. Chairs were bashed over heads. Ringside ropes were leapt from. Commercials were run. Ice cream was consumed. Dreams were filled with the screams of overweight, hairy men in tights.
They didn’t have steroids back then. They had beer, and bad road food. Instead of lifting weights, they lifted each other in death spins. They climbed ropes to jump on necks. The Portland Wrestling workout.
Diversity was the theme. Peter Maivia; Samoan. The Soul Man Rocky Johnson; Black. Haru Sasaki; Indeterminate Oriental Descent. Lonnie Mayne; Cracker.
So we sat, we watched, we learned. The lessons are with me to this day. Never turn your back on the ref. Move away at the last second if someone is trying to jump on you. If things get really bad, grab a steel chair and beat the living shit out of someone. And, whatever else you do, always stay within tagging reach of your partner.
Sure, wrestling is still around. But, all the good stuff happened 30 years ago. Just ask Frank Bonema.