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Three Nights at the Wrestling Matches

Missouri, 1959. I’m ten, impressionable and neurotic, angry at being born and lacking the perspective to know how lucky I am. I’ve got a couple of Viceroy cigarettes I lifted at home, and I go up to the top stadium seats, where I can smoke and cuss and...

by Scot Sothern
Jun 3 2014, 7:59pm

1959.

Missouri. I’m ten years old, impressionable and neurotic, angry at being born and lacking the perspective to know how lucky I am. I’ve got a couple of Viceroy cigarettes I lifted at home, and I go up to the top stadium seats, where I can smoke and cuss and watch the fight. The Great Bolo verses Oni Wiki Wiki.

The Great Bolo is big and wears a pullover mask. He is rumored to be a cheat. Oni Wiki Wiki is from Hawaii, which just became the 50th US state. He’s the good guy, and Bolo is the bad guy. A little mob of fight fans jump from their seats and shout like hillbillies. I chew a fingernail, tearing it below the quick, and the blood tastes like a silver gum wrapper.

The bell goes ding, ding, ding, ding. Oni Wiki Wiki is the better fighter, but the Great Bolo pulls something shiny and illegal from his mask and bonks Oni Wiki Wiki on his coconut dome. Oni Wiki Wiki goes to his knees. The fans are tearing out their hair, but Oni Wiki Wiki recoups quickly and body-slams Bolo, and when Bolo gets up Wiki Wiki does it again. The Great Bolo feigns cowardness and braggadocio in equal measure. Wiki Wiki gives Bolo a shot to the temple, and Bolo staggers around like a drunk cartoon character. Wiki Wiki picks the half-conscious Bolo up over his head and spins him like a whirlybird. The referee steps in too close and catches Bolo’s left foot in the head and goes down. Oni Wiki Wiki steps back when he should step forward, trips over the prone referee, and falls flat on his back. The Great Bolo crashes down on top of Wiki Wiki, pinning him to the mat. The bell rings, and the winner is the Great Bolo. The fans are outraged. Bolo growls and beats his chest.

I’m having a pretty good time.

Between fights I’m puffing a butt when a couple of older guys, 18 or 19, climb up the steps and sit a couple of benches below me. One guy has a flattop, and the other guy has a greasy pompadour with fenders like a Chevy Impala. They’re drinking from pint bottles and laughing. I’m eavesdropping when the guy with sideburns asks the other guy whether he knows how to eat pussy. The other guy says, “I give up. How?”

He knows I’m listening and grins at me. “First you get you a couple a pencils and put 'em on both sides of her pussy lips and get 'em all tangled up in pussy hair. Then you start turning the pencils like a throttle, and when that juicy pussy opens wide you stick your face in the pink part. When you let go of the pencils her pussy slaps shut with you inside,” he slaps his cheeks with the flat of his hands. “Chow down, slurpin’ slime big time, Fearless Fosdick!”

The guy with the flattop says, “What the fuck you talking about?” The guy with the ducktail points at me and says, "Just ask that juvenile delinquent there—he knows what I’m talking about. Isn’t that right, Huckleberry Hound?”

“Yeah,” I say, as though I know what he’s talking about. “I know all about girls’ pussies.” He laughs and snaps his fingers like a television beatnik. He offers me a Camel, which he calls a hump, lights it for me, and uses the same match to light his own. “Been smoking long?” He asks. “Yeah,” I say and inhale a hot unfiltered puff. “All my life.”

1974.

Florida. I’ve got a Leicaflex with a Vivitar flash and a roll of Kodachrome, and it’s Saturday night at the wrestling matches. I photograph a cop with a fat ass and then a guy on the mat, arms raised to the heavens. I make an exposure of a handicapped guy in a wheelchair and wonder whether maybe he is a genius inside and unable to let us know. I train my lens on a losing wrestler on his way to the dressing room, and he gives me a look, but I don’t hit the shutter. He yells at me to just take the goddamn picture, and that’s when I do.

In the bleachers, I photograph an old security cop and his wife, and she tells me she loves a man in a uniform. I photograph a generic young guy and his wife, and he tells me he’s the luckiest man alive to have a sexy broad like her. I take a few shots of a wrestler who has a mass of self-inflected scars on his forehead and fresh bloody wounds to impress the girls ringside. After the match I follow him outside, where he fucks around with his dog and smokes a cigarette. He tells me that if he commanded it, his dog would tear out my throat before I could count to three. I count to three and take his picture.

1992.

Los Angeles. I’m in a slow-moving line on the freeway ramp to the Los Angeles Forum, where I’m going with my ten-year-old son Austin to a WWF wrestling event. The ticket is good for six lowercase fights and a main event, Papa Shango versus the Ultimate Warrior. Austin’s an Ultimate Warrior fan.

“How come,” I ask, “the Ultimate Warrior has such weird nipples?”

“They’re not weird, and it’s from his muscles.”

“So if you had muscles like that, you’d have weird nipples?”

“I wouldn’t have muscles like Ultimate Warrior.”

“I thought he was your favorite.”

“He is my favorite, but that doesn’t mean I want to be him.”

“What? You don’t wanna BM?”

“Yeah, Dad." He rolls his eyes. “I don’t want to pee, either.”

Inside, our assigned seats are too high, so I take us down closer and lay claim to a couple of better seats. We watch the Nasty Boys against Owen Hart and Koko B. Ware. The Legion of Doom defeats the Beverly Brothers. The Mountie and Sgt. Slaughter go mano-a-mano, and I get confused over who is who. Shawn Michaels get his ass whupped by Bret Hart.

When it’s time for the Ultimate Warrior, I keep an eye on Austin as he goes down to the entrance tunnel and climbs a couple of steps behind the railing and holds out his arm, open palm. Ultimate Warrior comes running out and gives him a high five. The look on Austin’s face is the best part of my three nights at the wrestling matches.