Monday, March 7, 2011
From Suspicious Diagnosis by Jardonn Smith, two excerpts from A True Ring, one of the five tales in the book. In these excerpts, an apprentice trainer in the big-time Chicago pro wrestling circuit is sent to the small-time Tulsa circuit for a special assignment. Hope you like old-time pro wrestling from the 1960's!
Create Space (October, 2010)
First time I ever saw Marshall Strendlehocker live and in person, he was doing inverted push-ups. Those are the kind executed from a hand-stand. He was shirtless. Working out in a gym on the fringes of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. He did fifty. A seemingly hard to believe accomplishment, but not for an athlete the caliber of a then-twenty-something Marshall Strendlehocker .
I'd seen him before in a photograph.
Spring of 1965, Mr. Jack Monroe summoned me to his smoke-fogged Chicago office and plopped down a newspaper clipping on his desk. "Son," he growled with spit-saturated cigar tweezered between his fingers. "Take a look at your first big project."
In black and white, a newspaper clipping of a youthful man, so vibrant, and oh, so masculine in his wrestling singlet and ankle-high boots. The caption read: Marshall Strendlehocker completes his collegiate run at Oklahoma University. Compiling a career mark of 56-0, the 165-pound Strendlehocker shattered all national records with 41 pins, including 22 straight on his way to four consecutive state championships.
"When was this?" I asked.
"March of '63"
"I remember reading about him, I think. Where is he now?"
"Working the Tulsa circuit."
"Bart O'Connor's league?"
"Yep. O'Connor sent me film from some of their matches. Said I should take a look at this guy. So, shall we?"
Jack had projector and screen permanently set up in his office, and he pulled the drapes, ran the film. A compilation on Super 8 mm. Snippets of one man, our subject. Film quality was shit -- from long distance, colors dull, images watery and humans stretched buffoonishly tall, like whoever'd shot the movies used bad film or a defective camera. The wrestling, however, was superb. Marshall Strendlehocker as a pro wore light-colored trunks with white boots middle-calf. He moved with cat-like quickness, securing his opponents into pain-inducing holds that forced their submission within seconds. These were complete matches. None lasted more than a minute. Didn't matter if he wrestled men near to his size, or behemoths towering above him, the result was always the same.
After five minutes of watching the film, I asked Jack, "So, he's been pro since leaving OU?"
"No. Since first of this year."
"Really? He's this good after four months?"
"So says O'Connor."
"What'd he do in between?"
"Preparing for the '64 Olympics."
"I watched most of the U.S. wrestlers there. Don't remember any Marshall Strendlehocker, and based on this I'm sure I would've..."
"He made the team, but injured his shoulder a couple weeks before they left for Tokyo, so they replaced him."
"Aw, tough luck. Well, obviously he can wrestle, but his matches are boring. And that name! Geez..."
"Precisely. O'Connor says the guy refuses to mix it up. No fists. No kicks. No showmanship. He insists upon wrestling collegiate style. A purist."
"Why doesn't Mr. O'Connor tell his employee to play the game or hit the road?"
"Because the guy has a following in Oklahoma and draws a pretty good crowd."
On the screen, Marshall stood ready to take on a 300-pound tub of guts, but the size difference changed nothing. In one move, Marshall had the monster on the mat, on his belly and howling from the pain of a reverse ankle lock. "Who the hell would pay money to watch this?" I scoffed, as the fat guy submitted, match over. "His bouts are finished before he even breaks a sweat. He ought to at least give them some doubt as to the outcome. Pretend like he's in trouble for awhile. Let the other guy..."
"Jimmy, my boy," Jack Monroe relit his stogie. "It's good to see you've figured out your assignment."
He shut off the projector, opened the drapes and returned to his desk. "Get down there to Tulsa and make this Strendle-whatever..."
"Strendlehocker," I helped him.
"Right, change that god damn name for starters, and then get him with the program. Obviously, he's got skills the likes of which I've never seen. I need you to mold him into something exciting. Teach him the meaning of the word drama. Got it?"
"Yes, sir, Mr. Monroe."
He opened a drawer, took out an envelope and tossed it onto his desk. "There's some traveling cash. O'Connor's expecting you. We're both needing somebody to turn this hard-headed monkey into a money-making whiz-kid. Can you do it?"
"Mr. Monroe, there's no way some countrified Okie's going to outsmart me."
"Good. You've got my phone numbers. Keep me up to speed on what's happening."
Rather boastful of me, for sure, but that's what my boss wanted to hear, and so I set myself up for potential disaster. No worries. This was my big break, or I should say, my big BIG break. The first was finagling my way into Jack Monroe's National Wrestling League to begin with, but now, if I could somehow take this guy's undeniable athletic skills and develop him into an heroic character for all to adore, Marshall Strendlehocker's road to the bright lights and lucrative contracts was paved and waiting for him, and I'd be sitting pretty as well.
A six-hundred-mile road trip from Chicago to Tulsa gave me no thrills. It did, however, give me time for plotting and reflection. It'd been ten years since I wrote my first letter to Mr. Monroe's NWL. Didn't give salutations to anybody in particular, as I recall. Just a "Dear sirs" greeting, and the gist of my argument was this:
I am Jimmy Dolan. I am twelve years old and I like to watch your wrestling program on the television. The referees should stop getting in the way of the camera so I can see what the wrestlers are doing.
I planned to end my letter there, but my dad suggested I add another bit, one of which he'd heard me complain numerous times:
Please tell Max Malone to change his hair. He should shave his head or get his hair buzzed or a crew cut. His hair is parted by his left ear. When he wrestles his hair hangs down on his left shoulder and his head is bald. He is a good wrestler, but he looks funny and he shouldn't. Please make him cut his hair or take the scissors and cut it for him.
Imagine my shock when the very next broadcast gave me a Max Malone with buzzed hair, while the referees, instead of dropping to the mat for a close-up view of wrestlers intertwined by limb-bending holds, for the most part stayed on their feet and out of camera shot. An even bigger surprise came in the Wednesday mail. A letter from Mr. Jack Monroe himself, handwritten, thanking me for my ideas and inviting me to send more if I had any.
Cousins, you better believe I had plenty and fully intended to share every one of them -- plot lines, characterizations for good guys and bad. Of course, the public wasn't supposed to think there were plot lines, but I knew better. These were early days of television, and the Saturday night broadcasts of matches at Chicago's National Guard Armory Arena were wildly popular. Jack Monroe was one of the first to see the potential of this new medium, and his Chicago circuit quickly became the Mecca for all professional wrestlers out in the hinterlands. Think of it! Jack Monroe, owner of the National Wrestling League, wanted me, this little twelve-year-old punk from Wheaton, Illinois, to feed him scenarios for his big-time wrestling show.
Fortunately, my father, a working-class-nobody, was smart enough to also see into the future -- mine. Upon reading Mr. Monroe's letter, he said, "Now, Jimmy, keep some things to yourself. Just feed him enough to keep your foot in the door, and then, when you're old enough, if you decide this is something you'd like to do, Jack Monroe will hire you lickety-split. Meanwhile, there's no use giving away all your ideas for free. Right?"
"Right as rain, pop!" and that is exactly how I played it. Once I'd graduated high school, Jack Monroe put me on his payroll. Not only that, he sent me to college, sort of. More on that later.
Anyway, here I was, a twenty-two-year-old, up-and-comer given his first chance to take a proven, bonafide athlete, pluck him out of podunk and groom him for my boss. Turn him into something spectacular. A hero. An icon. All I had to do was convince Marshall Strendlehocker I knew more about it than he did. My being two years younger than he was wouldn't make it any easier.
* * * * *
Excerpt 2 (same year, motel room in Blackwell, Oklahoma, Marshall's name is now Dick Hodges)
One thing Dick Hodges recognized was that his success depended upon his villainous opponent's ability to convincingly play the part, and for his villains to be men he could trust. So, like Charlie Wills, Bill Couch was treated first to dinner, and then to my hands. Rubbing down first Dick, and then Bill certainly was exhausting, but because I'm a kind-hearted soul, and because I knew it would make Dick happy, I told him to go get Chief Charlie Muk-nuk Wills and I'd work him over again, too.
Oh, me! Oh, my! Four men in various states of undress inside Dick's motel room. Such a perfect scenario for a quartet of man-sex. Right? Sorry. My designs on those two men were more sinister than that. Besides, unlike Dick, they both kept their underwear on and I couldn't tell if they were sporting woodies or not. Hopefully not, because if either of them were they certainly didn't leave an impression.
Well, enough of that. With a satisfied Bill shirtless and wearing trousers while relaxing in a chair, Dick laying on his bed in white briefs, and Charlie, also in white briefs, atop my table with his backside beneath my fingers, I schemed. "Hey, Bill, both you and Charlie come from communist countries. Right?"
"Uh, Dmitri and Muk-nuk do, I guess. Is Mongolia commie?"
Charlie fielded it. "Part of China, I think."
My knuckles pressed lines along Charlie's spine. "I think so, too. Maybe you two should be comrades."
"Partners?" queried Bill.
"Not in the ring, necessarily, but you both enter the gym like you're buddies. Bart can announce the wrestler's name, say, Chief Muk-nuk, accompanied by Dmitri Smirnov. Chief wrestles while Dmitri hangs out at ringside, or the other way around."
Charlie caught on. "Oh, I get it. Interfering from the outside when the referee's not looking."
"Precisely!" I treated him to some calf-squeezes. "Make it to where Dick's taking on two men, or at least one and a half men."
Dick jumped to his feet with fists clenched. "Which one of you commie bastards wants to take me on first? Come on, you swine. I'll hammer the both of ya's."
Bill stood, assumed his Rooshky sneer with his chest thrust forward. "You Americans. Think you are so high and mighty. We will destroy you!"
"That's perfect, Bill," I urged. "But give it an accent. Ve vill destroy you."
Bill and Dick excitedly worked on dialogue as I coaxed Charlie to roll over for his front-side rub. Once Bill got accustomed to substituting V's for W's, the three men talked out wrestling scenarios until I'd finished with Charlie.
Rolling off the table, he offered another thought. "How's about I change the Chief Muk-nuk to something more Chinese?"
One step ahead of him, I'd already thought of one. "How about Shanghai Charlie?"
He loved it. We all loved it, and as Charlie dressed, Dick closed the meeting. "Let's tell Bart first thing in the morning. Work out our routine as soon as we're set up in Ponca City."
"Sounds good, Dick." Bill waited for Charlie, and they both left together.
With my table folded up for travel, towels tossed into my laundry sack, I prepared to follow them. "Well, guess I'll call it a night. See you in the..."
"Where do you think you're going?" Dick closed and locked the door, cruelly dropped his briefs.
"I'm going to my room, Dick. Sorry."
"What are you scared of?" He moved toward me, grabbed me, poked my thigh with his boner. "Let's do some sixty-ninin'."
"Come on, now. You know it's too risky. Can't you wait until we get back to Tulsa?"
"Why? Nobody can see us. The door's locked. Curtain's drawn."
"What about the rooms next to us? What if they hear us?"
"Your dick in my mouth? Mine in your mouth? How much noise can we make?" He raised my arms, lifted my singlet undershirt up and off and tossed to the floor. "Damn, Jimmy. Your thinking is all upside-down on this." His hands clutched my shoulder blades. He pulled my chest to his and pecked my forehead with his lips. "Nobody will ever know a damned thing unless one of us tells them." He shoved me onto the bed. "And I will never talk." He reached toward the ceiling. "They can stretch me on the rack." He spread his feet apart, clasped his hands together overhead and angled his arms back, chest and belly forward. "They can beat me with fists. Whip me with leather, but nothing they do will ever break me."
My gym shorts, undershorts, shoes and socks were gone in fifteen seconds. "Give me that thing." My hand clutched his pecker and I tugged, indicating he should get horizontal with me. I forced him flat on his back. "I want you on that rack, mister." I stretched his arms toward the mattress corners, did the same with his legs. "You will talk, Dick Hodges, but only to me."
For nearly an hour I kissed and licked and slobbered all over him, and I do mean every inch, from the soles of his feet to the tips of his fingers. By the time I finally got around to positioning myself so I could suck his dick from above while he sucked mine from below, we both were so primed we didn't have time to make any noises or think about how good it felt or how much we enjoyed being together -- or how much we meant to each other.
What can be said? When the man of your dreams feels the same about you as you do him, talking about it plays no part. Nothing can stop it. Dick didn't start out as the man of my dreams. He made himself so. Ours was an incremental bonding which progressed at a pace of its own choosing. Baby steps.
Credit Dick Hodges with another barrier broken. Mine. My worries. My concerns. My useless fears. What will others think? Who gives a shit? Let them think what they want. Let them suspect to their heart's content. They will never know a damned thing unless we tell them, a credo which has served us well throughout each and every day of our forty-five years together.
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