A few years back I wrote a freelance memoir piece for a publication that vanished from the world wide web. It recasts one of my most powerful memories of going to watch wrestling at Maple Leaf Gardens as a kid, and finding myself on the opposite side of the fence as my father as regarded one Hulk Hogan.
So, here it is, published for the first time. Hope you dig it (Psst. Read all the way to the end to grab a secret clue about a future project that will blow your MIND!)
BOOING THE CHAMP
Dad and I were en route toMapleLeafGardensand the subway rattled along with my caffeinated nerves. Each stop picked up a few more wrestling fans and drew us closer to our Sunday afternoon clash of the titans. The first one I’d ever seen live. The kids were sporting Hulk Hogan T-shirts. Not me.
“Did you watch wrestling as a kid?” I asked.
Dad smiled and nodded.
“Who was the champ?”
“Whipper Billy Watson.”
“Did you see him at the Gardens?”
“Indeed. Had to hitchhike fromNewmarket. . . but that was a long time ago. Things are different now.”
I nodded. I’d have my hide tanned if I ever hitchhiked. Other things were different, too. Dad would have cheered the Whipper.
I was going to boo Hulk Hogan.
Hulk never lost. And unlike everyone else, I thought that stunk. Every other good guy lost sometimes. So, I was convinced Hogan’s matches were rigged.
As you can see, I was half-awake to the realties of pro wrestling. At least I knew that Santa Claus was a sham.
Maple Leaf Gardens was a concrete acropolis, grey and cold as March clouds. Parents were dragged by their kids inside, while degenerate teens with hazy eyes and mullet hairdos tried to impress the white trash beauties with high heels and tight jeans that caught Dad’s eye, then mine. Littering the floor was Pink Elephant Popcorn, sweet and stale roughage that tasted worse than the thin cardboard box it came in.
“Looking forward to the main event?” Dad said, passing me the binoculars for our nose bleed seats.
I twisted my programme in sweaty palms. “Yeah.”
“Do you want a Hulk Hogan T-shirt or something?”
“No way. I hate Hulk Hogan.”
Dad looked astounded. “But he’s the champ.”
“I still hate him.” I was about to give my essay on the virtues of hating Hulk Hogan when Dad simply said, “Well, I like him.”
Something fluttered in my stomach. But I twisted that programme tighter, determined to boo.
The card was a cavalcade of terrific cartoon characters: the acrobatic British Bulldogs, the slick and dangerous Hart Foundation, the nefarious Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the equally heroic Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat.
Then, the main event. The villain, an unstoppable monster known only as Earthquake, lumbered to the aisle and was pelted with paper and boos. Including the boos of my father.
I crossed my arms and bit my tongue until, like thunder, the champ’s theme music blasted through the arena and the place went APE!
Thousands roared as Hulk burst through the curtains. Even through the binoculars, he was massive. And, for the first time to me, real. Not just an image on a screen. He was really looking at us, pointing at US, some kids fromToronto.
I dropped my programme and watched the match.
As Hulk fought, and the crowd screamed, something clicked. Something that never made sense watching him on the idiot box. He needed your cheers to win. We were on his team. And he was starting to lose.
Earthquake was tearing him apart. Clothslines knocked Hogan to pieces. Slams ruined his back. Our champ was getting crushed. Thousands screamed, “Get up, Hulk!” as Hulk was subjected to the worst beating in history. Then, the inevitable: Earthquake drops his sumo bum-splash and it’s one, two-
-Hogan kicks out!
The scream running through the crowd pulls me along. Shaking his head, Hulk takes the thundering blows that now seem to have no effect. Why? Because of us! The more we scream, the stronger he gets. One knee stabs out as he pumps his fists, turning our cheers into power. Hogan is up, and enough is enough! He points his big finger and every kid with a giant foam finger does the same, the dreaded finger-point has signed Earthquake’s death warrant. Not even god himself can hold back what’s coming.
I’m off my feet, cheering the giant slayer as Hogan throws Earthquake in the corner and crushes him with a clothes line-tackle, then throws him into the ropes and drops him with a big boot to the mush, as if I had never, ever seen this routine before. Finally, Hulk looks to the crowd as we all cheer him to make the final blow, and he nods, runs into the ropes, and delivers his killer leg drop like a guillotine.
That adrenaline high kept me jazzed the whole way home, my Dad smiling but saying not a word about my sudden reversal. But by the time I was home, I felt sick. I was no better than the rest who cheered the three-move champ, whose support meant he would be champ forever.
I never cheered Hulk Hogan again.
Even if I wanted to.
–JASON S. RIDLER–
PS: If you liked this tale of heartache and headlocks, keep your eyes peeled to this blog and my FB page for a very special announcement in the coming days. Let’s just say Doc Ridler is about to drop a power bomb on the literary world. DIG IT!