When it comes to giddy love and silly escapades, answered prayers and crazy dreams, I think I’ve had a pretty decent ride.
And while I wouldn’t exactly label a lot of the things I’ve done items to ever brag about, much less put on anyone’s life inventory, some of my adventures have absolutely fit the definition of a bucket list. That is, experiences or achievements that a person hopes to accomplish before dying, or “kicking the bucket.”
Indeed, I’ve been lucky enough to gaze at the slow motion movement of the Yangtze River in China, and to chant at the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan, which is as absolutely magnificent in person as I had thought it might be. I’ve wandered down a sunny, snow-capped mountain in the Swiss Alps alongside cattle wearing clanging cowbells around their necks, and meandered through ancient churches in Georgia, a few hours from the Black Sea. Still better, a lot of these overseas trips were for work, so they weren’t even on my dime.
On the domestic front, I graduated from college, which my first generation American parents could never have hoped for for themselves, and then moved to New York City where I lived in the East Village when it was cheap and definitely not trendy. Better yet—despite a few fumbles—I was able to made my living there writing for magazines. Back in Hollywood, I helped solve true crimes as a researcher and producer for a few network television shows. (Oh, and then there’s that movie I wrote. Shameless plug: if so inclined, check it out at www.botsomovie.com and then LIKE us on Facebook). I also married and brought a baby home, although not in that order. And of course, thanks to Ringling Brothers Clown College, I got to buffoon my way across the United States as a professional circus clown.
As of last month, I now have a completely unexpected life event to add to my list.
For the first time ever, I went to a wrestling match.
To be clear, this is not what one would see in a high school or college gym, where participants writhe and sweat on mats, and can get hurt, really hurt, sometimes permanently. What I’m talking about is more of a wrestling show, and come to think of it, not completely unlike the clown bits seen in a circus.
In fact, the first wrestlers of this genre were all about a wink and a smile.
That was in the 1940s and ‘50s, now referred to as The Golden Age of Wrestling. There was Dick the Bruiser, Bobo Brazil and Killer Kowalski, but by most accounts, the undisputed king was Gorgeous George, nee George Raymond Wagner, born in Nebraska in 1915. In the ring, George boasted a unique and much exaggerated ultra-effeminate persona, a character that he only began to create after an okay career as an amateur wrestler.
In fact, George’s “gorgeous” career didn’t really take off until he met a savvy Los Angeles promoter who understood the power of clowning.
He convinced George to grow his curly hair long and dye it platinum blond, with the piece de resistance of those locks the gold-plated bobby pins that George named “Georgie Pins.” Much like Elvis and his scarves decades later, George would enter the ring and then, slowly and with a flair all his own, remove several of the pins, which he lovingly tossed to his fans.
George was also the first wrestler to use entrance music, strolling into the show to the noble sounds of Pomp and Circumstance, all the while wearing elegant, custom designed robes and capes with sequins. All of this over-the-top tomfoolery also made George one of television’s first stars, right alongside Milton Berle, Lucille Ball and Bob Hope (who personally donated hundreds of robes to George’s collection). In fact, at his height, George was earning more than $100,000 per year, which back then also made him the highest paid athlete in the world. (You can see George in all of his flamboyant splendor with this clip, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYq_FVXdg84)
The far more modest event I attended—called Shamrock Slam—took place at night in a tired hotel banquet room near a small regional airport. The 200 or spectators were mostly made up of young working class males, many in duck billed caps, along with a surprising number of children, including a redhead with a pixie cut who wore a dominatrix ensemble. I can’t imagine that any of them have ever attended a film festival, dined at a four-star restaurant or made a pledge to National Public Radio, but what do I know?
The performers themselves were a dozen or so wrestlers who are all part of a league here in California called Vendetta Pro Wrestling (find out more, no surprise here, at www.vendettaprowrestling.com). Sanctioned by the National Wrestling Alliance, better known as the NWA, this group of men and women kept my daughter and I thoroughly entertained for nearly three hours with their slapping, stomping and yelling, which were pretty much all well-executed bogus moves (all the while knowing that everyone knew they were faking). The costumes—legions of rhinestones, faux fur and loud colors, so much like the circus costumes I used to wear—were pretty fun, too.
The festivities began with a match starring a tall long-haired man sporting a neatly trimmed beard, and wearing what appeared to be a gently used, church choir robe.
He was also a clutching a large black Bible and called himself The Apostle. Ever so carefully putting down the Holy Book and then removing the ethereal outer garment, his glittery gold wrestling shorts revealed two large appliqued crucifixes, one for each well-muscled calf. Other characters of the night included a preppie wrestler with a white cardigan draped around his shoulders who pretended to daintily sip tea, complete with extended pinkie finger; identical ponytailed twins each unfurling huge Canadian flags, and a plump but athletic woman with garish, heavy black and blue makeup and matching pigtails.
But I had come for Ricky Ruffin.
Ricky, who was shirtless but wore a snazzy lavender suit with matching print vest, has been gently nagging me to come see a show for more than a year now. During intermission, he circled the perimeter of the banquet room, graciously posing for photos with several groups of children and adults. It was clear that the audience knew him and adored him. And when Ricky finally trotted into the ring, prancing and dancing and smiling to Motown music, and then effortlessly flipped his opponent on his back, over and over again onto the floor, the fans went wild. (For the record, a Vendetta wrestler trains to take these kind of poundings by letting the brunt of the fall spread over his entire back, as well as stretching out his arms overhead just as he hits the ground.) Of course, I know Ricky as 27-year-old Roy Bean.
Bean is a man whose daytime job seems to have nothing at all to do with his wrestling persona: he has worked for more than four years with autistic and other developmentally delayed kids and young adults. I’ve seen Bean in action in this arena as well, and here, too, children absolutely adore him. Roy loves both of his jobs, and works hard at both of them.
When Shamrock Slam ended, Ricky/Roy, as well as several other wrestling buddies, came out, still in costume, to greet us. They wanted to know, truly wanted to know, if we enjoyed the show. Politely, they asked us to come again, and they wished us a safe drive home.
Going to a wrestling show was not something I ever thought I would experience, or for that matter, even want to experience.
But I’m so glad I did, and besides, it’s one more check mark off that list.
Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Ruffin and Mr. Bean. Here’s to lives that, for all of us, need to have than a few out-of-the-box adventures; be well lived, and filled with laughter.
What sort of unexpected experiences have you had? Please tell me about them!
Hilary Roberts Grant
Journalist, editor, filmmaker, foodie--and a clown!