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Violent Comfort

40-year-old memories are rarely precise; details blur and loosen over time and sometimes you’re left more with an indelible feeling accompanying a picture in time, rather than an holistic experience. When I remember the Saturday afternoons I spent in front of the TV with my grandfather, I remember them in black and white for some reason, and in a rhythm less kinetic than photographic. But there we are, watching wrestling matches, Grandpa Joe explaining in detail the moves being executed, the stories behind each wrestler, distinguishing the heroes from the heels. I was enthralled by it. I wasn’t put off by the violence, and was instead taken in by it, by the cartoonish style of it all. I remember thinking how some of the wrestlers reminded me of Popeye fighting Bluto. Grandpa laughed at his.

We did this for years, our little Saturday ritual of watching wrestling while my mother tsktsk’d at us. A parade of wrestlers wove into and out of the texture of our lives. Superstar Billy Graham, Andre the Giant, Fred Blassie, Ivan Putski, Bruno Sammartino, wrestlers whose careers we watched fizzle out and some whose careers survived well into the '80s. While watching wrestling with Grandpa was a great source of comfort, a ritual I looked forward to each week, there came a time when Saturday afternoons drifted toward other fixations, and I slowly started begging out of our TV time. I faded out of the wrestling world, stopped paying attention altogether once I wasn’t watching with Grandpa anymore. I was too cool for it. I was into hanging out, listening to rock and roll, being a disaffected teenager.

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In 1986, I found myself at Nassau Coliseum in attendance for Wrestlemania II. Randy “Macho Man” Savage fought against my favorite wrestler, George “The Animal” Steele. There was a boxing match between Mr. T and Rowdy Roddy Piper. There was fanfare, so much fanfare, so much showmanship and over-the-top acting and absurdity that it made me wonder wh...