I pulled into Marshall on Saturday evening, past dark. It was windy and hazy. A sandstorm in West Texas earlier in the day had created a cloud of yuck all the way east to the Louisiana state line.
Like most East Texas towns, Marshall is generally quiet on a Saturday night. All the partying is going on in the pastures and honky tonks. The streets were quiet.
On my way to the Damoff’s, my wonderful hosts for this writing vacation I’m on, I turned onto Pope drive and noticed a few dozen cars alongside the road that is home to old abandoned warehouses and a meat-packing plant. In college I drove by this area a million times and can never recall seeing as much activity. I assumed some church had rented a building and there was a Saturday night revival going on, which is typical of these parts.
I had the window down in my car and could hear from one of the buildings a loud pounding. “Boom!” then a split second of metallic shaking. These occurred over and over at small intervals. As I continued my slow, curious drive, I looked up and saw the sign: Professional Wrestling every Saturday Night, 7:30.
I became alive. What was I to do?
You got it, I went in.
Beyond the small front room where I threw down my five bucks and bypassed the concession stand (which only sold pickles and cokes,) was a gutted out warehouse of some kind. The musty air was dimly lit by a couple of bulbs hanging high from the ceiling. In the middle of a crowd of just a few dozen was an old, well used wrestling ring, the kind that as a child I dreamed of owning.
In the back was an unkempt wheelchair bound elderly gentleman, presumably a veteran, as he sported VFW stickers on the back of his chair. The crowd was made of white and black, young and old. We refer to these types as "real" people. They wake up early and go to bed late, spending their hours surviving, without much care for the terms "emergant" "reformed" "Arminian." Calvin is just a guy down at the feed store.
I found a spot to stand, detached from the ones I was observing by a few feet, leaning against the metal wall.
"Pull ya up a chair, you aint headin' no place," screamed the man in the wheelchair. He said it again before I realized he was talking to me. So I went and I sat down and was transported back to another time. A simpler place. The wrestlers were introduced by the ring announcer holding a microphone with a hand held speaker.
They had their characters and some of the drama being unfolded before my eyes was a bit crude for my "more mature" sensibilities. One guy was white and from "Highland Park, Texas" while his opponent was a young African American from "Compton." The Highland Park wrestler taunted the Compton guy with chants of "Homey," and refused to fight until the referee patted Compton down in search of weapons. I shuttered at the baseness of it all.
But the fighting began with some (surprisingly) good (fake) wrestling moves. In the end Compton was victorious. When his hand was raised Highland Park shook his hand and raised the other, in a sign of solidarity.
If only the real world worked that way.
I didn't stay long and I'll tell you why. I watched wrestling incessantly as a child. Occasionally, back in the old days, a wrestler would begin to taunt someone in the crowd and challenge him to a fight. I didn't want this to happen to me out of fear that I would have been swept up into my childhood dreams of wrestling grandeur, entered the ring and break someones leg with my killer figure-four-leglock.
(awaiting a joke from Luke.)