When I was young, wrestling was a big deal. It factored into pretty much all parts of my life. The earliest memory I have of it is being in my basement and dad changing the channel to some strange number; on the screen was just static and I pointed at the TV and said, “That’s where Wrestlemania III is going to be.” It’s important that my father is in this memory, because so many of my wrestling memories were built around him–at least at the beginning. My father and I talked about very little, but we could always bond over Hulk Hogan. Real, fake, show, put-on, kayfabe–none of it mattered to me; in fact, that was all beside the point. These were larger than life heroes and villains than I could understand. And more importantly, it was something I shared with dad.
I ran around the house when dad brought home Wrestlemania V from the video store; and how could I not? That is, after all, when the Mega Powers did explode! It seems strange to me that the video having come at least a month after the pay per view and I was still excited; I must have known the results, but maybe not all of them. For example, when King Haku opened the card by being carried down to the ring, I couldn’t know if this particular Heenan family member would be victorious or not. Life was simpler before the Internet.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the cultural impact of Pro Wrestling will know about Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant, the main event of Wrestlemania III. Though Hogan had appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (still the only professional wrestler to have done so), there was a WWF Saturday morning cartoon show, Captiain Lou Albano had appeared in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” music video and Liberace did his leg kicks with the rockettes at the inaugural Wrestlemania, Hogan vs Andre is easily the most recognizable moment in Pro Wrestling history. It has the most heft to it, the build to it was beautiful. Mere months before Wrestlemania III, Andre was beloved the world over. Hogan was in the stratosphere. The only personality big enough to book (a wrestling term for story or script) against Hogan would be Andre, and yet, Hogan could be nothing but a “face” (Baby-face is another wrestling term, meaning “good guy”). This meant that Andre would need to turn “heel” (Wrestling term for “bad guy”). Sparing you detail that would be a bit ponderous to most, Andre agreed out of respect for his old boss, Vince McMahon, Sr.
Gorilla Monsoon would say over and over to viewers that not only had Andre not been beat in 15 years, but he had also never been body slammed! Jesse “the Body” Ventura was always quick to add that the big guy being body slammed was just probably not possible at all. And he would scoff when it was even suggested one as pure as Hogan could do it. (In fact, he had done it, at Shea Stadium, around 1980, but that’s neither here nor there. If you pay any attention, you will find that Wrestling has a short memory.)
I spent a lot of time leading up to that event wondering if Hogan could do it. I wanted to believe that he could, but goodness, Andre was huge, and even though Hulk had the largest arms in the world, I just didn’t think the Giant could be picked up. I don’t remember specifically, but I can almost guarantee you I thought about this more than was healthy and probably stopped breathing a few times thinking about the whole vastness of it. It was that big of a deal.
When the match happened, Hogan went for the body slam right away and was not able to lift him up. Andre fell down on Hogan and almost won the match right there. Can you imagine!? Of course, the match went on and Hogan ended up slamming Andre and winning the match and the place went nuts. I went nuts. And then I had an idea.
I was going to Bodyslam my father.
I didn’t quite know how to explain this to dad. I kept quiet about it for a time, planning how I would protect myself. The plan was to strap couch cushions all over my body as protection; this way, if I wasn’t able to get the big fella up over my shoulders, I would be safe when he fell on me. Because, couch cushions. Even though it didn’t make much sense, I relished my imagined largesse with all of that extra padding. I gave fake interviews in front of the bathroom mirror, talked about how I was going to do it, by God, I was going to Bodyslam my much larger father. I looked vicious in that mirror, determined, wronged in some way. There’s no way the fans at home would do anything but pull for me.
My father and I didn’t talk much. If it had nothing to do with Baseball or Pro Wrestling, words generally didn’t pass between us. Dad, like Andre, was intimidating as hell. However, I had to tell him my plan of body slamming him. I imagine if I just ran up to him, put one hand close to his shoulder and the other near his crotch, I would not be conscious for much longer. I did not know how to particularly start the conversation, so I just said it flat out.
“Dad, I’m going to Bodyslam you!”
There was a silence. Dad’s face was blank, tending towards confusion.
I laughed nervously
“I’m going to Bodyslam you–we could make like a show out of it!”
“No you aren’t.”
Nothing more was said, that was that…or so he thought!
Some weeks later, I decided in the middle of a church service that today was the day and that outside of the church I would go for the big slam. I had a hope that dad would kind of play along and at the very least crumple into the grass near by and I could be Monticello’s very own Hulk Hogan. Sunday School had let out and we were standing on the sidewalk outside the church. Just behind my dad were stairs leading up to the sanctuary. Congregants gathered in small groups and talked about the week ahead. I saw my opening. I charged toward my dad and reached up and grabbed his big shoulder and then grabbed the inside of his tree trunk thigh and started to pick him up. Dad just stood there. I strained and pushed and pulled; growling, I squatted down to get more legs into it. He didn’t move an inch.
“Hey! Stop that! What are you doing!?”
And for a moment I wanted that to be part of the show: his character, the heel, yelling at me, the face, to stop what I was doing–which was bringing him to nothing less than the justice he deserved–before being silenced by my power; and then, this being a show, he would have toppled over and I would be triumphant, maybe even putting my little loafer on his chest while I posed for all around.
Instead, he pawed at me and pushed me off of him. He turned away from me just as I was smiling sheepishly up at him and walked away without a word. I wanted to cry, but I held it together. I focused on the sidewalk as I followed dad to the car. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed by those who had seen; I was embarrassed that I was a fool to even think of playing this game. I wanted to say to him, “I’m sorry, that was stupid, you’re right. Can we act like that didn’t happen? I won’t do anything like that again.” I said nothing as I climbed into the car, determined not to cry.