All's Fair in Love and Wrestling Down Saltillo, Mississippi Way
It was hot. Sweat rolling off the ref. He had the look of dread all over himself. I would have been in dread also if I had been him, but I wasn’t. I was safe. I was a member in (some) standing of the Fourth Estate, but dreamed of hanging with the Fifth. Not whiskey. Journalists—paid journalists who write hard and long into the night getting paid the word. “Hot Licks!” Bobby Bare, former Country singer, now retired recluse. Look! I’ve already chiseled-out ten bucks.
The ref did not dread having his bones crushed, head bashed, or even his name trashed by some cheap woman in a “Rat Hole Motel.” The ref I met dreaded having to wear those asinine Ref Colors, black pants and striped shirt, I thought he was a convict. Maybe he once was, but now fully-reformed. I didn’t find out, or want to find out. My buddies and I were out-of-tower's—but not in that Neil Simon movie with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis that was made from Simon’s creativity.
Saltillo, MS., Pop: 5,008 in 2016. I doubt that many newcomer’s have settled in this little southern town in 2017. I know. I’ve been there. I know a nice psychiatrist who works there in her own clinic with a professional secretary and all. The psychiatrist was not talkative when I visited her every two weeks for Grief Therapy when my dad passed away Sept. 25, 2006. I don’t talk about that horrific night. I just can’t. But I thought that when another Professional of Mental Activities referred me to this other psychiatrist in Saltillo, I had imagined that she would engage in common banter because I was a new client. I must have been the “Lone Wolf” among Psychiatric Clients. I rode alone. I didn’t go for sitting in a circle drinking lousy coffee in a Styrofoam cup—I would have if they had served some sort of sweet like chocolate chip cookies. Yeah! Must I give in and use one of Andy “Taylor” Griffith’s most-said remarks, “that’s the time,” whatever that means.
A year later, I didn’t feel that I had made one step forward in the Area of Progress as I signed my final session with that psychiatrist of few words and continued onward with what was left of my life. I missed my dad and always would. No psychiatrist could change that event. I too, will face that event one day, but now, I am all about Saltillo, and why me, Davy Dozier and Nick Ray, were in Saltillo. Davy and Nick were two sharp news writers for our local newspaper in Hamilton, Ala., the Journal Record covering a Big Wrestling Match. I tagged along to take photos of this event that those who live in and near Saltillo. Anything pertaining to “action” means a lot when there are very little jobs for money to buy food and no pool rooms to invest in what was left.
My only job was to “snap” photo’s as Old Time Newspaper workers say—but not that much today. Everything’s went digital in 2000. Photography now is easier, quicker and sharper, the three Main Ingredients of producing a perfect photo. In my day, I worked the Dark Room, but I had my “tools,” when I was either processing film or printing the photos from that film. Both are separate processes entirely. My “tools were: a thermos of hot, black coffee, a pack of brand-name cigarettes and investing enough of my guts to make sure that (when I was spooling the undeveloped film) I didn’t hear that awful cracking that spelled: Disaster.
The City of Saltillo had begun to prosper in 1998 with a few new retail businesses opening up—Little Caesar’s Pizza and a McDonald’s that brought a few new jobs to that area. And besides this city having a fantastic Prep Football Area, that was about it . . .except for two people, man and wife, (Don and Cindy Miller), who had day jobs plus being Wrestling Promoters by night. I envied them.
Through proper channels, a Wrestling Writer from Saltillo, had contacted Davy Dozier about the local paper, The Journal Record covering a Big Match on a set Thursday night—big people were scheduled to wrestle, but not big enough to merit Leer Jets, Limo’s, or Fur Coats. It was a small operation, but the Pro-Wrestling was beginning to fill the Saltillo Civic Center every time a wrestling match was advertised. Dozier and Nick Ray were good friends, and so Ray threw me into the mix and there we went dust a-flying, eating beef jerky—holding our boss’ .35 mm. Nikon for dear life. Our boss loved that camera.
Don Miller introduced himself to Nick Davy and myself and told us the best place to sit to, as he said, “get a bird’s eye view,” of this Big Match. Frankly, Miller would have made a great wrestler himself with his muscular body. I didn’t offer any remarks of the kind. I kept reminding myself that I was an out-of-towner and hoped that Ray and Dozier were doing the same thing. No one wants to get into a rumble if you are from out-of-town and a yokel from Saltillo or any small southern town takes exception to your looks or something you said—anything is fair game for fist-fighting for most people in these small towns drink. Heavily, I might add.
We three sat down as we were told and the Ring Announcer, probably a local radio DJ, we figured with his “Radio Voice,” sounding much like Richard Sterban, bass singer for the Oak Ridge Boys, introducing the crowd, the town, promoters, wrestling “cards” (matches), but left us out. Wheww! Talk about God and His grace. We did not have any business being recognized by anyone in Saltillo—and I am not “Slinging Mud,” at the Saltillians, but most of them were tall, muscular human beings and the females (one dipped smokeless tobacco) were not to be trifled with.
It was on! Ray and Dozier soaked in every “Card” as if we were Ringside at Madison Square Garden, but none of the wrestlers made it to our seats to shake hands with us. Wheww! Again, God spared us from ME, the one with a M-16-of-a-Mouth when I got to joking with people, but as I kept telling myself, you are not at home. You are in Saltillo. One of these guys might misunderstand one of my jokes and it would be on, but in the audience and any Expert Traveler will tell you: If you are from out-of-town, stay quiet and obscure. If trouble happens, you will be the Number One Suspect—for Local Yokels are never the first to stand in a Police Line-up. In towns like Saltillo, everyone is suspicious— their neighbors, the police and traveling meat salesmen.
With an unknown Pro-Wrestling name like, “War Machine,” you’d think upon seeing this gargantuan-of-a-man he would be aggressive, sweating bullets (literally) and ready to beat up the entire town. Not so much, for this wrestler smiled at us as he hulked to the ring. Personally I thought that he was trying to pose for my camera. But when the ring announcer said his name, the SRO crowd stood to their feet shouting his name . . .I thought that the Zombie Apocalypse was on.
“War Machine,” was pitted against the “Asian Viper,” who resembled a guy who was working at the convenience store (coming into Saltillo) where I bought my beef jerky. Could it be? Not a chance, I thought. But when “W.M.” took a swing at him, “A.V.” yelled and knew that I was right—this guy only had a few teeth and this knowledge was useful as I told a few old one-liners in his store to “break the ice” and maybe give us three a discount.
A citizen of Saltillo, working two jobs: a clerk in a convenience store by day, and “The Asian Viper,” by night. I suddenly felt very appreciative of this guy for being so industrious and creative in landing two jobs to help feed his family. Dozier and Ray will never know it, but as the previous thought faded from my mind, I almost shed a few tears.
I DID shed some tears when that match was over and “War Machine” pinned “Asian Viper” in less than five minutes. I didn’t shed the tears for “Viper” losing, but when the ring announcer said, “Now entering the ring . . .’Madame Blade,” in a Grudge Match against, “Ms. Terminal,” . . .turns out that “Madame Blade,” I found out later was “Asian Viper’s” WIFE.
I knew at that moment that Dozier, Ray and myself just had to stay—just to see this couple’s kids to show up.
Only in Saltillo.
_______ Dec. 18, 2017
© 2018 Kenneth Avery