Mostly rambles, few brambles
Middle School Wrestling: Where Crazy Always Beats Strong
Crazy beats Strong every time.
Strong enters the match with a pit in his stomach, unsure as to what depraved depths Crazy has in mind. Strong wishes he were up against Strong and competing a by-the-numbers affair that could have just as easily been decided by a push-up contest, but, alas, he has provoked Crazy and now this whole thing could end up with someone naked or on fire.
My middle-school son didn’t believe me. He tried to turn the conversation back to wrestling tactics and listening to what the coach said. “Isn’t listening to that guy in the first place what got you to eight straight losses? I asked him as I sort of sat back, smug. “Put it like this, who’s the toughest kid in school? I bet it’s not someone on the wrestling team.” His eyes narrowed as he thought on it. “I don’t know,” I smiled, “I’m picturing like a child-drifter look. Terrible smell. Penchant for mumbling. Always with that look of mistrust?” My son was stunned and asked how I knew about Terrance. I didn’t know Terrance—never even heard of him until now—but you don’t get to be a forty-three-year-old dad without knowing that the toughest kid in school is invariably the one who looks like a child-drifter.
My son asked if he should start sulking around the ring and intermittently screaming about conspiracy theories. I shook my head no. Terrance was too nuanced a character. His aura is effective because of chronic, everyday exposure, layering daily outbursts atop casual face paint atop a tattered, safety-pin-heavy jacket. I told my son he was on the right track—it’s wasn’t a bad character to emulate, but was too much to convey in a brief wrestling match. “We don’t need a whole character;” I said, “we just need to tickle that part of your opponent’s brain, that bit of reptilian fear-based instance, the part that says, ‘You have not faced this situation before: you should be terrified and you should be focused on preserving your own life.’”
The next day the Junior Hogs’ match at East River took place as usual. Everything was normal, except that my son wore a human muzzle. He didn’t say anything explicitly, possibly because of the muzzle, but I think he and I were both pretty giddy about this psychological warfare angle. The muzzle was a perfect prop and I was glad we hadn’t gone with the Hannibal Lechter-style dolly. It would have been too much, and a real hassle to get on and off the bus.
Throughout warms ups and stretching, my son went through his routine, ever-sure to brandish his new look. A few from the other team had pointed. Their coach would almost certainly have to field questions from kids and concerned parents. Were his teeth actually filed into fangs and various other mouth blades? Was everyone’s tetanus shot up to date? How fatal is rabies?
Those East River Cowboys, hailing from this trashy Dollar General-riddled hovel, could only speculate and let their fear fester.
I knew this sort of gimmick would never work with older, more experienced athletes who could tune out everything and approach every match with a shrewd, fixated savvy. However, should I need to ply into some malleable middle-school minds to help my son recoup some overdue self-confidence, then I will happily exploit said juvenile terrors; exploit them in the name of love.
The match arrived and the other 103-pound boy stepped into the ring and my son starred him down with a cold, soulless, Javier Bardem-style gaze. I helped remove the muzzle, playing my part gingerly and without any sudden movements. My son’s nose twitched, as if he could smell the panicked pheromones. The two boys shook hands and the official, not without his own bit of unease, started the match. Immediately, my son let out this piercing, Pterodactyl-like scream that assaulted the senses. His wiry legs bent, he scuttled around the edge of the ring, his hands cocked with his fingers outstretched as if ready to poke, gouge, or perform a roughshod tonsillectomy.
The other boy was sweating, though no wrestling had actually taken place yet. He sensed he was out of his element. He had probably woken up this morning from a restful sleep on his hay-stuffed mattress in his family’s shanty and hadn’t even considered the possibility of having his face bitten off today. Bravely or foolhardily, he moved to lunge and somehow my son—channeling the laser focus of a would-be cannibal—countered. Miraculously, my son had him, this superior athlete, in a pin. The East River boy’s shoulder blades thrashed against the mat, now, but he was held in place by two spindly, persistent arms. Looking up, this challenger starred directly into my son’s snapping, gnashing maw as bits of spit and Alka-Seltzer foam rained down upon him. He tapped out right as the official counted three.
My son roared above him and his teammates cheered.
Score another one for Team Crazy.