Friday March 26th, 2010

Only in professional wrestling can the guy who mows your lawn ask you to ring a red bell with a wrench while holding Steve Off's vest. But that's what happened recently -- the guy who mows my lawn asked me to ring a red bell with a wrench while holding Steve Off's vest. A silver vest. Flimsy material. The lawn mower e-mailed me ... said, "How would you feel about being the celebrity timekeeper at a wrestling match featuring Superfly Snuka?"

This is funny for roughly 12,471 reasons, beginning with:

A. Where else can a hack writer be considered worthy of celebrity judgeship?

B. What with wrestling being fake and all, there's technically no need for a timekeeper.

C. Somebody goes by the name "Steve Off."

D. I thought Superfly Snuka was dead.

E. From the look of him, Superfly Snuka is dead.

Alas, I digress. The lawn man's name is John Miele. And unlike any other lawn man I've ever met (and I've encountered quite a few in my 37 years), John is known throughout certain parts of New York State for promoting wrestling shows headlined by the cryogenically preserved corpses of one-time WWF superstars -- i.e. Superfly Snuka.

So last Sunday, wrench and vest in hand, I sat ringside in the gymnasium of New Rochelle High, taking in a spectacle that one can best describe as, ahem -- sad. But not sad in a Terms of Endearment sort of way. "The New York Wrestling Federation Presents A Night of All-Star Pro Wrestling" was sad because it reminded me that while life doesn't always imitate art and art doesn't always imitate life, small-scale professional wrestling shows in high school gymnasiums almost always imitate Randy (The Ram) Robinson's existence in The Wrestler.

First, however, the good news: The wrestling was kind of exciting. Headlocks and pile drivers and loud noises and masked, Spanish-speaking dwarfs. Though Steve Off (whose blue trunks feature a skull covering his crotch) lost a heartbreaker to someone named F.B.I., he seemed pleased that I conscientiously folded his vest and placed it on a table. That, in and of itself, was worth my 10-minute drive -- as was the chance to slam my wrench into the bell every time the pre-pubescent referee pointed my way.

Now, the bad news: To the dismay of no one, Superfly didn't wrestle. He attended, though, and even said something to the crowd that sounded an awful lot like, "Mashed potatoes are wonderful, thank you Natalie Merchant's dog but sushi I don't ride." (Enunciation has never been a Superfly strong point). At intermission, the 600 or so attendees were herded toward the rear of the gym, where The Wrestler came to life. Here, large men with ring monikers like Vic D. Vine and Crowbar sat at rickety cafeteria tables, peddling pictures and T-shirts and videos for anywhere from $5-$30 a pop. As Jay-Z's Empire State of Mind blared from the speakers, the wrestlers did everything physically possible to appear, well, un-pathetic. Trevor Murdoch, a WWE mainstay not all that long ago, bobbed his head while a friend screamed, "Come meet Trevor Murdoch! Trevor Murdoch here!" Steve Off, whose MySpace page lists among his interests, "being a lazy bastard when I'm not too busy workin' my ass off," yawned repeatedly.

One grappler, another former WWE wrestler called "Julio Dinero," is actually a 37-year-old salesman from Silver Spring, Md., named Brian Wohl. As kids rushed to his table with pens and scraps of paper, Wohl -- who insisted to me that he's a wonderful person -- channeled his inner Barry Bonds by shooing the tykes off until they return with $15 for his (jarringly ugly) shirts instead. When, at long last, Wohl begrudgingly agreed to sign, one child -- no older than 10 -- looked at the wrestler and said, "I don't even know who you are."

Yet the most regrettable scene took place two spots down. That's where Superfly, who turns 67 in May, was stationed, behind a placard reading JIMMY "SUPERFLY" SNUKA: MEET AND GREET THE LEGEND! I was told Snuka doesn't grant interviews, so I stood to the side and watched a man who, 27 years ago, triumphed over "Magnificent" Don Muraco in a still-talked-about (by someone, I'm guessing) steel cage match at Madison Square Garden. His face heavily wrinkled, his body saggy and porpoise-like, Snuka sat and waited. And waited. And waited. He twiddled his thumbs. He tapped his toes. He looked up and looked down and looked up again. A couple of people stopped by for $10 photographs, seemingly out of sympathy more than genuine desire.

By the time the wrestling had resumed, all that was left was an empty table.

Superfly was long gone.

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