The first time I worked the Pacific Northwest territory—the first time I worked for Dennis Dean—there was so much I didn’t know.
Like if Chuck Sampson, who booked the Colorado-based wrestling promotion I was contracted to at the time would have a problem with me going west, where I wouldn’t be in competition, but I would still be making money from, and more importantly for someone else.
Like why Dennis Dean was so desperate to get anyone who’d come that he’d pay double my normal booking fee for that Tuesday night’s show.
I heard it’d be a tournament and he needed both a field of competitors, and half of them would need to work twice or more in the same night—some as many as five times. Then I heard he wanted to stage the biggest battle royal of all time—a hundred men in one, custom-made, super-sized ring.
So we piled into Samurai Smith’s pickup—three in the cab, four of us riding in the bed of the truck to hit the road, speculating about what else might be at stake. A twenty-man tag match. A double-tiered Lumberjack Match with forty men around the ring to really guarantee neither of the main eventers couldn’t escape the fight. Maybe a beat down of the local hero—whoever he was—so Dean could write him out of the storylines while he got married and went on a honeymoon. I’d heard of such things.
Dennis Dean paid every wrestler who showed, though it was only one and a half, not two times what I was used to. Confirmation of what the boys had told me along the ride that only about half of what Dean told anybody was true. Whether the concept had changed, or none of us had heard it right, we’ll never know, but by the time we arrived, it was Dean’s objective to break the world record for longest wrestling show ever, and go for a full twelve hours, from noon to midnight. He charged three times the ticket price for the extended show.
The dingy little arena wasn’t much to look at. Heard from the local boys nothing had happened in it for nearly a decade, that it was on and off the block for demolition and Dean booked it for a pittance.
Everything was going just fine, a packed house of lively fans with good endurance until midway through the fifth hour when the generator blew and the arena fell into darkness.
I figured we were in for a disaster. Refunded tickets and boys being asked to pay back part of what Dean had given them, or else an angry mob that took out its frustrations on what wrestlers they could find or their cars.
But Dean was ready.
Dean had a megaphone and walked out into that darkness to announce that this show featured the best wrestlers in the world. And anyone who wanted to leave could get a half-price refund, but anyone who stayed would be in for a truly special show. For these wrestlers—these warriors—were trained to use all of their sense. They wrestle through eye gouges, through blood pouring down their faces. Yes, it’s true, they don’t need to see to fight. And all of you who stay will be treated to the privilege of the most remarkable wrestling show you’ve ever heard.
Maybe he sold them on the idea. Maybe the half-refund wasn’t enough .Maybe the consensus decision was that maneuvering out of the arena in the dark wasn’t worth the trouble.
Whatever the cause, out of a crowd of five thousand, fewer than fifty stood up and took his offer to leave.
We worked the show. In clapping hands that sounded like the smack of flesh on flesh. In stomping feet that sounded like running and like falling. In grunts and groans and screams. Referees counted pin falls when both men stood on their feet. We scored submissions without physical contact.
And the crowd ate it up. Some of them had to know we were scamming them, but there weren’t catcalls or boos. A mostly silent crowd, listening for hints of the action. Exploding after the finish, after the referee called for the bell, after the ring announcer used the megaphone to winner.
When we weren’t in the ring, most of us boys went out to the section of the parking lot cordoned off for talent and the crew. We played cards, drank beers that we couldn’t keep cold, stretched.
After the show, Dean met us out there and told us we’d done good. He told us the same thing he’d told the crowd at the end of the night—the message we’d heard rumble through the walls, fed through the megaphone. That we should all come back for another show. That the whole family was always welcome.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is an alum of Oregon State’s MFA Program. He won Bayou Magazine’s Knudsen Prize for fiction and has published in journals including The Normal School and Passages North. Find him at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.