by William Fatzinger Jr.
Picture the famous wrestling high school. Great glutted trophy cabinet. Tidy gradient of photographed wrestling teams gone by. Photos degrade, go black and white, get ancient, get ugly.
Lecturing to a gym class of amateurs, Coach emphasizes the importance of wrestling. An Ancient Pastime, he says. A Hallowed History, he says. The Wrestling Room is new and holy and highly maintained—the smell is Special Rubber and Special Glue. Sometimes Coach’s voice is hard to understand because, as a youngster, he was a competitive boxer and got punched square in the throat by some rat bastard. Or he got shot in the throat during Operation Desert Storm. Or he caught a throat disease from a prostitute in Vietnam. Actually, to be honest, it’s not 100 percent clear why Coach talks the way he does. Competing theories abound.
Everybody partner up, says Coach, addressing the gym class. Everybody practice the maneuvers depicted on these ancient, erotic posters, he says. Half Nelson, Full Nelson, the Psycho Spin, the Nightmare Kill, the Midnight Cinderella Transformed, the Secret Knife. The boys hop to it. Coach looks on, admiring. Stamps out his cigar.
Yes, he says. That’s the ticket! You boys are really getting it! Sure, some of you guys sure aren’t getting it, but is it Gerald’s fault that he is such a walking mess? Some are endowed with important gifts, others are sublimely railroaded by genetics, says Coach.
Does Coach care a little too much sometimes? Of course he does! And will Coach eventually be fired and shunned by the community when it’s discovered that he forces the wrestling team to row rowing machines while dressed in rubber bodysuits in a large wooden “sweatbox” of his own design? Sure, yes. The PTA reviewing his “sweatbox” technical drawings? Yes, absolutely. Cold disgraces lurk upon the horizons of all, do they not? But not just yet. Not for Coach. This is Coach’s time! The heyday of Coach! Our Beloved Coach!
Goddamn it, he says, now it’s time to get serious. This means lining up by weight. We need to get a weight hierarchy going here, boys. Line it up!
The horde of boys divides itself by apparent weight. Boys jump back or ahead in this living graph of incremental fatness. Arguments break out.
Save it for the mat, boys!
Picture Gerald, our hero. Gerald is the second largest in class. Massive, but weak. A weakling, so to speak. Feckless wearer of glasses. Sweat glands gone haywire. I wish I’d never been born, thinks Gerald. He projects this psychic dispatch with his every living movement. Was he doing the maneuvers right? Christ, no. The weak among us perish, says Darwin, says Coach. The strong alone survive.
Being second largest on the graph, Gerald is doomed to wrestle Dorfer. The Dwarfer, he is called. Dorfer, the boy planet. Dorfer, black marbles for eyes. The largest known boy. Destined for prison. Or, at best, destined for ESPN 2 Strongman Competitions.
Dorfer has already fathered a child.
Take a moment to ruminate upon this astonishing detail.
Coach starts with the small kids. Gerald, caught in a tailspin of grave thought. Has anyone ever died wrestling in gym class? Been put in a wheelchair? Been made a vegetable?
Well, the statistics are fairly inconclusive, says Coach.
Get him! shouts the horde, pounding the ground like tribal death drums. Steve Yoopa vs. Douglas Pule. Small kids, these. All flailing. A real embarrassment to the pastime, Coach decides.
Finish him! says Coach.
From across the room, Dorfer does the “I will cut your throat” motion at Gerald. Intimidation techniques. Those dead,glassy eyes. Good lord!
Take off your glasses now, Gerald. A blurred Dorfer approaches. Shake hands, says Coach. How big is Dorfer? Bear-sized? Truck-sized? Condo-sized? Yes, yes, yes.
Coach blows the whistle.
The showdown happens fast and machine-like: windpipe pressed between Dorfer and floor. Dorfer does not employ “moves” here. No artistry whatsoever, Coach observes. Sheer force. Regardless, Dorfer is the victor! The boys cheer him.
Put on your glasses, Gerald. Behold the bold Dorfer, says Coach.
Years from now, Gerald, you will ponder hard on the notion of Dorfer. Grown Gerald, a dad at a sink at night. Grown Gerald, paper cup of coffee, waiting for a train. Dorfer the Dwarfer, you will whisper to yourself. If you have conjurable memories of him, then he must have them of you. Available to him at any time. Errant, fluttering pictures of young Gerald, trapped in the dark mind of Dorfer. At Strongman Competitions, as he pulls a van with his mouth—as an armored car full of silver coins backs slowly over his gut—he may take pause, thinking fondly of Gerald. Recalling the easy crushing of a windpipe. Conquer the conquerable. That galvanizing thrill, says Coach. ◥
William Fatzinger Jr. writes stories and draws drawings. He has been a convenience store clerk, a darkroom chemist, an apprentice to a telescope maker—he has shoveled sand for fake indoor beaches on commercial photo shoots. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and a eleven year-old albino frog named Zebulon Pike.
Image via the Library of Congress.