Living on a 160 acre horse ranch in rural Oklahoma was very tedious for my 8-year-old self. There were chores, school, chores and more chores. I didn’t mind. I enjoyed the tedium—it provided a sort of comfort. No matter how many chores, we, as a family, would always find time to sit down and watch wrestling. Always, we pulled for an unlikely character. The announcer would bellow, “From parts unknown, weighing in at 239 lbs…Doctor X!” We would always cheer from the seclusion of our living room as if he could hear us.
Our time in Oklahoma was punctuated, on occasion, by my uncle. He was a family favorite. He brought gifts from far away places, and stories. Oh the stories, he had so many and he told them vividly. That summer, before my 9th birthday, my uncle convinced my skeptical, overprotective mother to allow me and my brother to accompany him on the road. This was momentous. This was life changing. This was the most stupendous thing ever: this uncle was Doctor X.
I don’t recall if we packed. I am not sure when we left. But what I did know was that I was the luckiest boy alive. We pulled away from our house, began a grand adventure where I learned truths about heroes—lessons that I carry to this day.
We traveled through Oklahoma, Texas, and then Louisiana until we arrived in Shreveport. This type of travel was common for my uncle: empty roads and hours alone. We spent that night in Shreveport and ate delivery pizza while sitting on the motel pool’s diving board. He regaled us about the time he defeated a bear in a cage match. He explained how getting gasoline on your hands while repairing your carburetor is a deterrent for bears. We marveled at his prowess and dangled from the silken threads of the yarns he spun.
The next day we made a bee-line for Baton Rouge. The main event loomed before us, a tag team match with his partner Pork Chops Cash. Pork Chops was a black man and a local favorite in Louisiana. Being partnered with him made Doctor X both popular and reviled in the South. Many wrestlers were already there, and they greeted us like old friends or family. We were suddenly surrounded by giants, not just in stature but reputation also. The likes of Danny Hodge, Pat Patterson, and Bill Watts were legends in my household. These men were Nephilim to us—no less than Hercules or Cu Chulainn, definitely descended from the Gods. Among these luminaries was a young Andre the Giant, who we met with great trepidation. He was such a nice man and was very entertaining both in speech and manner. He acquiesced to my uncle’s request and showed us how a boiled egg fit through the ring he wore on his finger.
Before the first match we were escorted to our seats by Doctor X, in costume. He lifted us four feet from the coliseum floor to the front row of seats, elevating us to celebrity among the local children we were seated with. He instructed us to be in the locker room before the end of the match. The kids clamored over us and asked how we knew Doctor X, and we told them of our relation. As I said, partnering with Pork Chops Cash had earned Doctor X a certain notoriety. The usual opening acts were there. Wrestling at its finest: the noise of the crowd, stale odor of cigars, and the big-bosomed, heavily made-up, swooning groupies, so much distraction for two young boys. Finally Doctor X and Pork Chops swaggered to the ring, proudly displaying their title belts and playing to the cheering crowd. They were the “Good Guys.” The opposition was already there. Their manager, the notorious Skandor Akbar, was renowned for his double dealings. The announcer went through his paces and introduced the players. The bell, an old brake drum struck by a ball peen hammer, sounded, announcing the beginning of the match. Pork Chops was the first in the ring circling his opponent. Quickly, he found himself in trouble; he struggled to his corner looking for help from his partner, who then took the announcers bell and promptly struck him in the face. Blood spurted, a very theatrical pirouette, and then Pork Chops crumbled to the mat, betrayed. The crowd was on their feet, booing, while profanities flew about freely. A groupie passed out next to the ring, and Doctor X, the “Bad Guy,” was resurrected. Skandor Akbar jumped into the ring and raised my Uncle’s hand exulting in his victory. “Locker room,” a voice in my head cried out. In the nick of time I pushed my brother to the coliseum floor. My shirt was torn from my back as the locals turned their ire on us. We were the scapegoats for Doctor X’s perfidy. Running for the locker room, a small angry mob in pursuit, we hit a wall. A wall of unyielding flesh, it was Andre on his way out for the headline match. Quickly surmising our predicament he swept us up with his preternaturally large hands and hid us behind his prodigious thighs. Leaning down and scowling he said “BOO,” and the crowd quickly dispersed.
Once we fled the coliseum, not many words were spoken as we drove through the night. My brother slept in the back seat. I watched my Uncle’s face dimly lit by the dashboard lights. Despite the tragic circumstance regarding his treachery, he was still my hero. I began to see the complexities of the man who led this dichotomous life. This cherished relative, generous and loving, would spend days on the road for a moment in the spotlight, only to slip out the back door and steal away into the night. I learned that our heroes are human, fragile, and real as you and me. Time moved inexorably on, I grew up, and we both have grown old. Doctor X now lives in a modest apartment with his lovely wife of 42 years. He raised two beautiful children, now grown. The victim of a stroke, his days are now spent trapped in his own mind. Yet despite this tragic circumstance, he is still my hero.