SLEEPERHOLD

 

By: Jim Sanders

 

            Sound blared from the tiny speakers underneath a TV mounted on milk crates.  Empty beer bottles with “Milwaukee’s Best” labels lined the top of the TV.  On the screen, a muscular man with a shaved head, round face, and rippling muscles, held under his armpit the head of a smaller man whose curly hair was bleach blond and whose trunks were bright red.  With his free arm, the bald man punched the smaller man with his elbow, knocking him to the mat, and them stomped on the blond wrestler with his leather wrestling boot.   On a faded yellow couch facing the TV, three men pumped their fists in the air and cheered.  The men each wore plaid flannel shirts, faded jeans, and a baseball cap atop the mullet on his head.   The bald wrestler then strolled over to the edge of the ring and slapped the hand of a taller man dressed in a long black robe, his face caked in white makeup.  The robed man crawled through the ropes, strode to the man lying on the mat, lifted him to his feet, and threw him against the ropes.  The man bounded back to the robed wrestler, who then slammed the man down to the mat with a forearm to his face, and the robed man jumped on the staggered blond wrestler.   A referee pounded his fist against the mat three times to signal the end of the match. 

            “About time Demon Hunter pinned that pretty boy Surfer Jimmy,” exclaimed the man sitting sunken into the broken upholstery in the middle of the couch.  Joe Smith was the man who owned the couch and the trailer, and he was the most vocal with the

commentary on every Thursday’s night’s telecast of the Extreme Wrestling Coalition’s Wrestling War.  Joe took a long swig from his beer bottle, and then tossed the empty bottle onto the faded carpet.  “What do you think, Ross?” Joe said, turning to a man sitting next to a cooler. 

            “Yeah, I’d like to stick that little pretty-boy in the woods with some wild bears, that will show him,” piped up Ross, a short wiry man with strands of grayish hair sticking out from his baseball cap, which displayed the logo of Red’s Auto Body.  This was the place which employed the three man as auto mechanics, and provided them enough spending money to finance the stash of beer bottles in the cooler. 

            “Go get me another Beast,“ Joe said.  Ross twitched animatedly as he reached into the cooler and grabbed a full bottle.  He tossed it to Joe, who popped the top and took a long swig.  The Beast was the nickname the guys had given their favorite beer, Milwaukee’s Best.  It wasn’t the sour taste that appealed to them, nor it’s pale yellow color.  Instead, their loyalty to this particular beer brand was due to it being the cheapest beer available at the liquor store down the street

            On the other side of Joe, a large-framed man exclaimed, “That‘s the ticket“.  Ed Jones was the quiet one of the group.   His commentary on the evening’s action was always reduced to that simple phrase.

            Joe smiled, satisfied at how the wrestling ring offered instant justice against the

weak, the stupid, the cowardly, and anyone from California.  It didn’t matter to Joe that the professional wrestling action was scripted.  At the ripe age of 30, all Joe wanted in life was to watch guys beat each other up on TV while he and his buddies drank cheap beer and smoked cigarettes.  Since the three of them lived in trailers next to each other in the Shady Rest mobile home park, these were the extent of Joe‘s social circle.  Joe had occasional contact with his ex-wife.  However, she got religious after the divorce, and her conversations were reduced to her pleading with Joe to stop drinking and get “saved”, as she would say.  Joe sighed, tired of hearing it.

            As the wresting action broke away to a commercial, Joe’s eyes perked up in anticipation that his favorite beer commercial would come on, which featured tall blond women in bikinis playing volleyball on the surface of the moon.  Instead, a clean-cut man with perfectly groomed blond hair appeared, leaning against a tree overlooking a lake filled with crystal-blue water.  Joe‘s heart sank.  Dressed in a white sweater and jeans, the man looked into the TV camera and said, “There are many people looking for hope for their lives.  Some look to alcohol, some look to drugs or pornography, but they never find anything that satisfies them.  Only a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ will fill the emptiness in your heart.  If you are seeking purpose in your life, I would like to invite you to come to Hereford Community Church this Sunday, so you can find purpose from the God that made you.”

            While Ross and Ed laughed and made obscene gestures at the screen, Joe

swore and took a long swig from his bottle.  The Reverend Perry Morrison’s commercials were unwelcome intrusions into Joe‘s television watching routine of wrestling, auto racing, and dirty late-night movies on cable.  Every time the preacher appeared, he pleaded for whoever was watching him to get their lives right with God.  He reminded Joe of the last time he visited his grandmother to get a real cooked meal.  Before Joe could dig into his grandmother’s biscuits and gravy, she prodded Joe to start going to church.  If he didn’t get his life straight with God, his grandmother warned that he would have to endure something called the Great Tribulation, which would happen at the end of the world to people who weren’t on God’s good side.  Then she smiled and told Joe she would be praying for him, and gave him a pamphlet featuring a picture of a man standing next to a stock car.  Inside was a story of a stock car driver named Nutt Nesbitt who had wrecked his car badly during a race. This had made Mr. Nesbitt realize that he needed to get his life right with God.  Joe smiled politely and accepted the pamphlet, only to toss it in the trash when he got home.   As far as Joe was concerned, Nutt Nesbitt’s problem was that he drove a Chevy, not a Ford like the best race drivers did, so it was no wonder the guy had nearly got himself killed. 

            To Joe’s relief, the TV returned to a shot of the wrestling ring.  A tall muscular lady wrestler with scraggly black hair and wearing a skimpy black leotard, sauntered over to a shorter muscular lady with scraggly blond hair and wearing a skimpy white

leotard.  The dark-haired wrestler grabbed the blond wrestler and threw her to the ground.

            “Oh, I can‘t stand that Sissy Malone!” Joe moaned. 

            “Hey, she looks all right to me,” Ross said.

            “No way!  Get these chicks out of the ring, and let the men fight it out,” Joe said.  Just then, the blond woman grabbed a chair from the side of the ring and swung it at the other girl, knocking her through the ropes and onto the floor below.

            “All right, they’ve got the chairs out.  This is real wrestling now,” Ross said.

            “That’s the ticket!” Ed said.

            “No, if you ask me, wrestling was a lot better in the old days, when men beat each other up with their bare hands.  None of this chair-throwing crap,” Joe said.

            “I’d like to see one of these wrestler guys drag that pretty-boy preacher into the ring and hit him over the head with a chair,” Ross said.

            “You got that right,” Joe said, laughing.  “Let him get into the ring with Dirty Diamond Dog and let the dog put a pile driver right through that tofu-eating preacher’s face.  Then he can’t do those commercials any more, and we can watch wrestling in peace,” Joe said.  

            The three of them muttered approval, as the women left the ring, and two muscular men took turns throwing each other against the ropes.  The guys continued

drinking beer after beer, with more and more empty bottles piling up on the floor.  After another hour, the last wrestling match came to a close with the robed wrestler reappearing and getting thrown through a table by a black man dressed in a dog collar, chain, and black shorts with a skull and crossbones painted on them.  Joe said with slurred voice, “Demon Hunter got robbed, man!  I hope he takes on Dirty Diamond Dog at the cage match next week and take his championship belt.  Hey, you guys want to watch a video?  I’ve got the World’s Greatest Tractor Pull Bloopers.”

            “Nah, I’m going home.  Hell, I can barely stand up,” Ross said, struggling to his feet.

            “OK.  I’m going to bed,” Joe announced, as the other two guys stumbled out the door.  Joe switched off the TV, and shuffled into his bedroom.  “Man, I’m wasted,” Joe muttered to himself.  A blurry image appeared in the fog in the back of his mind, of his grandmother sitting in her rocking chair reading her Bible, and he felt a slight twinge of guilt over another night of drunkenness.  Joe put those thoughts out of his mind as he fell forward into his bed, and drifted to sleep.

            Joe suddenly found himself standing inside a wrestling ring surrounded by screaming fans.   “Cool, I’m in the middle of Wrestling War,” Joe thought.  Then Joe tried to walk, but couldn’t move as his feet felt like they were encased in concrete.  Joe looked up at a large Jumbo-tron screen at one end of the arena, which showed an

image of a grimacing face and a finger pointed at Joe.  “You’re dead, boy!” the face sneered.  “I am the Great Tribulation!”  Joe then saw the man materialize in front of him, his finger only inches from Joe’s nose.  After a moment, the wrestler turned away to pump his fists in the air, causing the crowd to roar.  Then another wrestler with curly black hair and a bushy beard appeared in front of Joe.  He wore a ripped T-shirt with “The Beast” emblazoned upon it.  In both of his oversized hands he held bottles of Milwaukee’s Best beer.  “Wanna drink, punk?” he said.

            Joe tried to answer, but no sound came out of his mouth.  The Beast then poured the contents of one of the bottles over Joe’s head, then drank the other one.  As he crushed both bottles in his hands, Joe winced, but the man didn’t appear to be hurt in any way.  Now sweating profusely, Joe scanned the crowd for anyone that might save him.  In the first row of seats, Joe spotted Ross and Ed laughing and pointing at him.  He tried to call to them, but the roar of the crowd drowned him out. Joe anxiously turned to look at the wrestlers, but they had disappeared.  Instead, a tall woman with fluffed blond hair, long legs, and a wearing a miniscule black halter top and miniskirt smiled and sauntered up to him.  Joe’s heart raced at the sight of a woman even more beautiful than the models on any of the calendars in Red’s Auto Body Shop.  The woman stroked Joe’s chin with her fingernail and cooed, “See something you like, Joe?”

            However, before Joe would answer, he felt himself being jerked into the air and

 

thrown against the ropes.  As Joe landed in a crumpled heap on the mat, he saw The Beast lift him back to his feet, and then the Great Tribulation started pounding Joe in the face with his massive forearms. 

            After more punches than Joe could count, he stood unsteadily and in pain.  “I thought this stuff was supposed to be fake,” he thought.  Then he saw The Beast leap from the top rope and smack him to the ground again with an elbow to the face.  Joe slowly turned his face upward, only to see the woman reappear and scrape the sharp heel of her shoe against his cheek.  Wanting to die, Joe’s mind flashed back to his grandmother, and he wished he could be back in her kitchen listening to the story of Nutt Nesbitt.  Then the woman lifted Joe high in the air and carried him toward the corner of the ring.  Joe frantically looked over toward Ross and Ed, but they continued pointing and laughing.  “Thanks, guys,“ Joe sighed, then cried, “Oh, no, no,“ as he saw a table underneath him.  “I knew I never liked these chick wrestlers,” he groaned.  He tried to pray to God, his grandmother, and Nutt Nesbitt as the woman suddenly hurled Joe downward. 

            However, an instant before Joe hit the table, he awoke and sat upright in his bed, drops of sweat pouring from his forehead.  Joe’s eyes darted around the room until he realized he was safely in his trailer instead of a wrestling ring.  Joe breathed a sigh of relief and arose from his bed with a splitting headache.  He walked into the living room

and surveyed the collection of empty beer bottles lying on the floor.  “Damn, I’ve got to quit drinking,” he muttered.  He flopped down on the couch, once again thinking of his grandmother, now remembering her teaching a young Joe in Sunday school with pictures of Bible characters pasted on a flannel board.  Joe stared at the ceiling for a couple of minutes, wondering if God or someone in the sky was trying to send him some kind of message.  Hearing nothing but silence, Joe grabbed the remote control and flipped on the TV, hoping to find a late-night movie that would take his mind off his dream.  To his chagrin, though, the first image that appeared was the Reverend Morrison, perched against the same tree and preaching the same sermon as he had before.  Joe started to lift the remote to change the channel, but his arm froze.  He saw the preacher’s eyes blaze, and Joe sunk back on the couch.  Every word the preacher spoke stung Joe like a pile driver delivered by The Great Tribulation himself.