Wrestling — a Little — With My Conscience

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EDITOR'S NOTE: TIME Daily writer Frank Pellegrini, at a ripe 27 years, has taken a leave of absence to join the Army Reserve. He is undergoing basic training — boot camp — and then will spend several months in an Army journalism school. Given the difficulty the forces are experiencing in recruiting young people these days, we think his experiences and impressions are worth sharing. Here is the tenth missive; others will be posted as they arrive.

Boot camp rule No. 1297: When they offer you fun, take it.

On Saturday night, the World Wresting Alliance — they're the cheesy, third-string ones — came to the Fort Jackson Community Center for a Bob-Hope style troop show. Those who came got a bellyful of junk food and a lineup bristling with both has-beens (Honky Tonk Man, Doink the Clown, the latest incarnation of The Patriot, if you follow that sort of thing) and never-will-bes.

Those who stayed home, whether they were undeserving (in trouble) or just uninterested in an evening of neon tights and sweaty mime, were duly sneered at by the gods. They got KP; some repainted latrines.

I didn't pity them much — they should have known by now that he who stands apart soon finds a broom put in his hand. (Even if it's to sweep the lawn, which I actually witnessed yesterday.) So I happily marched off to the rasslin'. Did I mention I was getting better at this place?

In most circumstances, low-rent pro wrestling is so flimsy and fake that it would be difficult to get oneself excited by it. But suitably starved for thrills, this crowd of 500 or so camouflage-clad boot campers swallowed the whole show with a hoot and a holler. We (and I use the pronoun liberally) dangled candy in front of the fat wrestlers, yelled for push-ups from the fit ones, and screamed platoon slogans at one another. The usual stuff, and loved by most. The Army is full of wrestling fans, like your local bar — and for a couple of hours we found a similar escapism.

The fifth fight, though, broke the reverie. Now, I hadn't had too much trouble lately with my personal journalist/soldier duality-of-man thing. Even if the perspectives here are a little narrow, it's a worthy and purposeful ethos they've got, and it's begun to fit me all right. But sometimes the propaganda flies so fast and thick that I've got to run for the foxhole of my old fun-loving cynical self (never far away).

So when the powers that be pitted a triangle-chested, all-American black guy, "Night Stick" (very much in the NCO mold here), against "Yugoslavia," a balding, grubby, stringy-haired villain waving a Yugoslav flag, that cynical side pushed to the fore. Did that country need any more punishment, symbolic or otherwise? I thought not, and amid the thunderous "U-S-A" chants I found myself cackling uproariously — and even flashed a passable Serb salute for a few seconds before getting scared and holstering it.

Surprise! It was the American in a close one, and by the end of it all, "Night Stick" had sent the Serb stand-in running peevishly out of the arena.

Everyone was having too much fun for me to spoil it by telling them that it wasn't that simple in real life.

More dispatches to come

He's in the Army Now. Well, Almost...
Sgt. Bilko Was Much More Fun Than These Guys
Hey! These Sweat Suits Aren't Camouflaged!
Yes, Sergeant — It Is Night and I Am Jogging
These Boots Weren't Made for Marching
Learning to Swallow the Big D — Discipline
Just in Case You Run Out of Bullets...
When Private Is the Last Thing You Can Be
Ah, the Smell of Tear Gas in the Morning