I was shaving my face a few weeks ago, listening to old Jean Shepherd radio programs on YouTube, when I thought about something Bobby Heenan said about ringside commentating. He said he learned how to do it by shaving in front of a mirror.
Shaving in front of a mirror allowed him to practice his interviewing skills, try out some foreign accents and some quick-witted repartee from time to time. If it worked for him, he figured it could probably work for anybody. So I followed Bobby Heenan’s advice and, lo and behold, I found practicing in front of a mirror while shaving worked for me too.
Bobby Heenan - A GOAT Wrestling Manager?
For anybody who doesn’t know, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan is generally considered one of the greatest wrestling managers of all time. His professional wrestling career began in Indianapolis in 1967. Starting out as a backstage helper who helped set up rings and carried jackets, Heenan quickly realized his meager 180-pound weight would keep him from becoming an in-the-ring wrestler.
So, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan became a manager instead. During a shoot interview on HIGHSPOTS.com in 2017, Heenan said the following about figuring out how to straddle managing and wrestling: “You manage as a wrestler, and you wrestle as a manager: very simple, very simple.
When you’re outside, you have to register and react like you’re managing. When you’re in the ring, you have to be a coward. That’s all you have to do. “
Everything sounds so simple when you hear Bobby “The Brain” say it. Listening to him for extended periods of time made me feel Bobby had life all figured out. He could’ve had a second career as a life coach. I’d take Bobby Heenan over Tony Robbins any day.
So while Bobby was on my brain and Jean Shepherd was in the background reading “A Christmas Story”, I was sculpting my goatee with a very sharp razor thinking about my next podcast theme. Suddenly, the idea occurred to me: Bobby and Shep – a WRESTLING WITH HEELS ON Christmas special. And so it goes…and so it goes…
Wrestling With Heels On Christmas Special
Context for the pocast episode:
CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (Ariel Gonzalez as Jean Shepherd)
THE BUGLE CALL named “CALL TO THE POST”
CHRISTMAS-Y MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND
A WWHO Christmas Story
JEAN SHEPHERD: Excelsior! Excelsior! Here’s a short story from my latest collection for anybody listening at 11:OO at night on Christmas Eve.
“It was Christmas Eve 1977, two months before the BLIZZARD of ‘78. We had just arrived to Brooklyn from a holiday visit to some of my denim-and-leather-wearing motorcycle club cousins in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.
The high that day was 38 degrees and the low was 32, the 32nd day in the past six weeks (beginning November 2) to have a diurnal variation of less than ten degrees. My old man wanted my mom, my little brother Ronnie, and me to get out of the car fast.
It was 11 p.m. and he desperately wanted to get to bed, as he had a five o’clock wake up call for work in a few hours. The screen process printing company he worked for would be open on Christmas Day and he, with a family of four to take care of, couldn’t afford to be late for work again.
So, out we went, out of my dad’s warm Oldsmobile, in a flurry of “HURRY-UPS!” and “LEAVE THAT, WE’LL GET IT IN THE MORNINGS!” and into our cold railroad apartment on 45th street and 3rd Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
My mother was so tired she sent Ronnie and me straight to bed in our street clothes, skipping our nightly backrubs, skipping our cups of warm chocolate milk. I’d gone to sleep without backrubs before. That wasn’t new. But how could I ever get to sleep without my nightly sedative cup of warm ‘leche con chocolate’? I was only 6 years old at the time, but a sense of impending doom rippled throughout my body.
Where would I find solace? And then it hit me. How could I have forgotten? All I had to do was turn to my two newest toys, the ones Santa had dropped off to me in Perth Amboy. They were sleeping on either side of me, weren’t they? Weren’t they?
No, they weren’t! STRETCH ARMSTRONG and STRETCH MONSTER were NOT with me. They were in the car and the weather was supposed to drop to freezing temperatures overnight. Suddenly, I bolted upright in bed and yelled: “MA! I LEFT STRETCH ARMSTRONG and STRETCH MONSTER in Daddy’s car! He has to go out and get them.”
My mother entered the room and quickly set me straight. “No, he is NOT! He has to get up soon for work. If you left them in the car, that’s your problem. Now go back to sleep before I take a belt to your butt!”
Ah, the ever-loving threat of the belt to the butt! One of many methods Puerto Rican mothers used to discipline their children. This was one step up from a “chancletazo” (a spanking with a flip flop). Worse than a belting was a buckling—the use of a belt buckle to inflict more punishment. Putting up your hands, even though it was purely instinctive, to fend off the belt was a surefire way to earn a buckling. I went back to bed with nary a murmur.
When I woke up a few hours later, STRETCH ARMSTRONG and STRETCH MONSTER were by my bedside. The old man had been merciful to them and me by bringing them in from the cold. What were STRETCH ARMSTRONG and STRETCH MONSTER? Why they were two of the most popular toys of the 70’s!
STRETCH ARMSTRONG was a muscle-bound all-American blond beefcake-action figure that could be stretched from his normal size of 15 inches to 4 to 5 feet. ARMSTRONG could be stretched out that far because he was made of latex rubber filled with a syrupy material that allowed for his elasticity. STRETCH MONSTER basically did the same thing as ARMSTRONG but meaner and greener as he had reptilian green skin, red eyes and two snaggleteeth jutting from either side of his mouth.
As I pulled on Stretch Armstrong’s legs, I quickly found out he’d lost his pliability and so had Stretch Monster. The frigid overnight temperatures had frozen them solid. In addition, they had small punctures on their skin from where dabs of gooey pink liquid had oozed. This was surely the syrupy substance that gave Armstrong and Monster their elasticity.
Filled with a strong urge to touch the substance, I remembered what my cousin Mimi had told me about eating the liquid inside of Stretch Armstrong. She told me my stomach would explode just like Mikey from LIFE cereal. Poor Mikey had mixed POP ROCKS and Cocoa-Cola on a whim and his stomach couldn’t take the combination of the two highly combustible substances. Because Mimi was 8 years older than me I believed everything she told me.
And, believe me folks, I was this close not to putting the syrup in my mouth when I happened to see the following words in the toy instructions: HIS INSIDES ARE SAFE and NON-TOXIC. This was all the permission I needed to go ahead and sample the syrupy material—which was really just gelled corn syrup.
I figured it couldn’t be any worse than the bad taste of a bar soap in my mouth but I quickly found out it was just as bitter and metallic. Whoever said this stuff tasted like corn syrup was a liar! I then proceeded to taste the gelled syrup that had crystallized on Stretch Monster’s chest to see if it tasted any different, and, of course, it was more of the same bitter, metallic taste.
After sampling the viscous concoction in my toys like some depraved pint-sized glucose vampire, I began feeling a bit strange. It wasn’t quite a sick feeling but one of mild disorientation. The urge to hide the damage done to my newly acquired gifts had disappeared, replaced by a new need to tell my mother the truth and the nerve to ask for brand new ones.
What had gotten into me? Why wasn’t I scared of getting belting for my insolence, or worse, a buckling? And, more importantly, who was that man descending from the ceiling into our living room?
It wasn’t Santa Claus, I could tell you that much. He wore a red sequin jacket with a matching sequin bow tie, a black shirt and red pants. His glittery suit made the entire living room sparkle. He had light blonde hair just like STRETCH ARMSTRONG and looked just as squat. My mother was busy cleaning the kitchen and did not appear to notice the stocky blond disco ball with legs in the living room. “Ma!” I yelled, but she did not turn her head to look. She was oblivious to everything but the Pine-Sol in her hands.
“She can’t hear you, but don’t be scared. My name is Bobby. Bobby Heenan. Have you ever heard of me?” I shook my head no. “Fair enough. I’m from the spirit world. The spirit world’s broken up into regional territories just like wrestling organizations. I’ve got the Northeast. That means I’m a big deal. You know how Santa Claus gives kids like you toys for Christmas? I dispense pearls of wisdom, whether you want them or not.”
Wisdom? Why did I need wisdom? What was I supposed to do with it? Was it like currency? Could I buy toys with it? And why was I getting it from this stranger?
I’d never seen him before in my life. And yet, amazingly, I wasn’t scared of him.
“Look, kid. I have 15 other homes to stop by today so I need you to sit down and listen to the wise things I have to tell you or else I’m out of a job. Capeesh?”
I slowly nodded my head and asked: “Are you Santa Claus?”
“No, Santa Claus is a much better paying gig. The problem is I don’t weigh enough to qualify for that job. Believe me, kid, if I could be Santa Clause I would. The medical benefits are great and all the Santa Clauses of the world are unionized so…”
Met by the blank look on my face, Bobby Heenan stopped mid-sentence and sighed. “I’m only supposed to give you 12 pearls of wisdom. Do with them what you will. Most of these aren’t even going to make sense to you right now. You’re only 6, for Pete’s sake.
Maybe you’ll use them later on in life; maybe you’ll use them 5 minutes after I’m gone. I can’t control when you do, nor do I care. You humanoids live by your own set of crazy rules, which I never really understood. If this catches on, it’ll be a regular part of Christmas from here on in so you and a bunch of other kids are sort of the guinea pigs for this. Are you ready?”
I nodded enthusiastically, not knowing what to expect. For the first time in my brief wondrous life, I felt fearless and open minded, up for anything.
“All right. Here’s number 12.”
12: If you’re in the wrestling business for anything other than money, you’re a fool.
11: Relatives are like fish, they’re nice and all but after three days they start to stink.
“What are relatives?” I foolishly asked. “Hush,” said Bobby “You don’t need to know right now.”
10: Almost every fight you’ll ever be in will last 30 seconds. You’re only as tough as your eyes and your balls.
9: Don’t get mad when somebody says you’re not the sharpest fork in the drawer. They’re the forks, not you.
8: Don’t let anybody try to make a fool out of you. You can do that yourself.
7: You got to have fun with what you do. I don’t care how much money you make. You don’t have fun, it don’t mean nothing. It doesn’t mean a thing.
6: If you’re in the wrestling business for anything other than money, you’re a fool.
“You said that one already,” I piped up, but Bobby ignored me and forged ahead with his list.
5: The day you land in a plane in Canada, make sure you set your watch back to 1945.
4: Talking will help you more than your body or your ability. It always does.
3: I learned how to talk shaving. Everyday you shave your face be a German, be an Indian, be a heel, be a baby face…be whatever you want to be. But when you shave, you always see yourself like the people see you.
2: The magic of wrestling is over. We’ve taught the fans how we do the tricks. Everybody knows it’s not real. The business is dead.
“Santa Claus is real,” I chimed in again.
Bobby Heenan: “Santa Claus is as real as you want him to be, kid. His kind of magic never gets old. Now, let me finish up here. I’ve got one more pearl to dispense with.”
Heenan paused and told me to bring him STRETCH ARMSTRONG and STRETCH MONSTER. When he had them in front of him, he eyed the pinkish syrup on the toys and asked: “Did you eat this stuff?” To my nods, Bobby Heenan shook his head and said: “You know your belly’s going to explode just like Mikey’s did, don’t you?” My eyes were aghast. Oh, no! My cousin was right.
Bobby Heenan: “Nah, just kidding. This stuff’s non-toxic.”
1: There’s nothing duct tape or an adhesive bandage can’t fix.
And with that final pearl of wisdom, Bobby Heenan placed an adhesive bandage over the punctures on STRETCH ARMSTRONG and STRETCH MONSTER’s chests. He told me to count to 12 and pull them off quickly so it wouldn’t hurt them so bad.
When I did what Bobby said, I beheld a Christmas miracle. The punctures and the congealed syrup on their chests were completely gone. My elastic Christmas gifts were as pristine as they were when I freed them from their boxes a few hours ago.
“Thank you, Bobby Heenan,” I shouted to him as he started to float up toward the living room ceiling.
“That’s why they call me the “Brain”, or “The Weasel”. It doesn’t matter which. Just pay me, and you can call me anything you want…” And with those final words echoing in my ear, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was gone. Where he went, I had no idea, but I was sure it had to be someplace magical, someplace where tricks were never revealed.
It was probably a place where everybody had a nightclub act and a man or woman was only as good as his or her comedic comebacks and one-liners. Bobby had 14 more homes to visit today. I hoped he had enough wisdom to go around for everyone. Maybe this Holiday tryout would gain traction somehow, becoming a worldwide tradition. I certainly hoped it would so I could see Bobby “The Brain” once again. It had only been five minutes since he’d left, and the world already felt like a sadder place to be in.
As my mother fired up the stove for a traditional Puerto Rican Christmas meal, I suddenly had the urge for some Chinese food. Strange, because I’d never eaten Chinese food in my life. I blamed my unexplained craving on the syrup I’d tasted an hour earlier. But it could’ve also been a symptom of Ovaltine withdrawal—which is a very real and serious condition, as any 6 year old will tell you.”
OUTRO: HOLIDAY MUSIC
ARIEL: You’ve been listening to WRESTLING WITH HEELS ON. Join me next year, as we take another stroll down villainy lane– only on the SPORTS HISTORY NETWORK. Happy Holidays, everyone!
Hi everyone. My name is Ariel Gonzalez, originally from Brooklyn, now living in the Garden State and I have a new podcast called “Wrestling With Heels On.”
On the podcast, I get to reminisce about my favorite wrestling bad guys from yesteryear. Light on stats and heavy on nostalgia, this little trip down villainy lane gives me a chance to visit the dark corridors of my wrestling soul, and it’s also fun to have a podcast.
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