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Thursday, August 20, 2015

I Wrestled A Grizzly Bear. No Kidding.

There are points in your life when you are faced with decisions. Decisions to act on your ideas or not. Well, this is the story of an idea that I acted on and in retrospect wish I hadn't. I wrestled a grizzly bear. No kidding.

This was around 1980 and I was working as the morning DJ for a small radio station east of Cleveland. The station was so small, we didn't even have a 24-hour license. We signed off at sunset and signed on at 6:00 AM.

I was the morning personality. We played MOR, Middle Of the Road, music. Which means we were not only dated, but we were boring. I think the average age of our listeners was around 70. You could hear them sucking on their oxygen tanks.

The problem I was having was that I was around 22  and I couldn't really connect to the audience. I was young enough and dumb enough to try various gimmicks that seemed to go absolutely nowhere. As long as I kept spinning Al Martino and ABBA records, the world was a happy place.

But I wouldn't stand for that. I had to do something spectacular to generate some excitement with the geriatric crowd.

I saw an ad in the paper about an event coming to the local mall. I decided I was going to participate in the event. What was the event? Wrestle a grizzly bear. A real bear.

Since I had no experience at wrestling grizzly bears, I did no training. All I did was have a t-shirt made with the station's call letters on the front and the slogan "Man vs. Bear Just Ain't Fair." on the back. It was red with white lettering. That was my prep. Ha.

For about two weeks, I pumped the wrestling event on the radio station. I was hoping to get a crowd down to the mall to cheer me on.

On the day of the event, I got there early to check out my competition. I was going to wrestle "Victor the Rasslin' Bear". Man, that Victor big. And he was undefeated.

I looked around and noticed that the only crowd were casual mall shoppers. No one had shown up from the radio station or from the audience. I'm about to die in front of an empty house.

Well, it was my turn to wrestle Victor. I get in the ring and the guy playing referee whispers in my ear, "Don't get behind him. He'll sit on you and snap your legs off like toothpicks." Great.

The reality that I could be severely maimed crept into my mind. My strategy was to stay in front of the bear and see what I could do from there.

The referee yells, "Go" and it's time to wrestle. Even though Victor was wearing a muzzle, his breath was enough to knock you out by itself. So I'm choking as I go to make my first moves. I wrestled a bit in high school and thought I could apply some of the techniques on the bear. Apparently, Victor wrestled in high school, too, because he actually knew wrestling moves.

He kept reaching for my leg, trying to perform a take down move. He used the other paw to hold my head still so I couldn't lunge at him. This bear was good and stinky.

I'm still trying to get over the breath issue and I'm fighting with all my might to make some progress on Victor. I did slip behind him once and I remembered the snapping toothpicks analogy and I quickly got in front of him.

The struggle went on for about  five minutes and then I finally collapsed and Victor pinned me. I left the ring totally out of breath and smelling like bear. I thought I was going to die.

I survived and that's about all you can say. No one showed up. No one called the radio station. No one even cared that I almost got crushed by a bear. In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have tried to wrestle Victor. He was just too much for me.

But how many people do you know can say, "I wrestled a grizzly bear." No kidding.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fun With Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's Disease is extremely insidious. First it takes away the person, then it cannibalizes the body. And the worst part is, it can take a decade or more to play out. That is why Alzheimer's is often referred to as "The Long Goodbye."

My mother lasted ten years. Her sister lasted eighteen years. Not one of those years was pleasant because the victim never improves. It's a constant slow erosion of someone you love and you are completely helpless as far as staving the course.

Along the way, you have to find moments to pluck a little joy from a situation. With a sense of humor and the right timing, you can create a lasting memory. I had just that opportunity with my mother.

My mother had reached the stage where she didn't know anyone anymore. She would ask me about my father, saying, "Who's that guy? He's always here."

That is truly one of the hardest steps in the process, when your loved one looks at you and says, "Who are you?"

It's crushing because you know they're gone and you'll never have that person back.

Even though my mother looked as me as the friendly man that came to visit, we still had conversations. She was rather lucid and would ask hilarious questions that were totally out of her character.

On day, we were playing a game where I would recount the stages of her life, trying to see if I could connect with some murky memory. I started, "Mom, in 1938 you graduated from Notre Dame Academy and went to the Cleveland Institute of Art. In 1943 you went to work in an advertising agency." Then I dramatically picked up the tone and pitch of my voice and shouted at her, "And in 1948 you played shortstop for the Cleveland Indians and you won the World Series!" She shrieked, "I DID!" And I added, "Yeah, and you had two home runs,"

She was so excited. I hadn't seen her that happy in months. For a brief moment, I was able to make my mother a World Series Champion and it meant the world to her.

As she continued to beam, my father walked in the room and she announced, "I WON THE WORLD SERIES." My dad, befuddled as to the nature of our game, simply shook his head and kept walking.

Alzheimer's is horrible and it takes a toll on the caregivers. But for a few precious minutes, my mother was world champion and I'll never forget her smile. Alzheimer's took my mother, but you can never take that memory from me, unless I befall the same fate.

Alzheimer's is hard. With a little ingenuity, you might be able to give your loved one a moment that only the two of you will share for a little while, but you will keep for a lifetime.

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