Academy Awards for hard-working people

Published 8:44 am Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My father loved pro wrestling.

He’d watch Verne Gagne, The Crusher (he crushed beer cans), Killer Kowalski, Scrap Iron Gadaski, Mad Dog Vachon, Larry the Axe Henning, Dick the Bruiser, Yukon Eric, Nick Bockwinkel, Pampero Firpo (the Wild Bull of the Pampas), Bobby the Brain Heenan, Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski, Kinji Shibuya, and Kenny the Sodbuster Jay who lost every match.

This was back in the heyday of pro wrestling before there was pay-per-view. Wrestlers strutted around wearing gigantic championship belts. There were more world champions than you could shake a stick at. My mother once lived next door to a champion named Texas Bob Geigel, who was born and raised in Algona, Iowa.

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I watched pro wrestling with my father. I’d observe Verne Gagne applying the sleeper hold to a hapless opponent between his plugging Gera-Speed, a concoction advertised to promote vim, vigor, and vitality. I’d marvel at pile drivers, body slams, and flying mares that would incite the crowd at All-Star Wrestling. Thanks to that TV show, I have difficulty to this day in saying “wrestling.” It usually comes out “rassling.”

I’d watch and listen to the announcers, Mean Gene Okerlund, Rodger Kent, and Marty O’Neill. Marty, a small fellow wearing dark glasses, advised, “I have never seen the Crusher so mad. The big match will be next week. Don’t you dare miss it.”

There were good guys and there were bad guys, like cowboys who wore white or black hats. One of the rascals of wrestling typically wore a mask.

I had no doubt that the matches were choreographed. They were soap operas on steroids. I occasionally shared my thoughts with my father.

“You do know that this is fake, don’t you?” I would tease.

He would reply, “You like movies, don’t you? You think they’re not faked?”

He had a point.

I like movies. I can’t stop watching “Groundhog Day.” Movies are like books. They entertain while allowing us to escape to another place and see the world through the eyes of another.

The Academy Awards are as big as it gets when it comes to accomplishments in films. I didn’t see any of the movies up for the Academy Awards this year, but I listened to the talk on the radio and read the articles in the newspapers as to who was going to win and why. I heard a wag grumble that a certain politician should get an Academy Award for making voters believe his campaign promises.

I was riding in a bus recently. I’ve ridden in many buses in my life. A bus used to pick me up early each morning, take me to school, and then bring me home just before my parents were able to move without leaving a forwarding address. The last bus I was a passenger on made many stops and drove down roads that were not the best. The bus driver was careful and friendly. She was free with a smile and offered many a kind word. Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” I don’t know that Mother Teresa ever drove a bus, but she sure knew kindness.

I tipped the woman driving the vehicle, but it would have been nice to give her an Academy Award. The Oscar wouldn’t have been for acting, it would have been for doing good.

I watched from the warm comfort of my home as a snowplow driver challenged the elements. I watched ambulance attendants hustle to save a life. I visited hospice workers who strive to make death less painful. I’ve watched brave firemen fight raging infernos. I marvel at those who repair our roads as cars whiz by them at breakneck speeds. We tease them about installing the potholes, but the workers do good work.

Teachers, health care professionals, charity workers, linemen who make sure our electricity stays on, those who deliver our mail and our newspapers, our local elected officials, the school lunchroom ladies, church custodians, police officers, and our military personnel. In a perfect world, these good folks would be making the kind of money that the New York Yankees third baseman makes and he would be making the salary of an Army infantryman.

People who smile while doing a job. Jimmy Buffett has a song, “It’s My Job,” about a street sweeper who works with a smile because he wants to be the best at his humble job.

Volunteers. Those who can, do. Those who can do more, volunteer. It’s impossible to place too high of a value on volunteers.

All of these people deserve an Academy Award to recognize excellence in humankind.

Hartland resident Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday and Sunday.