Shortly after the war the glamour was gone and there was nothing in my life but turbulence for nearly ten years.
To start with, the Medical Department of the Navy recommended that I be retired because of injuries received during the war. For this, I was thankful; it saved the Marine Corps the trouble. Or, I probably should say, a few people in the Corps were robbed of the pleasure.
The outlook ahead appeared to be getting darker instead of lighter, and somehow I sensed that I was eventually going to get "socked" in tight and run out of gas. For as time went on I seemed to be on some one-way street on which the buildings were becoming closer and closer together as I moved along.
To add to my problems, I found that it was next to impossible to obtain employment. Nobody seemed to want any part of me. There had been so much notoriety printed about me that I can hardly blame anyone for not wanting to hire me. Any hopes that had been entertained at intervals were always smashed just about the time I thought I was going to work for some top-notch company. I was lucky to get any kind of a job . . .
If it hadn't been for a money-making hobby of mine, my family would have had some mighty slim pickings, the way things were going. This hobby took very little of my time, maybe two nights a week, sometimes three. These nights were spent inside of a squared circle surrounded by a pack of howling idiots who fouled up the air with smoke and words while I was busy refereeing professional wrestling . . .
There were many occasions when I entered the dressing rooms half blind from vodka just before the first match. I told myself that I had to get this way so the crowd wouldn't bother me, but before the night was over I usually had the crowd screaming for my blood.
During the first match I usually had some difficulty in keeping out of the way of the wrestlers. But as each match would come along I would be sweating it out, so by the time the main event arrived I was in rare form. The shows were regulated so that the preliminaries were dull, gradually working up to a climax in the main event. My actions fitted the program perfectly.
In case I forget it, or anybody wonders how on earth I arrived at these arenas that were spread all over Southern California, my wife usually drove me. My troubles were mild compared to what they could have been without her help.
On several occasions when I couldn't even stagger into the ring one of the wrestlers had to referee the first match -- and sometimes the second match -- to protect me. The wrestlers were all big, good-natured fellows who wouldn't hurt a fly, and they must have liked me because they did their best to help keep me out of trouble. The State Athletic Commission had its hands full checking on fixed boxing and crooked promoters without having to carry me -- and they did look the other way. I might add that infuriating crowds is not healthy, for they can become uncontrollable, even though they are only watching an exhibition. The referee's duty is to see that the hero-villain act doesn't get too gruesome. It was small wonder that I wasn't hurt or even killed, the way I conducted myself a few times. I imagine that a psychiatrist would claim this form of amusement took the place of my combat flying.
Wrestling, as well as other professions, has a language all its own. In fact, even if people heard us talking above the clamor, they weren't able to understand what we were talking about. For examples: wrestle is "work"; fall is "going over"; "finish" is the routine just before the deciding fall; hero is "baby-face"; villain is "heel"; and building a hysterical crowd up to a climax is called "heat."
But to get back to my darling and very capable wife, and the part she played in my wrestling career. Sometimes help arrives from sources where one would least expect it. The fact that Franny has always been an outdoor girl, and remains in good physical condition by playing golf several times a week, came in right handy one night while we were putting on a show at Southgate, where there was usually a rough crowd. Some of these audiences were rough, some were gentle, but we thought we knew just how far to go with each before they became violent.
As I mentioned, it was up to the referee to control the "heat," but I had disregarded this, as I had on other occasions. This time I had made up my mind to wait for a particular wrestler to make the decision himself. In the past he had repeatedly coaxed me to permit the "heat" to build up a little longer. The idea behind all this was to excited the cash-paying customers sufficiently so that they would pay for a ticket the following week. When this wrestler realized that I wasn't going to say anything if the fans tore the place apart, he became worried and said: "Pappy, we'd better turn off the heat, this crowd is going crazy."
Then I needled him: "Oh, come on, let's build it up just a little bit more."
He said: "To hell with you, there isn't a cop in the joint, we're going to 'finish' right now."
So the main event and the evening were wound up, I thought. It was just another tag-team match with two baby-faces against two heels. The baby-faces (guys with hair and youth) were beaten by every piece of foul play and skulduggery known to man. The heels (balding men with fat bellies) had triumphed. The arena was a holocaust -- a bedlam. Wadded-up paper cups, because the fans aren't permitted to keep bottles for obvious reasons, women's shoes, and other non-lethal weapons came sailing into the ring.
The heels were going up an aisle to the dressing room back to back, so that the fans who were now a mob couldn't jump them from behind. The baby-faces who pretended to be demolished and would never speak to the heels again were not far behind them -- to protect their play-acting buddies in case things got too rough for them.
The referee was waiting in the falling debris in the ring, as usual, waiting for the wrestlers to open a path in the aisle leading to the dressing room. Prior to my reaching the dressing-room door my path became blocked by some oversized fan who had enough to drink to make him brave. In trying to work my way around this gent I soon found that I was surrouned by an infuriated mob, and the wrestlers were out of sight.
The safest thing to do was to get through as diplomatically as possible, I knew; I was an old hand at this. I had no fear of this big jerk and was itching to belt him, but i was also smart enough to know that if I didn't flatten him with one punch I would really be in trouble.
Whatever I did, it would have to be quick!
This big fellow seemed to know what I had in mind -- and he wanted my blood. He wasn't going to attempt this with his own capable hands. He wasn't that type of hero. He was going to give the mob a chance to jump me by delaying my exit. I sensed all this.
The mob would do the job if he could stall me a few seconds. They would release all their pent-up hatred for every crooked public official they had ever known, such as mayors, policemen, congressmen, and what have you. So I said: "Come on, be a good guy, and get out of my way."
He answered: "Come on by, I'm not going to stop you."
I said: "Thanks," and started to pass. But instead of permitting me to pass he grabbed me, and I was forced to give him the knee to shake him loose.
This was all the encouragement the mob needed, and I felt someone trying to jump on my back. The same thoughts I had when I was shot down in the South Pacific came through my mind: "Wise guy, you finally got it, didn't you?"
My wife screamed: "Turn around, Greg!"
She had jerked some man from my back. I started a swing going as I wheeled about and planted it flush on the button of this man, who dropped like a steer in a slaughterhouse line.
It was only a matter of a few seconds before Franny and I were standing in the center of a circle of fallen fans. About that time the eight wrestlers came back to help. After all this commotion there wasn't a scratch on my body other than few skinned knuckles, but Franny had lost a couple of her precious fingernails, and some dame had sunk her teeth into a wrestler's arm while he was pulling me off the guy who had stopped me.
One might gather that all the fans were alike, but this is far from true. However, it was obvious that most of them used these matches for emotional releases, or believed that the purchase of a ticket entitled them to act along with the paid performers. Outside of a few people who seemed to laugh throughout the entire program, no matter how we acted, the bulk of the fans were mousy-looking people who appeared hen-pecked. They looked like they spent five or six days each week saying to their boss, or to a mate, yes sir and no sir. The type of people who felt like they had to laugh at a joke whether it was funny or not, just because somebody else told it. But these people changed once the matches started; they were different persons completely. They would yell what they were going to do to the referee and the heels after the matches, just like they were sure of themselves for the first time in their lives. Some of these milquetoast creatures would take off their glasses and pull off their coats, shaking their fists in anger. Yet they were confident that their threats, swearing, and actions were never going beyond the ring ropes.
One night, out of a clear blue sky, one of the wrestlers started another one of our conversations that had nothing to do with wrestling. As a matter of fact, very few of them did. He said: "Pappy, did you realize that wrestling fans had such stupid faces before you started refereeing?"
"No, I didn't. It's a pity my psychiatrist couldn't work in my place some night."
"How's that, Pappy?"
"My God, he'd find enough customers in one arena to last him a lifetime."
"I have a more horrible thought than yours."
I asked: "Yeah, what is it?"
"Look at them again. Then stop and think that each one has a vote, and that it counts as much as yours or mine."
"I see what you mean. Nauseating, isn't it?"
Sometimes one of the wrestlers would get to laughing when he was supposed to be registering pain or anger, so his opponent would cover his face with his body somehow. He would have to pretend he had some kind of new hold, or something, until the laughter died down.
The largest part of our audience was out of sight, the television fan. However, many of these would send in complaints to various addresses. The Athletic Commission would answer some of this mail, but the majority was unsigned for obvious reasons, or needed no answer. But when some of the more persistent folks got a letter into the governor's office -- now, then, that was a horse of a different color.
To begin with, a governor usually doesn't give one Nippon Rising Sun about anything but votes. He weighs everything in his mind against so many votes -- a unit of measure with a man in that position. The fact that some voters are crazy doesn't make a particle of difference; it is their votes that counts.
Because it was mandatory that all wreslting had to be announced several times as an exhibition during every television show, about all the governor's office had to do was send a mimeographed letter emphasizing this to some stupe. But no, the votes. The commission secretary gets the bright idea of having the referees answer these crackpots whose important-sounding letterheads had reached the governor's office -- to take any "heat" off His Lordship.
The few I did answer were much the same, with a copy mailed to the Athletic Commission, and an extra copy marked for the governor's office. Being a "patsy" in the ring was of my own choosing, but I have always balked when somebody else tried to make one out of me. Perhaps the few letters I did answer were sufficient, I don't know, because there never was any response from any address.
The commission stopped passing the buck to me when they read their copies, I don't know, and care less. But the most amazing thing about these letters and their personal slurs is that not one of these mentioned a single word about my drinking, which was no doubt the most damning thing in my character.
My wife dreaded this hobby of mine, and pleaded with me to referee differently or to quit. But I couldn't seem to stop this part of my life any more than I could drinking. They went hand in glove. Refereeing doesn't affect some people the way it did me, but, by the same token, neither does alcohol. Perhaps, because I wasn't capable of controlling my own immature emotions, I was taking sadistic delight in fooling around with thousands of other human beings' emotions -- such as violence, fear, hatred, and even passion -- but violence seemdd to be my pet.
About four years ago I was forced to give up my hobby, but not because anyone asked me to leave. The most powerful thing that I had run into up to date, alcohol, had made up my mind for me.
I had reached the point where I knew that I could work the entire card and not even sober up for the main event. This is the only reason I stopped refereeing.