When I was in the 10th grade in Elizabeth, New Jersey, I was active in the Junior Classical League (J.C.L.) for those of us that were studying Latin. Our teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Kaiser, helped us in rehearsing and preparing a number of skits that would reenact some of the customs and rites of ancient Roman times. Because I was on the wrestling team in high school at the time, I volunteered to participate in a wrestling skit. To appreciate my size, I competed in the lightest weight class: 97 pounds. My opponent, though not at all athletic, was both taller and much more rotund than I was.
Of course, all of this was to be staged with a bit of comedy to entertain the audience, so I, the smaller of the two, and the less likely to win such a bout, would be the victor. Before the event, my rival, Melvin, and I practiced a few holds on each other, some of which I had learned from wrestling practice. The sequence of events basically would begin by having Melvin take me down and be on top of me–with my managing to squirm out from under him–resulting in us both in standing positions. We would grip each other and make low growling sounds to accentuate the amount of effort we were putting into the match. Though we would be faking any real strong impact against one another, each of us would behave as if the other’s bodily force had thrown us half off the mats. The finale would occur when I would “hurl” Melvin down and jump on him with the referee, my friend David, in a crouching position, hitting the mat declaring me the winner.
After rehearsing with the rest of the skits, we both felt comfortable in the humor and theatrics in the situation. We then performed the play, that is the series of skits, at our school in front of some of our classmates studying Latin. Although this was not a rehearsal, it was really a practice run before we were to act the play in front of the students currently studying Latin from all the junior high schools in the city. Probably Ms. Kaiser hoped the show might stimulate interest in Latin, a dead language, as compared to modern languages such as French, Spanish or German that were offered in our school system.
I remember there being a fairly big crowd of people in the auditorium, but when I saw that with the exception of the teachers, they were all younger than us I did not really feel too nervous. Besides, because Melvin and I were one of the first acts on the program, I did not have much time to ruminate about how I would do.
When it was our turn, Dave called us up to the stage, announced our Roman names, and as the contest got underway, we started growling at one another. We each made a few passes grabbing and pushing our arms quite intentionally to no avail. Then, suddenly and most unexpectedly, Melvin thrust his head into my stomach throwing me down on the mat. It was if a Mack Truck had run into a Volkswagen. Dave, with a perplexed look, asked if I were all right. More surprised than hurt, I nodded yes, and then asked Melvin whether he was trying to win the match, and he replied, “yes.” Utter despair ran through my mind, and I said to myself: “How could he be doing this.” There was a pretty blonde ninth grader that I had noticed sitting in the first row that I had hoped to impress with my “prowess” but now, as I groaned, she was going to see me lose.
Strange things happen under duress. Inasmuch as it was evident that this event was no longer staged, I being, if nothing else much faster than Melvin, twisted and turned and in one movement yanked myself free. Now that we were both erect, on automatic pilot, I employed a technique I had learned from my wrestling coach. I lunged at Melvin as fast as I could, grabbed one of his legs, gave it a lurch causing him to topple over. As his body smacked into the mat, there was a loud bang that I am sure the audience heard. Before he could escape, I quickly got on top of him and held his arms in a pinning position. Dave slapped his hand on the mat indicating the match was over and held my hand up declaring me the victor.
Afterwards, Dave walked over to me and said that our fight looked so real that for awhile he didn’t think that we were faking it. I agreed. Melvin had lost two times, previously, and, much to my surprise, I guess he had decided it was his turn to win. Because I had won the match, I never bothered approaching Melvin about what was going on with him. Besides, my efforts had been rewarded greatly when I spotted the attractive blonde looking at me with a big smile.