The Sunday afternoons of my youth were reserved for a particular torture known as religious school. Those memorable occasions were spent with the nice Jewish princes and princesses of Toronto at the Church on the Hill, a.k.a. Holy Blossom Temple or as my father called it, the Holy Bosom. My father was part of a car pool involving several Mercedes –he however preferred driving his Army Jeep down Bathurst St with York Mill’s finest in the back seat. Sometimes, my father would drop all the other kids off and then announce that he and I had some serious business to attend to. This would involve him driving further south down Bathurst to College where we would dine at The (Dirty) Bagel and I would get thoroughly grossed out by his inhaling of intestines with a side of kasha. After lunch, we would continue east down College to the Gardoons a.k.a. Where God’s team used to play. My father would escort me through the front door, and down onto the floor of the arena and locate our chairs which were usually in the second row right behind some generic blue haired caned women whom you know had spent the previous night smoking Vantage at the local bingo hall.
At approximately 1:30, some guy in brown polyester (this is the mid-70’s) would come down the raised aisle with a mic: Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Maple Leaf Wrestling…and the ladies in front of us would bang their canes again the floor and spit out peanut shells, and I would take off in my godawful clothes to hang out just behind one of the turnbuckles. Being approximately 5 years old, the security guards weren’t exactly concerned about my presence and left me alone. For about 3 hours, I would watch Dominic DeNucci, Lord Athol Layton, the Beast, Waldo von Erich come down the aisle and beat the shit out of each other. At the end, all of my testosterone exorcised, my father would take my hand and escort me outside and back into civilization. Just before we left the ring area, he would point to the centre of the ring and ask me if I would like to get in there one day. Yes Daddy, when I grow up, I want to be a wrestler. My father gave me the nomme de guarre of The Hut and would spend the car ride back to suburbia announcing me to the multitudes of my fans.
The end of the matches conveniently ended just as the final notes of the Israeli national anthem was being played at Temple so my mother had no clue where we had been and, of course, I wasn’t going to tell her.
Edward Farhat was a nice guy from Michigan. Eddie’s alter ego, however, was not. Every so often, Ed would don the tights and turn into one of wrestling’s legends, The Madman from Syria: The Sheik. Now Mr. Farhat should not be confused with the other Sheiks that came after him: Sheik Adnan al-Kaissie whom my husband and his friends in their Scarborough dinner jackets would chant mercilessly at Winnipeg’s only arena: “Sheik has AIDS”, nor should he be confused with the Iron Sheik whom at some point teamed up with Nicolai Volkoff or was it Ivan Koloff and were the champs during the 80’s. No, Edward Farhat was the real deal. The Sheik would come out in his black speedo tights with a little turtle on one side. Usually he was accompanied by his manager, Eddie “The Brain” Kreetchman who wore a very large Mogen David around his neck and later The Grand Wizard of Wrestling with his purple fez. The Sheik’s shtick was to walk down the aisle covered in his Yasser scarf and a snake around his neck and occasionally drift into the crowd where the old ladies with the blue hair would spit peanut shells at him and grown men would cower. After his manager reigned him back into the ring, The Sheik would remove the snake that was around his neck and wave it at the ref and then sometimes if the mood hit him, he’s breathe a little fire at the crowd. When the bell rang, he would pummel his poor opponent senseless in minutes and then take out the dreaded “Foreign object” and rip open whatever forehead got into his way. The whole spectacle lasted about five minutes. The Sheik was then soothed back into his corner as his manager dangled his snake hypnotically at him. The crowd would cheer as the bloodied loser was carried from the ring and then would boo vigourously as The Sheik walked out.
Religious school would just have to wait.
One Sunday, my father comes into my room and tells me to get ready for school. He helps me pick out my dress, which should have clued me in that something was up. Name a father from the 70’s that even knew where their kids clothes were. He selects my red strawberry dress and attempts to put me in it—then he decides to put my hair into two pigtails. Now why my mother didn’t pick up on this was beyond me but perhaps she was so in shock that she let it go.
So we get into the Army jeep that my father has recently procured. He in his raccoon coat and Russian hat with the floppy ears and me in my sensible blue coat. We pass Temple going south and make the turn onto Carleton. At that point, as though I couldn’t have guessed, his says to me: We’re going to see The Sheik.
Now I have to tell you that The Sheik at this particular juncture is not in my good books. He’s not in my good books because a few weeks prior, he had the audacity to break Mark Lewin’s leg. And Mark Lewin, was not just your average punching bag, he was Mark Lewin nee Moshe Ben Lewin hailing from the wrestling Mecca of Israel.
So as the Rabbis at Holy Blossom were reading that week’s Torah portion to my classmates, I was watching Goliath destroy David.
I knew that I would be atoning a lot that Yom Kippur.
I sat down in my seat and watched Billy Red Lyons with his partner Dewey Robertson in the corner contend with Stan the Man Stasiak and his dreaded heart punch; cheered when the 400 lbs that was Haystacks Calhoun sit on Abdullah the Butcher, and got a little ferklempt at the sight of the Flying Frenchman Edward Carpentier doing a back flip off the top rope. But that was all foreplay.
The lights went out. The man in the brown polyester suit stood alone in the centre of the ring.
Ladies and Gentlmen..this is the duration match with a 20 minute time limit. Introducing first in the red corner, from Hamilton, Ontario, weighing 285lbs, Angelo “King Kong” Mosca.
The crowd went nuts for Angelo, a former Canadian Football League player turned pro wrestler. As he hulked down the aisle, I screamed: I love you King Kong!! My father just looked at me bemused. “Do you want to get a little closer”. Being female and in short supply of the requisite amount of testosterone that would have allowed me to jump up and say: YES, YES, YES at the top of my little lungs, I looked a bit nervous and said OK, Daddy, sure, let’s get a little closer. So clutching my father’s hand, we moved right up to the front right behind…
And in the blue corner, from Syria, weighing in at 262lbs, The Sheik.
The Blue Corner. Yes, that’s where we were. And there was The Sheik being led to the ring by The Brain. And there was me in my crooked pigtails and strawberry dress half ready to pass out, my nails digging into my father’s hand.
The Sheik made his way through the ropes and knelt in the middle of the ring on his prayer mat offering prayers to Allah. He crawled back to his corner and as he reached down to deposit his snake, my father pushed me between the ropes and I came face to face with the Madman himself!!
Our eyes met—the Sheik’s crazed expression slipped slightly and he looked puzzled like why is there a small child in my corner…
I started screaming—mass hysteria, right at the Sheik. His expression gave way to concern and he reached out to touch my cheek showing yet again that bloodthirsty foreign object wielding Middle Eastern madmen do in fact have a heart.
I screamed louder and after what seemed like an eternity which was probably about 20 seconds, my father removed me from the ring and escorted me back to my seat.
The Sheik apparently recovered from having a small redheaded pigtailed child in a strawberry dress shoved in his face and started decimating King Kong Mosca.
I continued to yell, unconsolable even as my father hugged me against his fur coat. Finally, as my tantrum turned into the arrival of the Fourth Horseman of the Apocolypse, he took me outside to the nearest Beckers and got me a chocolate sundae—as though that would alleviate the post-traumatic stress disorder.
On the way home, just before we turned into the driveway, my father stopped the car and looked at me. “Don’t tell your mother.”
Up until he died, my father and I ditched the Jews of Forest Hill and went to the Gardens every few Sundays. I still turned a little pale when the Sheik came out but secretly he was my new favorite and once or twice, I think he looked at me.
My father, who was not apprehended by Children’s Aid, did not shove me through the ropes ever again. However, on one of our last trips, he took me out during intermission and led me down a very quiet hallway and pointed to one of the many closed doors—I could hear mens voices inside and lots of laughter—he said: do you know whose in there, I said no, he said very quietly..its Ox Baker…do you want him to come out and you can say hello…you can say: Hello Mr. Ox, My name is The Hut…and before he could say anything more…I fled back down the hall and hid under a cotton candy stand.
Both my father and The Wildman from Syria have long gone up to the Big Wrestling Ring in the sky. I picture them reminiscing about how a little redhead in a strawberry dress freaked The Sheik.