“There were three sisters, all of them wrestlers. Two sisters married brothers who were also wrestlers.”
Speaking is a man I’ll call Earl Elkin, 53, who, in the maturity of his life, found a career in the cattle yards of professional wrestling. Elkin does not wrestle or manage wrestlers or promote wrestling cards. What he, camcorder on shoulder, does is videotape female wrestlers. Said tapes are roughly edited, ads are placed in wrestling magazines, and, through the ancient auction of I Got/You Want, buyer and seller are brought into communion. I’ve asked Elkin to tell me about his first taping session.
“We had a little money problem. The girls wanted $100 each. And we had a problem with the ring ropes. They were wrestling in what was supposed to be a standard wrestling ring, but we didn’t have real ring ropes — what we had looked like limp clotheslines.
“The girls were veteran wrestlers. They had plenty of ability, but fake ropes made them look stupid. When one of them fell back, she pretended to fall against real ropes. Still, compared to what else was on the market, it was a very sellable tape.” A flick of memory lights Elkin’s face.
“Where did you find female wrestlers?”
“I went to one of the Tijuana wrestling schools. The guy who was the trainer had girls. I needed a quick tape, and it was easier to go that way.”
Elkin’s tapes, at least the ones I’ve seen, are minimalist reproductions of a professional wrestling match. Two women, clothed in high-topped boots and bathing suits (one-piece, two-piece, or bikini), grapple, grunt, moan, fall, slap canvas, endure body slams and hammerlocks, inflict forearm smashes, leg scissors, step-over toe holds, wrist locks, and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat.
There is no audience, no announcer, no color commentator, no past, present, or future. We don’t know if it’s day or night. We don’t know why these women are wrestling, where they’re wrestling, how they got there, where they’re going, who they are or claim to be. The relentless anonymity of the participants gives a pornographic feel to the tapes, which, in a perverse way, is reinforced by the absence of ordinary sexual acts.
“The first time I taped was bizarre. I bought a camcorder a day or so before I lined up wrestlers. A real good-looking girl, one of the wrestlers, got all upset because it was taking a long time to shoot. It took a long time to shoot because I was reading the instruction booklet. She said stuff like, ‘You brought me here to tape and you’re still learning how to use the camera?’ ” Elkin smiles. “But it worked out. I had no idea what I had until I took it home, and then I was amazed how bright the picture was and how good the quality was.”
Earl Elkin is tall, four inches over six feet, but several inches of that height are concealed by a pronounced slouch. He has a full head of thick brown hair that is swept back from his forehead. He is clean-shaven, has a wide nose, dull brown eyes that are normally half-closed, and thick lips that rarely touch. He is plump and soft around his face and torso. The first small ring of fat circles his neck.
We are seated in the living room of his four-bedroom, three-bathroom house located on a ridgetop across the gully from sdsu. One notices furniture. All the couches, chairs, lamps, and tables belong to another generation. It’s as if Elkin moved into his mother’s house and changed nothing, not a plate, towel, throw rug, bedspread, or curtain.
“When was this?” I’m referring to Elkin’s first wrestling tape.
“Nineteen eighty-eight. That was the year I found three girls who were the best athletes at a high school. Not going to say which one. They wanted to give wrestling a shot.”
“Why would teenage girls want to give wrestling a shot?” Teenage girls. Wrestling. Nineteen eighty-eight. Does not mix and match.
“I had gotten to know Mildred Burke. She was a women’s wrestling star in the ’40s and ’50s. She’d been on a lot of TV shows, including the Groucho Marx show. I played a tape of that for the girls. Plus, at the time, there was a movie out called All the Marbles with Peter Falk. There were a couple actresses playing pro wrestlers in the movie. I showed that to the girls and said, ‘After you graduate from high school, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to be in some college sport, maybe not. Maybe you won’t go to college. What are you going to do?’
“I took them to Tijuana.” Elkin laughs. His is not a heartless laugh or an ironic laugh or an empty laugh. Rather, it’s a soft, understated, aw-shucks laugh, which, when associated with teenage girls, Tijuana, and wrestling, seems wildly out of synch. “It was bizarre. One of the girls was the homecoming queen of her high school. Anyway, I took them down to the auditorium in Tijuana where Mexican pro wrestlers train.”
“Just a second. The girls were high school students in San Diego?”
“You took them to Tijuana?”
“I told them, ‘If you want to learn pro wrestling, there is no way to learn it here; there is nothing in San Diego.’ So I took them down to Tijuana and they saw 30 guys getting knocked around, falling down, getting back up. The girls were bug-eyed. They said, ‘We can’t do this! We’re just high school girls.’
“But the trainer was very good. They called him ‘Professor.’ The head instructor in Mexican wrestling schools is usually a top wrestler, usually a veteran, and usually past his peak. So Professor tells the girls, ‘A young woman is like a gentle flower with many petals. I’d never do anything to hurt you.’
“He got one of his woman wrestlers in the ring with a man. They started demonstrating moves. Within 40 minutes my girls were doing victory rolls and flying head scissors. They couldn’t wait to go back. They were so jazzed.”