The new book smell

goalies

Never owned a car, and probably never will, so won’t ever get to experience that new car smell.

But I’m pretty happy with the new book smell.

As promised yesterday by the good folks at ECW Press, my copies of The Goaltenders’ Union: Hockey’s Greatest Puckstoppers, Acrobats, and Flakes came to the door this morning.

There’s a feeling a little like Christmas morning, and opening the box, there a little shivers of excitement going up your spine as you slice open the tape and push through the padding to find the gems underneath.

Having had eight books published now, plus having laid out 40-50, and been in the office when ECW Press gets a shipment of new books in, I can confidently say that I’m not the only one that has this feeling.

A physical book is still a wonderful, wonderful creation, the result of months and years of work, and in my case, a team of people to edit and layout the book. You can hold it, hug it, even read it … wherever you want!

I recognize that the world will keep moving towards PDFs and ebooks, but you know what? They don’t smell as good!

Writing through tears

There is a compulsion in writers to write.

Last night, when I learned about the sudden death of a friend, Shuhei Aoki, a 39-year-old super wrestling fan from Tokyo, there was never any question of writing something up for the SLAM! Wrestling website. (Here’s the story: Shuhei Aoki was a super fan — and a super friend)

“The Destroyer” Dick Beyer
jokes around with
Shuhei Aoki in 2011.
Photo by Dave Burzynski

The lead came easy, and it flowed quickly and straightforward from there.

Writing is easier than talking about it.

The moment I started telling my wife about Shuhei’s death, I starting crying. She knew him too — he’d been to our home, and we’d hung out with him at various fan fests and conventions; in fact, looking back, I am pretty sure I first met Shuhei in 2004 at a fan fest in Totawa, NJ, where Meredith and I went down to in a blizzard.

And then this morning, telling my son about Shuhei’s death, I cried again.

Throughout my years running the SLAM! Wrestling website, there are a few deaths that really touched me and the resulting columns were far more personal than would probably be permitted on a website that I didn’t run.

One was woman wrestler Penny Banner, and I can still remember the line I used: “It’s a little tough to write about Penny impartially, so I won’t try.” Here’s that column/obituary: Goodbye Penny Banner; I’ll miss you

The obituary on Jim Melby isn’t as personal as Penny’s piece, but his death hit me hard too — Noted historian James C. Melby dies

But the toughest were the pieces on Dewey Robertson, who achieved fame as The Missing Link. My wife, Meredith, worked with Dewey on his autobiography; well, it’s better to say that she struggled with Dewey and his spotty memory and put together his life story. We experienced all the highs and lows of Dewey through the years; he was bipolar, manic-depressive, off his meds crazy at times.

Yet our lives were far richer for having known him.

Meredith did a personal piece on Dewey that I ran on the site: Author reflects on Dewey Robertson’s many struggles

The fact is that in writing about professional wrestling for almost 30 years, I have made countless friends (and apparently a few enemies). Alas, that means there will be more personal write-ups about people that I know and care about in the future.

At least I have an outlet for those words.

Building relationships

Through my many years writing about professional wrestling, I have managed to get quite a few scoops. Often, they are news of someone passing — the family knows and trusts me to spread the word. Other times, it’s just hard work, like the time that WWE’s website announced that Corporal Kirshner had died, and I found him alive and well: Cpl. Kirchner speaks: “I’m not dead!”

The most recent one, though, was a little different.

On June 12th, WWE released a bunch of people under contract — wrestlers, a referee and a Diva. The scramble is pretty familiar by now, as many of the legitimate wrestling news sites scramble to get interviews with the released stars and find out what their future plans are.

At times like this, the personal relationships that you develop through the years pay off, whether it’s through the agents that represent the wrestlers or the wrestlers themselves.

So I was able to score Jinder Mahal’s first interview since his WWE release. Here’s the story: Jinder Mahal wants to introduce the world to Raj Singh

Two aspects of our pasts coincided so that he chose SLAM! Wrestling for his first interview. First, he was raised in Calgary, and wrestled there as Tiger Raj Singh. Long-time SLAM! Wrestling writer Jason Clevett was once a bit of a fixture in Calgary, an unforgettable giant of a writer, but easy-going and friendly.

One of the other wrestlers who knew Raj well was Devon Nicholson, who has wrestled most recently as Hannibal, but was also Kid Nichols among other names.

When Nicholson was running a big show in Ottawa in September 2007, he brought Tiger Raj Singh in to work the show. His match over (photo at right), Raj came up to my merchandise table where I was selling my books, and just sat for a while and chatted.

That time together lead to an interview just before he entered the WWE system, and, ultimately, the one that just went live in June 2014. (Sandwiched in between was one that Jason Clevett did with Jinder Mahal, while he was a WWE employee.)

Meeting Raj at the time, I knew he had the size and the wits about him to become a name wrestler, but needed time and connections to make it happen. Eventually, he succeeded — just as I know he will succeed on the independent wrestling scene.

Entering Wally’s World

On June 19th, I got to spend a couple of hours with the 95-year-old Wally Stanowski, the oldest living Toronto Maple Leaf. He is the last surviving member of the 1942 Stanley Cup winning Leafs team. Though I don’t know 100%, he is probably the oldest living New York Ranger too.

wally

I’d interviewed Stanowski a few times in the past and was always thrilled with his memory and ability to recall specific events. There have been a few times that I’d met him in person too, at NHL oldtimers luncheons, and he was always pleasant, and so many of the other oldtimers would stop by his seat just to say hello, Godfather-like.

The idea behind the visit to his apartment in a retirement home in Toronto’s west end was to video tape him, to capture his memories for a “living library” to benefit future generations, guaranteeing that his story is not lost.

It was all put together through SIHR — the Society for International Hockey Research — of which I am a proud member.

Along for the ride were Paul Bruno, the current president of SIHR, and Jim Amodeo, who does the great Hockey Then & Now blog.

Complicating things were the fact that I wrecked my right knee on Saturday, tearing my ACL, MCL and a meniscus while playing goal in a local men’s soccer game. Needing to be chauffeured around is new to me, but Paul got me there and, seeing my massive leg brace, Wally immediately started telling stories about his own leg woes through the years — including the broken leg that ended his playing career.

Interestingly, he is pretty adamant that had he not broken his leg, that he would have continued his career and been eventually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. We have that comment on tape, including some other gems, like what a dirty player Elmer Lach was, and a hilarious story about the very early days of his marriage to his wife, who only passed a while back.

Chances like this to hang out with hockey greats don’t come around a lot. The big, big stars get their stories told again and again, but lesser names like Stanowski don’t always get the chance.

As fun as it was to sit down with him and tape it all, the real work is still to come in piecing it all together into a coherent video interview.

At least it’s something I can do with a wrecked knee.

Missing Cauliflower Alley Club

blog-slam

The annual Cauliflower Alley Club reunion just ended in Las Vegas, and for the first time since 2007, I missed it. There weren’t funds in the budget to go — family wedding this summer out west as well.

But I did live vicariously through the photos and stories of the writers of SLAM! Wrestling — they are featured in the image at right, with Yves Leroux, Pat Laprade, photographer John Brad McFarlin and Steve Johnson in the picture; missing was Dan Murphy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated who slums with us. [Check out the Cauliflower Alley Club stories archive.]

When people ask, I usually describe the Cauliflower Alley Club as the closest thing that professional wrestling has to an alumni association.

My first event was in 1998, in Cherry Hill, NJ, as a part of the 50th anniversary of the National Wrestling Alliance. I can still picture organizer George Napolitano strongarming me into buying a ticket for an organization I knew next to nothing about.

Well, eleven reunions in Las Vegas later, I can’t say I don’t know anything about the CAC.

I have hosted the informal Baloney Blowouts, introduced honourees, sat in on panels, bitched out the food, drank with stars of today and the past, and had a hot dog with Ken Patera.

Listing memories from CAC events would take all day.

Suffice it to say that every wrestler needs to go at one point in their lives.

For fans, it’s an unique experience to say the least. It’s not a convention / fan fest setting at all. Almost everyone is approachable and friendly, willing to share stories from their careers.

The wrestlers go to see their old friends — and after going for so many years, so do I.

Next year will be the 50th banquet. I’m hoping to go for sure.