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I was hired to paint the portrait of a billionaire who founded a small city twenty years ago in a ghost town he purchased in Arizona. Danny O’Keefe, professional wrestling promoter and executive, convinced a number of investors to build a fourteen-thousand seat arena and a number of luxury hotels all on his acquisitioned wilderness land. He named this personal metropolis Slam Bang City.

Global Wrestling Entertainment, or GWE, was pioneered by Danny decades before the big move. He discerned that if his small enterprise was ever going to be successful he would first have to win over the parents of the younger fans. He did this by making sure the storylines for the wrestlers never became lurid. Unlike other wrestling federations at that time, Danny’s female performers kept their clothes on. This decision made most moms and dads comfortable enough to bring their kids to his shows. Taken in by Danny’s moral façade, an already famous wrestler and committed family man Vito Palermo, signed with GWE. It is generally acknowledged – but never mentioned in Danny’s presence – that without Vito’s enormous fan base, the company would never have succeeded. Vito was Danny’s heavyweight champ for ten years. Most fans considered him the embodiment of GWE – including me. As a kid, my father would take me to a sold-out Madison Square Garden every month to watch Vito wrestle. These are the only happy memories I have of my childhood. Thank God for Vito. He beat up the bullies.

Carmela Palermo never wanted her daughter to become a wrestler and Maria respected those wishes until her mom’s death. An aging Vito decided to retire after his wife’s passing but stayed under contract with GWE to help launch Maria’s wrestling career. Danny gave Maria the wrestling name Ruby Red, and with this moniker she would walk out to the squared circle for her entire career. But during the early days she didn’t have to walk out alone. Vito, her legendary father always accompanied her. This immediately made Ruby Red an event headliner. Soon afterwards, however, Danny gave the order for all his female wrestlers to start unveiling more skin. This was something he had always planned to do. As a result, Vito promptly quit the business and asked his daughter to leave Slam Bang City with him. Believing she would quickly lose headliner status if her famous father was no longer around to walk out with her, Ruby did consider departing as well. However, Danny convinced her to stay by promising a plan that was certain to keep her in the limelight. Broken over his daughter’s decision to remain, Vito returned to Pittsburg alone and the two were estranged till his death.

As promised, Danny did manage to keep Ruby Red a headliner by making her tag-team partners with a hard boozing grappler named Heartache. Several years earlier, Heartache had catapulted her way to fame by posing for Battling Babes Magazine. In the years that followed, Ruby and Heartache danced in the ring before their matches with moves so sizzling the floor almost dissolved beneath them. However, as both women approached their forties, Danny began relegating them to only preliminary matches and to carrying out odd jobs for the company. Humiliated, Heartache retired from the business, and opened a bar on the far south edge of the city. Ruby chose to remain an employee of GWE.

About a year ago, Danny’s wife Kumiko contacted my studio in Manhattan to ask if I would be interested in painting her husband’s portrait. The commission was lucrative so I accepted the offer. I also agreed to stay at the O’Keefe mansion until the portrait was completed. Shortly before landing in Arizona, there was an announcement from the pilot:

“Good afternoon, this is your pilot Captain Dawn Hinder just letting you know that we will be landing in about ten minutes. If you look out the windows to your right you should already be able to see Slam Bang City. It is about four o’clock in the late afternoon and you will find the city a little busier than usual because of the special Halloween wrestling event scheduled this Saturday evening at the O’Keefe Arena. On behalf of D.O. Airlines and the crew of this craft, we thank you for choosing to fly with us today.”

Although what the pilot said was pretty standard stuff it didn’t bore me because she sounded sexy. I hadn’t been in a relationship for eons. After exiting the aircraft, I retrieved my luggage, and a grinning buxom redhead bounced up to me. I was easy to find because I called ahead and described what I would be wearing: a charcoal colored sport jacket with matching pants, a white sweater, and charcoal colored leather shoes.

            “Welcome to Slam Bang City, Mr. Potenza,” she gushed, “I’m Ruby Red.” Then grabbing my bags as if they weighed nothing, Ruby draped them all over her libidinal form and said, “You know, you’re outfit doesn’t look complete without a fedora.”

            We left for Danny’s mansion in a mint condition 1980 Silver Shadow Rolls Royce. I asked Ruby if she would be performing at the Saturday evening event. She slurred a response, “Yes, but not as a wrestler. A hip injury ended that career years ago.”

I inquired, “Does it hurt when you walk?”

Still slurring, she answered, “Not too much since the operation.”

“Thank God for the operation,” I said.

Her voice picked up. “Well, it’s really part blessing, part curse. Danny paid for the hip replacement with the understanding that I’m basically his servant until I can pay him back. I pretty much signed my life away.”

Ruby went on during the drive to tell me the story of her father and I caught most of it. However, I found all the supermarkets, playgrounds, casinos, theaters and crossways flying by my window distracting. Glancing at the rear view mirror, she noticed my attention had shifted and commented, “You’re impressed.”

After admitting I was, she informed me that we were approaching Danny’s house and that its grandeur might impress me as well. The front gates automatically opened just enough for Ruby to drive though without having to slow down the car. She pulled up to the front door and I stepped out to a splash of purple lilacs, yellow wisterias, red poppies, pink roses, white geraniums and orange cosmos. As we entered the foyer of the mansion, I could hear a man yelling in a Scottish dialect from another room. When I expressed my difficulty in understanding what the guy was shouting, Ruby laughed. “Well, the boss does fall into a lowland-Scotland way of expressing himself whenever he gets ticked off. My advice would be to get used to it.”

I shrugged. “How ‘bout I just don’t tick him off?”

She smiled, dipped her head a little, touched my shoulder and said, “Yeah, good luck with that.”

Instructing me to wait in the foyer area, Ruby ventured into the next room and ended Danny’s rampage. After about a minute of whispers, Kumiko and Danny emerged together with Ruby trailing behind. Kumiko looked cute and classy in her white Anne Klein blouse, black Talbot dress slacks, two-toned black and white Prada flats, and silver stud earrings. Her eyes were large, dark, and expressive. I could tell she was a little younger than me while Danny was a lot older. His hair was salt and pepper, his Izod golf shirt was green, and his dungarees actually had creases ironed into them. In his right hand was an open bottle of beer, in his left, an unopened one.

He greeted me in an affable manner. “Hello, Mr. Potenza, would you like a beer?”

I responded in an equally affable manner. “Please, call me Vinnie. And no thank you, I don’t drink.”

Kimiko waded in, “The paints and brushes and easel – everything you said you needed – arrived two days ago. It is all set up in the sun room.”

Danny informed me that we would start the painting at nine in the morning. He turned toward Ruby. “Help Vinnie with his luggage to the northeast guest room, then be back at seven to take him to The Bear.

I was confused. “The Bear?”

Danny laughed. “That’s the name of the pub all the wrestlers go to. It’s really named The Bear Hug, but everybody just calls it The Bear. Some hag that used to work for me runs the place. But she does offer twelve different kinds of beer – so I’ll give her that. Still, don’t try to sample them all tonight Vinnie, you’ve got to paint me in the morning.”

I reminded Danny that I didn’t drink and he glared at me. After a few seconds, Kumiko broke the tension by suggesting that I relax in the guest room until six o’clock and then come down for dinner. Without saying anything further, Danny nodded at Ruby who then seized my luggage and began stomping up a nearby staircase. Following after her I asked, “Are you mad about something?”

            She bristled. “My friend is not a hag!”

            After showering and putting on fresh clothes, I fell asleep. Unfortunately, I woke up ten minutes after six and with a headache. Rushing down to the dining room I was greeted by Danny who joked, “Glad you could join us.”

            A little embarrassed, I responded, “Forgive me. I dozed off and woke up with a headache. Do you have anything I can take for it?”

            Danny looked at me with earnest. “Are you hung over?”

In disbelief, I considered telling him for the third time about my sobriety but decided against it. During the meal, Danny brought up the Saturday night wrestling event. “Vinnie-boy, it’s gonna be great! We’re calling it the Halloween Monster Smash.”

            With the heart of a fourteen year old, I asked, “Why call it that?”

            With the heart of a fourteen year old, he responded, “Because we’ve got two monster heels fighting each other in our main event. The Giant of Hampton Bays will square off against the Beluga. But Beluga’s got to be watchful because Bays’ manager might hit him when the refs not looking.”

            I grinned. “Sounds like that ref’s got a tough night ahead of him.”

The clock struck seven, Ruby bounced into the room, and a frowning Danny responded to my last statement: “Well, it’s a she and she better not mess things up that night.”

*

            During the next several days, Danny questioned everything I did. He refused to stand and insisted that I paint him sitting in his favorite chair. He declined my advice to wear a blue suit and explained how the portrait would be better if he wore a tan sports jacket. I agreed to half of what he demanded. Thankfully, after several days the portrait was completed. Danny examined it and said, “Well, I don’t look weak and I don’t look stupid, so I guess you’ve got it a little right.”

            I informed him that a portrait is a collaboration and if it doesn’t come out well it is partly the sitter’s fault. Danny took a second look at the painting and proclaimed: “A masterpiece!”

            Today, a year after returning from Slam Bang City, I am spending an afternoon lounging with my wife in a hammock. Her head is on my chest with those flaming red locks brushing against my chin. Before leaving the only professional wrestling themed megalopolis in the world, I handed Ruby all the commission money I was paid for the portrait. After using it to square things with Danny, she flew to New York, showed up at my door, and handed me a new charcoal colored fedora.

End

Bio: Paul Anobile taught theology classes for a number of years at Davis College and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. When turning 58 he decided to seriously

pursue two life-long interests: writing and painting. He still teaches Bible classes every week at Calvary Baptist Church in Albany NY. Images of his artwork

can be viewed at both Colony Art League and Schenectady Art Society websites. Several of his short stories have been published by The Cross and the Cosmos and Short-Story.me.

 

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