I grew up with a guy, let’s call him Neil Eruzioni. His father was a barber and – at least back then, when I was growing up in New York – used to cut the hair for wise guys who “played bocce” at the… let’s call it the “Fisherman’s Club,” an Italian-American social club. Neil’s mom was a large woman, older than my parents. They lived near the downtown village.
Neil was a fantastic drummer — one of the best musicians any of us knew in those early adolescent days. Problem was, he liked jazz fusion and we liked the Stones and Neil Young, primarily. He is still a great drummer and I still like the Stones and Neil Young primarily. But now, I think Neil also like the Stones and Neil Young more than the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
One day, Neil was telling me about how his mother would break into uncontrolled hysterical laughter at the mere mention of the phrase, “Indian wrestle.” Indeed, if for some reason Indian wrestling was being televised, say on the “ABC’s Wide World of Sports show,” she would also lose it. Basically, if she just brushed up against the concept of Indian wrestling on any level, she would lose it.
I doubted this whole story a bit. But our mutual friends present testified to the veracity of these claims. And on the whole, I am pretty gullible, and was even more acutely naive back then. No one could explain it, the tale went.
Then I moved away. In some of my idle time of lonely exile in the high pines of Medfield, Massachusetts, it occurred to me that I had been had with this whole “Indian wrestle” business.
I was back for a visit about half a year later and Neil’s dad gave me a crew cut. And the band got back together for a jam, for old time’s sake. At least, this is how I remember it. We often practiced at his parents’ house. This is how it goes for drummers. They would rather make Faustian bargains with their parents to allow amateur rock bands rehearse in their basement than pack up, lug, and unpack all the equipment.
One day, during a break from band practice, we were sitting around the Eruzioni’s living room.
“Neil,” I began. “You probably don’t even remember this. But a while back you told me this story about your mother. It was about how she would laugh…”
“At the words ‘Indian Wrestle.’ Right,” he answered. “What about it?”
“Well. That was not true, right? I asked. “I mean, you guys were pulling my leg.”
“You don’t believe me?” He asked. “You’ve never seen it?”
I made a skeptical “oh, come on” face.
He put up his index finger. “Ma!” he yelled. MA!!”
“Yes, whattaya want, Neil?” We heard his mother’s voice from the kitchen.
“Come here! Ma, come in here!”
“OK, OK,” she was saying as she came through the dining room and leaned against the doorjamb, drying something with a dishtowel. “Whattaya want.”
Neil paused, looked her in the face, and said, blankly, “Indian wrestle.”
She started to laugh. Sort of a normal laugh. But then it began bubbling up. And soon, like in a manner of a few seconds, she was in absolute, unbridled hysterical laughter. I’m talking tears. Catching her breath, she left the room. Laughs still emanated from the kitchen.
We could all not help but laugh along with her. Neil just smirked. It was something he grew up with. No one has ever explained it. His mother grew up with this… this little quirk. Something way back in her brain is tickled by the concept of, the name “Indian wrestle.” Something from the past.