Missing My Friend

Today is the one year anniversary of the death of my dear friend Bill Moody, whom many of you knew as Percy Pringle and Paul Bearer in WWE.

Here is a tribute I wrote for him, which is posted on his official web site.  PercyPringle.com – My Tribute

There will never be another Bill Moody.  I miss him like crazy.

Here’s something fun for you all to enjoy… Percy Pringle Sings

In the photo posted above, you will see Bill, myself, and Gulf Coast wrestling legend “Cowboy” Bob Kelly.  Bob was a childhood hero to Bill, and he was very happy to call him his friend (as am I).

Bob lost his wife of over 50 years, the wonderful Chris Kelly,  just a few months back and is still dealing with everything.  As you take a moment to think about Bill Moody, do say a prayer for Bob and Chris, too.  I know they would appreciate it.

I wish like anything I could be down at the Gulf Coast Wrestler’s Reunion this week to be with my old friends in Mobile, Alabama.  Alas, fate has other plans for me.  But I am sending all of my very best thoughts to all of you as you celebrate all your memories and years of kinship.   Just save me some banana pudding, if you will.

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Phyllis Diller’s Chili Recipe


Despite her comedy act describing how terrible she was in the kitchen, Phyllis Diller was a really wonderful cook, with recipes of hers printed in books and magazines for many years. But she was really famous for her chili. It was so good, it was even put in cans and sold in grocery stores. Now, the product was not around forever — maybe just a 3 year period, starting in the late 1980s. But those who ate it remember it well.

Phyllis had a whole line of products beyond the beef chili, which was the flagship product. There was also chicken chili and chili beans. (She sent me a photo of her standing next to her product line which I should scan for you all.) This was under the label of Phyllis Diller’s Original Recipe. The original can was very nondescript, with a picture of Phyllis in a glamor pose (seen above). Obviously, this was done so customers would take the product more seriously, and she could be a contender in the market place. This concept did not seem to gel. Later, it was re-branded as Phyllis Diller’s Philli Dilli Chili, with a much more comedic tone, featuring a cartoon of Phyllis in a superhero costume as “The Crusader of Great Tasting Food.”

During this time period, there were a lot of celebrities who tried to be the next Paul Newman, with a range of products that bore their familiar names. (Of course, it was only Paul Newman that gave his money to charity.) Some of these products only lasted a few years, some made it to shelves only to disappear soon after. There was Frank Sinatra’s Sugo di Tavoli (which was pretty bad), Tommy Lasorda Spaghetti Sauce (which was very good), Chicken by George (Phyllis George, and her product was great). Phyllis was definitely jumping on this bandwagon… but at least her product was really good.

At 2:18, you can see David Letterman making fun of her chili during a skit of terrible products found in stores. Of course, the chili was nothing to sneeze at and Dave never even tasted it, but it at least got some free publicity in the process. Supermarket Finds – 1989

Phyllis had mentioned the reason why the product went bust was due to the fact that people only ate chili during certain times of the year, and did not think about it the rest of the time. That may be true for some people, but I ate it all the time. As a starving college kid, it was a tasty and affordable meal that would carry me through the day. I remember it was only available at the Von’s supermarkets here in Southern California. It pretty much vanished by 1991 from our shelves, though the product apparently limped along a few years longer.

After years of missing it, I finally wrote Phyllis to ask her the recipe, and she sent it to me lickety-split. And now I will share it with you.

This is typed out exactly as Phyllis had it, including the capitol letters here and there.

PHYLLIS DILLER CHILI

Using oil, brown 1 Lb. Ground Beef in a skillet. Add these ingredients in the order listed:

1 Med. Size Onion – chopped
10 Cloves Garlic – chopped fine
1 Green Bell Pepper – chopped
Lawry’s Season Salt
Garlic Salt
Onion Salt
Chili Powder
Tabasco
1 Lg. Can chopped tomatoes
Just before serving, add 2 cans S&W Kidney Beans (including liquid)

My take on the recipe:

Keep in mind, I used to buy her canned chili all the time, and I have a pretty good idea of how everything is supposed to turn out. That being said, it has been 20 years, so the exact quality will never be properly duplicated.

If you do it as you read it and don’t know your way around the kitchen, this recipe will make absolutely no sense to you. You will get hit with a HUGE slug of garlic that is both overwhelming and displeasing to taste. Things may be too salty or under-seasoned, and the texture will never be right. And you don’t know how long to cook it, or what temperature to use. So, I have thought it out a bit for you, and I think you will do just fine by following my method. This is hardly a complicated recipe.

Cook on medium high heat in a skillet or dutch oven. Total cooking time is around 45-60 minutes, including 30 minutes of simmering. A lot of things depend on your stove and your technique.

I suggest you first saute the garlic and onions together in extra virgin olive oil (which Phyllis used in her cooking) until they soften — this will mellow the garlic flavor substantially — and then add the peppers and cook them down until they are limp. Make sure all these ingredients are chopped fine, but not minced, as you want to be able to see them in the finished product. Remove these ingredients from the pan and keep in a bowl. Brown the beef in the same skillet, but do not drain. Then add the onion, garlic and peppers back to the skillet.

In the canned product, the ground meat was in very tiny pieces. If you want the exact texture, just break the meat up more as you brown it.

Seasoning is merely a matter of taste here, but do keep in mind that the Lawry’s should be the dominant seasoning, since you already have garlic and onion in this dish. So, heavier on the Lawry’s, lighter on the garlic and onion salt. Also, the canned bean juice that comes at the end does have salt in it, so it might not be a bad idea to add the salts after you add the bean juice, or else you might end up with something you can’t really eat.

Chili powder is an important element here, which adds depth and richness to the dish. Without it, you will have spaghetti sauce with beans in it. Again, this is all to taste, but do add at least two tablespoons of the stuff. Add more if you want it richer and spicier. Phyllis most likely used the most common brands on the market, like Gebhardt’s or McCormick. Tabasco is a must here, too, even in small amounts, otherwise you’ll end up with something “senior citizen spiced.” Again, use your best judgement here. The canned product was definitely not hot, but it also wasn’t a flat product that tasted only of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt! So, please don’t be skittish on the chili powder and Tabasco.

The chopped tomatoes will give you a fine dish, but it’s not like it was in the canned product. To replicate what you remember, use diced tomatoes (or crushed, if you don’t like the tomato texture). The overall quality of the dish should be of a stew with kidney beans floating in it, and the tomatoes shouldn’t be much larger than the kidney beans. I use a 28-ounce can of tomatoes — which is a large can, as Phyllis mentioned — and that’s just right for my money. And, speaking of kidney beans, you don’t have to use S&W, but that’s what she did. Two 16-ounce cans of any brand of kidney beans will do the trick.

Phyllis doesn’t indicate how long to cook. I would say at least 30 minutes, and longer on simmer if you like it to develop a little further. This is intended to be a “quick chili,” like the kind the girls used to favor in the old cookbooks. I would definitely encourage you to add the bean juice before simmering. This is what makes up the “gravy” for the chili, and this will help everything soften and relax. Once everything has been put into the skillet or dutch oven, you will notice that you have a lot of liquid, thanks to two cans of bean juice, plus tomatoes. Now, you can cook it down until it thickens, which may take some time, or you can thicken it with flour mixed with water. Chili purists would use masa harina to thicken, but Phyllis was an old fashioned cook and would have definitely gone for the plain flour. Just add a few spoonfuls of flour to about half a cup of water in a cup, stir until dissolved, then put in the skillet with the other ingredients.

Now, all you fans out there of Phyllis Diller’s chili, please tell me what you think of my take on it. I’m genuinely curious!

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Dear Phyllis Diller

There are so few people in this world who lived as fully — and as lovingly — as Phyllis Diller.  I was always deeply inspired by her, and when Phyllis died on August 20, 2012, it was like a bright light went out in this world.

Diller was an entertainment icon, with a stand-up, television and motion picture career that spanned six decades.  A pioneer in women’s comedy, she was known for her over-the-top wit, outlandish outfits and her parodies of domestic life.   She was completely different, utterly outrageous, and truly unforgettable.  The younger generations may not be as familiar with her, but there was a time when everybody knew and loved Phyllis Diller.  She had a universal quality about her that helped her stay relevant so long — it was something she always strived for.

There were times in my life when I needed a bit of laughter to get through difficult situations.  And Phyllis Diller was one of the biggest sources of laughter and warmth.  I used to listen to Phyllis Diller Laughs, one of her first comedy records, over and over again.  Laughter helped me go on, no matter what was happening around me.  And that’s when I started developing my own comedic sensibilities, trying to be just like the wonderful performers I knew on television.   As a child I would even work out little comedy bits as I walked to school, which I could sprinkle throughout the day.  It definitely made life more manageable, and gave me footing and an identity.

I looked forward to any appearance by Phyllis Diller on television, even in the briefest cameo.  They were always great, because Phyllis was always on.   Incredibly sharp and quick as a flash, Diller was a lot more than just her stand-up routine: she had a fantastic and diverse mind, a wellspring of creative abilities, as well as well as those famous comedy chops.   You truly never knew what to expect from Phyllis Diller.   One moment she would be telling a joke, the next playing classical piano, or maybe discussing life philosophy with a real understanding of the world.

Diller constantly credited one book as being the key that unlocked her potential: Claude M. Bristol’s The Magic of Believing.   She said as soon as she started to read it, everything started to make sense, and she knew exactly where she had to go with her life.   It was what gave her the courage to do something that women simply did not do in the 1950s (stand-up comedy), and allowed her to focus — undeterred — on her creative and spiritual goals.   As Bristol says, “…Thoughts become things,” and you will become precisely what you allow yourself to be, as long as you truly believe it.  That amazing little book is what allowed the Phyllis Diller we all came to know to come into being.

Diller genuinely cared for her fans.  If somebody wrote her a letter, Phyllis would respond personally… and in short order.  She knew that the fans, and the love that she received from them, were why she was able to have her wonderful career and live the life she wanted to live, so she always took the time to acknowledge them.   You will find accounts from people all over saying how Phyllis wrote to them personally, and how it really touched them.  It is a simple thing that really means a lot.

Of course, I know, from personal experience, the true generosity and love that Phyllis Diller could offer.  On a few occasions, I wrote her and received hand-written notes, as well as autographed photos… and I didn’t even ask.  Phyllis just gave, for that was in her nature.  She was thrilled that I used a manual typewriter still, and could tell what kind of typewriter it was from the font!  (To be frank, for the longest time I was afraid to write her anything by hand because I knew she was keen on handwriting analysis, and I did not want her to psychoanalyze my penmanship.  But I finally did write her by hand, and she still seemed to like me.)

In the late 1980s, Diller had her own line of canned chili called Phyllis Diller’s Original Recipe Chili, later dubbed Philli Dilli Chili.  Man, was that ever good!  I would stock up on cans of it (both chicken and beef), and eat it all the time.  It did not last long on the market, sadly.  Knowing how much I enjoyed it, Phyllis was kind enough to send me her personal  recipe, along with a few others.  Phyllis had a real gift in the kitchen, let me tell you!

Diller was also a fine painter.  I would not count her as a master, but her paintings were a great deal of fun, and a definite representation of who she was.   She was certainly prolific, and had gallery shows all over the country.  At a time when I could ill afford making a major purchase, I decided to buy a painting of hers that really spoke to me.  I’m so glad I did!  The painting hangs above my bed like a smiling, radiant sunbeam, and brightens my every day.   And I can definitely say that Phyllis’ loose, no-nonsense, whimsical approach to painting has been a direct influence on my own watercolor style.

It’s hard to put somebody like her into one word.  But, if I had to, it would probably be “love.”  She loved life, loved to give, loved the people in this world, and it was constant.  And she loved herself enough to allow her life to be precisely what she wanted, so she had an open channel for that love to filter through.  There’s a lot of lessons to be learned from that.

When I think of Phyllis Diller, I think of a person who lived life to the fullest, without compromise.    I would like to be just like her.  Don’t we all?

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It’s September 11th

I’m following the same ritual this morning that I have had all of these years on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks:  I rise up early, whilst it is still dark, so I can sit in solitude and ponder everything that happened on that day.   It is the best way for me to assimilate everything and remember.  September 11th, 2001 changed our world forever here in the United States.  With time, it has started hurting less.  But we can never forget.

I am also thinking of Jerry Lawler, professional wrestling’s “King of Memphis,” who suffered a heart attack last night on-air during an episode of RAW on the USA Network.  This came completely out of nowhere, of course, and in a world where the fans are accustomed to being hoodwinked there was early debate whether it was staged or not.  Unfortunately it was real.  But Lawler could not have been in better hands, with a fully trained medical staff waiting in the wings, who rushed to his aid in mere moments.   Lawler is one of the true greats of wrestling — one of my absolute favorites — and I sincerely hope he pulls through this without any problems.  A lot of people are praying for you, King.

As I sip my black coffee and watch the morning unfold before my eyes, I wish I had something silly or lighthearted to say at this moment (it is my way).   Sometimes, though, you just have to let things be what they are.  So, today I’ll just be thinking about the fragility of life, as well as the goodness within, ever thankful for the blessings we have in this world.

 

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Keeping It Light

Well, friends, I have to admit I have a whole pile of obituaries to write here, but I am going to take my time putting them out.  I just wrote two today, and that’s enough to take a toll on somebody for a very, very long time!  Phyllis Diller, Andy Griffith, Robin Gibb — they will get their proper tributes.  But one can only get so morose in one sitting.

I think I’ll be keeping it light for the rest of the day.

Lately I have been into the whole art of proper grooming, and all the frilly stuff that goes with it.  I got tired of the disposable razor scene, which I found to be wasteful and expensive.   There is a reason why men used to groom and maintain themselves a certain way years ago… and they looked fantastic.  I decided to throw myself into that world.  Oh, the education I got!  I’m going to write a whole piece on safety razors, talcum powder and my love for Pinaud products.  But that will be coming soon.  It’s worth the wait.

This morning I treated myself to coffee at a local restaurant, but took the added measure of bringing my own container of real cream, instead of subjecting myself to the stabilized coffee whitener  in little plastic cups that most places offer you, which floats about like an anonymous mass and tastes like nothing from the dairy universe.  And the coffee tasted so much better!  I am not above doing such things, of course, and feel it’s perfectly acceptable to eat on your own terms.  If you like fresh ground pepper, why subject yourself to stuff that has been sitting on the table for years, pre-ground and thoroughly without identity?  Bring your own pepper mill with you.   If you don’t like margarine on your toast (as many will serve it), ask for it dry, and take a container of real butter out of your satchel and live like a king, to the envy of all around you.  Food should be as YOU want it, not as THEY want it.  Restaurants are there to serve you, and if they can’t do that by all means serve yourself!

I just ordered the new Don Williams album (on vinyl, of course) and I can’t wait to hear it.  That boy is just pure, sweet, understated greatness.  Not familiar? Here you go… Good Ol’ Boys Like Me

Recently I have been watching the old Dark Shadows television series, enjoying the absolute heck out of it.  The acting, the wacky storylines, and the overall camp of it make this an irresistible and enthralling experience. I always seem to catch on to certain things long after they are current, don’t I?  Well, that’s just the way of things.  After this I plan on catching Fanny Brice down at the Palladium.  I hear she’s an absolute howl!

I need to get myself some lunch before I fade away to nothing.  But I thank you for your time.

 

 

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Paint it Red

Rolland “Red” Bastien, the “Flying Redhead,” was one of the top professional wrestlers in the Golden Age of the sport (back when it was called a sport).  The younger generation may not be familiar with his name, but he was a legitimate legend, and could tie anybody into knots in his heyday.  After all, Red started out on the old carnival circuit, where you had to be tough or you would never survive.

When I started to watch professional wrestling in the late 1970s, Red was working the San Francisco territory.  He was in his late 40s and his career was coming to a close.  Red’s knees were shot after decades of abuse.  He could not move as well as he could in earlier years — it was quite obvious — so he made up for it by being extra stiff in the ring.  Playboy Buddy Rose once told me that Red worked that way so the other wrestlers still gave him the respect he deserved.  But, by that point, his reputation was enough to carry him through anything, and he was definitely respected everywhere he went.

I was lucky enough to call him my friend.  We spent many a time together getting snockered on red wine (his potable of choice) at the Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, CA.  One night he arrived just after his artificial hip snapped.  Though he must have been in considerable pain, he refused to let it sideline him from his activities.  He only wanted to go to one hospital — in Minnesota! — and went on as if nothing was amiss.  We spent several hours together that night talking and drinking like nothing was wrong.  I cannot tell you how impressed I was by his fortitude and spirit.

It’s like the old quote of Ray “The Crippler” Stevens (which Red constantly referred to) goes: “In life, you can either choose to have a good time or a bad time.  I choose to have a good time!”

Red was as sweet and charming and interesting as you could ever imagine.   A dear man, beloved by all.  And that’s no malarkey: EVERYBODY loved Red Bastien.  What more could any person ask for in this world?

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Hal David

Can we be living in a world made of paper mache?
Everything is clean and so neat.
Anything that’s wrong can be just swept away.
Spray it with cologne, and the whole world smells sweet.

– Lyrics from the song “Paper Mache’” by Bacharach & David

Those are words from my childhood that still stick with me to this day.  Simple, effective, thought-provoking.  Those are words of the great Hal David.

David — the outrageously talented lyricist, who partnered with music great Burt Bacharach to create some of the most iconic songs of the 1960s and 1970s — died just a few days ago at the age of 91.  Partnered with the vocally-agile Miss Dionne Warwick, they took pop music to incredible heights and created tunes that are beautiful, unique and timeless.

When I was starting to write my own music, I looked to Bacharach and David for inspiration constantly.  From an early age, their music resonated within me, and when I began developing my own style I wanted to know why.   Bacharach’s tunes were catchy and unusual, taking twists and turns you would never suspect, almost as if they were a hybrid of pop and classical.  David’s words were earthy and heartfelt; simple, yet sophisticated.  Whilst the tunes of Bacharach took you all over the stratosphere, the words of David kept things grounded and accessible.   (Look at Burt Bacharach’s work post Hal David and you will see that things never really worked so well without him.)  They were the perfect balance of innovation, sentimentality and tradition.

Warwick said of David in his book What the World Needs Now and Other Love Lyrics, “Hal doesn’t just write songs.  He writes himself.  There’s nothing contrived in what he does.  He doesn’t use a formula.  He goes by feeling.”  It is a basic approach, yet one that very few are willing to take.  And it is that willingness to express himself so freely and revealingly that made the words of Hal David so effective.

David never really got the credit he was due, and that’s part of why he split with Bacharach.  To this day, many think that Bacharach wrote all those songs by himself.  Their partnership truly was a partnership, and each played a pivotal role.  I saw Bacharach & Warwick in Long Beach several years back, and Hal David came in as a surprise guest toward the end of the show.  I knew immediately who it was, jumped to my feet and started to applaud.  I was the only one.  Bacharach actually had to introduce the audience to Hal David, saying, “He is the one who wrote all these wonderful lyrics.”

Though he may always have to play second fiddle in the big scheme of things, Hal David was a superstar in his own right, and those who care to know will always appreciate the love and wonder he brought to the world.

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One Month Down!

Well, gang, 2012 has started off strong, and the month of January has ended.

In that time, we’ve seen the passing of music icon Etta James, famed football coach Joe Paterno, and former “sweat hog” Robert Hegyes.   I’ve always felt “At Last” was overplayed, I’m not a fan of football, and Welcome Back Kotter was never one of my favorite shows, but these folks all had an affect on our culture, and they will be missed.

McDonald’s was forced to reformulate their hamburgers. I have not eaten there in over a decade, but I’m certainly glad those of you who do eat there, even on occasion, don’t need to put ammonium hydroxide and assorted cow scraps in your body any longer, especially when you think you are just eating plain old ground meat.

I started the month sleeping in my car, and I am ending it in my own bed — a big upgrade, if you ask me.  And as I sit here in my room, amidst nothing but happy silence, I want to be more wordy and descriptive in my reflections.  I want to be more wordy, but I’m not feeling it.    That’s okay!

I made a promise to myself at the end of 2011 that I would eschew soda and fast food, and I’ve made it one whole month without complaint or regret.   I also promised to cook more things at home, and bring my prepared food with me as often as possible, instead of relying on restaurants and convenience foods.  The fact that I know how to cook does make a difference.  I picked up a hand-crank pasta maker, and I must say the stuff you do at home blows anything from the store right out of the water.  I have been going back to my old cookbooks, where inspiration abounds.  I’ve fallen in love with James Beard all over again.

2011 saw the much anticipated release of Antiquated, my first album since Travelogue.  It has been a long time coming for my music career, and now I think I’ve hit a stride that will carry me along nicely in this new year.  Soon you’ll be able to purchase Antiquated through my web site.  Rest assured there will be another album in 2012 — no more of these 12 year gaps!

I will continue to write, create, eat, and generally make a donkey out of myself, but in the most positive, loving way.

As always, I thank you all for your love and support.

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Life in Gilbertville

It certainly has been a busy time for me — the reason for my long absence here.   I know I was going to update every few days, but life sometimes gets in the way of our best intentions, and we have no choice but to attend to its needs.

Gilbertville, the latest album from the one and only Gilbert O’Sullivan, was released at the end of last month.  It is classic GOS, filled with memorable tunes, clever and personal lyrics.  Gilbert’s ageless performance style is always brimming with life and enthusiasm.    He never ceases to amaze me with the turns he takes, and how he constantly challenges himself to go in different directions musically (this album was recorded in Nashville, which adds a wonderful quality to the production).  The first single off the album, “All They Wanted to Say,” deals with the 9/11 attack in an extremely touching, thoughtful manner.  If you can listen to that song and not start to cry, you are made of stone.

I am honored to have two of my illustrations in the CD booklet, one of which is being used for tee shirts being sold at his concerts across Europe.  How can one not be thrilled to say that?  I am so grateful to Gilbert for giving me the opportunity to be a small part of such a fine project.    And if you like my artwork, feel free to purchase yourself a copy of the CD from Bygum Records and I will be more than happy to sign it for you (just e-mail me for the contact information).  The happy caveat to your purchase will be the wonderful music within — it is sure to fill your life with plenty of joy.

I have several projects floating now, none of which I am at liberty to speak of, but all are fantastic.  I will be back in a day or so, however, to update all of you on some other developments, plus my usual nuttiness, such as my latest obsession with a local brand of pickles.

Thank you, everyone!

– Kurt

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The Saturday Gone

It’s Saturday, which once meant cartoons, cooking shows and wrestling to me, but now it’s just a day when the bank has different hours, and more people are at the barbershop.

Saturday morning cartoons were almost like a religion to kids for about 40 years.  The fact that this staple no longer exists leaves a huge void inside of my brain.  I still find myself waking early, half expecting to turn on the set and partake in some old-fashioned viewing.  Then it dawns on me that if I want to see those cartoons again, I have to pop in a DVD or go to You Tube… and that’s really not the same thing.  The onslaught of ideas, the variety of concepts — all of that really served as a huge inspiration for my off-kilter mind.  Saturday morning cartoons pretty much defined my sensibilities as an animator, much more so than I may ever understand.

Cooking shows on PBS were in the mid-day.  I loved The Frugal Gourmet, Great Chefs, Yan Can Cook and anything else they threw at me.  Good or bad, if it was food-related, I watched it all.  And I learned!  We did not have Food Network back then, and people were not as educated to the ways of eating as they are now.  Things were a little more innocent.  I watched and learned.  I became a good cook because of these shows, and I am beyond grateful for that.   The Frugal Gourmet, by far, was my biggest influence.  Meeting him in 1993 was a really big thing for me.

Saturday used to also mean local wrestling, plus AWA, WWF and stars of the NWA on Superstation TBS.   Most of my contemporaries looked at me like I had eight eyeballs when I would praise the virtues of “Boogie Woogie Man” Jimmy Valiant or  Nick Bockwinkel, who I saw as incredibly talented and remarkable characters.  It was a thing I had to savor alone, pretty much.  And Saturday was when I would simply shut the world out and revel in all the pro wrestling action I could absorb.  I didn’t have DVR or Tivo to hold my hand — I simply sat there and drank it all in, for hours at a time.  Of course, I used this knowledge many times over the years, in and out of the wrestling business.

So, you can see, I once sat inside for an entire day and watched nothing but television, morning until night.   Now, I might see 2 hours of broadcast television a week, if that.  It’s funny how things change.  But I sure miss that magical time when Saturday satisfied my every interest and inspired great things in me.

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