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  • Ednold

Kagkourophobia 5/1/22

The story you are about to read is true. None of the names have been changed because the only innocent one was me (you might say foolish or idiotic, but I prefer innocent) and you already know my name so I didn’t see any point in changing it. You are about to get a short glimpse into one episode from my childhood. Why? I don’t know. It’s just one of those kooky things that I’ve never forgotten and I thought you might find it entertaining to hear how innocent (or foolish or idiotic) I was at one time, and I guess I’m hoping it will make me a little more relatable to the rest of you. You probably think someone like Ednold has never been frightened of anything, but the truth is that I’m human just like everyone else. I may be special, as Mrs. Ednold reminds me often, but I’m human just the same. I’m not sure exactly what year this was, but I’ve been able to narrow it down a little, to when I may have been as young as seven or as old as nine. I’m not sure, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t even remember the difference anymore.

To begin with, let me just put it out there: As a child I battled a serious condition unbeknownst to even my closest family members. It’s a rare condition, and I’m guessing most of you have never even heard of it before. If you are one of those people who aren’t familiar with it, then this will be an introduction to something I suffered from in my younger years: kagkourophobia. I didn’t let my irrational fear of kangaroos keep me from leading a somewhat normal existence, but it was always there, nonetheless. Since I have never lived in Australia you may think it would be easy for me to deal with it, and for the most part that’s true. It was never completely debilitating, and it’s been years since I suffered any negative effects, but for a short time it was very intense. Anyway, this is the story of how I came to suffer from kagkourophobia.

When I was a kid my brother and I would often watch Portland Wrestling on TV on Saturday nights. It was extremely entertaining and I was just about the right age to take it much more seriously than I should have. My brother was older and might have understood that it was all just for show, but it was very real to me. It had all the elements of any good TV show: Good guys, bad guys, running storylines of good guys vs. bad guys, and lots of action. Maybe on some level I knew that they weren’t actually trying to permanently injure each other, or worse, but it was a rare night when at least one person’s face wasn’t covered in blood after being bashed in the face with a metal folding chair or thrown completely out of the ring head-first, and that blood looked awfully real.

The mention of professional wrestling may evoke images of WrestleMania, the WWF and the WWE, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Andre the Giant. Though both Andre and Piper did spend some of their early years in Portland before hitting the big-time, you can get the rest of those ideas out of your mind right now. This was before cable television. Before any national broadcasts or multi-millionaire wrestling superstars. This wasn’t Friday Night Smackdown or Monday Night RAW on the USA Network. This was Channel 12 from Portland, sponsored by Tom Peterson’s appliance store and a couple of used car lots, and it truly was raw. This video clip I found is from about 10 years after I first contracted kagkourophobia, and things look a little different than I remember them. It looks like the original announcer was gone by this time, but it will give you a general idea of what things were like each Saturday night a decade earlier.

By the time wrestling really took off in the 1980’s I wasn’t a fan at all. I acknowledge the fact that being a professional wrestler is not an easy job. Those guys must be pretty good athletes to do all the stuff they do, and getting beat up and thrown around a ring is a tough way to make a living even if it’s not totally real. But since I know it’s not an authentic test of strength and skill, I’m just not interested. For me, as I got older and was able to see how silly it all was, it lost its allure. But lots of people love it, and just last month they packed almost 80,000 people into the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium on successive nights for WrestleMania 38. I’m assuming most of those people were adults, which is amazing and, frankly, a little sad.

Portland Wrestling, on the other hand, did not take place in a giant football stadium, and the attendance was much closer to 80 than 80,000. I’m not sure where Portland Wrestling actually happened - you can probably google it and find out. I just know it wasn’t in the same place that other, more legitimate sporting events took place. It may have been an abandoned warehouse or the dingy basement of some gangland hideout, where someone had hastily set up a ring with several rows of folding chairs around it, conveniently at hand for anyone desiring a sturdy weapon during a match. If there had been just a single bare light bulb dangling from a wire above the ring it would have been appropriate, and as a 7 or 8 year-old the atmosphere always gave me the feeling I was watching something slightly illicit.

Frank Bonnema

As compelling as the action was inside the ring, the best parts of the night usually happened between bouts, when the wrestlers would come into the press box at the side of the room to be interviewed by the announcer, or just to go on some indignant rant, completely ignoring the guy politely trying to ask them questions. The announcer was a guy named Frank Bonnema, and I don't know what credentials he had for the job - again, you can probably look it up if you’re interested - but he appeared to have been hired based solely on the contrast between his appearance and demeanor and those of the wrestlers. He approached the job with a gravitas that belied the spectacle surrounding him. To him, it was all serious business and I don’t believe I ever saw him smile. He was fairly tall, but was a bland, milquetoast of a man whose complete lack of anything resembling a personality made even the lamest wrestlers look and sound intriguing by comparison. Looking back, it was brilliant casting to put him in that unadorned booth with the behemoths who had just wrestled, or were just about to wrestle, or who had just shown up to threaten bodily harm to some future opponent with an intricate description of how they would pummel and dismember them in the ring if ever given half a chance.

Sometimes rivals in an upcoming match would both be in the booth together with Frank, and he would be jostled from both sides as he feabley tried to maintain order and keep the two from going at each other right then and there. Why, I wondered, would they let the two foes in there with him at the same time? Hadn’t they learned that things would always get dicey and there was a good chance the poor guy would suffer life-threatening injuries before it was all said and done? I was always genuinely concerned for his safety in those situations.

I was also worried about the old lady in the front row. She had probably turned 80 sometime during the Johnson administration, but she was always there, ready and willing to swing her handbag if any of the bad guys got within reach. What if one of them turned on her one night? Surely, that withered old thing couldn’t withstand a body slam from Jimmy Snuka or Bull Ramos. Didn’t she understand the danger she was in? She had no regard for her own safety though, and was a ringside fixture in those days.

Many of the wrestlers I didn’t care for, and I always enjoyed it when they got what was coming to them. Lots of times the bad guys won, usually by pulling contraband weapons from their boots when the referee’s back was turned, or employing any manner of other dirty tricks. The best matches were those where one of the good guys would be on the brink of certain defeat after suffering the worst that could be dished out: The pumphandle slam, the Death Valley driver, the cactus clothesline, or the dreaded turnbuckle treatment, only to miraculously find just enough strength to pin the villain with a camel clutch or a crossface chickenwing at the final moment. That’s when all hell would break loose as the bad-guy loser would storm around the arena claiming to have been the victim of some underhanded tactics by his opponent, or of partisan officiating on the part of the referee, or both. Someone, at some future point in time, would pay for their loss. But they had been defeated, and at the time that’s all that mattered.

There were lots of menacing wrestlers always threatening physical impairment to one person or another; always ready with an insult and questioning the strength, courage, and/or parentage of whoever they happened to have a beef with on that particular night. But their threats were always limited to the other wrestlers, or the wrestling establishment that was so unfair to them or, occasionally, poor Frank.

Only two guys ever went beyond that, and they were responsible for the onset of my kagkourophobia. They were cousins from Australia who called themselves The Royal Kangaroos, and they were the worst of the worst. Outside the ring they sometimes wore slouch hats and occasionally carried boomerangs around with them. They had scraggly beards and were both the size of grizzly bears. They looked like Hell’s Angels on steroids. The look alone was so foreign and fearsome that I was instinctively terrified of them. They weren’t from around here. They were invaders who had been unleashed to put a beat-down on those of us who didn’t talk funny. I didn’t like them and they didn’t like my guy, Dutch Savage, who was a paragon of virtue and protector of all that was good and decent in the world of Portland Wrestling.

I had never liked The Royal Kangaroos, but I never gave much thought to how they felt about me. That was never a part of the equation, until one night as I was in the family room watching the show alone in the dark, when they took things a little further than I ever had any reason to expect. I’ll just have to paraphrase, since I don’t remember the exact words after all this time, but while being interviewed by Frank regarding an upcoming tag-team match, their message went something like this:

“We aren’t just going to beat those guys. We’re going to destroy them. We’re going to kill them. And we’re also coming for those people out there who don’t like us. We know some people would like to see us lose. We know you’re out there. We know who you are and we know where you are and we’re going to get you.”

This last sentence was spat by one of the Kangaroos as he pointed straight into the camera, and straight at me.

HOLY CRAP!! They knew who I was and they knew I didn’t like them! They knew it was me that was hoping they’d get stomped in that tag-team match! How did they know that?!? They had pointed right at me! Out of everyone watching, they knew that I WAS THE ONE! And, worse yet, they knew where I lived! OH MY GOD!! How did they know all of that? Who had gone and given them my name and address? I tried to think of anyone who may have betrayed me, but there weren’t many likely candidates. My own family wouldn’t give me up to be eviscerated by a pair of barbarians, would they? I hadn’t mentioned my distaste for the Duo From Down Under to anyone that I could think of. I finally settled on the theory that they must just have some type of secret power to detect and identify anyone who wished them ill, and now I was in big trouble.

When I was about 4 years old I shared a room with my brother and always slept on the bottom bunk. I felt safe there. There was a window just to the side of the bed and I figured that when the monster came through the window to get us, as he inevitably would some night, he would see my brother on the top bunk first and kill and eat him, giving me time to escape. Yes, it was a rudimentary plan, but I was confident that it would work when the time came. My brother probably wouldn’t have been very satisfied with the results, but fortunately the monster chose not to attack for the whole time we shared that room, and I never actually had to put the plan into action. As soon as the wrestling went off that night I turned off the TV and began making similar plans. I knew The Kangaroos were in Portland and it would take them a while to get to my house, and by then I’d be ready.

Now, before I describe the pitiful plan I came up with, I should remind you that this was more than 15 years before the movie Home Alone was released. Back in those days I didn’t have a blueprint for what to do in situations like this. These days, of course, every child knows how to rig up a hot iron so it will smack the intruder in the face, and how to cue up a video to fool them into thinking you have a machine gun. But that knowledge had not been widely disseminated at this time, and much of the technology just wasn’t available to pull off a complex scheme like that. At my house we didn’t have blowtorches or buckets of tar just lying around, or most of the other stuff I would have needed to set up an elaborate defense system. I just had to make up my plan on the spot and hope for the best.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether The Royal Kangaroos would opt to come in through one of the doors or through my bedroom window, so for probably the only time during the years I lived in that house I checked both the front and back doors to make sure they were locked before I went to bed. Apparently I figured they’d take the trouble to come all the way to my house but, finding the door locked, would just turn around and go home. It made sense at the time. In my mind, this left only my bedroom window as a possible entry point for anyone wishing to do me harm, so I made sure it was locked too. There was no way I could completely eliminate the possibility of being strangled and chopped into little bits before I even woke up to defend myself, but by leaving my bedroom door open I would at least be ready to run at the first hint of any breaking glass.

As with the monster, I would have a chance to make my getaway while the Kangaroos slaughtered the other members of my family in their sleep and paused to snack on their vital organs. I have never shared any of these plans with anyone before, but I’m guessing my family may not be entirely pleased to learn of them now. Hey, I’m not proud of myself. I can’t think of anything to say in my own defense except that I was desperate and my options seemed very limited at the time. I hope that when my own children made their plans to survive attacks by monsters and ruthless wrestlers they considered making sure their parents and siblings survived the attack also.

To my great surprise and relief, The Royal Kangaroos did not make an appearance in my home that night. At least not in the flesh. I did have one of the most realistic dreams of my life, where they had somehow managed to enter my room without opening any doors or windows. And they had also managed to bring their motorcycles with them and were riding around all over my bedroom; across the floor, the walls, the ceiling, the furniture. They were taunting me as they rode. They didn’t say anything intelligible, but they were pointing at me and it wasn’t hard to imagine what I’d hear if their motorcycles weren’t so loud. But it was just a dream and they hadn’t really been there. They had probably decided to get a good night’s rest and come the next night.

That whole week I expected those Kangaroos to show up as I slept, but they never did. Then the next Saturday they were back on TV acting like nothing had happened; like they had forgotten about the whole thing. Like they had never even threatened my life the week before! They weren’t nice - The Royal Kangaroos were never nice - but apparently some time during the week they had decided that just scaring me out of my wits was enough. Maybe they had prior commitments and didn’t have time to travel to my house that week. Maybe their car broke down on the way there. Maybe they had gotten sick from eating too many small children for breakfast on Sunday morning. Whatever the reason, a severe case of kagkourophobia was deemed sufficient punishment for me. I’ll never know why they decided to let me live, but it was a great relief to find I was no longer The Royal Kangaroos’ most-wanted.

I had had good reason to fear The Royal Kangaroos. They were bad dudes in their day. They were 6-time Pacific Northwest Tag-Team champions, and won another 6 tag-team championships in other parts of the world during their prime. As much as I feared them at one time, I kind of feel sorry for them now. Partly because they have both passed on to that great wrestling arena in the sky, but also because, had they come along ten years later they would have been the most hated men in professional wrestling and been pay-per-view megastars; household names raking in money hand over fist. There would have been Royal Kangaroo action figures and t-shirts, but they had arrived on the scene a little too early. The team broke up in 1977 and the two Kangaroos hopped their separate ways. They both continued to wrestle, but never had as much success as they had had when they were together. At least when it came to giving little boys kagkourophobia.

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