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M. C. Payne works up another enthusiastic introduction for the women's wrist-wrestling matches. There are six contestants. "Tonight I believe we have here one of the finest collections of young ladies in the world," Payne says. The finest collection of young ladies brings on pandemonium. It is as if the hall were filled with gold prospectors on their first day in town after a year in a gulch. "I'm sure you'll agree after you see 'em perform.... Martha Lutz from Davis University against...."
Before the contest Martha explained how she took up the sport: "I was in the gymnasium at the University of California at Davis and saw a notice about Levi's Intercollegiate Championship in wrist wrestling. Actually my first reaction was that it was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard of. I mean, what woman would want to be introduced as the Intercollegiate Champion of Wrist Wrestling? But then I got thinking. If I lost, so what. Women aren't supposed to be strong. It is a man's sport, so I could just do it for fun."
Martha does not win. Linda Iverson of Boyes Hot Springs, Calif., who is attired in the purple pants suit, does. She beats Kathy Anderson, a chunky, longhaired blonde from Petaluma. The girls, winners and losers, shake hands. Male chauvinists take note. A tough-looking guy in the audience says: "I'd rather see a breast contest." He lights a cigar and glances around to see whether his remark has been heard.
The feverish hubbub continues to the very end of the evening—noise comparable to a rock concert, women shrieking, men urging on their favorites with such epithets as "Tear off his arm!" Finally, the champions are proclaimed and the trophies are presented.
I find my way to the stage to interview the winners while the dew of victory still sparkles on their brackish brows. The first champion I interview is Jim Pollock, the middleweight who is an insurance executive from Palo Alto, Calif. In three minutes and 10 seconds, the longest, most dramatic match of the evening, Pollock defeated Steven Stanaway, a ship worker from Tabb, Va. Magnanimously Pollock praises Stanaway: "He has to be one of the finest and strongest persons I have ever met. He was a great match." Handsome, tan, young, with his lady dangling at his side like a third arm, Pollock explains: "Every day as I shave, I look in the mirror and I say, 'No one can beat you in wrist wrestling, Jim Pollock. You're the champ, and what's more, this year you're gonna earn more than $200,000...or your name isn't Jim Pollock' "
Jim Dolcini, brother of Mike and the heavyweight champ, comes forward. He says: "I never hurt my arm, never strained it. It was real easy. I have an 18-inch arm. I don't need a bigger one. I don't work with weights. Got my arm with just a little farm work and a lot of Jersey milk."
Bill Rhodes, the Colossus, is again lightweight runner-up. Back in his cowboy boots, jeans and silver-buckled belt and feeling pretty low, he stands to one side of the stage, away from the crowd of well-wishers. He is held in the arms of his petite girl friend. She can barely reach around him. The sports editor of the Argus-Courier interrupts us to introduce Mike Dolcini, who once again has defeated Rhodes. Mike's face takes on a superseriousness as he tells about his victory. He is accompanied by a retinue of hangers-on who urge him to hurry up. They are on their way to celebrate, to get drunk and let down their too-short hair.
At the conclusion of the championship, Petaluma celebrates. Some people go to private parties, others to the Hide Away, a popular bar where the walls are decorated with hundreds of pictures of Columnist Soberanes posing with the famous and the infamous: Jayne Mansfield, Teddy Kennedy, Candy Cane, Aldous Huxley, Stokely Carmichael, Peg Leg Lucich. Soberanes claims that he has had his picture taken with 35,000 people.
At the Petaluma Inn there is a party in progress in Bill Rhodes' room. Sterilized motel glasses, now half amber with drink, clink together toast after toast. Bill pours a drink; someone tells him he should have won, that he seemed to have Dolcini at one point in the match. He agrees: "Why, why did I let him go? I had him, but I let him go. Why?" Bill thinks awhile then says: "It was during intermission, just before the finals. I was talking to my dad. I was very excited about my chances. I was holding my arm up, milking the bad blood out so that the good blood could come in. You know, the muscles get gorged after a few contests. My dad acted kind of unenthused. He turned and walked away from me. Right there, right then and there I felt as if all the air had been let out of me. It entered my mind that my dad did not want me to win, and for some reason I cannot go against him." He pauses, shrugs, then adds: "Anyway, I know where I am No. 1." He nods toward his girl, reclining on a bed. She smiles.
The 10th World Wrist-Wrestling Championship will be held in Petaluma on May 14, 1971. And once again the roar of the crowd will press its favorites on to victory. Petalumans say that wrist wrestling is infectious, that it threatens to become epidemic and that the only cure for it is to do it. Images appear: droves of people wrist wrestling as they float down the Petaluma River; the Dairy Princess, poised and charming as she shoves her crown out of the way to wrist wrestle the Egg Queen; mothers across the land competing over ironing boards instead of taking coffee breaks; first-graders locking grubby fists in city playgrounds as their teachers and peers cheer them on. This could become the isolation ward of the nation.