Friday, August 29, 2008

Mac Batchelor - John Grimek

Ian “Mac” Batchelor
by John Grimek

Mighty Mac Batchelor who was recognized as the first official wrist-wrestling champion nearly fifty years ago passed away on August 10, 1986. This genial personality was one of the most colorful men known in the game. Although known for his great powers in turning wrists, Mac practiced many other odd lifts such as the Hand and Thigh, and Back Lifts. He was also powerful as a deadlifter, but his finger strength stunts were unique, as was his wrist and forearm strength. Many would-be wrist champions would seek him out just to test him, and strange as it may seem, he never refused and always gave them a chance to pit their strength against his. And since his vocation was bartender such opportunities frequently presented themselves during a day’s work. I know I was there on several occasions when burly, beefy individuals after having a few drinks were eager to take Mac on. He always obliged and was always the victor . . . not just once or twice a day, but as many as six to 10 matches were not uncommon. Mac got plenty or workouts on the job in those days.

Whenever I was visiting the West Coast I always visited Mac, if only for an hour. Vic Tanny always drove me to the tavern where Mac bartended, with Mac pouring drinks even before we were seated. One of these visits remained indelibly imprinted in my mind when Mac involved me in a beer cap bending contest . . .

That particular day he appeared jollier than usual and kept downing shots of whiskey as he talked, while urging Vic and I to do the same. Neither of us had the capacity to keep up with Mac, so we only sipped our drinks much to Mac’s disappointment. Whatever excuses we pleaded fell on deaf ears. Mac seemed ready for a party, but we weren’t.

He continued to belt down straight shots and seemed somewhat alert and spry, with a steady hand and is ever urging us to drink up. After another straight shot and giving us that “go ahead and drink look” he reached under he counter and brought out a large bad of beer and whiskey caps, spilled several handfuls on the bar and, without saying a word, began bending them with each had as rapidly as one could watch. After bending a dozen or more, he flipped a handful toward us. “Try a few,” he called out to us and continued squeezing and bending them as fast as he could fix the caps between thumb and forefinger.

I joined him and had no trouble squeezing a cap in either hand with some rapidity but Vic would not touch them. He knows once you offered Mac any kind of challenge you’d have to see it through to the end. Vic just sat by on the stool watching and grinning.

Mac continued bending the caps, and glanced at me a few times without uttering any comment. Other than taking time out to inquire if some of the customers needed service, the cap bending went on and on.

I was getting sore around the tip of my forefinger and said, “That’s enough for me.” Mac looked up quizzically and laughed, “We’ve only just started!” Then he began to go into his final stunt – bending a cap between each finger simultaneously. As he started placing the caps between his fingers most of the barflies came in for a closer look. Apparently they had seen this before and were waiting to be in on the kill.

Looking very nonchalantly, which surprised both Vic and I, he held up his hand showing the caps to those who were standing around, and with a slight grunt bent every one of the caps. Mac then looked around and with a sheepish smile began to put beer caps into his left hand. As soon as each was in place he squashed them as easily as he had with his right hand. He repeated the stunt again, just as easily and without saying a word – then tossed more caps over the bar to me and urged me to try it. I admitted that I had never tried the stunt before but Mac ignored my excuses and insisted I give it a try. Vic sat by laughing. He had expected this and was enjoying it more than anyone.

I knew there was no way out except to try it, and nearly everyone in the place was crowded around to see how I would fare. Mac belted down another fast two drinks and continued his gentle urging. I carefully started placing the caps and testing my fingers to see where I could exert the most pressure on the metal to bend them. My confidence, however, was almost nil since I knew I had never tried the stunt before. Those around who had been drinking since they came in got into the act by yelling for me to go ahead and show Mac how it’s done. That made ol’ Mac grin from ear to ear. But I yelled back for the crowd to show me if they knew how. One wag answered that he had enough trouble holding his glass at this stage, let alone the caps.

Having the caps in place, I said, “Here goes,” and put everything I had into the effort. Surprisingly, three of the caps bent but the one between the pinky and the ring finger was only partially bent. No one uttered a word. Mac gulped another couple of shots and adjusted four more caps between his fingers and with hardly a grunt, crushed them flat, which surprised everyone who witnessed the ease with which he bent the caps. Mac smiled very broadly.

“Drink up boys,” he called out to those around the bar, “it’s on me.” You never saw glasses that were nearly empty so fast, and I don’t think I ever saw Mac refill them so quickly. The whole place was wishing Mac good luck and a few, somewhat inebriated ones, began singing, “for he’s a jolly good fellow.”

Meanwhile a few of the barflies began bending some of the leftover beer caps. Only one succeeded, the others using both hands to bend them. One slender lad appeared more sincere but he was having trouble – a lot of trouble. He eased over to me and showed me the cap – only the outer rim was bent. “Try this one and see if you can bend it for me,” he said. I didn’t stop to examine it and began giving it some pressure. Nothing happened, which surprised me. I adjusted it in my fingers and gave it all I had. Still nothing. It refused to budge. Then I hollered to Mac, “Here’s a tough one, champ, it won’t budge for me.”

Mac grabbed the cap confidently and without even looking at it began squeezing. Nothing. The smile on his face left as he tried again. Still nothing. He scowled now and with a vengeance put everything he had into the effort. Still the cap remained fairly straight. He examined it, then took a small knife from the bar and tore the cork. To his surprise a 10-cent coin fell out. He picked the coin up and passed it around to show it was beginning to bend. It’s true. The ten-cent piece showed a definite curve in it which caused Mac to smile. But just as suddenly he bellowed, “Where’s the wiseguy who pulled this stunt! I want to bend his hand so he won’t try that again around here.” But the slender chap was nowhere to be found. He knew what might happen and had left the scene.

At this point Vic Mac and I decided to leave and began waving goodbye to Mac. “Wait,” he yelled, “let’s have another drink before you go.” We had had enough and had to leave, but Mac had already poured the drinks and was waiting for us to salute each other. We had no choice. We bumped glasses and drank some, replaced the rest on the bar and took off before Mac stopped us again. “We’ll see you tomorrow, perhaps,” and out the door we left, somewhat unsteady on our feet.

That’s one thing you could say for Mac. He could out-drink anybody, anytime, anywhere, and we have seen him do just that on several occasions, but still Mac would be visibly sober. That particular day he drank more I think than everyone else in the place combined, and still was alert and relatively sober.

Mac was always a rather burly but powerful individual until his wife, a charming and understanding woman, was killed in a car accident. This changed Mac’s entire life and subsequently he suffered a stroke, which brought on great anxiety and for a time it was feared he would not survive. Somehow he pulled through and though he gave up most of his training he was, once again, his usual lovable self. Eventually it was felt he’d be better in a nursing home. An old-time friend, Dr. Moss, to whom I introduced Mac, frequently visited and them wrote me about his well-being, although I kept in touch with Mac by mail as well. As his vision began growing dimmer the aides in the nursing home read the letters to him.

One of the last times I saw Mac he had shaved off his mustache and was smiling as usual, and certainly looked wonderful. So when the news of his death reached me, I was deeply saddened as I knew I would never see the likes of such a man again. He was unique and a great friend. He was always such a sparkling personality and a pleasure to be around. However, more recent reports that I had, indicated he was losing weight and wasn’t the same smiling individual that always had been.

However, ol’ Mac had a very interesting life and I am sure he enjoyed every minute of it, especially when he was called upon to prove the prowess of his arms. He never feared defeat, but knew he had the power and was always ready to prove it – and did that quite often while he was on the job.

Now I hope he rests in peace and our condolences to his family and loved ones. He was one of a kind and we may never see the likes of him again.

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