I drive a truck, and have done
so for years. I’ve roamed along every highway from coast to
coast, and gotten into my fair share of trouble along the way.
The job would pay well if women and liquor didn’t cost so much,
and were I a decent man I would have driven past the isolated
roadside bar in Arizona that sported an enticing sign: ‘Arm
Wrestling Champion. $500’. I parked my rig and walked in looking
A crowd of locals clustered about
the dirty bar. They wore faded blue jeans and button up shirts.
They had leathery faces, lit up by a buzzing and flickering
sign offering the local drink. The place smelled as any self-respecting
bar should, of cigarette smoke, spilled beer, and sweat. The
pool table was idle, and only a handful of patrons sat in the
common room, most having chosen to drink at the bar like pigs
at a trough.
A man with so many wrinkles as
to have hidden his eyes, sparse hair of a wintery complexion,
and gangly arms protruding from his stained wifebeater, sat
at a tiny table, with a solitary chair pulled up across from
him. The ancient man smiled, revealing more than a few gaps. “Stranger,” he
The locals halted their drinking
and turned to look at me. They smiled, whispered and pointed.
I decided to show no fear.
“That’s right, old-timer. I’m
here to give your champion a go.” I knew that arm-wrestling
was as much show as action, so I held up my arm and flexed,
while clenching my fist until the knuckles audibly popped.
“He only challenges strangers
these days,” one of the haggard women and the bar said. She
puffed on a cigarette and nodded to the old man. “Go on and
The crowd clustered together
and advanced. I looked at the decrepit man who sat hunched
in his seat. He smiled again.
I laughed. “You’re kidding. Who’s
the champion?” I looked around, half-expecting some bear of
a man to announce himself and face me.
“He’s the champion,” one of the
“Ain’t been beat,” said another.
I opened my mouth to object,
but the old man cut me off.
“Drink, sit or get the hell out,
son.” He plopped his elbow on the worn table and wiggled worm-like
I sat and shifted in my chair.
All around me the locals gathered and chattered like birds
to one another. I kept my eye trained on the ancient figure
before me. My doubts only increased when his offered hand beckoned
and the other slid off to rest beneath the table and on his
“You know kung-fu?” I ventured.
“You take some strange drug that
makes you all strong-like?”
He shook his head.
“These assholes are all going
to jump me soon as I break your arm off?” I glared at them
and they laughed in response.
The old man chuckled. “Nope.
Now, you game, son?” He sniffed. “Ten dollars to give me a
go. You win, you get five hundred. You lose, well, it’s just
I gingerly took his hand in my
own. I nodded. “Ten dollars, fine.” My fingers clenched around
him and I squeezed. I could feel his skin, like paper, beneath
my own. I could feel the warmth of his blood and the fragility
of his bones. I could crush him before we even started. As
I squeezed harder, an expression of pain flashed across the
old-timer’s features, but faded quick enough.
“On three.” He looked at me with
a concerned expression. “If you’re ready that is?” His eyes
met mine and I could see one of them clouded over with cataracts.
He leaned close to the table, and I did the same.
The table was so small our foreheads
nearly touched. As the spectators crowded around us I felt
myself wedged into my seat and the table. The flimsy wood pressed
into my gut and I growled. “I’m ready. On three.”
“One,” the old man said and licked
The locals started to hoot and
shout. They cheered on their champion to inspire him, and made
references to my mother and livestock to do the opposite to
“Two,” the man said and leaned
close enough that I could feel, and smell, his beer-stained
Something beneath the table slid
between my legs. I couldn’t be exactly sure what it was, other
than that it was sharp and well-placed.
The faded eye winked. “Three.”
I suppose I could have revealed
the champion’s trick then and there. However, I’m the type
who gives a nod of respect to a worthy opponent. Be it some
bearded biker who’s whipped me good under the neon-lights of
a strip-club, or some old man in a dive of a bar with a knife
under the table. Besides, I had fun making a good show of it.
We put on a three minute match! We yelled like men on fire
and sweated in the great struggle.
When it was over, the locals
bought me more than a few rounds and I had been paid back my
ten dollars, and then some, in the form of beer. The hour was
late when I strode out. I looked back, long enough to see the
old-timer grin and give me a nod.
I often think, if and when I
retire, I’ll take up arm wrestling professionally.
# # #
Champion by Richard
published September 1, 2010