Mendel Letter 41 — Wrestling

We lived a short walk from the 9th Street entrance to Prospect Park on Brooklyn.

August 6, 2021

Dear Mendel,

When your grandson Sol was eighteen, he challenged me to a wrestling match that quickly got out of hand. We were in the living room of our apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn, about a half a block from Prospect Park. At first I said no, but he kept pushing with challenges and subtle insults about age and increptitude, so I finally agreed. We were both the same height and the same weight, six feet tall, around 170 pounds. When he was 18, I was 46, not too old or infirm yet.

We started standing with our arms on each other’s shoulders but I was able to hook my right leg behind his left and we tumbled to the ground where we thrashed around, I think we shattered a small wooden table. He was clearly stronger than me, but it was also clear he didn’t have a fighting strategy. I managed to get a leg lock across his chest that also pinned his arms and asked him if we could stop. He started to scream that I was hurting, but instead of stopping he continued to furiously resist. The screams brought my wife, his mother, into the room, and she negotiated a truce, if I remember correctly, by threatening to kill both of us.

Three years later, when Sol was 21, he challenged me to wrestle him again, convinced he would beat me this time. He suggested we go to the park so we wouldn’t break any more furniture and to avoid his mother. He taunted me, but I was not going to fight. Even when he accused me of being a coward and afraid, I wasn’t tempted. Finally, he just asked me why I wouldn’t wrestle him.

I explained he was now to big and strong to wrestle with and the only way I could stop him was to hurt him and I didn’t want to hurt him. He and I grew up in different worlds. His father was a college professor. My father was a cafeteria worker. In his neighborhood, Park Slope, kids didn’t fight, so he never learned how. In my neighborhood in the Bronx, you had to fight or you were a patsy and you knew that in a fight the goal was to hurt the other guy until he stopped. Where I lived the only fight rule was no outside weapons, just fists, head butts, and kicks, and some guys would bite.

I think he finally understood. It’s funny, but I need to thank you for bringing me up in that world. I don’t have street fights anymore, but I am a fighter and I fight to win.

Your Son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

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