|AL SNOW & HEAD
A REAL-LIFE CALVIN & HOBBES
By Brian Ethier
The clackety clackety clack sound of footsteps sent a wave of fear through The Head. The seconds passed and the footfalls grew louder, quicker, as if the person wearing them was in a hurry to reach his destination. Clickety clickety click. The Head recognized the haunting sound of those steps. He's coming for Al The Head thought.
In the same moment that The Head arrived at this fateful conclusion, 11.5 year old Snow sat upright at his desk. It's not who I think it is, Snow thought, trying to change reality with a desperate wish. Clickety click...
The head felt Al SNows fear. It felt its connection with its best friend slipping away. The Head knew what would happen when the classroom door opened and that devil walked in. The Head listened in fear; it waited for the doorknob to slowly turn. The Head awaited it's own extinction.
Suddenly, the footsteps stopped. Now Snow felt as cold as all of february. he couldn't breathe. His vacillating eyes searched out the door.
Slowly, as long as it takes a hangman to flip the handle that sends the condemned man to his premature death, the door creaked open. First Snow recognized those shoes, then the black suite, white shirt, pencil thin tie...Snow's eyes panned upward: The man's hair was a bland oatmeal color, and it was sheared in a severe crew cut. "Allen, would you please come here?" Snow's teacher asked suddenly.
Hed saw Al creep to the fornt of the classroom. Then he was leaving with the visitor. The Head followed his buddy and the psychiatrist down the hall to THAT room. The Library, where Al had been taken on his last two visits. The Head followed them to table, away from an unknown group of kids wedged in books. It was safe to follow. This person refused to see or hear The Head. Refused to let Al believed The Head existed. Al SNow sat down and averted his eyes from the doctor's. "Now Al, we've had these talks before," said the psychiatrist. "The Head does not really exist, does it?" Al Snow remained silent.
"It's just a part of your imagination, an imaginary friend, correct?" The head felt its tenuous grasp on life slipping away. The room was growing dim now. Al was beginning to vanish like an apparition. "I know things have been hard for you, but you have to understand that The Head doesn't exist. I want you to forget about it." The last thing The Head saw was Al' In retrospect it seemed only natural that Al Snow would adopt an imaginary friend as an ally and source of comfort. Al had always been different. Something made him look inward for emotional support, way inside his imagination. He was born Allen Sarven, son of Ray and Varda Sarven; he was also born crippled, his feet turned inwards so badly that doctors had to break a number of leg bones to enable him to walk. Somewhere deep in his soul the child sensed he would always go through life with emotional casts. Not surprisingly he soon received a visit from a special friend: a guardian angel. Someone to tell him it was OK to be different, a loner.
"We've always been there since day one," begins the WWF Head. "There's always been more than one of us." Growing up, Vada and Ray's first son seemed anything but awkward, at least at home. OK, so he wasn't his brother Chris, who was outgoing, fun-loving and rich in friends, but he still played youth sports, just like everyone else, and he was an average to good student.
He was also a voracious reader who enjoyed science fiction and science fact books, as well as comic books. But Mom and Pop weren't ubiquitous like The Head. They didn't recognize a boy painfully shy of being noticed. Of being called different. Yet in Al's room, the world was filled with Superman, Spider-Man, King Arthur, James Bond, The Incredible Hulk…it was safe. Of course, Al always had a companion to accompany him on his fancied adventures. The Head was present to play childhood games, to help him imagine he was somewhere else.
Throughout grade school and junior high, schoolmates considered Snow too dorky, clumsy…too shy. He was the wimp you loved to pick on, even if you were a nerd. The Head was there to comfort Al. When Al tried to battle his fears and reach other, his advances were met with ridicule and rejection. One time, Al invited a few friends over to play. All seemed well until the kids vandalized some knick-knacks from the house. Another time, the family went to Grandma Zue's house late in the day for Easter.
Snow stepped outside to get some air, carrying his Easter Basket with him. He spotted a couple of boys outside. "Maybe I'll be nice and share my candy with them," thought Snow. He motioned for the kids to come over, and said "Want some?" Snow expected them to be courteous and take one piece each. One boy knocked him down and ran off with the whole basket! The Head witnessed the humiliation.
"This is a cruel world, a cold world," said The Head. "You can't open yourself up or you'll lose yourself." These were hard lessons for Snow. Withdraw from the spotlight or be ridiculed… Snow retreated from these people who stole candy and picked on someone for not being cool. In class, he sat as far back as he could, he didn't want the teacher to call on him lest someone make fun of him. It all just got too much when Mom and Dad just stopped getting along. The walls at home reverberated with shouts. His only sanctuary was no longer safe. And just when he needed his best friend more than ever, the school psychiatrists told him it was wrong. There was no Head. By the time Al reached seventh grade, Vada and Ray had divorced. Vada, Al and Chris moved from Lima to Dayton. There was a new town, a new school, new kids. There was also a stepfather called Conley and stepbrothers called Dave and Rod. Slowly, one painful step at a time, with the encouragement of his stepbrothers, Al Snow began to reach beyond his own shadow of self-consciousness. In Junior High, he even tried his hand at youth football, where he guarded the water can better than any bench-warmer in the league. At 12 he discovered a world in which no one scrutinized every move he made, in which no one depended on him to move a runner to third. Karate provided a forum in which Snow began to shine. A singular pursuit, the martial arts became a source of inspiration and a pseudo replacement for The Head. The momentum and modicum of self-assurance Snow garnered from this discipline was transient, however. Two years after following his mother to Dayton, he returned to Lima to live with his father. High school beckoned. The Head continued its existence in a dark netherworld. The great clowns of the world, like Milton Berle and Harpo Marx, all learned the secret of success long before they were famous: to win over an audience you have to make them laugh with you rather than at you. Al Snow never considered himself the reincarnation of Buster Keaton. Hardly that.
The guffaws elicited from his humiliation and unintentional pratfalls were scornful. But one day, they took a new sound. He was in music class, trying his best not to sing above everyone else when the spotlight was thrust upon him. Seated on a chair, Snow suddenly lost balance and flew into the air. He came down head first against a wall with a thud that garnered winced empathy. But as he lay on the floor, gasps turned to giggles and then into hearty laughs. There's something different, he thought. These were mirthful!
They're laughing with me!
The spotlight, it seemed, was distinctly warm and pleasurable. So Snow got back on his chair and fell off again. And again and again.
The clumsy one became a specialist in clumsiness. And slowly he began to win over his classmates and himself.
Al Snows metamorphosis was gradual. No, the girls didn't knock down his door for dates, and no he wasn't the most popular guy on the block. But he did strike up a friendship that would last for years. His buddy Victor was cut out of the same cracked mould as himself. He was a bit dorky, and didn't fit into a clique at school. Like Al, he read with an insatiable hunger. They became inseparable, and were at their best at the local roller-skating parlor. What a place to be too shy to say "Hi!" to even the dorkiest of girls. Oh well, no Saturday night date. At least they could still goof around together.
As it turned out, the two also held a passion for wrestling which was big in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Snow religiously followed The Sheik and a Midwest Wrestling show on TV. When the programme went off the air he lost interest. However, one night when he was 14, he turned on TBS and saw Georgia Championship Wrestling. Featured that night was Dusty Rhodes. When Snow saw the charismatic grappler reeling around, he was hooked on the sport for good! Pro wrestling had it all: spotlight, glamour, excitement, athletics, and performance. In the squared circle you could fall off 100 chairs and get cheered every time. This was the ideal place for a class clown, a rejected nimrod to become an accepted nimrod. At the age of 16, the one attention-shy-recluse made a pact to become a pro wrestler. Snow spent two years rifling through the yellow pages in search of a territory who might want someone who specialized in falling into walls. It was a long and often daunting search that finally yielded results in 1981, shortly before Snow graduated from high School.
On the night his school put on a charity wrestling show, Snow met Jim Lancaster a hulking journeyman if some repute…and h expressed some interest in Snow! Maybe he had a chance…
Shortly afterward, Snow met Gene Anderson of Jim Crockett promotions. "we're having a tryout camp in September," said Anderson. "Why don't you come down?" Snow sold his '68 Dodge Monaco, scraped together $500 he had made working in a restaurant and forayed into the world of pro wresting. It took a 24 hour ride from Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina. He had a companion with him, but it was not The Head, it was Victor. It took the two human slinkies to realize that TV wrestling and wrestling school were about as closely related as the rodeo and a roller derby. Anderson put the two through a military-style camp, complete with a 5-Mile run, 500 free squats, and 400 pushups. You did all 400 pushups too, even if by 218 all that raised off the floor was your lips. When their days concluded, Vic and Al were battered, swollen, bruised and many pounds lighter, but no closer to becoming pro wrestlers. But this was a different Al Snow. This Al Snow was determined to succeed. Determined to become a star. He placed another call to Jim Lancaster.
"I received calls from two other guys who want to be wrestlers," said Lancaster. "Why don't you, Victor and these other guys come back to Lima and we'll start our own school." Great idea, thought Snow.
The quintet found a small building called the Bradfield Community Centre. They used a cramped back room that had a few tumbling mats and a concrete floor. There, they learned to wrestle. Al Sarven began to yield to Al Snow.
It has been a Sarven-like journey for Snow, one that has seen more lowlights than highlights. For years, Snow toured the independent circuits playing the role of the star that worked with the local talent. In time, he became the best-kept secret in the business. He paid his dues as the guy that made everyone else look good, he wasted months as Avatar and Leif Cassidy. In 1995 he toured with SMW, ECW and the WWF. He starred in none of them. His fortunes began to change in 1997, when Al pulled a Styrofoam head from a New Britain, Connecticut dumpster. His guide through the dark years was about to share the spotlight. Today, Snow is, even by wrestling standards deranged…at least before the camera. Foley talks to a filthy sock, Snow to The Head. Neither seems worse for wear outside the ring. "Al is stable now," says The Head. "As a whole he has come to grips with everything. He demons, the insecurities. He doesn't consider himself crazy. His family worries about him sometimes, but they love him and take him for who he is." Who Al Snow truly is, is probably known only by The Head and his family. At 35, he still leads something of a dichotomous life: a small part of him seeks anomity, while the other seeks attention and cheers. He tells Head he is happy, and with wife Pam, four children (two from his wife's previous marriage) and two grandchildren, there's no lack of love and support in his life. Through his unique relationship with a unique character, Al Snow has been able to get his point across to the weenies of the world: you can fall off chairs, bump your head, turn to a Head for cheering up, be called a weenie, and it's all right. That's the legacy, the piece of immortality Al Sarven has always sought.
Remember, warns Snow, sanity takes its toll. So please have exact change.