“If Bullets Come Flying Through the Window, Duck.”
Days and nights with a notorious professional wrestler turned bounty hunter.
The recent VICE-TV special on my old friend, “Dr. D” David Schultz, brought back memories.
Yeah, those kind of memories.
Though he was a top professional wrestler for many years, calling him or his business “fake” was … problematic.
As well it should have been.
The reality is these guys are all legitimate athletes who travel from town to town on a daily basis, take immensely painful bumps in the ring, then repeat their efforts the next night. There is no off-season. Further, there is no union, they are independent contractors, and the performers are often responsible for their own transportation and healthcare.
Kayfabe — the carny act of keeping the industry’s secrets — is long dead. Pro wrestling is theater to the nth degree and that hasn’t been a secret for over 30 years. Eddie Mansfield exposed the business on 20/20, and Vince McMahon pounded the final nail in the coffin so he in part wouldn’t have to pay state athletic commission taxes.
But the pain is real. The drugs are real.
The deaths are real.
List of premature professional wrestling deaths
According to a 2014 study by Eastern Michigan University examining professional wrestlers who were active between 1985…
You say it’s fake? It’s staged. It’s pre-determined. There’s a difference.
Could you do it?
I will share with you how David and I met, and how for nearly a year I became an unwitting Robin to a take-no-prisoners Batman.
I was a columnist for a series of professional wrestling magazines during the mid-80s, a period where newsstand sports entertainment periodicals were at their peak, as was the wrestling business itself. Hulk Hogan had come into his own, and then-World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) owner Vince McMahon became a household name. I was a fan of pro wrestling since I was a child, but I had no intention whatsoever in getting involved beyond watching the weekly shows on television.
I majored in Special Education in college and found work immediately. Male special education teachers, back then, were a rarity in Brooklyn. Still, during my first real full-time position my salary was $12,500 a year. This was in 1986 but nonetheless, you wouldn’t have been able to pay your bills at that pay rate either.
I sent a submission to a wrestling magazine. I was feeling my oats as a writer anyway, having written some short stories that I believed were pretty good. I figured I had nothing to lose. The submission to my surprise was accepted, and my very first print sale not only returned a check to me in the amount of $250, but a request to see more.
I sold two subsequent articles to this company the following month for the same $250 each, and then other wrestling magazines from other companies asked me to contribute to them.
I was not planning on making this a full-time endeavor, but I have to admit the money was tempting. Still, I kept this up as a part-time avocation, and also stayed silent.
I didn’t want anyone to know I was working on the side.
Context: On December 28, 1984, David Schultz slapped 20/20 television reporter John Stossel when told, “I think it’s fake.” He then slapped him again.
The incident was highly-publicized, a lawsuit was filed, Stossel won … then openly claimed on the Vice program that his ears only hurt until he received his money.
David was fired by the WWF shortly thereafter, allegedly based on a further incident with The A-Team’s Mr. T., then the focus of Vince’s upcoming initial Wrestlemania promotion.
I could write the history of these misadventures, but you may want to check out David’s autobiography for the rest, as written with John Cosper:
With few options, David took some independent and Japanese bookings, and then was asked if he would consider bounty hunting, tracking down criminals who skipped bail.
Though he had no experience in the matter, David quickly became one of the more recognized bounty hunters in the U.S., and in short order had also been hired for several international hunts.
Meantime, I was still teaching, and still writing for pro wrestling magazines. I approached the head editor of Wrestling’s Main Event, and asked if he’d be interested in an exclusive interview with perhaps the most notorious pro wrestler of the 20th century.
“You’re out of your mind,” he said. “Even if he agrees, he’ll kick your ass if you say something wrong to him.”
“I’m willing to do it,” I said. “I know where he works out.”
“In a gym in Connecticut.”
“You know the gym?”
The editor paused, and this I’ll never forget: “If he kicks your teeth down your throat, we’re not paying for it.”
I left, called the gym, and got David on the phone straight away. I told him what I wanted to do and assuming the positive asked when he’d be available.
“Be there Saturday at 10. Bring sweats.”
Damn. I’m going to have to get in the ring with him.
“See you then.” I hung up.
I gassed up the car, and picked up my new editor — not the same individual who I pitched — along with a photographer I knew from my Brooklyn neighborhood.
We reached the gym. David was gracious, warm, and completely unlike what I expected.
And then I got in the ring, first with some of his wrestling friends. My photographer was snapping away; my new editor seemed to be impressed. I was a JV high school wrestler. I thought I could hold my own.
Then David entered. “Let’s go to school!”
I was bent into shapes I never knew were shapes.
I remember being unable to budge his arms; if I compared myself to a rag doll that would be an apt descriptor.
I went outside and threw up.
“You done already?” I heard from the inside. David was standing near the doorway.
I went back in for some more.
I think that impressed him.
After a 12-hour sleep, I woke and could barely move a muscle. My phone rang. It was the photographer.
“I had the lens cap on when I was taking the shots,” he said. “I’m sorry. We need to do it again.”
I was too tired to call him every name in the book, and too far gone in my anger to ask what the hell he thought he was shooting.
I nervously called David and explained the situation.
“You ready to do this again?” he asked, incredulously.
“I don’t think I have a choice.”
Come on back, then. Same rules.”
I’m still biding my revenge on the photographer.
I arrived back in Connecticut, sweats in tow. This time I was a little better prepared — I was only nauseous; I didn’t puke — but I got through. We all made sure the lens cap was off this time.
Two months later … with assorted spellings to his name and a lead photo (middle, top row) that misidentified another wrestler as me, the first part of the interview appeared in print.
And two months after that, complete with the painful lead-in image on the left …
We became friends.
I earned his respect.
Once David settled in as a bounty hunter, he asked me to ride along with him. I became his very anxious companion.
His most succinct advice to me, when driving through a particularly intimidating high-crime area late one day: “If bullets come flying through the window, duck.”
David knew exactly what he was doing. He enjoyed trying to scare me at times, though I was frequently too unnerved to pay attention.
One night, I had to spend hours alone in a car, with a TV monitor on my dash, under Coney Island train tracks. I had to contact David once the people we expected showed up.
I called David hours later. He arrived; I rushed home. I had just spent several hours until the middle of the night in a lousy area in Coney Island. Alone. In a car.
I earned my damn rest.
David and I tried launching a show together about his bounty hunting experiences. We were working with Dick Clark Productions for awhile, but ultimately the show was not produced. Still, I booked David on a couple of cult-favorite New York talk shows: “The Joe Franklin Show,” where we appeared together (below, right), and “The Morton Downey, Jr. Show” — several times — where he became one of Mort’s favorite shit-stirrers.
And time went on …
We hadn’t seen each other in 25 years; geography and life events took us in separate directions. We stayed in phone touch for a bit, and finally reunited last year at the annual Cauliflower Alley Club Reunion, an organization that honors and helps pro wrestlers.
All these years later, and once again we’re working together on a project. Just like the old days.
And my wife loves the guy!
We’ll see where our professional endeavors take us this time.
Regardless, the experiences were well worthwhile, and provide memories to this day that make me laugh. We had some fun.
Thank you, as ever, for reading.
If you would like new stories and exclusive content sent directly to your inbox, please enter your email address to subscribe to my free newsletter of the same name. CLICK below.
Writing For Your Life
Honest, practical advice on the writer's life for both aspiring and experienced authors and screenwriters.
For professional queries such as writing, speaking and consulting, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.