"F.T. Walker - Pro Wrestler", is what he scribbled on the back of a cowboy boots store card on Broadway street in Nashville, Tennessee. I met him while strolling through rows of boots on a sunny fall day in the South. It was the fifth boots shop I had walked into that day, and the mountains of boots boxes and cowboy girl shirts seemed to all blend together at this point. I heard the usual "20% discount is at the back of the shop, let me know if you need any help", however this one sounded unusual. I expected to see a pretty southern girl with a sweet voice and warm blue yes, and instead it came from a buff cowboy with a long blond ponytail who seemed completely misplaced between the cowboy shirts ruffles.
He asked where my accent was from. The New Yorker in me mentally rolled her eyes thinking "Oh no, not another small talk, no one knows where Bulgaria is around here anyway". Instead I heard, "I know Bulgaria". FT was a third generation wrestler. His grandfather wrestled and taught his dad and then his dad taught him. His dad used to fight with Bulgarians in his studio, they called them "the bears" because they were strong and would get really angry if someone mistook them for Russians.
FT got his knee injured badly and had to give up wrestling professionally, so he ended up in the dusty store his mom managed for a few years now. He had white baby skin, clear blue eyes, big southern smile and spoke with a calm southern accent, saying at least 5 "thanks to God" in one sentence. He was 24 years old, his wife was 28 and they had a 4 year old daughter. His wife was a professional wrestler as well and we joked about what family fights are like at their household.
He gladly accepted to model for me, sitting in a chair in front of a wood wall full of signatures left by famous and infamous passersby. I could tell taking his picture gave him back a fraction of his sense of fame, which he probably could never re-live again. His colleagues yelled out some jokes, which gave him even a bit more satisfaction, as he felt noticed and acknowledged. I was happy I could make him feel special for a few minutes with some clicks of the camera, and in return I was grateful that he let me into his world of simple gratitude and easy being. He was the perfect melange of humble simplicity, sense of God given peace and love, sincerity and goodness. Regardless that he couldn't be the pro fighter he dreamed, regardless that he was working in a dusty little store trying to sell off-price shirts and boots, there was not a drop of bitterness or regret in his face. Maybe he was young, maybe he didn't know much more than the wrestling ring, but I envied this man. Somehow in the city where I live, where you have everything and more, where anything is available to you 24/7 at a press of a computer key, I don't remember seeing someone so OK with the status quo and not worrying about the prospects of the job, the injustice of his injury, the future of his family. Is it a matter of place, or mind, is it luck, belief in God or just small mindedness? Whatever it is, I sincerely envied it and wish I had some of it myself.