For decades, a staple of American public schools has been the Scholastic book fair, where booksellers take over the school’s library for a week so kids can bring home the newest edition of Animorphs, Goosebumps, or whatnot. And while he’s no RL Stine, author Todd Strasser seems to have made a decent living churning out short chapter books in the 90s with his “Help! I’m Trapped” series, which starred pre-teen every-boy Jake Sherman.
While titles like, Help! I’m Trapped in My Sister’s Body and Help! I’m Trapped in the Lunch Lady’s Body might suggest a frank exploration of gender dysphoria, the books are in fact sci-fi/fantasy stories about Jake’s misadventures with a body-switching machine.
Just like a sitcom, when a book series runs for long enough, it’s bound to include a pro wrestling plot, which brings us to today’s induction, Help! I’m Trapped in a Professional Wrestler’s Body. Give Todd Strasser a little credit, though; he wrote 14 entire books before resorting to a wrestling story, despite clearly running on fumes by book eight (Help! I’m Trapped in Obedience School Again!).
The book (the wrestling one, not the obedience school one, or the other obedience school one) opens with middle school friends Jake and Alex wrestling in their homemade backyard ring. Meanwhile, fellow wrestling nerd Andy provides play-by-play commentary. For such a superfan, though, Andy is rather confused about the names of the moves. Either that, or his two pre-teen pals have revolutionized the sport with such moves as the “slingshot suplex into a frog splash choke slam” and the “jackknife powerbomb into the death drop”.
Soon, their friend Josh stops by to make fun of them and their Stupid World Wrestling Association (his words):
“How can you fall for that junk when it’s so fake?”
“That’s not the point,” [Jake] said. “It’s entertainment.”
Jake then delivers a six-page-long diatribe on why sports-entertainers work in a tough business and deserve your respect for their athleticism, grit, and showmanship. I’m kidding, of course; the diatribe comes later in the book, under much dumber circumstances.
When the three wrestling fans learn that their favorite promotion Wrestle-Insanity is coming to town in just a few days, they’re sure glad they remembered, 15 books into the series, that they are huge wrestling fans.
Suddenly, Alex freaks out because he can’t go to the show – he has to attend some family shindig. Normally, this would lead to a zany plot of trying to sneak Alex into the show anyway, without his parents realizing it… but no. He really, 100% can’t go to the live event, thus concluding his appearance in this book.
Thanks to some connections, though, Jake and Andy snag four front-row tickets to the wrestling event. The boys even get backstage passes, which Jake thinks is cooler than the time he switched bodies with the President of the United States. Can you imagine if the leader of the free world had the mind of a stupid little middle school brat?
Speaking of middle school, when the boys discuss the upcoming wrestling card at lunch, school bully Brad Dunn teases them. Not for liking wrestling – in fact, he’s going to the same wrestling show, also with ringside seats – but for liking the wrong wrestlers. His personal favorite is Neutron Neuman, although when he quizzes the boys on that fact, they field such unserious guesses as Barfbrain Benedict and Fungusface Flanders.
Immature name-calling, by the way, is apparently a staple of the series; this edition featuring such pedomorphic invectives as “phlegm face”, “mucous face”, “jerkface”, and “jerk bomb”, the latter of which I had to double-check to make sure it was an insult and not the name of a wrestling move.
Amanda Gluck, the class pest, also plans to attend the Wrestle-Insanity show, also in the front row. It’s as if the only kid in the whole school who doesn’t like wrestling is the aforementioned Josh of Stupid World Wrestling Association fame. And even he wants one of the tickets so that, he claims, he can get autographs for his sister.
With Jake, Andy, and Josh each claiming a ticket, that leaves just one more ticket in the boys’ possession, which they’ll need to give to an adult chaperone.
As middle school students, none of the boys’ parents will let them go to a wrestling event unsupervised, but for some reason, the thought of actually inviting one of their parents is completely unacceptable. Instead, they ask their science teacher, Mr. Dirksen, who also invented the body-switching device that the boys have misused in so many of their adventures.
Mr. Dirksen is, to their surprise, a longtime wrestling fan, having watched back in the days of “Haystack [sic] Calhoun and Gorgeous George” right through to Hulk Hogan and André The Giant. He was even in attendance “when Man Mountain Monahan put the death crush on Seymour the Snake.”
I think “death crush” is what they used to call the frog splash choke slam, back in the day.
But Mr. Dirksen’s favorite wrestler of all was No Neck Nelson, father of current Wrestle-Insanity star No Nerve Nelson.
Now, even though their teacher is a world-class genius who has made possible more than a dozen of their wacky escapades, he’s still social poison, so the boys make him promise to stay far away from them at the wrestling show and pretend not to know them. This, of course, will be impossible, considering that they’ll be sitting right next to each other.
Makes you wonder why they couldn’t have just gone with someone’s mom or dad?
I guess it’s because Mr. Dirksen is irresponsible enough to violate their parents’ trust and let the three boys roam unsupervised; with their backstage passes, Jake and the gang are free to wander around the locker rooms, as Wrestle-Insanity is pretty blasé about kayfabe. The boys want to stalk big Neutron Neuman, but reconsider when faced with the prospect of watching him take a shit.
“What if he’s going to the bathroom?”
“You’re right,” Josh said. “He might not like it if we followed him.”
As bad as it would be for Neuman to get caught on the can, at least it wouldn’t expose the business, which is more than can be said about the “amateur wrestling clinic” the promotion holds for children. Contrary to its name, it has nothing to do with freestyle grappling, which would have been enough a bad idea to begin with. Instead, it’s essentially the first day of pro wrestling school, but for kids.
Normal wrestling promotions try not to open themselves up to litigation by having untrained minors perform dangerous, physically demanding stunts without a parent’s permission, a liability waiver, or a doctor’s exam – but that’s why they call it Wrestle-Insanity!
In the “clinic”, a wrestling trainer named Tony teaches kids how to perform the moves (incorrectly). Case in point: Tony stresses the importance of knowing how to fall, and that the best way to fall so you don’t get injured is to fall right on your butt.
“[W]hat you want to do is fall on your butt, because that’s where you’ve got the most padding.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen anyone take a butt bump except as a botch or a comedy spot, yet according to this book, wrestlers are taking pratfalls dozens of times a match.
(Actually, I can think of one wrestler who landed right on his butt in every match, and he ended up needing back surgery, brother)
Josh can’t stop saying fake this and fake that. Fed up with this constant use of the f-word, the sixty-something-year-old trainer launches into a tirade against the pre-teen, whom he repeatedly addresses “petunia” like a substitute teacher who will never get hired back. Tony the ring veteran delivers a six-page filibuster about how tough the wrestling business is even though it’s entertainment. This is no mean feat, considering that a typical chapter in this book lasts only two or three pages.
Unfortunately, all of Tony’s passion can’t mask the fact that the author probably based his monologue on Exposed: Wrestling’s Biggest Secrets – secrets such as The Stomp and The Sell.
The boys find Mr. Dirksen in the locker room, spying on Neutron Neuman in the bathroom stall. Kidding! He’s chatting with a wrinkled old white-haired man. It’s his old favorite, No Neck Nelson.
Though he’s old and feeble and relying on a metal walker to get around, he once teamed with Killer Kowalski.
Their opponents on that historic night? The Four Horsemen. That puts this apocryphal tag team match between the years 1985 and 1999, likely on the same card where Lou Thesz and Magnum TA beat D-X.
When Jake and Josh make it to their ringside seats, they notice that Andy is missing. Even stranger, in the opening match, Andy’s favorite wrestler, The Brainiac, cowers from his opponent Neutron Neuman. “The Human Bomb” tires of Brainiac’s stalling and decides to stretch him to entertain the crowd.
Realizing something is amiss, Jake and Josh run back to the dressing room where “Andy” is backstage watching the action on a backstage monitor.
But it’s not really their friend, but rather the real Brainiac, whom Andy has tricked into switching bodies using Mr. Dirksen’s body-switching device.
Helpless, The Brainiac watches like Enrico Pallazzo as an imposter embarrasses him in front of a massive audience.
The Brainiac, by the way, is the wrestler on the book’s cover, looking like a palette-swapped Hulk Hogan with a light bulb tattoo and “E = MC2” written across his butt (which is where, like all wrestlers, he takes all of his bumps).
With Andy in peril in the ring, Jake tries to enlist the one man brave enough to rescue his friend, trapped in a wrestler’s body: the guy named, “No Nerve”. Unsurprisingly, he declines, given that he’s smart to the business. So instead, Jake steals his body, as one does, and rushes out to the ring.
The announcer declares that the one-on-one match is now a triple threat, suggesting that Vince McMahon read this book on the morning of Wrestlemania 31.
But then Terry the Torturer shows up with a steel chair to even the odds in a tag team match,
player. Despite having big muscles and all, “Brainiac” and “No Nerve” are at a distinct disadvantage because they have the minds of little boys who are terrified to be in the ring. The audience is too stupid to realize that two of the men in the ring have had their bodies possessed by twelve-year-old boys using secret mind-transferral technology (duh). Instead, they boo the cowardly duo and and call them “every name you could imagine” (like “Fungusface Flanders”).
Now would be the time for the boys to remember their backyard wrestling skills from the first chapter of the book – you know, moonsaults into atomic death drops and all that.
Now would also be the time for the boys to put all the moves they learned from old Tony the trainer at the “amateur wrestling clinic”. There just has to be a reason for that lengthy narrative detour, after all.
Okay, so maybe now would be the time for their science teacher and chaperone Mr. Dirksen to show up and save them. And he does… sort of. See, Dirksen and old No Neck Nelson have switched bodies backstage.
So that means that the experienced wrestler now inhabits the body of a much younger man. And he’s the one who makes the save, right? No. Instead, it’s the kids’ science teacher, who has no wrestling experience whatsoever and who now inhabits the body of a barely-mobile senior citizen, who hobbles to the ring to kick some ass.
And somehow, this works. All it takes is some strategic use of a walker and a total disregard for breaking his brittle bones. “‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment,’” says Mr. Dirksen in his new, osteoporotic vessel. “‘And I’ll be darned if I let a couple of broken bones stop me. Especially when they’re not my bones anyway.’”
Yes, Mr. Dirksen’s lifelong dream has been to inhabit childhood idol’s ancient body, break his bones, and then switch back, leaving his favorite wrestler to live out his few remaining days in traction.
The boys and their teacher, all in borrowed bodies, clean house against Neutron and Terry but incur the wrath of school bully Brad Dunn, who insults the “wrestlers” from his ringside seat. Jake and Andy then pluck Brad out of the audience, haul him into the ring, and use their borrowed grown-man bodies to rough him up.
The announcer, having just witnessed two heavyweight wrestlers clothesline a child and high-five afterward, make a light-hearted quip about the unconscious boy seeing stars.
The boys exit the ring, where Terry the Torturer swings a chair at the two imposter wrestlers. He misses, giving his tag team partner an unprotected chair shot to the head and sending him crashing into the middle school pest Amanda Gluck in the front row.
The bodysnatchers win the match and head back to the locker room, where their original bodies wait impatiently. But before everybody can get back to normal, Josh the naysayer wants to be a wrestler, if only for a few minutes.
Josh switches into Brainiac’s body just in time to get savagely beaten by an angry Terry the Torturer and Neutron Neuman, who storm the locker room and throw him out a second-story window into a dumpster. At least he, Jake, Andy, and Mr. Dirksen all got back to their old bodies before they have to testify in the inevitable lawsuits. You know, the lawsuits from the children they injured at the wrestling show?
Amanda Gluck shows up to school the next day with a bump on her head and no memory of the previous night’s mayhem, suggesting a concussion. Brad Dunn, the school bully, shows up with a black eye and busted lip after getting clotheslined by No Nerve Nelson. Embarrassed by the child abuse, he swears the other boys to secrecy.
In the end, Brad promises that he won’t pick on anyone at school again – and all it took was getting beaten up by a couple of large adult wrestlers!
I guess WWE has really been going about this whole anti-bullying thing the wrong way.