When taking stock of my life, I draw inspiration from the great characters of fiction that have enriched my soul and broadened my horizons over the years.

When taking stock of my life, I draw inspiration from the great characters of fiction that have enriched my soul and broadened my horizons over the years.

Tom Joad. Holden Caulfield. Jay Gatsby. Ishmael. Dorian Gray. Madame Bovary. Billy Pilgrim.

These conjurations from literature's greatest minds are touchstones that ground us in our shared humanity and keep us from losing hope in an increasingly mechanized and impersonal world.

However.

There is another cast of fictional denizens that populated my youth that probably has more of a role in shaping the man I have become than anything from the pages of Shakespeare or Faulker.

Bret "the Hitman" Hart. Sgt. Slaughter. Andre the Giant. Hulk Hogan. Ravishing Rick Rude. Junkyard Dog. The Undertaker. British Bulldog. The Road Warriors: Hawk and Animal. Bam Bam Bigelow. The Big Boss Man. Mankind, aka Cactus Jack, aka Dude Love.

Randy "Macho Man" Savage.

Of those listed above, half are dead, one is partially disabled from a severe stroke suffered in his prime and another, probably the most popular wrestler ever, has bottomed out on the reality show circuit while his 20-year-old son was recently released from jail.

Mick Foley, who wrestled as Mankind, etc., etc., seems to be doing well as a novelist. A good one, from what I hear.

I make no apologies for lingering love and admiration for professional wrestling.

I blame my mother.

Where most young boys were introduced to the tights-and-ropes opera by their pops on Saturday mornings, it was my mother who opened my eyes to this bizarre vaudevillian world of pro wrestling.

I think she enjoyed it as a tomboy girl, growing up in a house of brawny boys. From what I hear, the Bright boys showed no mercy on their sisters when it came to fistfighting. You took your lumps, learned a few moves yourself and made sure to give back as well as you got the next time, my mother said.

My brother and I were typical boys. Our hobbies included throwing rocks at junk cars, hitting things with sticks and, of course, beating the hell out of each other over not much of anything.

Our mother probably thought we could relate to wrestling, so she always put on the World Wrestling Federation on Saturday afternoons.

I remember putting to memory the amazingly convoluted storylines progressing from week to week. Most of it had to do with some muscled freak insinuating that another muscled buffoon wasn't tough.

Romantic plots were rare, but among the most heated conflicts.

I'll never forget how Hulk Hogan was diminished in my eyes forever when he horned in on Macho Man's woman, the ball-gowned and utterly vacant Miss Elizabeth.

The gender politics involved most likely ruined my world view of relationships forever. The basic message of the Hogan/Macho Man brouhaha was: Women = worthless, weak.

When Macho Man finally confronted Hogan in the ring, Miss Elizabeth tried to jump between them, tears spilling from her eyes.

"She looks helpless!" cried legendary announcer Gorilla Monsoon.

"She's a woman, Gorilla, of course she's helpless," replied Jesse "The Body" Ventura.

I ate this stuff up like Captain Crunch.

For the record, I've never been married, rarely date and soon will move to a small studio apartment in Ashland. A correlation? Maybe.

In between the drama were some outstanding feats of athleticism and a level of grand showmanship that continues to this day.

To prepare for this column, I tracked down a number of recent matches on the Internet and found them to be just as impressive as those of yesteryear. We have a tendency to rewrite details of the past to suit a B.S. argument that things were better "back then." It's rarely true. Pro wrestling endures. I hope it always will.

I drifted away from it, as most do as they age. But I did take a few minutes last week to rewatch some of the late Randy "Macho Man" Savage's matches.

I was genuinely saddened by this guy's death on May 20. I hadn't thought about him in years, but I remember always being on his side when I was a kid.

Macho Man was never a purely good guy, nor a villainous heel. You got the sense that he embraced the freak-show aspects of pro wrestling because of his unconfined charisma.

But he always showed up for a match and worked hard on the technical details inside the ring. He sacrificed his body to entertain and made no apologies.

Is that any less real than football?

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.