February 16, 2020
“DIIINLGNG,” was the welcome in from the chilly Chicago night air. From that bleak perma-twilight, for no metropolis was ever truly dark, we three made our way; Grady first, Ted second, and me leading from the rear.
“Just take and seats yourself, sweethearts. I’ll be with ya in a moment,” we didn’t go unnoticed. I didn’t really get a chance to see who said it, and by the time I could scan the service counter, the door to the kitchen still swung.
Snagging the first clean-ish table they could find, Grady and Ted slide into a booth. Me, I take the time to soak in the place a little, pay it its proper homage.
After all, this was a Denny’s, still open to the lost souls of the world crawling around in the ungodly hours. The fluorescent overheads giving light to coffee stained countertops, deli-style stools and the beige vinyl booths running along its windows. Every cop/crime movie worth a lick had a scene set in a place like this. You could smell the history of the place.
And the kitchen, you could smell the kitchen. Porks and beef and chicken and biscuits and gravy all danced through the air to your nose, and made it so you couldn’t even smell the puke on the guy slumped over at the counter.
This was the place where something consequential could happen.
Instead, we three jackasses tapped the table, and our cells, waiting for the blessed matron to come with menus.
“I can’t believe I actually let myself think Murray was retired,” I cursed myself, looking at the dirt sheets’ rundown of HOTv’s 400th.
Grady’s pulled off the bowler cap and places it on the table to rub his face awake. Mumbled between his fingers, “That’s what surprised you?”
I look across the table to Ted, but the smile on his face tells me he’s looking porn, and I’m just happy he doesn’t have the sound on. Shifting to my side, to Grady, “I mean, yeah. Can any of us actually just walk away? Or all we all such egomaniacs we can’t be happy unless we’re half-naked out in front of ten thousand people, getting eyeballs?” If that guy, Mr. Hall of Famer everywhere he went, couldn’t escape it, what chance would I ever really have?
“Is this really about some existential crisis, or are you just pissed you and Ted reach the top of the rankings in a place, and you have your thunder stolen away from you in four glorious minutes of chaos?” I think I saw the table rise from the chubby Grady was getting just thinking about the marketability of Murray, Perfection and the Hollywood Bruvs.
It shuts me up and just sours my mood.
“What are you pouting for? You haven’t even mentioned the fact that you beat the top ranked wrestler, the biggest hurdle they’ve tossed in your way to date,” Grady wasn’t the best at drawing a smile from me.
“It wasn’t his A-game.”
“The fuck it wasn’t,” he pressed. He was right there, ringside. I’m sure he thought he could tell, but he wasn’t between those ropes with the guy.
“It wasn’t. And I needed you to pull my ass out of the fire a few too many times at that,” I give Solex the due he deserves, but probably isn’t within a twelve block radius to hear.
“You know, I’m glad he’s back, Murray,” Ted’s finished his ‘film-study’ and rejoins the conversation back at the beginning. “I’ve been waiting a decade to finally stand across the ring with that guy.”
“I didn’t think you held grudges, Ted,” I said knowing he’d just rather forget your name than spend an ounce of energy on the people he didn’t like.
“It’s not a grudge, just something I didn’t think I’d get the chance to do, you know?”
And I hum in agreement, thinking that we’d never would have even gotten the opportunity to be working again for a large promotion, let alone in a locker room with the people that were already legends before we even took our first bumps.
“And how are we tonight?” she sidled up from behind, this motherly, late thirties brunette and beamed this impossible smile for anyone to smile at 3 in the morning while wearing a uniform. Unfurling her arms, she placed before us the laminated menus.
“Ready to sleep for a day straight when I get back to Toronto,” Grady couldn’t keep from rubbing at his eyes.
She takes it in good humour and asks, “So, ya’ll are from Canada, then?”
We each nod.
“Always nice to see our neighbours to the north. Gave us hockey, and are so gracious to not even win Lord Stanley since 94,” this girl had spunk. I don’t know if she’s asking for me to explain just how the Calgary Flames were screwed in the 04 finals, but I let that dog lie. “Were you boys going to need a moment to look thoses over, or?” she didn’t need to finish the question.
“Coffee. Black,” Grady begged.
Ted surprises me when it doesn’t take him minutes to decide, “Sante Fe Skillet, plate of pancakes and iced-coffee for myself, pour-fa-vour,” Ted delivers half forgotten and all together comical French.
“And for you, hun?”
“Chicken and waffles,” sounded like the best pre-hangover defence ever.
But she gives me this look, knowing that I’m ordering off the menu.
“And,” hating coffee, “a glass of apple juice, please.” I do my best to wink, but it’s late and hard to tell if I blinked entirely.
As she gathered up our menus, I wondered just what I’d be getting, and how much spit would be on it.
“One more, boys,” Grady drags a grin forward. “Just one more and you’ve got your brackets wrapped up.”
My OCD is in overdrive, and it’s all I can do to point out that mathematically, considering all possible tiebreakers, Ted’s already won his. “And, Ted gets Crash Test Dumbass.”
Palmer shows concern thinking about the fight, and these surprises are getting old tonight.
“You’re actually worried about that guy? He hasn’t won a match.”
“But that’s just the thing. See, Kostoff finished him in 2:13. Deacon did it in under 4.”
“And?” Grady assumed Ted had a point, always a gamble.
“Well, I’ve got to do it faster than those fucks to look respectable, you know?” and as sure as God has sandals, Ted was twiddling his thumbs, this meant something to him.
“So just cave his face in with your knee at the bell, or before it,” Grady offered his half-baked gameplan. “I’m sure Red would be happy to trade you opponents.”
Oh God, would I. I hadn’t let myself think this far, but slowly it was crystalizing at the front of my brain: What stood between me and a round of friendly competition with Ted was a 6’9”, 427 pound peddler of Tree Blood.
“Lumberjack Dick?” Ted pointed out maybe the only stereotype bigger than me slapping on a Sharpshooter.
“For he’s a lumberjack, and he’s okay,” whimsy strikes in my tired state, as I start the chorus.
“He sleeps all night, and he works all day,” Grady caught my insanity.
“He likes to press wild flowers. He puts on women’s clothing and hangs around in bars!” Ted skips to the second verse, and says it all enthused, such that it draws eyeballs from the conscious patrons of the establishment.
At that moment, our kindly waitress deftly trapsed to our table, arms loaded with trays of steaming food. We greet her with sheepish smiles. Well, Ted’s was honest.
“The Santa Fe Sizzler for you, and your stack of pancakes,” she places before Ted. “Iced-coffee and coffee,” to Ted and Grady, respectively. “And,” the suspense was killing me, “the chicken and waffles,” she coughs out like a furball. But to her credit, she slides before me four chicken strips and two waffles. Who knew these folks were hiding a waffle press back there? She slides off the last of the second tray – my apple juice, a small thing of fresh cream, and tiny cups of syrup for Ted’s and my sweetbread.
“Hope you enjoy,” she departs.
“What are you doing, Red?” Grady was mid-pour of hip flask into the coffee, and I was busy inspecting my plate.
“They usually spit under the thing, so you don’t see it at first,” I get eyerolls.
Ted grabs a fork and starts shovelling. Grady tried to sneak a prime pick of the skillet, but Ted swats away the freeloader. Myself, I ponder the amber liquid ahead of me. Robust with hints of smoke amongst the sweetness, it’s taking on too much of Dickulous. I want to deny it, yet the viscous sugar would be a tough take. My mouth is watering, but it’s vile and spiteful.
I bring my phone back out and send a message, then change my flight out: destination no longer YYZ, but YUL.
“Well, looks like my flight just got moved to 5 am,” and they know something is up. “Could I please get some hot sauce?” I ask as the waitress makes one more pass.
Montreal, city of cities. Culture, history, religion, vice and comedy all met on its streets. I’d travel here a few times on train with Lee when, well, when he was still alive. It’s bittersweet to remember those days now. But, I wasn’t coming for nostalgia.
Nikolas “Sock” Suchocki.
Never had I met a man so destructive, but determined. He never had book smarts, but smarts enough where it counts. He could have been respected, athletic as he was. He could have made an honest name in USports, but became infamous instead; Caught with HGH in his locker, in his veins. They think he did it for a performance enhancer, but I think he was just dying for those two inches to stand six feet. Could have won Olympic gold, but no one will touch you when you have his history.
He was dabbling with fentanyl a decade before it became the macabre fashion of today. His skin inked with a demon on his belly, and a few crucifixes on his shoulders, and one atop of his head. I can’t remember what all else was etched below the living layers, but he’d spent a tidy fortune, sure.
Sock reminded me of Ted in just the way they could sniff out the worst decision to make, but he never had the charm Ted did to walk away from it. He was Ted’s friend, not mine. But, I wasn’t here looking for a friend.
February 16, 2020
Glass Jaw Boxing Academy
Just east of downtown, the former warehouse’s industrial exterior fit the bill. I’m in the front door, and the place has cleaned up better than it needed to. Lights hung from the 20 foot ceilings and the only cold looking place to find was looking up. As far as I could see, the ground had grey carpet down, but the reception desk right before me.
“Hello, can I help you?” I guess me looking about the place was the clue this college aged blonde needed. She was the image of what each woman walking into the place hoped they could be, and the girl the guys, and some gals, hoped they could get.
But to me, she was information, “Looking for Sock. He knew I was coming.”
She looks nervous, but, I guess if you work for a former collector for the Russian Mob, my phrasing could have been less blunt. Lucky for her, he was close enough to hear his name bellowed for.
“Red?” he asks like I didn’t text him at 3:30 in the morning to tell him I was on my way.
“You know him?” she wants to take her finger off the trigger of that glock she had under the desk.
“This asshole?” Yeah, this was the right guy. “Who else would you figure would walk in here looking like one of them Troll figures from back in the day?” the bald man mocks my undercut.
“Nice to see you, too, Sock.”
“So, you’ve finally come to best?” he wasn’t humble by any measure.
“First time I came to anyone, really.” It was true. I didn’t need to pay someone to push me, teach me to get ready for a fight, usually. But Dickulous wasn’t usual. Hell, HOW wasn’t usual. I was slipping in there, and all it’d take was someone on their game to make me an afterthought.
“So, you’re saying I’m your first?” he says all jokingly.
“Fuck off,” he only laughed at.
“Well, let’s get started then, shall we?”
Sock takes me around to the equipment, and I see the street art mural of George St. Pierre, Lennox Louis and George Chuvalo behind the row of bikes, treadmills and ellipticals I sling my coat and bag to the back wall and hop on a bike.
“So, how’s my boy Ted doing? Last time I had him in town, I don’t know, he looked a little too focused, you know?” he leans on the handles.
Upright and hands on thighs as I cycle, “I think it’s the same drive that’s got me here. This place, HOW, well, you know. It’s just the pressure we’re putting on ourselves knowing we’re at-bat with two strikes, two outs and down three runs.”
“It’s working, though. We’re in a good place. It’s just about staying there now.”
“Nick?” the housewife in spandex and leg warmers sashays Sock’s way. “You were going to come back, and finish, right?”
Sock slaps his forehead, putting on a show for the paying clientele. I keep my chuckle low enough that she doesn’t know I know her code. “Just keep at that twenty minutes, and I’ll find you again, Red.”
They walked, somewhere, I didn’t really know beyond left and out of my vision. Noting a severe lack of music I pop in the airbuds, click on Spotify and get mad thinking about the mountain I had before me. I get lost for time, and just just want to feel my thighs burning.
I don’t hear when Sock’s calling my name, until he’s tapping me on the shoulders. “Red, that was thirty minutes. Don’t think I’m just going to let you call it quits after warm ups. Come on, lifting is next. What even are you listening to?” he takes the speaker I had in my right hand. “Would I Lie To You!?”
I take the thing back, but won’t let anyone besmudge the good name of, “Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em,” and it’s soundtrack. I wipe my face, and the seat, then head to the racks.
Sock does this thing where he turns his head and sizes me up. I don’t know where it’s going, but soon enough he’s handing me the 25 pound dumbbells. “Five set of eight.”
I smirk, and walk them back. I return with 40s and start the routine.
“So, this Dickless guy,” I don’t know if he did that on purpose, “what’s the deal with him?”
“He’s a,” exhale, “Goddamned shaved grizzly is what,” inhale, “his deal is.”
Sock just glazes over, thinking through the logistics of wrestling a real life bear. I don’t laugh, because this place, I’m slowly learning, might just be crazy enough to do that for the ratings pop.
“Super heavyweight that dances like a ballerina,” I worry that I am giving weirder mental images. “Wouldn’t be able to suplex him if I tried. Need a gameplan to work.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve had to deal with the type before. I’ll get you ready, if it kills you.”
And the rest of the routine goes just to the point before exhaustion. I’ve discarded the hoodie. That was the warm ups done with.
Then it was sparring with Darrin, another trainer. It’s good to work on my boxing, knowing that this is going to be a spacing game; just hit and move. I don’t go untagged, but I stay on my feet for all twelve rounds. By this time a river ran down from my forehead and dripped off my nose.
“Take five, and grab a water,” Sock tells me, peeling off the headgear and gloves. “Crossfit next.”
This would have been the point where, if I had my way, I’d be done, showering and thinking about a nap. Instead, it was a time course with box jumps, medicine ball throws, captain’s hanging, and burpees. It was Sock, Darrin, another trainer Lisa, all relatively fresh, as competition for me. We got through all four trials.
My legs felt like jello and I could feel my ears burning.
Darrin patted my back for the effort shown.
Lisa rubbed my shoulders.
Sock took one look at me, “Get the bucket.”
And now that’d I’d given up my breakfast, it was lunch break.
Funny enough, I couldn’t put anything down before the second shift was starting. This, a little different pace, as Sock’s Sunday class had shown up. Their warm-up is decidedly less intense than mine. Fifteen minutes of stretches and cardio later, they gather in front of the boxing ring, Sock’s in the center.
“We got something special for you guys today,” and I get nervous. “We have ourselves a professional wrestler today,” and they actually give a golf clap to the idea, though he hadn’t single me out. Until, “Red, get up in here.”
Not quite at rigamortis, I shuffle my up outta the cross-legged seat and through the ropes. From three feet up, I can see the class a little better. Half of them seemed to be the housewives that Sock gave his special attention, but the other half were guys between their late teens and late twenties, fit and hungry.
“Instead of sparring in the traditional rules, I figure, since this is about your general abilities as a fighter, we’ll take volunteers to come in here and try to pin this guy to the mat for three seconds. Do I see any hands?”
And a smattering through the crowd of twenty-five go up.
“You, come on up here, Katie,” the middleweight, late twenties, raven-haired woman was all smiles to be picked. She walks up like I’m Bob Barker about to ask her about overpriced household appliances.
I guess this is happening, so I stretch the ropes some.
“Okay, just remember, no biting, no gauging and nothing below the belt. Now, are you ready Katie?”
Tying her hair into a ponytail, “Mhmmm.”
The cheering section routed on their girl as she stepped to me in the center of the ring. I should have known nothing was free. She rears back and throws a weak haymaker.
“Now, if I find out that you ever hit me,” I rile her up.
The higher pitched roars grow, and now this Katie opts for the single leg. I stand my ground, until I’m hoping. She might even score a takedown, but bored and getting too tired for all of this, I turn my weight and sweep her legs, sending her face first to the mat. ‘Don’t tuck your chin,’ I know but can’t say fast enough.
Well, this starts her with the water works and every woman in the building hissing and cursing my name. I only look to Sock and ask him how any of this is helping me.
The next two fights, none of the girls raised their hands. Instead, it was the young hotshot in first. He’d last five minutes with his spark and my exhaustion before a rollup did away with him. The second guy was a little older, and I was a little tired, and I got two counted twice. Inside Cradle was only able to hold him for the three.
I get halfway up, and it’s now I hit the second wall. Lactic acid built in my muscles, it seemed like every last one. Sock helps me up and congratulates me.
Then knocks me out with one headbutt.
“He’ll sleep well,” I hear, or dream, in fleeting moments of consciousness.
I wake up with a jump, out of a dream. No, nightmare. I was caught under a redwood, and no one around to hear, or care. I don’t know where I am, at first, but I was used to that feeling. I can’t see anything, but I start to taste my own breath. Maybe if Bergman wasn’t using the mask anymore, I’d make a good Halitosis II. I cough out something that tastes like dried blood. I feel some heavy piece of clothing slide off my chest sitting up. I’d seen Daredevil enough times to know what to do in situations like this. And while my head was pounding, I didn’t see the world around me in flames.
“Fuck!” I stub a shin on a leg of something thumbling for a light switch. A little further, a little slower, and I find paydirt. “Okay, I’m.. Where am I?” It was an office, with a couch I guess was my bed for the – wait, how long was I out for?
Figure that out later, there’s a note on the desk folded to stand up.
“Red, sorry about the headache when you wake up. You came to me looking to get ready for a fight, and I said I’d do just that. No use thinking yourself as King Shit. Much better to find that out here than out there in the ring. I’ll be in early in the morning to check on you.
“Sock,” the chicken scratch read.
“Could have just,” I stop arguing with no one. He was right. Didn’t need to be so direct about the method, but it’s the better thing to get caught napping here than out there where it counts. The time away from the ring had dulled my senses. What the people saw was just instinct to this point.
Speaking of time…
February 17, 2020
Had I really slept 16 hours straight? Was that why I felt like such shit?
“So, he is up?” I don’t know how I didn’t hear the tank that was Sock climbing the stairs to his office. He stands in the doorway, a different sweatsuit from yesterday, tray of coffees in one hand, and bag in another. “Didn’t know how you take yours, so I just assumed double-double.” Then, peeling open the bag that had teeth marks from where he’d carried it in his mouth, “doughnut?”
I wince at the smell of the stuff, “I’d settle for a bottle of water and some Advil.”
He shrugs and sets it all down on his desk. “Bar fridge right over there for the water, and cabinet just above that for the Advil.”
I toss back the capsuled relief, and down the water in three gulps and one breath.
“So, while you were sleeping off that little kiss, I was busy thinking.”
Not even up for four minutes, and still fifteen minutes before the Advil kicks in, yeah, I was not ready to have to deal with Sock thinking. “You come up with anything good? I don’t think toppling housewives will work.”
“Okay, I should have guessed you didn’t know how to take it easy, that one was on me. But no, you said this guy was like a shaved bear, right?” his smile meant trouble.
“You haven’t,” I let that linger.
“Not for trying. I toss out one tweet looking for a trained bear to spar with, and your name just to make it look legit. Well, then all the phone calls come in. First from Grady. Then from PETA local 69fuckoff. Then this HOW legal team,” he counted off on his fingers to build empathy for his plight. “Suffice to say, no bears.”
“So then I pivot to camels.”
“You have one of those kick you in the chest, then you try telling me that ain’t the closest thing to what you’re getting Saturday. But, no. Only camel guy in town and I have history, and the zoo won’t let people in the enclosures,” I just marvel at the thought process he painted.
Inch by inch, I’m more awake, “So, we’ve got no bears and no camels. What’d you figure on next?”
“That starts with a jog along the river. And if you don’t want your doughn–” he can’t finish the sentence before I have French Cruller crumbs falling down and off my chin. “You can finish that on the way, let’s go.”
The morning is ten degrees colder than brisk, and the St. Lawrence is choppy. Day old snow hung in the naked branches. It was all something out of a poem. We get 2KM in, and he stops me.
“Back now?” my air clouds and floats skyward.
That smile again, and I know I’m in trouble.With a nod, he asks me to follow down to the docks there. There’s only a couple of slips, and a couple of small boats tied to them.
What I assume is the captain of one sticks his head out, “Nikolas, was it?”
Sock hops aboard and shakes the salty dog’s hand. This pale comparison to Blackbeard gives me a hand up, but I don’t see a buffet onboard, so I know this thing ain’t seaworthy.
“So what’s the plan, Sock? We go across to the American side and I practice dodging bullets?”
But the engine cuts dead, and Sock grins. “Not quite. If I couldn’t get anything that’d actually kick you in the chest, I settled for the thing that would feel closest to it.”
I suddenly feel that bottle of water has reached the end of the line. “You mean?”
“Yup, just a quick dive in, then swim your way back to the boat. And, you don’t need to worry, Ralphy’s former search and rescue. You faint like a damsel again, he’ll fish you out,” he made it all seem so easy.
“You jumping in with?”
“I ain’t the one that needs to fight some 430 pounder. Just, you might want to strip.”
I stare a hole between his eyes. “What?”
“You know,” he shivers fully dressed, “so you have something dry to change back in to.”
Fine, either this kills me and I don’t have to worry about anything else ever again, or this makes me stronger. Dropping out of my clothes like a drunk chick at prom, the captain finally yells out, “Maybe keep on the boxers.”
Sock’s holding back a laugh and asks, “Not bad, right?”
“You know, the air ain’t bad, it’s when I hit the water that I’m going to–”
Before I have the chance to better reason, or back out, Sock’s helped me overboard and forcefully enough that I clear the sides.
The water is freezing, and I shut my airways. The current is strong and I struggle to find up. On the positive side, I no longer had to pee. By the time I pop my head above the waves, the boat was fifty yards away.
“Come on, Red, swim!” carries over the mist.
Every nerve ending on my skin aflame, I start back. Warmth was just over there. Firm land was just over there. It isn’t easy, and salmon put me to shame, but I struggle for seven minutes making it back. They toss down the lifesaver, and I’m knocked back a few yards missing it the first time.
As soon as I had a grip, Sock and the captain pulled me back.
A big warm towel gets wrapped around my shoulders, and Sock tells me, “That was a little more dicey than I expected it, to be honest. I don’t think we’ll be doing this one again any time soon. But, fuck man, you did it. Just stay hungry and you’ve got this. How do you feel?”
“I think my balls went back inside me.”
His belly shakes with laughter, “That’ll look cute in your little speedo out there.”
“I wear loose shorts,” I chatter.
“Well, I’m sure they’ll drop again before Saturday anyways. Let’s get you dried up and warm. I know this little place downtown on Rue St. Catherine. It has the best top sirloin and hash.”
“Ain’t every place on that stretch a strip joint?”
Nonplussed, “You can stare at your plate if you want to be a prude.”
Posted: February 20, 2020 @ 4:00 PM
The image on the left is of Red, standing in front of the mural of Canada’s celebrated fighters (GSP, Louis and Chuvalo). He has his right duke up, and the grin that was always seconds from his face.
So, all that stands in front of me now is you, Dickulous. You’re the last stop on my way to winning MY Narcotics group. The Big Maple trying to break my path.
I want to let you know, I think I might even like you. I mean, you are a fellow Canuck, even if you are a living stereotype. Maybe if you ain’t concussed after this one, we could grab a beer and laugh about it later.
I know you think you’re special, your granny told you as much. You’re just the last guy I have to tell sorry to. Sorry that you are fated to play the role of spoiler to the other losers, and make a way for me and Ted to put on a show for these people.
The only thing between either Ted or myself reaching the finals of the LBI was Ricky, and not even with Julian or Bubbles? It’s true I was away from this game for a while, but you all should know by now I’m not some Green Bastard.
Now here’s the rub, you need to beat me, but I don’t need to beat you. I walk away with the group with one point. I walk away with the group if you stumble once.
Saturday, I’m chopping you down, Big Maple. I ain’t looking for Tree Blood. I’m going to build from you a ladder to get to where I’m going. This ain’t personal.
For the true north, strong and free, am I right?
See you Saturday, Lumberjackass,
With true patriot love,
Your Willing Villain