I don’t know that I could ever explain to you just what it means to be back out there, how it really feels. Words never seem to give justice to pure ideas. But, the best I can describe it is this: You’ve got twelve-thousand people and you’d swear they are right on top of you; You almost can’t hear them because your heart is pumping so fast all you can hear is your pulse in your ears; Then there’s getting hit in the mouth and tossed to the ground, simultaneously feeling like half of your organs are going to be shit out, while the contents of your stomach are looking to escape out the way they came.
This feeling is unparalleled.
So easy to remember just days out from my encounter with Hollywood when I finally sat to film study.
The third bedroom of my house was designated as my office, but might as well have been my own private movie theatre. The 65” 8K flatscreen was anchored to the west wall and it seems I made it my prison for the next few days. It only figured that etched on the crown molding was the refrain: “Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.”
For the first day, I couldn’t get past watching my own match back, over and over. If I was as old as some of the hands on this staff, I’d been burning out the tape. (VHS, ask someone older than you.)
I won, yeah, but just. Against a guy barely holding his psyche together. Against a guy that was involved in a car wreck just a couple of days before the match. And going for the same fucking move, over again. Yeah, it put him down long enough, but it was unacceptable.What I saw when I looked at the asshole wearing the Joker grin was fear.
I wasn’t afraid of Brian Hollywood. I wasn’t afraid of losing. I was afraid of that feeling. Those familiar drugs. The same itch that has derailed better men than me, and Teddy Palmer a half dozen fucking times.
But by the second morning, I was no longer afraid. I knew I was an addict. This was my last shot, my best shot at working through it, come what may.
Then I set to finding every pirated HOTV appearance of Buck Yates that WatchWrestling had available. The win/loss record wasn’t sterling anymore, and I knew I could beat him. It was the way he welcomed the punishment that puzzled me. The pickled pig’s head started to make sense the more I watched.
As the first night of that closed, I thought it’d be easy if I was half a foot taller, and two hundred pounds heavier like Dickulous had been. I scribbled a note to look into my contract for any references to HGH or other such steroids. My dreams haunted by Jekyll/Hyde reruns.
Day two offered a little better insight. He feels the pain, he just doesn’t show it easily. Maybe I could slip on a deathlock and just hold it ‘til I heard popping. Fucker would probably bite, though.
And so I was becoming unenthused when I finally broke to find my happy place: Daredevil Season 1. That night I dreamed I was bloody and beaten, but victorious still, standing over Kingpin Yates, his nose busted and forced to his knees. ‘I win! Me!’
Day 3, technically day 4, started and the Friday-fuck-it spirit hit. I dove into my phone and texted Ted.
“What are you up to?” And yes, I text in full words, full sentences.
“Fuck all,” Ted, the poet.
“You?” he remembered to push the conversation.
“Film study,” and a head-bursting emoji.
“Still?” he knew I went to it as soon as we got back to Toronto.
“I spent all of two minutes on that shit.”
“And what’d you glean, if I could ask?” I bet I had seen more of his opponent than him by happenstance of study.
“I need a better tan,” spoke the words of a prophet.
I killed the TV and popped the laptop. A minute later I was booking a three bedroom condo on the fourth floor of the Sand Dollar in Indian Shores, FL. Mid-week, four nights. It was the only one they had left, three days out. Then to look at the Tampa Bay Lightning schedule.
“Wanna catch Sid and the Pens v. Stammer and the ‘Ning? Four day to Tampa?”
A thumbs up the reply. Followed by an okay hand, an eggplant, a sun, an umbrella and a girl.
February 6, 2020
Indian Shores, FL
Day three of sunshine and shit all pressing. This was the way to soothe the soul, and welcome in February.
I had started the day the way I did most: watching an episode of Pinky & The Brain whilst downing a high starch, (and probably too high of sugar) breakfast. Then the pre-dawn laps in the Gulf I was always sure to get when I happened back here. Swimming laps with the sharks at your heels was a Hell of a workout, and all made worth it to see the sun rising over the skyrises. I guess I could have got my cardio in at any number of the gyms that littered the Greater Tampa/St. Pete’s area and were more ubiquitous than the beach stores, but I knew at least a few of them were owned by Troy, or, Best Jr. And fuck if I’m giving them a dime. I sulked out of the surf the good kind of exhausted and dressed. I made my way to St. Jerome’s and found a miracle of sorts, a Catholic mass said and done in thirty minutes.
Mind right. Body right. Soul right.
I was ready to attack the day. The text the popped up on the console told me it was going to be special.
“All good to go.”
With a smile etched and freckled cheeks raised I pull back into the parking lot of the Sand Dollar and bring the silver Chevy Malibu to rest. Swinging the door open, I am surprised to see the silhouette of Teddy Palmer, awake and alert before nine in the morning. He’s drawing from the cancer stick hanging out his lips.
“Hey Ted, how’d you feel about a little BP?”
Tossing to cigarette to the ground, he crushes it out. Ted pulls down the sunglasses just a bit and lets out a sigh. “We are far too sober to be having this conversation.”
For my part, I take a confused expression. This isn’t the response I was expecting.
Ted strikes nearer to place a hand on my shoulder and look for a long second into my eyes.
“Red, you know we’re like brothers, right? But there’s just some stuff you don’t ask. I mean, if we ever did end up in the Devil’s Triangle, spit roasting a girl is one thing. But, DP? You can’t be down there, stick fighting for the holes. It’s a highly advanced skill,” he had the space to touch with such expertise having been paid to feature in skin flicks before. Letting a beat pass, he continued, “And you know, no matter how careful you are, there’ll be incidental ball touching.”
Having turned six different shades of red throughout this conversation, Ted never once picked up on my visual cues. Shaking loose the disgust I cried, “B! P! Batting practice! Baseball!”
Picking up a little smile Ted responds, “That’s a much better idea. Let’s just pretend you didn’t ask the first question and go with this one.”
After what should have been a half hour’s drive, we were finally at the ballpark. Seriously, fuck Florida traffic lights. I saw guys sitting at a poker table in the middle of the road waiting out a red.
Walking through the gates and I felt like a kid again. I was sure to slip into my #32 Black Jays uniform knowing where I was headed.
“Doc Halladay?” I’m greeted.
“Best hurler the Jays ever saw,” I walk to shake the outstretched hand.
America’s pastime, and Canada’s team. At least until the Rays move to MTL and become the Expos.
Letting us in was Dave Turnbull, assistant to the head equipment manager. He looked every bit as much as your picturing: just slightly old, just slightly fat, just loosing the hairline.
“How’d you get us in here, anyway?” Ted whispered after the introductions were made.
“I got Dave and his wife a spot as extras on Supernatural a year ago.”
I got shot back an upturned lip and wink that I interpreted as impressed.
We were being given a walk through, all while pitchers and catchers weren’t due to show until the next week. Being the bigger baseball fan, I was lapping up all of it. I marvelled when we reached the clubhouse.
“Hey Ted, you think about playing any other sport professionally?,” this place was leaps better than any locker room I was crowded into wrestling.
“Not for a second,” he said quick enough and earnest enough to not question further.
And while I looked at the lockers that in days would be sat the second generation stars the team hung all hope on: Bichette, Biggio and Guererro;Ted peaked here, there, and got bored quickly.
“You mentioned batting practice?”
Dave took us up the dugout and onto the field and I was sure to grab one of the bats with 27 on the pommel.
“You might want to stretch out a little,” Dave walked around to just in front of the pitcher’s mound to the pitching machine.
“Not a chance,” Ted smirked with all confidence. He walked to the lefty’s batter’s box and picked at his crotch, “Let’s do this.”
Dave glanced to me. I shrugged, and he did too. “Okay.”
The button was pressed, and the first one came by, and past Ted.
“Just tracking the speed of it,” he held a hand up assuming some trash talk incoming.
The next one to the plate got belted and was a nice lazy fly ball to the warning track.
“This thing goes faster, yeah?” Ted was foolish enough to ask.
“What do you think?” Dave didn’t want to put my guest in harm’s way, but if I gave my okay…
“What was Chapman throwing last year?” gets a smile.
“Okay, this one going to be 100 miles per hour,” he tried to pierce Ted’s unflappable confidence.
The Juggs corks out the first ultra-fastball and Ted is lucky enough to dive to the dirt and avoid the chin music. “Shit,” he cussed as he made the descent.
Dave’s stopping the machine and all apologetic, “the machine must have bucked. Maybe we should–”
“Get the thing aimed right, and I’m reaching the parking lots with this next one,” Ted didn’t let him finish.
With tongue hanging just so out the side of his mouth, Dave makes his calculations and says a short, manly prayer, “that should work.”
The next one screamed in belt high, middle and Ted was late to it, spoiling the ball into the netting down the third base line.
Again, belt high, middle gets pounded into the plate.
Ted just bounced, adjusted his gloves and nodded for another.
This time he got barrel to bat and the thing leapt into the sky while the bat itself splintered in two. Dave ducked as half of the barrel went overhead. Ted immediately dropped the remaining twig, his hands stinging something fierce. But the ball did sail true, clearing the fences in dead centre.
“You… you need a minute there, buddy?” I ask trying to stifle the chuckles.
Balling his fingers in and just shaking, Ted walked out of the batter’s box and towards me. “Your… fuck… your turn, Red.”
“There’s ice just in the clubhouse if you…” Dave winced and let his words trail off before he shared a knowing glance with me.
“I guess it is my turn then,” I make to the righty’s box. “Just let’s take it down to 90?”
Dave does his thing and looks at me another time, to much sure its a go.
I point the Louiseville Slugger to the left field seats and he gets the hint.
I swing at the first pitch and drive one just over the third base bag.
The next I push foul over the visitor’s dugout along first.
Third I time right and smack off the centre-left wall.
As I make contact with number four, I hear Buck Martinez in my head, ‘Get up ball, get up ball! Gone!’
Every other ball I see I’m spraying and I know that I’m in the zone. I could just keep knocking them out, left and right, but the Juggs is out of ammo.
“Nice little display there, Alex.”
I walk back to accept the handshake.
“You ever play in the minors or something?” I’m humbled to have anyone with any loose connection to any big league club ask.
“Just spent a lot of time in the cages, out in B.C,” I give with a modest laugh.
“I tell you, I think Doc would’a loved to have a guy like you getting him runs when he was on the bump.”
“Maybe,” I let that childhood dream breath a little.
“Well, how’d he do?” asks Ted, emerging back out with both fist clenched and dripping the runoff from the ice cubes.
Dave winks at me, and tells Ted, “You know, I think you both did okay.”
“Nice!” Ted was happy enough to forget his pain and dig for his cell.
“What’cha doing, Ted?” I ask as he steadies himself into pose.
“Taking a pic, something to put on the ‘Gram,” he would have used air quotes on the contraction, but for being all red and sore.
“You can’t do that,” Dave is blunt.
“Huh?” Ted doesn’t get it at first. “Oh!” he gets a clue, “You guys want in the pic, don’t ya?”
I didn’t say the clue was right. “Nah, we can’t be seen here.”
Ted grunted something that meant the same as ‘why?’
“Dave,” I point to our host, “snuck us in here.”
“I’d like to not get fired for it.”
Ted gave up on the idea and looked like a kid leaving the dentist’s office without getting the sucker.
“Tell you what Ted, we clear out our brackets in this LBI and the Jays will be begging to get us here, officially. Throwing first pitches and all of it.”
He shrugged at the idea, and turned to go. Dave and I walked behind.
“Hey, thanks again, Davey.”
“Yeah, think nothing of it. The wife still talks about that day on set,” and we share a laugh.
“How do you think we’re going do this year?” he asked for the outsider’s perspective.
“Well, the Red Sox did just trade away Betts…”
2800 Gulf to Bay Blvd,
Driving back, I tasked Ted with finding a spot for lunch. A sly grin slid over my face with the final left turn into the parking lot. The restaurant was unmistakable, woodwork and orange, a patio running along the southern side. The big white letters on the front of it spells it out if you couldn’t have already guessed: Hooters.
Ted’s first to the door as I have the foresight to pop an antacid before joining him. Walking inside it takes a time for my eyes to adjust to the comparably dimmer element.
When I can finally see three feet in front of me an angel with blonde hair calls, “Hey guys! Grab a seat and someone will be over with a menu in a minute.”
Doing just as we were told, I pick out a table near the bar, alongside the southern run of booths. The place doesn’t seem that busy, peaking around I only see two other tables occupied. Just as well, less the chance of getting spotted any having to sign autographs or really getting associated by the misunderstanding-types to ‘that sort of place.’ The place was a family establishment, and at least two steps above eating steaks runway-side at the strip joint – which was a worry I later arrived at having let Ted pick where lunch was going to be found.
“How’s the hands?” I bring up the sore subject.
Palmer didn’t answer with words when he glanced to the polka dot red palms.
“Here we are, guys,” says the 5’5” blonde sliding the menus in front of us. “I’ll give you a few minutes to look over everything, but, could I get you started with some drinks?” she asked, pad and pen at the ready.
“Heineken,” Ted’s order, and he felt comfortable enough as an opener.
“Diet Pepsi,” I say and can see a little disappointment in her furrowing, well-plucked brows. “Driver,” I make the half hearted defence.
She takes it with good humour and disappears behind me.
I know what I’m getting in fifteen seconds, but looking to Ted, he’s studying the thing like he was translating the Lost Sea Scrolls. I almost get to thinking about the flight out tomorrow evening and the cold February that was waiting in Chicago when someone pulls my hat off. The red maple leaf on white Blue Jays batting practice fashion 59fifty gets sat at my side as the bundle of seafoam hair takes the chair on that side. (Listen, some guys are sneakerheads, me, I’m a ballcap guy.)
She smiles and I notice the beauty mark just to the side of those full, glossy pink lips, “Where might you guys be from?”
Ted, without looking down from his very careful selection process, “Toronto.”
And quickly enough that the “Ki..” that just squeaks out is corrected to, “Toronto.”
I watch her scrunch her button nose imagining the snow storms I assume all southerners think of any place in Canada outside of the months of June through August. “What are you guys? I mean, for work,” before any misinterpretation could be made of two well muscled men and Ted’s obliviousness.
“Independent contractors,” I offer the nebulous and yet technically correct job title.
She didn’t take too kindly to being talked to in such high terms and pouted before turning her head past me to the sound of the bathroom door swinging open. I bit, and looked as well.
Late-thirties, full deep brown beard and brown curls popping out under the “Mafia” cap in Bills’ red and blue. In an instant I understood the guy. He wasn’t the fan in the stands holding up the John 3:16 sign, this was one of the guys on the visitor’s sideline hurling all manner of insult and injury he could think of. He’d probably put himself through more tables than I’d been put through. He was busy drying his hand from the last bit of water the air dryer always missed (I hoped) on his bluejeans when he looked up, “Wait! Are you!?”
I wince a little, but Ted finally puts down his menu and shows his face.
“It is! You guys are Red and Ted!”
The young woman sat beside me double takes, trying to see anything in our faces. She holds up her hands begging the diehard Bills fan to elaborate.
“Alex Redding, Teddy Palmer. These guys just signed to H-Oh-Dub,” he was within reach at this point.
Ted clears it up, “Pro wrestlers.”
A lightbulb goes off, but her’s isn’t the only one.
“Hey yeah! You guys both debuted with wins after falling off the Earth for like, ever,” came from the booth two down and what looked like a mid-forties golf group.
“It was only five years,” Ted corrects.
“And yeah, we did win,” I felt needed to be emphasized.
“Ha, barely!” came from the betrayer I just offered knuckles to, the Bills’ fan.
“Win’s a win.”
“Didn’t Hollywood have a car wreck two days before the match, too?” came from the head of the golfers.
“One, two, three,” I count along with my hand. “It’s all that matters folks.”
“Yeah, but Ted here just ran through his match,” the likely Western New Yorker rested his hand on Ted’s shoulder. “Black Mamba didn’t stand a chance.”
Doe-eyed tears well up in the booth that was his, the missus, at the idea of Kobe’s tragic passing.
“Not Kobe,” he tried to put out the water works, “Just this James Ranger that was inspired by Kobe.” It did little, but she caught herself and straightened up.
Getting overwhelmed by the hyper-masculin nerding out taking place, our princess with the seafoam hair asks, “What even is HOW?”
The Bills’ fan, back at his booth and the chief golfer share a look, then at us.
“High Octane Wrestling. They kinda went under a few years ago, but came back with a vengeance last summer,” the contribution from the tee.
“Super violent stuff, too,” the Bills Mafia member added.
“Ah-huh,” she started to stand up. “So, are you guys ready to order?’
“Buffalo chicken sandwich, side of fries,” my twentieth most repeated line since adulthood.
“And,” she looked to Ted, and I was curious myself at this point.
“Philly Cheesesteak, fries, and could I get a plate of the nachos?”
Clicking the pen to retract, she retreated to the kitchen to put in the order, and came back with drinks in hand. She resumed sitting, fascinated by the conversation and determined to understand it.
Half-finished a bite of his burger, the Bills fan rejoins the chorus, “You won’t skate by that Buck Yates, though.”
“Mean fu–” the golfer caught himself, “bastard.”
“He ain’t all that scary,” I try to fantasy book this thing.
“Well, for one, he’s taller than ya,” from the left.
“Two inches,” I snort with derision. I’ve tango’d with men that’d dwarf either of us.
“And he’s heavier, too,” from the right.
“He’ll fall just as well.”
“I heard this rumour that he was the guy that started the brush fires in Australia,” Ted tossed out the conspiracy.
“How? Diwan is on the other side of the continent,” Mrs. Bills Mafia poked her head around.
“He could have driven, flown, whatever,” Ted felt the harder you backed a conspiracy, the worst it looked.
“Have you seen just how much punishment that guy was able to take?” I guess wasn’t a concern in the golf world.
“He almost looks like he enjoys,” and I’ve just joined them in detailing why I’m going to struggle against this Aussie creep.
“Honestly, it sounds like this guy just needs to get laid,” came from the 6’ in pumps brunette bringing our food to the table. She looked just as fine as the other waitresses employed here, only losing points on my judging for not wanting to get with pregnant chicks and here she was, 5 months along and unapologetic. Good for her.
“Who would bang that guy?” Ted asked, flashing his phone with Yates’ only-a-mother-could-love grin.
“I guess you could pay some to do it, but I think that’d fall under the cruel and unusual punishment umbrella,” I looked to the economics of the situation.
“A guy like that?” comes from over my head, as hands rest over my shoulders as the seafoam beauty stands there. “He probably can’t get off without pain.”
Ted nodded in agreement, “Likely talking car battery to the balls stuff.”
All men in the establishment girded their loins at the thought.
“I don’t need him to tap out, all I need is him to not answer a three count,” I try to pull this from that rabbit hole.
“Probably jacks it with sandpaper,” came from the blonde angel sat on a barstool and leaning back on the bar.
I appeal to the golfer’s table looking to think about anything but that, “you watched the show, what did you think?”
“I didn’t say I watched it.”
“What?” How did a fan, one of the faithful tell me honestly he skipped out on my debut episode of Refuelled?
“I skimmed the results. I mean, none of the real stars were booked, so..”
“Okay, so that’s how it is?” I was building a temper about the chilling plate of food and the mounting frustration. “You watch it this week, and I’ll show you all something you ain’t never seen. I’ve been working on something, and trust me, it’ll get me the three count.”
And while I was talking of as yet revealed maneuvers, Ted was working his oldest, picking up flirting with the blonde that didn’t quite fill out the uniform white top as admirably as the other two, but more than represented herself in those orange short-shorts. By the time the pow-wow ended and autographs were signed, selfies taken, meals not comp’d for, Ted was flashing me the ten digit number he’d won. It noted something about ‘exercise.’
Posted 11:55 PM, February 6, 2020
The picture to the left is of Red & Ted, and the three waitresses out in front of the Tampa Area Original Hooters. They are centred by the brunette and flanked by the blonde grabbing Ted’s ass and the woman just dangerous enough to possibly be Red’s second, and forth, wife on tip-toes to plant a peck on his cheek.
Thank you, and I’m sorry.
So, I guess the kids don’t post on LiveJournal these days. And how was I to know it was owned by some Russian company now?
Okay, thank-you’s. Thanks to the sweethearts at the Clearwater Hooters for the lovely meal and conversation. Thanks to Lee Best for bringing to HOW the most dominant do-nothings to show up to Chicago in a long while. But, honestly, I’m short on thanks this week.
I’m sorry to Brian Hollywood. I think I might have dumped you a little too hard on your head. That, or your ego was so fragile that you decided to make a job for the janitors at Refuelled XIII.I’m sorry to every one that bet against me in that fight, but you’re the one still betting on professional wrestling.
I’m sorry, Buck Yates. I’m sorry that you know the truth. I’m sorry that you know this world is a shitpile, but I’m most sorry that you don’t know nobody will give a fuck unless you make something of yourself. See, God gave man free will, and most of them use it like a noose. Some take the reigns and get their kicks bringing misery to others. I suspect you fit there. But me, I know that all it means is there’s no one to blame for not putting in the effort, not taking the advantages when they appear, for settling. And I’m sorry that this Saturday you’re going to be settling for second place.
But I’ve got good news for you. Just when you are at your lowest, after I’ve beaten you, and you’re quietly sobbing in the back, using that pig’s head as your own personal fleshlight, there’s still good news for you. Because, you see, I’m working this plan, and you’ve got a place in it. See, it seems fighting me is like wishing on a monkey’s paw. Lose and go crazy. But you, you’re already crazy. I want to harness that. While I am making way through the Narcotics bracket, I want to give you the satisfaction, the thrill of playing spoiler. While I try to pile up 12 points, I want you to do what you can to get 6 from your final two fights.
Take it or leave it, and, oh yeah,
Go Buck yourself,
Your WIlling Villain