March 14th, 2020 – LBI Aftermath
11:27 PM – Allstate Arena
“I’m still standing. Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
“Barely.” Erin mumbles to herself, before demanding I “Stop singing, stop dancing and sit still.”
This woman, who I’ve been led to believe is a medical professional of sorts, is clearly exhausted from a long day’s worth of work and would like nothing more than to get the fuck out of this arena and catch some shut eye. She’s performed her follow the finger routine, which I completed adequately enough for her to dismiss the idea of a serious concussion. She’s examined the knee that crumpled against the side of Kael’s titanium skull, doubting any serious damage beyond the purplish blue bruising. All that remains now is the open wound on my right cheekbone that has stopped bleeding but has left a coagulated mess in doing so.
“Is it true that chicks dig scars?” I ask in my most sincerest tone, out of pure curiosity.
My inquiry goes unanswered as Erin’s patience for this day has begun to toe the line of nonexistent. She grabs a white cloth and pours an excessive amount of hydrogen peroxide on it. Offering me the tiniest smirk imaginable, my instincts warn me it isn’t of the kind variety.
My grunts of distress are met with a side eye and scoff. “I said don’t move.” She orders, clasping her free hand on the back of my neck so I can’t pull away.
She continues to scrub away, her touch resembling that of a carpenter holding a handful of sandpaper. I believe the wound to be disinfected by this point, but she seems to be hell bent on removing layers of skin for reasons unknown. I’d lodge a complaint, but why prompt more unnecessary torture from this ‘professional’.
After deeming my face clean enough to proceed, she discards the now blood stained cloth in a nearby waste bin. Grabbing the locked and loaded needle off the medical tray to her right, that wry smile of hers grows a little bigger, a little brighter. She flicks her middle finger against its barrel multiple times, then squeezes the plunger slightly, shooting a thin stream of anaesthetic into the air.
“You’re going to feel a poke and a burn here.” She instructs and nods. “One, two…”
You aren’t mistaken. Stab. Not insert. I mean, come on now. Is it supposed to go that deep? And what the fuck happened to the customary three?
Oh. There it is…
“TEDDY! MY BOY!”
Oh. And there he is…
Grady’s unmistakable voice rips through the hallways, reverberating off the concrete walls. He wedges his way between myself and the savage, slapping and grabbing onto my thigh. He awkwardly fumbles his hands, clutching my shoulders, shaking me atop the table I’m seated on. He decides to settle on rustling my hair like the little scoundrel I am, before planting his lips on my forehead.
I’m uncomfortable and marginally confused by his…advances? Erin debates stabbing him with the now contaminated needle. Grady pushes away, embarrassingly wiping his lips and dry spitting over his shoulder.
“You slick son of bitch!” He exclaims, trying act as if he just wasn’t weird as fuck. “Who knew you had it in you?!”
“Yeah, Benny’s fucking great.”
The freezing in my face begins to spread, eventually reaching from the side of my eye down to the edge of my jawline. My face feels cold and bloated, leaving me to question if unloading every last drop was really needed. As the right side of my mouth begins to droop, I can’t help but wonder…
“ADDRRRIIAN!” I shout.
Just as I suspected: Teddy Balboa has arrived.
“Uhm, it’s Erin…maybe you do have a concussion…” She states in confusion. “and you might feel a pinch.” She continues, shoving Grady out of the way before hooking into the skin, starting the first stitch.
“Shite! That’s quite the gash you got there.” He says, eyeballing the wound. “Should have dodged those blows, eh?”
“No. Really? Why didn’t I think of that?” I dryly reply, staring through Grady, who is now staring at his phone. “I’ll uh, keep that in mind for next time.”
“Yeah. Sure. So about Farthington…” Grady says, transitioning to the real reason he’s elected to grace me with his sleazy presence.
Here we go. This didn’t take long.
“We all need to get on the same page, like ASAP. You know what I mean? You. Red. Me. Bruce.”
“We have less than two weeks to prepare for this.”
“Jesus!” He shouts, ripping the cap off his head. “Less than two weeks?!” He cries at the injustice of the date that has been set for like, ever.
“Listen…” I begin, unable to not follow the little Irishman pace back and forth.
“Stop moving.” Erin barks, repositioning my head to her liking.
“There is so much work that needs to be done…”
“Last one.” Erin says, having rushed all prior stitches, Grady’s presence being the reason why.
“Holy Shit! We need plans Ted! PLANS!”
My outburst this time around isn’t quite as confusing or random as my earlier Stallone impersonation. It’s clear and precise and enough to halt Grady in his tracks. I’d be willing to bet my sharp tone hurt Grady’s feelings, that is if the guy was capable of having feelings. Nonetheless, he has obliged to my request, for the time being anyways.
“Yeah, Grady. Enough.” Red’s voice emerges from thin air.
Having turned the nearest corner, Red’s physical being follows suit and emerges. That best friend of mine, whose face I stomped into the canvas mere hours ago, has a bottle of Smirnoff Vodka gripped in one hand while the other has three shot glasses racked on its fingers. Erin, who yanks the final stitch shut snuggly, rolls her eyes at the arrival of yet another douche that will surely challenge her composure.
“It’s time to celebrate! Ad Victoriam!” He cheers.
“Victoria? No, her name is Erin.” I clarify.
“No Ted…” he begins, shaking his head. “Nevermind. Congratulations, you did it man.”
Still soaking in the reality of what was just accomplished, I smile and reply “I fuckin’ did it.”
“You have to know I never doubted you for one second.”
“That’s not what you were saying backstage…” Grady says, looking at Red with a ‘you fucking liar face’.
“I’m pretty sure we said that’d be enough out of you.” Red snaps back with a ‘shut the fuck up face’.
Red shoves Erin’s medical tools to the edge of the tray with complete disregard, dropping the three shot glass onto it’s metal top, creating quite the ‘clang’. The red lid of the bottle is unscrewed, flying off and down to the dirty concrete floor below. I wouldn’t worry about it’s retrieval though – something tells me Red has intentions of that bottle being bone dry soon enough.
“Drink on up boys.” Red says, filling each glass to the point of overflowing.
Red is the first to snag his, and it doesn’t spend much time in his hand. Grady is the second, and much like Red, his vanishes rather quickly. As the third and last, I pinch the glass between my index and thumb, lifting it up. Gawking at the drink, I try to avert my eyes, but the struggle is very real.
“Everything okay there?” Red asks.
“Champions taste already, huh? Smirnoff not good enough? Need that Grey Goose now, eh.” Grady says in jest.
“I uh…” I stammer. “I’m gonna…”
Before I can answer and possibly make a decision I know I’ll regret, Erin rips the shot glass out of my hand and downs it. Both Red and Grady seem to be more impressed by her bold play rather than offended by it, shifting their chins outward and head bobbing. Slamming the glass upside down on the tray, she grabs her nearby purse and slings it over her shoulder.
“I’m out, assholes ” she says, pushing through Red and Grady on route to the nearest exit.
Red flips the glass over and goes to refill it, but I grab onto the bottle before he can reload the temptation.
“I’m gonna pass tonight.”
“Bah!” Grady snorts. “Okay there. Good one.”
“No. For real. I’m good.”
“You sure, man?” Red asks.
“Yeah. I’m sure.” I say, hoping to come off convincingly.
Red and Grady exchange glances with one another, experiencing a first when it comes to their dear friend Ted. I can only imagine the telepathic conversation the two are having with one another right now.
“Okay, if you say so, buddy.” Red says, raising his hands, conceding. “Let’s get your shit and get the fuck out of here. You hungry? Cause I am. Let’s find a sit-in, grab some greasy food and start planning out our next move.”
Fuck man. Less than an hour removed from winning this thing and it starts already.
“About that…” I begin, my compadres’ ears perking up. “No plans.”
“No plans? Okay…let’s start scheming then.” Grady says, prompting muddled laughter from the two of them.
“Okay… how about…”
“How about nothing.” My blunt statement catches the two of them off guard. “No plans. No schemes. No dupes. No hoodwinks. No swindles. No flim flams. Nothing.” I continue, spitting out every synonym I can think of, hoping it sinks in. “March To Glory isn’t going to be Red and Ted with Grady versus Group of Death.”
“Hold up, wait. Be honest here, what are you saying?” Red asks, his back stiffening up.
“Palmer versus Farthington. Period.” I say, Red’s facial expression screaming a thousand words yet none leave his mouth. “I’ve earned the opportunity to chase my childhood dream. It’s a journey I need to take on my own. Whether I succeed or fail, it’s on me.”
Grady looks at me, then Red. Me, then Red. After following suit numerous times, his eyes finally settle on his original client, Mr. Redding. Red for his part, wants to understand, but he seems surprised, confused, and possibly even hurt by my decision.
“Ted, I get it. I do. You’re looking at the only guy more stubborn than you. So from one jackass to another, I just don’t think you’re thinking this through here. You’re acting prematurely.”
“There’s nothing to think through. It’s how it needs to be.”
“How it needs to be? Well what about Lindsay Troy? Or Dan Ryan? Max Kael? Mike Best?” Red gets a bit more animated with each name he lists off. “Lee Goddamned Best. That name alone should have you rethinking this. You winning tonight nearly sunk this company. Don’t you think Boss Man Best might see fit to stick his nose in your shit because of it?”
“Need I remind you I won not one, but two battles tonight, all on my own.” I state with the intention of making a point, not insulting my friend. How he takes it though is his prerogative. “I told you heading into tonight you’d see a new side of me. I’m not your responsibility.”
“Ted, you’re not listening to me! No one interfered tonight! And do you want to know why they didn’t bother with you tonight?” He pauses, briefly debating whether to finish his rant. “Because no one thought you’d win. No one thought you were capable of beating Max Kael.”
He’s not entirely wrong. The betting odds indicated as much.
“But I did.”
“And all due credit there. You shocked the world. Do you think they are going to let you do it again?”
“Honestly? I don’t care. Why worry about what I have no control over?”
“What do you mean you don’t care!” Grady shrieks, having stayed silent for too long.
“That’s all the reason to worry and to have a plan in place!” Red shouts.
“I appreciate your concern. I do.” I focus solely on Red because really, Grady has nothing of value to add in this conversation. “But I’ve made my decision. At the end of that match, I want you to be the first out there, regardless. Celebrate my dream coming true. Or console the heartache of that dream shattering. But don’t come out before…”
A silence sits between us, Red now staring at his feet. He bites on the inside of his lip, and heavily exhales from his nose. It feels like an eternity standing here, but realistically it has probably been short of a minute. Shaking his head as a sign he doesn’t truly agree with my decision, he finally looks back up at me.
“Okay. Chase your dream, Ted.”
Grady throws his arms up, storming off down the hallway. Red extends his fist, and I meet him halfway with knuckles. Grabbing the lidless vodka bottle, he takes a swig and walks off.
36 Hours Later…
I intended to swing back by the arena yesterday, but when I woke up it didn’t take long to realize there was no fucking way I was getting out of bed. I was cleared of having a concussion, but my God, the headache I suffered through was something else. I would much rather have dealt with my worst of hangovers, and trust me when I say there have been some doozies, than endure the skull splitting pressure that has only just begun to taper off. Dodging those titanium headbutts might’ve been a good idea, Grady.
And that right knee of mine? Track pants were the bottoms of choice today. Why’s that, you ask? Well, the chubbed out beef roast looking joint won’t let anything else past it. That’s why. And it doesn’t end there. Oh how I wish it did. This shin bone of mine hides its bumpy disfiguration underneath a rainbow of bruises. I kid you not when I say I’ve driven on country roads smoother than this poor battered limb. You think I’d have learned after the first strike to the Lord Supreme Dictator’s face.
And of course, don’t forget the nice jagged gash under my right eye. It’s hideous. It’s gruesome. It’s…actually, it’s not that bad. It’s a cut. Nothing special. I did rip some of my beard out when I removed the bandage, so there’s that.
What I’m getting at is in no way shape or form was I in any condition to venture off into the home of HOW. Hell, I’m barely capable of doing so today. But here I am, ready to soak this all in, one last time.
Not having to put on the he-man front for an audience, I limp down towards the ring. As I approach the squared circle, the empty arena gives off a completely different vibe. The lack of asses in seats leaves this place void of that contagious energy we all need and desire. There’s no concern that some sort of physical altercation will break out, short of security not seeing your credentials. There’s no performing to be done. The endless hours practicing and coordinating that entrance are useless here. This place is just a big concrete shell, with a twenty by twenty at its core.
Seeing the ring fully assembled is reassuring as it tells me the HOW workers haven’t begun packing shit up for our trip to Rome, which is good, because neither have I. No big deal though, only skinny jeans, black boots and athletic tape on my list. Hard to fuck that up. Ten seconds and done. Although I should get on with finding that passport of mine. That’d be quite the shit show, eh? “Number one contender denied entry into the country”. Funny, but I’d prefer not seeing that scenario play out.
The arena is still in shambles, the staff yet to tackle the mess from Saturday night. At least I hope they haven’t, otherwise someone needs to get shit canned. Beer cups, popcorns bags, and cardboard food sleeves are amongst the varying degrees of litter, scattered about. As I hobble my way around the ring, there is one particular discarded item that captures my attention. Wedged underneath the guardrail is a lime green sheet of bristol board, scribbled on with black sharpie. It’s message of encouragement reads:
Go Ted Go – Do It For The 99%!
You know, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my singing showcase had gone viral. I’ve watched it a dozen times or so, and man, I fucking nailed it out there. If this wrestling thing doesn’t work out, hit me up Mr. Cowell. But more importantly than that American Idol audition, my passionate speech had gone viral. I left that bar thinking I had entertained a hundred or so festive bar patrons, maybe sold a few more Refueled tickets, but never could I have imagined my message reaching the size of an audience that it did. I broadcasted a genuine, from the heart message that people were able to appreciate and relate to and in turn won their support. And trust me, this plus five hundred underdog was in need of some support.
That’s not to say it wasn’t foreign to me, however.
You see, I’ve assumed many roles in my ten year career, but sympathetic underdog hasn’t been one of them. I’ve provided comedic relief as the resident goofball. I’ve crashed bikini contests, and won as a mankini wearing adult film star. I’ve garnered a lot of hate as the douchebag who christened himself the second coming of Christ. Oh, and of course, that ill-advised, one night only performance as The Dark Knight. But never have I ever starred in the role of sympathetic underdog, tasked with overthrowing the evil regime.
But with their support, it’s a challenge I gladly accept.
Walking over to the announcers table, I can smell his spilt Jack Daniel’s. Benny Newell’s spilt drink, that is. Oh poor Benny, the man with the broken arm. A tragic fate, really. One that possibly waits for me in The Coliseum, two weeks from now. I rather enjoy having use of both arms, so I’m heavily opposed to such an outcome. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
Back to that smell though. My, oh my. I’m tempted to carefully study my surroundings, ensure there are no witnesses, and take a quick lick of the tabletop stain. Yeah, it sounds disgusting, that’s why I said no witnesses. Whatever, I didn’t do it so simmer down. If you’re an alcoholic, you get what I mean. It does make me think how terribly things could have gone though, had I succumbed to temptation. That viral video could have been much more entertaining, at the cost of another ladder match type performance. Surely Saturday’s outcome would have been much different.
Thankfully Binh’s intervention and life lesson helped set my path. For that, I’ll forever be grateful.
Rolling into the ring, I hop to my feet, walking circles around my place of work. I swear I can still feel the energy from that night, as if it were now permanently built into the fabric of this building. If I listen closely enough, I can still hear the chants that brought me to life in moments where I should have quit. I’ll never forget the feeling when that hammer rang the bell thrice, and I released the triangle choke that became my only chance. My last bullet in the chamber. The immediate euphoria I felt as the crowd erupted for the biggest victory of my career.
And as I look over towards the announce table, it’s as if he’s still seated there, in complete and utter shock…
HOW World Champion, Cecilworth Farthington.
I wonder what the submission loving ChampChamp was thinking when I made his dear friend tap out. Not the optimism that preceded it, or the outrage that followed it. What was he thinking the exact moment Max tapped out. Disbelief? Annoyance? Fear?
“He’s Ruined Everything!”
His words were loud, shrill, and most importantly, satisfying. He slammed his headset in a tantrum, ripping his World Championship off the table. Maybe I was seeing things, but I could swear he was clutching it’s strap just a little tighter than usual.
Good on him. I hope he cherishes the next two weeks with it.
As he sulked his way around the ring enroute backstage, I was begging he’d lock eyes with me. “See you in Rome!” I shouted at his back, thinking maybe it’d have him skidding to a stop on the ramp, but no. He refused to acknowledge me any further, robbing myself and the fans of the customary Champion versus Challenger staredown.
Not cool Farthy. Not cool at all.
But I’m past it, ChampChamp. Fuck it. And fuck you.
I’ll gladly trade that staredown for the standing ovation I received. Words can’t describe what that meant to me, and I hope I can repay every single one of those fans someday. Hopefully sooner rather than later. Lets say, March 28th, for example…
Sitting down in the middle of the ring, I continue to stare at the seat recently occupied by Cecilworth. Crossing my legs is painful, but once positioned, I’m comfortable enough. I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon, wanting nothing more than to enjoy this moment, one last time. I want to enjoy it while I can, because once I leave this ring, winning the Lee Best Invitational could be all for naught. If I don’t win the World Championship, it means fuck all…
So here’s to chasing childhood dreams.