Eliminating Distractions

Eliminating Distractions

Posted on February 17, 2024 at 11:54 pm by Teddy Palmer

I don’t think it’s much of a secret that things didn’t quite go my way against Hugo. 

I could point to the obvious and state that two years away from the squared circle was working against me. I could relent that the occasional bar fight and beer league hockey game on Wednesday nights wasn’t enough to keep the ring rust at bay. I could even go as far as lamenting the fact that the killer instinct required to put away trained professionals was three seconds too late. I could say this, that, and everything else. 

But that’d be the easy way out.

The raw truth is I simply underestimated Hugo. I took his ‘Of Mice and Men’ demeanour for granted. I was looking well beyond his scarred face and limited skill set. Well beyond your Kostoffs and De Lacys of the world. I was focused on the Final Four and who was coming out of those pools. I was focused on Mike Best and that elusive 97 Red I set my sights on four years ago. 

That’s on me.

Sure, I doubt Hugo felt like a winner when I walked out and he couldn’t. And it felt good wrapping that lead pipe around his knee. It felt really fucking good in the moment. So good it almost gave me solace as I stood there in defeat.

Almost.

Hugo won. Ted lost. That’s what the history books will read, and that fucking burns me. Going behind the eight ball in the Lee Best Invitational is something not many are equipped to overcome. If we’re being frank here, a single loss in your pool is almost a death sentence.

Almost.

Let’s not forget, I don’t care if Tom’s Dick is Hairy. Nah. I’m Teddy Palmer, and I’m built for these situations. I know how to adapt and overcome. I know how to eliminate distractions, and identify when something is missing.

Enter the Northwood Tavern. The very place my High Octane dream came to life four years earlier. An abode fitting of a second chance to right my wrongs, and embark on the right path of the journey I started back way back when.

February 12th, 2024
Toronto, Ontario
Northwood Tavern

“And that was the first of three times I scaled Everest.”

“That’s amazing,” the curvy blonde states, a sly smirk creeping out of the corner of her mouth. “Jenny.”

“Ted,” I reply with a flirtatious wink, proud to have hoodwinked the bimbo. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“I’d like that.”

“Bar wench,” I beckon, catching the eye of the young tender behind the bar. “Another of what the lady is having, and another double please.”

“It’s Alison, you prick,” the server appropriately replies with the required amount of attitude.

The bar being nowhere near capacity on a Monday night, every conversation can be heard if wanted. The sounds of the billiard table echo throughout the dimly lit dive. The half empty beverage in front of me has left a ring of condensation on the bar top. The amber liquid inside is still for a brief moment, until a jolt against the wooden surface it sits upon is jarred by something of substantial weight.

Better yet, someone.

“Don’t fall for this guy’s bullshit, Jenny.” A hoarse voice booms from my right.

“It’s all good, Tammy.” Jenny leans in from my left, speaking to the cockblock bookending me.

“He’s a fucking liar.”

“Rude.” I reply, taken aback.

“He’s not some adventure seeking expeditioner. He’s just some has been that flaunts around in tights.”

Actually, they’re jeans.

“I think you’ve mistaken me for someone else.” I rebut through gritted teeth, hoping my facial expression is easily read as ‘fuck off you’re ruining this’.

“Am not, that guy with the scarred face is talking about him right now.”

On cue, she points the mounted television behind the bar. Inside the 52” frame stands Hugo Scorpio with Brian Bare, both men staring a hole in my soul from a thousand miles away. I shrug my shoulders and release a sound nowhere near resembling any word in the English language, shaking my head as if I don’t know what she’s talking about. Looking back at Tammy, she’s retrieved the remote, increasing the volume as Hugo continues his spiel.

“Teddy Palmer acted like a spiteful bitch and humiliated himself. Might as well have shit himself, he humiliated himself so bad.” Hugo’s voice bellows from the television speaker.

“Oh…that,” I stutter, my eyes widening. “I’m also a professional wrestler. Impressive resume, right?”

“Not a good look no showing after Scarface there kicked your ass.” Tammy jumps in before Jenny can acknowledge my statement.

“Hold on, timeout.” I’m quick to jump in, teeing up my hands. “First things first, he didn’t kick my ass, okay. Second, let’s not talk about ‘good looks’, Biggie Not-So-Smalls.”

With a nerve struck and the whites of her eyes showing, Tammy has slid off her stool and squared up. Jenny is quick to split the almost non existential void between us, turning back to me in disgust. Looking over to Alison, with clenched eyes and pursed lips, I shake my head to cancel Jenny’s drink.

“You can’t talk to her like that,” Jenny spits before turning back to Tammy. “Don’t listen to him, you’re a queen.”

“Sized mattress…” I cough, loud enough to be heard.

“Charming as ever.” His familiar voice chimes in, his shoulder slightly brushing up against my back as he occupies Jenny’s now vacant seat.

“Grady my boy!” I exclaim, turning to face the diminutive Irishman. With an outstretched arm towards the girls, I waft my fingers in a dismissive fashion. “We’re done here.”

I can only be left to assume the girls have departed our soiree as the old wooden floor begins creaking in a way that suggests steps have been taken. That and the waterfall of a pungent drink that has cascaded down the back of my neck, soaking my hairline and the shoulders of my shirt.

“I see you’re up to your old ways.” Grady nods. “How’s that working out for you?”

“It hasn’t gotten any easier, that’s for sure.” I sigh, motioning over towards a booth beyond the billiard set up. “We’ve got some catching up to do.”

Forty Five Minutes Later

“It’s been fun reminiscing and all,” Grady begins, his tone shifting. “But The Notorious P.I.G was right, you know.”

“I don’t flaunt around in tights,” I replay, aghast. “Not anymore at least.”

“No,” Grady shows hints of his lack of patience. “It’s not a good look that you didn’t show up tonight. Radio silence after a loss is never a good thing.”

“Let’s call it a calculated risk.”

“Sure,” he replies, flicking the side of his glass, not looking up. “Or we can address the elephant in the room.”

Digging the meat of my forearms into the table, I can feel my fists begin to tighten. Leaning forward with my stare not leaving my long standing business representative, I chew defensively on the inside of my bottom lip. The silence stands between us for a brief second, the white noise surrounding us almost deafening.

“And what would that be?”

“That you made a daft decision in going back.”

“Is that so?” I chuckle, taking a long sip from the rye in front of me. “I suppose you’re going to say I’d have been better off accepting Red’s offer as a trainer at Ace’s gym?”

“There’d be more money in that long term than you chasing some dream of yesteryear.”

“Fuck off,” I spew, pushing off the table back into the padded backrest. “How do you figure that?”

“Every class has that diamond in the rough. That kid who has the potential to be the next big headliner in this industry. You polish that potential, and you’d be laughing on your way to the bank.”

“Just like you did, right?” I shake my head in disbelief. “How’d that one work out for you?”

Grady sinks into his seat, removing his trademark bowler cap from atop his head. Placing it upon the table, he jutts his chin forward, stretching to relieve the stress in his neck. 

“For the sake of our friendship, I’m not touching that one,” he finally looks up. “But hey, I can only lead the horse to water.”

“And you’re talking like this horse should be led out to pasture. You’re completely ignoring the fact I’m still very much so in this race.”

“Ted,” his voice is unusually solemn. “I have to disagree with that one. It’s perfectly clear you went back to collect a paycheck, and I get that. This is all you know. Isn’t it time we acknowledge that you winning this tournament four years ago…”

“Tread lightly Grady.”

“That was your Everest. That was where you peaked. Everything that came afterwards was all downhill,” Grady stiffens up, taking a swig of his ale. “It was the worst thing that happened to your career. You were a successful midcard act who overachieved, and you lost everything in the process.”

“I can,” I stall, absorbing the gut punch he’s just delivered. “I can appreciate that. The facts don’t lie. I did peak four years ago. I’ve yet to reach those heights since. I’ve chased that high that I’ve been unsuccessful in replicating it. And to be completely honest, it’s been a shitty reality to live.”

“I can only imagine.”

“But there is one thing that’s,” I hum and haw, looking for the right phrasing. “Askew with your narrative.”

“Oh?”

“That’s not the end for me. Just because I haven’t, doesn’t mean I won’t. And after much deliberation, after years of crushing soul searching, I’ve finally been able to identify what’s been holding me back all this time.”

“And what would that be?” he asks, a touch of optimism shining through.

Looking upward, I know this next part is going to be difficult. Not for me so much, but rather the man I’ve had by my side since the very beginning when I walked out of the Twisted Ace gym as a baby faced rookie. With a knowing smirk, I cockily let my shoulders slump back and raise a single brow.

“You.”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” he snaps back.

“You’ve been my biggest problem since day one. You have been nothing more than a distraction, trying to mould me into your image of what a superstar is.”

“The fuck I have.” he tries to defend himself, uncomfortably.

“Cut the shit. You’ve never given a fuck about me or my career. With you it was always gimmicks. It was about piggybacking off what made others successful, but putting your own spin on it. You’ve only cared about one person, and one person only for the past fifteen plus years: yourself.”

“Ted, this is nonsense and you know it,” he shifts about. “I think you might’ve had a bit much to drink while we told stories and shit.”

“Nah Grady, I’m finally seeing things clearly now. You’re the reason I ditched out tonight. I needed to exorcise my own personal demon before I even gave thought to what happened last week, or better yet shifted my focus towards Kostoff.”

“Fuck this, and fuck you,” Grady expels, his boney pointer aimed in my direction. “You’re nothing more than an ungrateful asshole blinded by some finish line you ain’t ever gonna reach.”

“Hold on, I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet,” I say, having taken offence to Grady’s dismissal of me. “The missing piece to my puzzle.”

Done with our conversation, Grady begins shuffling along his seat to depart our booth of confessions. Thrusting up from the cracked pleather seat, his expression is riddled with repugnance. Giving a final, rather unintimidating stare, he turns to dismiss himself.

THWACK!

“Oh shit!” I proclaim, hands perched atop my crown.

Grady’s body is folded like a cheap suit, crumbling to the sticky tavern’s floor with little grace. The eye that was the target of the brutes tattooed knuckles has already sealed shut, and if you were to listen close enough, I’d swear you could hear snoring. The brick shithouse steps overtop Grady, taking occupancy in his spot much like Grady had done with Jenny’s.

“You remember Sochocki, dontcha?”

“Fuck,” Marek blurts out. “I’ve wanted to do that for years.”

Looking around, Marek’s cheapshot on Grady has drawn the attention of the remaining patrons of the tavern. Not wanting to draw the ire of one of Millhaven’s frequent flyers, their gaze is firmly on Grady squirming about on the floor. Scanning the dingy landscape of the Northwood, another uncomfortable silence has emerged, this time amongst the general population.

I should say something.

“Bar Wench!”