You might not have any interest in reading this letter. And to be honest, I’ll be a little shocked if you even get the opportunity.
A few weeks ago, I sat down and put pen to paper and I laid it down on the line to Jiles. To this very moment, I have yet to put that in his mailbox. And this one? Might end up being the exact same result. I don’t know if the catharsis I found in getting my thoughts out somewhere was plenty to help me deal with the end of our friendship, but I’m willing to at least give it a try with you, too.
Maybe saying what I’m feeling will be enough without you having to ever see it.
What I will tell you is that what I wrote to him wasn’t near as complimentary in the beginning as how this one’s going to be. Regardless of who is to blame for what happened with us Bandits, there is one thing that is not debatable in the slightest: I wouldn’t have even had a seat at the table if it hadn’t been for you.
It hadn’t even been a couple of days into May when I stood in a line bordered by a velvet rope to get my chance to “audition” for the fourth slot. Bobby was indisposed, so it was up to you and CJ to make the call.
You might not remember the first thing out of his mouth, but I sure as hell do. It was an immediate “no.” Not even so much as a passing glance. But without a breath to go by, you stepped up and defended me. Without so much as uttering a single solitary word to me before then, save for a little pre-Lethal Lottery pleasantries when we took on Lucien and Dan Ryan, you advocated for a scared kid just looking for some place to belong.
And your support for me didn’t end there. In fact, it never seemed to stop. Especially when things got the most tense toward the end. Bobby losing his step, Rick completely going AWOL, and Jiles’ temper tantrums becoming more and more unbearable. Anybody else with your talent and smarts for this business would have seen the writing on the wall way before it all came to a head and bowed out sooner.
But, I guess you finally came to terms with it when it finally went down, and you had to step away. And to be honest with you, I don’t blame you for it. That’s not what’s made me so frustrated with the situation.
What I can’t seem to come to terms with? Is why you decided that you felt the “Best” way to tell the rest of us where you stood is to let the boss speak on your behalf. For CJ, I get it. That’s where the animosity was, and it was a nice little cherry on the cheesecake to him.
For me and Bobby, though? To know that you were purposefully cutting off any contact with us, keeping us in the dark, all the while knowing what was likely going down two weeks later. There ain’t no dessert references I can make for that. It was a middle finger protruding through a pile of horse shit towards us. It’s a gesture I could have expected from a man whose first name is Cancer, but the last thing I’d ever pictured coming from you.
Then again, maybe Bobby and I were just victims of friendly fire. Just an afterthought. Or maybe you’d weighed out your options considering our Achilles heel. We’re so damn nice. We’d be quick to forgive and forget. After all, you didn’t say any of those mean things, so it wasn’t your fault that the Bandits finally cracked. You weren’t the one repeatedly dressing everyone down over the course of that month, so you’d be able to play up to our sympathies if you ever needed us back in your corner.
I can’t speak for Bobby Dean, but I hope any misconceptions about where I stand got cleared up last Saturday.
“You kin tell a lot about a person by the comp’ny ya keep.”
It was a familiar backdrop. Seated on the tailgate of his pickup, cap adjusted low on his brow, and the surroundings were pastoral and barren on all sides. One that comes from the middle of nowhere can often find familiarity outside of the city limits regardless of what part of the country he’s in.
It fit Zeb Martin’s aesthetic, and if forced into a decision that he could choose only one promo locale, this would be it. Thirty-five miles from the nearest Chicago skyscraper, this plot of land earned its designation as an Illinois state park likely due to the lack of development around it.
When he felt alone and trembling with anxiety, this was the closest to home that he had found.
In his room, a half-scribbled letter lay folded in half and jammed between the hardcover of a copy of If I Ever Get Back To Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet To the Ground. One of a few of Lewis Grizzard’s collections that had been his “inheritance” from his grandmother.
He was having trouble finishing it, so he’d made a call to HOTv. For the first time in his life, he felt more comfortable expressing what was on his mind in front of a camera.
“I tote a fishin’ pole out tuh the rang and talk like a dern Forrest Gump side character. Tuh most of y’all, it’s only natural fer me tuh have ended up with a buncha guys known fer bein’ a little odd.”
Zeb raises his eyes to lens-level, a few stray strands of his long brown hair hang in his face. His bashful nature seems to have taken a backseat. One can only speculate if that was a direct effect of the proclamation he’d made on last week’s Refueled, or simply just a conduit to it.
“I think I’m jus’ now comin’ tuh terms with the fact that it is what it is. I’m differn’t here. Runnin’ them ropes in the South, ain’t nothin’ not normal ‘bout what I did. Yeah, I didn’t carry no rod and reel with me down in the indies, but Lee figg’red it put a little butter on the biscuit. Not sayin’ I’m pissed off that I done got gimmicked a lil’ bit, as that’s the nature uh this bidness and I on’t mind incorporatin’ my love fer catchin’ bass inta my love fer ‘rasslin.”
“But,” Zeb continues, “only so much unicycle ridin’ and shootin’ water out a fake flower you kin do befo’ yer audience gets tired of the clownin’ around. I’m right enjoyin’ hearin’ them cheers when I’m out there competin’, and I suspect they’d uh died down by now if I weren’t carryin’ some ability to ‘rassle along with the bit.”
“Happen tuh thank I’m purty good at it. But if yuh wanna get tuh arguin’ ‘bout whether ‘r not I’d be in the place I am now on that alone, ain’t one I’m willin’ tuh disagree with. But one thang I keep on hearin’ from others is how these ‘gimmicks’ don’t never carry nobody tuh bein’ the top rung of the ladder.”
Zeb cocks his chin and reveals a little smirk. “Got news fer ya. All of us corny and carny. Bein’ a ass hole, runnin’ down folks like you a bad guy in a comic book, sharin’ yer negative opinions on folks without bein’ asked tuh? You a gimmick. Anybody with a Facebook page knows that personality,” he touts.
“What separates yah from bein’ just a ordinary loud mouth and what sets me apart from jus’ bein’ a kid who fishes is the same god damn thang. We kin rassle. And when the rasslin’ ain’t enough, sometimes ya gotta leverage who ya know tuh help ya get up them steps. That’s what I had with the Bandits, an’ that’s what Doozer’s now got with the Best Alliance.”
“I cain’t fault yuh fer thankin’ you found greener pastures, ol’ buddy,” the Watson Mill Kid admits. “Ain’t go’n try tuh take the low road and hem and haw ‘bout how a captain should go down with the ship. Hell, if a hole got shot in a bass boat, rest assured I’d be swimmin’ my ass tuh the shore.”
“Only difference ‘tween you and me is that I’d dog paddle towards where my truck’s parked instead uh the big ol’ buoy marker. ‘Cause where you at, Doozer, is just a place tuh hang onto until somebody takes a notion tuh rescue ya.”
“Jatt Starr, Solex, John Sektor,” Zeb lists. “The baws man? Lee Best might own a dadgum aircraft carrier, but that still ain’t enough room fer all that ego on it. You hoppin’ aboard jus’ go’n weigh it down.”
Martin adjusts his position on the back of the truck, pulling one knee up close to his chest and allowing his free leg to dangle down. “Ev’rbody quick tuh write off our ‘odd ball’ unit, and maybe we didn’t necessarily folla through when the spotlight done shone in our direction. But there ain’t a soul out there woulda bet that out uh all the groups in HO-Dubya, we’d be the ones goin’ our separate ways. That right there was what really made us diff’rent. Not the laughs. Not the goofy bull shit. But the fact that when one of us succeeded, we all did.”
“If you expectin’ the same from the ‘Best Alliance,’ hope I kin get some of them drugs you takin’, ‘cause they shore gotta be more potent than them shrimp. The dadgum NAME of the group is borried from the guy pullin’ the strangs. That oughta tell ya plenty, but if ya needed more puddin’ tuh see the proof, take a hard look at the guy next to ya still wearin’ pank polos in twenty-twenty. Man came in here usin’ his own dang daughter tuh try and siphon some more glory fer himself.”
“I might jus’ be nostalgic too dang quick,” he continues, “tryin’ tuh grasp on and salvage anything might still be there. But I reckon I know what I need tuh do. I wrapped ya up and dropped ya on yer head, but my guess is it weren’t quite enuf tuh knock some sense into ya. Heck, there’s a good chance it ain’t jus’ a temp’rary lapse in judgement. Like a mule, I could beat yer butt over ‘n over and still not get ya home. And jus’ like CJ said, the Bandits might stay in the grave ferever.”
“But if that’s the case, and you jus’ content cuttin’ ties like yer ghostin’ a Tinder hookup, then an ass whoopin’ won’t be in vain. Cuz if you ain’t go’n be there fer me, and Jiles ain’t go’n be there fer me?”
Zeb slightly adjusts his hat, exhaling before making his final point.
“It might be time for me tuh be there fer me. And there won’t be no company tuh judge me.”