May 19, 2020
R n R
“…grab the bull by the horns, let the ball bounce in your court, put yourself in the driver’s seat, put the hooker on her back, strap the bungee cord to your waist and jump off the bridge, take the plunge, get in there with both hands…”
By the time Cancer Jiles had run through the gamut of approximately 1,347,202 idioms, it had been the longest “pep talk” in Zeb Martin’s life. Despite his yearning to do so, his youth and humble upbringing had prevented him from screaming out that he got it after the first couple of minutes of the build up. The Maestro had effectively Jack Hunter’d the shit out of him with uplifting motivational speech.
Two hours later, Zeb hadn’t even gotten the opportunity to throw out one single nightcrawler. At that point, Doozer had fashioned a makeshift bed on the floor of the bass boat, using the boat’s tarp as a blanket and a floatation seat as a pillow.
Max Kael Shell, who’d spent the majority of his time comically attempting to fly fish in the still water with his primitive twig-and-shoestring rod, had still been the most successful thus far in the outing. He too was sound asleep on a bucket seat, sweetly embracing his catch like a newfound pet. Of course, his catch was just an empty can of Natural Light that had previously slipped out of Zeb’s grasp. But who are we to judge?
The Maestro had also tuckered himself out, making gestures like a dreaming dog as he spread across the stern of the vessel. Once the monologue had finally come to a stop, Martin had wanted nothing more than to finally cast his line. However, cautious to a fault, he was more concerned about accidentally waking up the slumbering Bandits to do the one thing he loved more than seeing a denim-clad butt of a University of Georgia coed.
So, with his shirt removed and his hat bill pulled down low (as usual), Zeb had his legs propped up on the navigation console and silently enjoyed the weather, occupying himself with a dirt bike game on his phone.
His mind wandered from time to time when the app got too monotonous to hold his attention. As any young man away from home for the first time, he thought about his friends — both old and new.
Zack was one of the old ones. Loyal as a German Shephard with the personality of a labrador puppy.
Despite him being a little over the top at times, he always managed to worm his way into the hearts (and pants, if he took a notion) of most people that he met. Zeb had always admired his charisma, and the way that he seemed to never find himself in an awkward situation. He was the walking definition of a lemon into lemonade analogy. Hell, at one point he was caught red handed at their high school graduation party by his then-girlfriend neck deep with some random from Madison County. Naturally, he’d thought that she was at a different gathering, but he didn’t count on her wanting to have a deep moment in celebrating a life milestone at 1 in the morning.
He said that the random had slipped him something. His girlfriend wasn’t an idiot, though: so not only was he busted cheating on her, but got him on an additional charge of lying right to her face. Her response was to scratch him in the eyes like a wet cat and drag a key across his F-150 for good measure: it was the highlight of the night for most people aside from Zack himself.
They’re married now.
Oglethorpe County High School was usually the opponent that was scheduled for other teams’ homecoming games in the sports that “mattered” in Georgia: football, basketball, and baseball. Year after year, if there was an ass-whipping to take, the Patriots were lying in wait to receive it. As to the pigskin, Zeb was a four-year starter at outside linebacker — but this wasn’t something to write home about. At a more competitive school, he’d likely have been riding the pine until his senior year.
His best friend, Deontay, however? As far as most people were concerned, he could have started for the Falcons at 14 years old. While an impressive wide receiver, where he really shined was at cornerback. The Pats may very well have won a few more games if it weren’t for the fact that he was ALWAYS double-covered on the offensive side of the ball. And unless the opposing team had a brand new coach on their sidelines, every quarterback knew not to throw a pass at least 15 yards around where he was standing.
Just like the Watson Mill Kid, he was a standout on the school’s wrestling team, too: the sport that was most heralded in the old brick structure sitting in the middle of Lexington, GA. When your county is infamous for raising a bunch of roughneck boys and girls with plenty of energy to burn, amateur wrestling is a natural fit.
Deontay had the intangibles with the talent in both, but what made him extremely dangerous on the field and the mat was his mind. He understood the science and the art behind it. Secretly, Zeb felt a little guilty that he ended up being the one to make a living out of one of them, while Deontay was still trying to catch the attention of pro scouts in a Division 2 college. The only thing saving that guilt from blossoming was that he knew if it didn’t work out for him in football, Martin now had a few connections to get him looped into the wrestling business. With that kind of drive and common sense approach, he figured it would be much easier for Deontay than it was for himself.
And then there was Amie.
Despite the fact that the cliquiness that most experience growing up was pretty much a non-factor for Zeb, there still was a conglomeration of certain core groups of friends. Amie and Zeb were in a circle of about ten: both being painted with the target that the remaining eight would eventually be bridesmaids and groomsmen at their future wedding. It was a notion that they both resisted and laughed off, but always with that certain little hint that it actually might not be the worst thing that could happen to them.
Funny, beautiful, and universally adored, there was not much to dislike. Anyone who had ever come into contact with her felt lucky just to be a part of her life. She had a charm that made her seem out of place for her rural upbringing: but somehow she just fit in. Her fatal flaw for most, however, was her sense of humor.
It was brash and sharp. The things that came out of her mouth were so unexpected, that it could be off-putting at times. While she never had any intention of making someone feel uncomfortable, Zeb always felt the need to be on his toes. He was no match for her wit, and he knew it. This too, and it was her default mechanism in any kind of interaction. The only time they’d taken a deep, sincere dive into conversation was when the two of them had been too drunk to recall it the day after.
He’d always considered Amie a “long-distance friend,” despite now being the only time that was physically true.
Martin stretches his arms back behind his head and rises to his feet. He grins as he stares at the members of his new crew in their current positions. The enigmatic yet dependable Cancer Jiles. The polished and motivated mat machine in Doozer. And the captivating yet aloof presence of one Bobb…
Wait a second.
Where was Bobby Dean?
“Bob? Y’all there, man?”
Zeb’s inquiry was followed by a subtle splashing of the water below.
The shout from Bobby Dean was not so subtle. So much so that it springs Doozer immediately to a sitting position, and causes the Maestro to smack his lips together in a delirious rise out of R.E.M.
With the sun nearing its approach to the top center of the sky, a white tow rope is revealed that stretches far behind the back motor. Attached to it is a large pink inner tube.
The place where Bobby had spent the vast majority of his time since 2 a.m. that morning. Overcome with excitement, it didn’t seem to matter to him that tubing is a lot more fun when it’s both light outside and the boat is traveling faster than 10 miles per hour.
However, the Beautiful man had since grown bored of it. As he too caught a few Z’s, Bobby was now right near the edge of the craft. Although he was within reach of the stern, his hands skidded against the water as if he were scratching vinyl records on a turntable. His ankles, well below the surface, were working double-time as he kept himself afloat.
Zeb cautiously stepped over Jiles to extend an arm out to his pal. “Need help gettin’ in?”
Bobby shakes his head. “No way! Gotta shed this last little bit of water weight. And what’s a more environmentally-conscious way to do that than returning it from whence it came?”
Now on his feet, Doozer joins the two on the back of the boat. Halfway impressed but mostly confused, he turns his gaze downward to the treading Bobby Dean.
“How long have you been there?”
“I don’t know. About a few minutes after you guys decided to go to sleep?” Bobby guesses.
Jiles, now fully awake, loosens his jaw with surprise. “Jesus, man, aren’t you exhausted?”
Dean simply plasters a goofy grin across his face. “I’m good. And hey, check this out!”
Reaching down into the pocket of his swimming trunks, Bobby pulls out a fish that is just a bit bigger than his fist. This of course triggers a mutual shock amongst the three atop the stern. Mostly due to the fact that there’s no telling exactly how he was able to keep the bream down there for so long.
“I named him Gilbert,” Bobby proclaims. “Get it? Because he has gills!”
May 20, 2020
Before I continue from the cozy confines of the 97red sofa, let’s take a moment to see how we got here.
First, I updated the rest of the “unperfects” in the Jiminy Strippee fanclub about his unfortunate demise. I did not use clocks, graphs, or smoke signals from expensive cigars, so I’m unsure if they got the message.
Then, I dubbed Doozer a hero whose bravery knows no bounds.
After that, I made the Bandit’s feelings and intentions known in regard to the HATE scourge and it’s blackhead for a leader who is corroding High Octane Wrestling.
Lastly, and this is where things pick up, I began to discuss the legendary blood obstacle in front of myself, and my first time tag team partner for this coming show.
If not, check part one.
“First, the legend.”
I nod with dignified approval.
“Here is a man who has been wrestling since old man Dooze was Zeb’s age! In fact, it is unknown how far back his storied lineage goes since the Big Bang Event had yet to occur at the time of his debut.”
My mind shrieks for the entirety of the half second I spend trying to process how Flyer knows Hank Pym. Unfortunately, much like most of the current topic’s High Octane run, that’s all the time it takes for me to forget who I was talking about.
“Uh… Pym particles make…”
That’s not right.
Confused, I glance down at my palms and recite the names I wrote on each of them in case I found myself in this predicament.
That’s the sound the lightbulb inside my head makes when turning on.
Apologetic, I quickly look to correct my mistake. “Sorry about that. What I meant to say was she’s a whiny little brat, who couldn’t sit at the table I rest my elbows on if she brought a high chair, booster seat, phone book, and scaffold to set them all up on. Oh, another thing, I was going to play her green screen tomfordery on the TV behind me, but her awful jokes broke it.”
Before pressing on, a sensation.
Something seems… off.
Did I go with my right hand, instead of my left?
I did, didn’t I?
I started off with the legend, not MJ Flair.
I shrug, then seamlessly transition back to where I originally hiccuped under the shaky guise that it was never supposed to happen. “A true, ageless, monster of the ring, just this past week he effortlessly disposed of Alex Redding, LBI superstar, in thirty five seconds. Thirty. Five. Seconds. FUCK! Even The Order was relevant for longer than that.”
Not by much, but still.
“High Flyer is one of his names. Time traveling space snow sales were his game. Known the galaxy over, I can remember when he was brought in as the highest paid superstar on the roster. The talk of the town. The apple of Lee Best’s only eye who was going to swing the pendulum in his favor and win him War Games. Such hype. Such excitement. Such fervor. It was raw, unfiltered. I believed it. I mean, why wouldn’t I? It was Flyer. Even I, The Maestro, had heard of him.”
In total awe, I confusingly ask. “Dude, what the fuck happened?”
I’ve been there.
Fuck, I’m still there.
That’s why it’s funny.
“You don’t have to tell me, Hijack. I already know what happened. You see, we are cut from the same cloth in this regard, you and I. Being this way, not only do I sympathize, I assure you I understand just how badly you yearn to live up to that hype. Last week, you undoubtedly took a step in the right direction. It was impressive. You looked like the man I only knew about, and not the man I’ve come to know. This week, the Bandits are showing up. I wonder, can you impress me again?”
Content, I cross my legs.
“The same goes for you, Kimmy Schmidt. Yeah, I saw ya.” I take a second to contemplate before my inquisitive nature gets the best of me. “Before going forward with this, should I just text it to your mom instead? Would that be easier? Or are you one of those kids whose parents wouldn’t let them have a cell phone so you know how to listen?”
More nonchalant shrugging.
Either way, I don’t care for an actual answer.
I just enjoy being a sassy bro.
“Come to think of it, if your parents have no problem with you performing in High Octane Wrestling, the blood and guts capital of the sport, I’m sure they had no problem giving you a cell phone instead of a rattle.” Adamant, I clarify. “Not judging. The shades may make it look like I am, but I’m not.”
“I’m just stating the obvious is all.”
I’m not a parent.
That I know of, at least.
Still, since I’m not, I’d never ridicule one for a decision they made in regard to their child. “And let me guess, MJ, your first phone was an iPhone Ten? How typical.” Unlocking the home screen to my diaphragm, laughter warranting a trigger warning escapes me.
And listen, though I may be jesting, a lot, and will continue to, I know MJ Flair is no joke. She is a technical dynamo, capable of throwing her weight around against men three times her size. A former LSD Champion, and most recently, the destroyer of LBI winner, Teddy Ruxpin.
All at the ripe age of twenty.
And that’s great and all.
I’m sure her Dad tells it to her all the time.
So I sure don’t have to.
Or maybe he doesn’t.
In any event.
Crass always wins.
Almost forgot, she once had a good match against Andy Murray.
Whatever the fuck that is supposed to mean.
“Oh, and tell me, how was prom, MJ? Was it weird having the oldest date there? Just think, if it were after our match, I could have done your makeup for you.” Though I frown at the lost opportunity to showcase my mist to a younger generation, I don’t let it get the best of me. “Are you excited about going off to college in the fall? Was Kriar University your first choice? How is your Dad taking it? Is he ready to let his little girl go?”
I adjust my make believe collar and snort like it’s getting hot in here.
Look, I apologize for all the crassness. It’s just, I’m handcuffed in a way. I mean, what type of man would I be if I were to speak aloud the things I plan to do?
I’d be the type of man your momma warned you about, that’s who.
I mean, not a very nice one, that’s who.
For real though, if you tell a twenty year old girl you’re going to kick her in the face, during these hindsight times, some fucking movement swoops in, black bags your career, and takes it to their version of Gitmo.
Doesn’t matter what the circumstances are.
It could be said during a Broadway play, and they won’t even bother waiting for it to end. No, they steal your livelihood while you’re still up on stage, and take it straight to Thespian Gitmo. Oh, you’re playing a pick up basketball game and things get a touch heated? No shower. WNBA Gitmo. Karate class? Hope you like your Gi. Self Defense Gitmo. If it could somehow be said to save someone’s life? Nope. Dead Gitmo.
Then it’s an apology tour where you lie through your teeth the entire time.
No thank you.
That said, hopefully now you can understand why I’m doing my best to try and keep things light, and civil.
At least until the bell rings.
And even then, I’ll have to say it was an accident.
Won’t they all?
Straightening myself up, I refocus my attention and speak with sincerity. “All kidding aside, MJ, allow me to offer some form of my own parental advice. I know it’s been rough since you returned to High Octane. Our crazy home may forgive, but it does not forget. Similar to Flyer, I sympathize with you in this regard. The difference being, he’s been fumbling big matches for a year, where you got a small peak at the mountain top, and then took time away to bake cookies with your mom after you fell down the side of it.”
I never said it wasn’t going to be hypocritical tough love.
Also, I briefly pause so MJ can go get a tissue. I don’t want her to miss out on anything between sobs.
“Point being, the second time around never goes as planned.” Continuing the vibe, a sincere stare ensues. “Trust me. I have quite a few second times around under my belt. I know. I will tell you, and this is my advice to you, it does get easier, MJ. You can, should, and probably will ascend to heights that seemed otherworldly during your first time around.”
The sincerity vanishes. A twinkle in my eye flickers. “Like, for instance, defeating the eGG Bandits.” I roll the twinkle out of my eyes so hard the blacks of my pupils touch every millimeter of their respective lids.
Yes, you’ll have to take my word for it.
“Riiiiiight. You may have got the spunks, a library of moves, a bloodline richer than the Kennedys, two parents who care and have a really good marriage, but you still go to Cranbrook, MJ, and the pills that Mother gives you don’t do anything at all.”
For the slightest of split seconds, I wonder if I went too far? I squint, ironically as if I’m focusing on something far off, while I search within myself.
Then, the answer is clear.
“You. Won’t. Beat. Us.”
There, that’s better.
Job almost done, I arch my back and stretch my arms high above my head. A calming, deep breath follows. Then, a boastful smile, because I’ve finally gotten to the part of this I care about.
“And lastly, before I go I’d like to share a thought or two about Zeb Martin, eGG Bandit and youthful prodigy hailing from Waterworld, who I will be teaming up with for the very first time.” I nudge close to the edge of my seat, struggling to contain the adoration I have for the Master Baitsman. “This kid is an absolute egg beater, who is going to ruin a lot of people’s tackle boxes. He’s a natural leader, an incredible athlete, deadly with a fishing rod, and has wrestling prowess beyond his experience.”
I glance off to the side, making sure of something.
“Zeb Martin will make a fine Bandit for decades to come, and I’m frothing at the mouth to paint the ring yellow with him for the first of many times this Saturday night.” My facial expression stays the same as my tone, earnest. “And as a sign of the good faith I have in the Bandit’s youth movement, how about I bring him on out here, and let him take this home? Oh, Zebulon?????”
Striding in from stage left in a 97red jumper of his own, with a trucker cap on his head and a fishing pole slung over his shoulder like a rifle, Zeb, humbleblush, Martin. Eager, I stand from my seat and kindly offer it up to him. Then, I bump fists with the Bandit version of MJ Flair, age wise anyway, and walk off the set.
Time to run, kid.
Not all the way, though. I take refuge out of view, wanting to see how he makes out.
Zeb led a fishing trip. It was a fantastic time. I learned a lot about him.
Now we are in crunch time.
Where trust matters more than anything else.
Can Zeb sing the final note on a scorching, tear jerking, Maestro serenade?
My fingernails can’t wait to find out.
May 20, 2020
Remember the Titans
“Bein’ outta yer element’s one of them thangs I’m gettin’ used tuh.”
His body language said it all. Zeb wasn’t exactly the most comfortable in his current outfit, aside from the accessories he had across his shoulder and on top of his head.
“Shore am thankful that I’m startin’ ta be alright in my own skin. Reckon I still got a ways to go on what’s over it, though,” he chortles, tugging at the cloth of the jumper where his wrists met his forearms in an attempt to stretch the sleeves lower.
“But,” Martin confesses, “even though I ain’t been much the type tuh try new thangs, I’m makin’ myself more open to it. Heck, I know Doozer ‘n Bob weren’t much thrilled ‘bout gettin’ out on Lake Mee-shugin’ at the buttcrack, but they went’n did it.”
“Gon’ get real with y’all.”
Zeb leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. While this would normally be indicative of eye contact directly to the camera, that’s one part deep within his skin that he hasn’t yet gotten comfortable in. His eyes drift downward to his feet as he presses on.
“Ain’t been easy leavin’ my comfort zone. But there’s a time when the only way I’dda dun it is if the folks next to me gave me the proper motivatin’. Y’all know that old sayin’ that mommas and daddies used that if yer friends jumped off a cliff, would ya do it? Well, I prolly would. Just so I ain’t lookin’ like the sissy in the group.”
“CJ,” Zeb calls out off camera, “don’t get no ideas.”
“Thang about friends is the best ones test ya. They want ya to get the most out of yer life, an kin take time out from smellin’ their own perfume tuh bring up the ones around ‘em. I ain’t even known the eGG Bandits but a month, and they already gettin’ on all fours tuh boost me over the wall. Nudgin’ me toward the dark and unknown but stayin’ close behind jus’ in case I git skeered. Like a buncha older brothers.”
“Till’ I moved up to Chicago,” Martin reveals, “I was the one in my family makin’ sure the Booger Man ain’t under the bed fer my sisters, makin’ sure they didn’t have to fear nothin’. Guess the role’s done reversed a lil’ bit. But I tell you what, if I didn’t have them boys with me, I might not uh put so much as a pinky toe into cloudy water.”
“I took the right side seat in the cab when me’n Doozer put it on ‘ginst Lucien and Dan Ryan. This week, though? The Maestro himself is handin’ me the baton. Ain’t go’n be much of a sym-pony, so all y’all into classical might not enjoy it. But, we’ll carry us a tune. Shore do hope it’s one that gives us the edge on ol’ High Flyer and miss MJ Flair, but I reckon we’ll see.”
Reclining back into the chair from his elbow-stuck position, Zeb readjusts the Levi Garrett cap. He exhales. This was the part that Cancer Jiles had just recently tried to coach him on. The thing that could very well prove to be the most difficult hurdle to leap.
The art of belittling the opponent with a verbal piledriver.
“MJ, we shore ain’t cut from the same cloth, but both of us got one important thang in common: the comp’ny we keep are willin’ tuh take a chance and help us hop the fence ‘fore they climb it they own selves. Not go’n harp on that too much, ‘cause I thank you shore as heck dun proved you at the point where you kin prolly get over that chain link without no one’s help. Ain’t go’n look at ya no differn’t then Mr. Harmen in terms of experience: yer not some green rookie millennial tuh me.”
“And that ain’t tuh say I’m not underminin’ High Flyer’s big ol’ resume, neither. Man’s kicked more tail longer’n I’ve been wipin’ my own butt. Which, by the way, wudn’t at thirteen,” Zeb snickers, “despite what y’all thank ‘bout us Southern folk. Y’all fer shore a team that brangs the new car shine ‘long with the chassis that’s gone mud boggin’ for years. Youth, experience, and ever’thang in between.”
“Tough break for y’all this time is the eGG Bandits are totin’ the same barbeque to the family reunion,” Martin projects. “And it’s all go’n come down tuh who didn’t forget the sauce. Lookin’ forward tuh tusslin’, MJ and Flyer. We’ll see y’all then.”
From stage left, a Jiles scream. “Just Flyer! God damn it, we have to do the whole thing again!”