Dan Ryan stood with his daughter Cecilia, his face contorted in irritation after having received some troubling news, only a few days following March to Glory, and his first day back in Chicago following a none-too-happy visit to Rome.
The disappointing noontime discovery triggered him, and Dan found himself reflecting on the cyclical nature of existence after discovering that McDonald’s had stopped offering all-day breakfast once again.
He knew that hotcakes and hash browns would return someday outside the traditional hours of the morning meal, just as the flat circle of time turns to bring life where once there was death.
But for now, the cruel hands of fate, like the tag team titles themselves, have snatched away the breakfast menu from the afternoon and evening time. Perhaps the recursive voyage of the sausage biscuit was simply an expression of Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey: departing, returning, departing again—such is life.
“You could just get a quarter pounder.”
Cecilia’s voice broke through his contemplation, and his face scrunched up even more. He gave her a look, not unlike the gaze of a man looking upon the presentation of a pile of slop for a meal, or a man looking upon his daughter for saying something ridiculous, or a man discovering Vulfpeck for the first time.
He turned his eyes back to the rotating digital menu in front of them, trying his best to ignore the din of nonsensical mutterings around him.
She shrugged. “What? You wouldn’t like a quarter pounder?”
“It’s not that I don’t like it,” he said. “I am physically repulsed.”
She pointed at the image of another burger in the center featured panel of the screen. “What about that one?”
He harrumphed, growing more irritated by the second.
“That’s for poor, stupid people.”
“You know,” she replied, glancing up at her father. “Just because you guys lost last night, it doesn’t mean you have to be so damned grumpy. The important thing is you tried real hard and had a good time.”
He looked down on her. Her face was serious, but she was not being serious. She was patronizing. His eyes narrowed a bit. Hers narrowed back.
He had a flash of pride. Then annoyance took over.
She was being so annoying right now.
So very annoying.
“I’m not eating here.”
Dan spun on his heels and shoved his way through the sea of bargain lunch seekers, emerging out onto the sidewalk in front of this urban fast-food shitscape. Cecilia followed in his wake and stepped out beside him, pulling her sunglasses down over her eyes to protect against the sun.
Dan looked at her again, and another wave of annoyance came over him.
“Why are you doing things I do like some sort of diminutive Dan Ryan mini-me? First the sarcasm, now the sunglasses. I really don’t think you should be trying to copy my every move.”
She snorted. “People wear sunglasses when the sun’s out, dad. You didn’t invent that, in case you weren’t aware. You also didn’t invent sarcasm, but you’re doing a pretty good job of creating a new extra bitchy version of grumpy-ass behavior.”
“Bitchy?” He looked down at her, frowning. “For your information, it wasn’t just the match. The flight was absolute shit. My original flight back was canceled and I ended up sitting at an airport bar for almost an entire day. An old man showed me the bruise on his back and it looked like the inside of a pomegranate. It’s been a shitty couple days, alright? If you wanted to help, you could maybe help cheer me up by finding us a decent place to get some food around here.”
Cecilia nodded, placing her hands on her hips.
“It just so happens, I know the perfect little spot.”
She pointed toward a wooded area just down the road, then adopted the playfully insincere tone of a preschool teacher.
“It’s beyond those trees, and beyond more trees, in a dew-kissed glen where the light plays upon the grass.”
Dan’s eyes narrowed.
“We’re not Hansel and Gretel. Name the place.”
Her demeanor changed, and she looked up at him straight-faced.
“I have no idea where any good food places are. I’m not Yelp.”
Dan raised a finger, serious-faced and not amused in the slightest bit. “First of all, what did I tell you about the sarcasm? Second of all, I’m starting to re-think this whole thing with us being more open with each other.”
They started walking, and she shrugged.
“Should’ve had the quarter-pounder….”
I didn’t really wanna lie about it.
Unfortunately, the women in my life go overboard about everything, or at least it feels that way to me.
The flight hadn’t been canceled. It went as scheduled. I just wasn’t on it.
I wasn’t on it….
…because my knee hurt like a motherfucker.
I made a stop in Atlanta to see the doctor. No big deal. Just a check-up.
We’ll see what the MRI turns up.
It doesn’t matter.
Aches and pains add up over time, but they won’t stop me. Nothing stops me. Ever. Delay me, maybe.
I keep coming, relentlessly. That’s always been my trademark and it always will be. So the knee hurts a little more right now. It’s fine. I’ll soldier on like I always do. Besides, no one needs to know.
Lindsay, specifically, doesn’t need to know. She already blames herself for the loss.
It’s not her fault, of course. Win as a team, lose as a team. Pointing fingers is a waste of time.
Still, she’d blame herself for this too.
One thing I do know, I need to get myself back into a groove again. It’s not enough to just cruise along. None of this has been good enough. People are starting to make excuses now, and it pisses me the fuck off. I don’t wanna hear any excuses from anyone, not about themselves and not about me.
Whatever I do, I’m owning it.
Might have to get used to a sturdier knee brace.
I have some losses to make up for, and one match with Kostoff might not do that, but it’s gonna start it.
War Games is coming.
There’s gonna be a lot on the line.
I have to be ready, bad knee or not.
DAN RYAN: I just realized the perfect way to shake myself out of this funk.
Dan Ryan was hunched over, his elbows resting on his knees as he looked down at the floor in a little corner of his Chicago hotel suite. His eyes were closed, but he opened them as he raised his head just enough to glance up camera-forward.
DAN RYAN: Someone shot me a text last night, let me know it was you and me this week, Chris. I’ll be completely honest. I’m excited about it. I never wanted this to be some sort of casual run.
He ran his fingers through his hair, scrunching his eyes hard and then peering back up, the grind of recent months wearing on his face.
DAN RYAN: Right off the bat, I went to bat with the best in the business. I battled Cecilworth Farthington for months, either for the ICON or the World Championship. I came up short plenty, but I also fended off an entire fed to keep taking my shots. People like to talk a lot of shit, but no one else was able to step up and stop me from taking those shots. No one else took him to the limit the way I did. Still…
Ryan shook his head.
DAN RYAN: This is the third time I’ve lost a championship in High Octane, and the second time I’ve lost one without being pinned. I’m happy, no, THRILLED that we have so much new blood around here, and I’m absolutely full of joy that the competition continues to push me to be the best I can be — but this feeling of being… I don’t know… out of sorts — it’s like a splinter in my brain right now. I don’t like it.
He stared straight ahead for a moment, then nodded slightly.
DAN RYAN: Then someone gave me a gift. They gave me the gift of you, Chris. That’s not an insult. In fact, it’s high praise. If you were some scrub off the street, thrown at my feet like some sort of sacrifice, I’d take that a fucking insult. No, in you, they’ve sent me to meet a Hall of Famer, a legend of High Octane, a fucking machine of violence.
A sneer crosses his face as his head tilts slightly.
DAN RYAN: My very first day in this company, I walked to the ring and I punched someone in the face because I needed to see what that man had inside him. I had to see it, and not only to test him but to feel…. I needed it to feel. Whenever I get this way, whenever things start to get out of whack — and if you’re in this business long enough, it’s assured of happening — I go back to the beginning.
Ryan straightens up now, head tilted back slightly, tongue pushing against the inside of his cheek.
DAN RYAN: Someone warned me today to not take you lightly. I’d never insult you that way. In fact, I’m counting on you, Kostoff. I’m counting on you to dish out what I dish out. I’m counting on you to hit back when I punch you in the mouth. I’m counting on you to take what I have to dish out and come back for more. I need you to be there to absorb all I have to give until you can’t physically take anymore because I’ve been promised that you can take more than most.
Ryan smiles now, adopting a more comforting cadence to his speech.
DAN RYAN: I needed a Hall of Famer, and you, my friend are perfect.
There was a knock at the door of the suite, and Dan Ryan looked up from his desk, two rooms away. He got up and made his way to the living room and peeked through the peephole, and saw a young lady perhaps in her 20s, maybe a bit older, holding a brown paper bag in one hand and a larger red bag over her shoulder.
He opened the door and looked at her, a questioning expression on his face.
She held out the paper bag. “Here you go.”
But he wasn’t expecting anything.
“What is this?”
He took the bag, looking at the receipt stapled to the top, and noticed for the first time a ‘GrubHub’ logo on the bag over her shoulder. She was in a rush, so she headed off down the hall to her next delivery.
“It’s already paid for with a tip. Thanks so much!”
He sighed, then looked closer at the receipt, seeing a note just underneath the price.
‘“Stop bitching about things you can’t change, and start changing the things you can. And eat the damn burger.” – Cece’
He tore open the top of the bag and looked inside.
A quarter pounder.
Dan Ryan shook his head, smirked, and slammed the door closed.