It’s been five long years.
I’d fallen out of love with wrestling, and everything that once made it my addiction.
The competition. Training my body and mind, pushing myself to my absolute physical and mental limits. Putting my abilities to the test against some of the most athletic, intelligent, dangerous men and women involved in the industry. Feeling the thrill that comes with success, and the gut wrenching pit that develops with defeat.
The energy. The energy of the live audience, both the good and bad. Seeing and experiencing each end of the spectrum. Being cheered and adored by thousands, rooting for my success. The audience wanting nothing but the best for me. Then the other end. Being jeered and hated by the masses, my name chanted in disgust. The angry mob wanting nothing more than the lack of my existence.
The fortune. The small fortune that came with what fame I had earned and grown within wrestling and pop culture circles. The fortune that didn’t get invested, but rather was immediately flipped into drinks, women and good times aplenty. A fortune that never had a dollar value so much as created memories that could never be taken away, for they were mine and mine alone.
But the point came where it wasn’t enough. The Competition. The Energy. The Fortune. Teddy Palmer and wrestling had run its course. A breakup was on the horizon, and like any other relationship, last ditch efforts were made. Promises to change. Proclamations of love. Convincing oneself that existing without the other wouldn’t be any sort of existence at all.
But that breakup inevitably came. It was sad, but at the same time welcome. Time healed the wounds, and the bitterness eventually subsided. I reached a point where I only looked back on the good memories. I didn’t dwell on the defeats, I appreciated the success and accolades. I didn’t focus or think about those who rooted against me, but rather those who supported me. I didn’t think so much about what could have been, but rather what was.
I began to remember why we were perfect for one another…
January 21st, 2020
“What the fuck, Ted?” Larry growls. “You’re seriously going down this road again?”
Larry, in typical big brother fashion, gives me the exact response I expected regarding my announcement. Sitting perched atop his stool, his weight is leaning forward through the elbows digging into the rustic tabletop. His piercing eyes glare into mine.
“Wrestling? Everything that is wrong or has gone wrong in your life can be linked to wrestling, one way or another.”
“Well that’s just not true.” I quip back. “There are plenty of issues that factor into what’s wrong with me.”
Leaning back on my stool, I try to create the distance between the two of us that Larry seems hellbent on eliminating. If it weren’t for the table between us, I’m certain his handprint would be radiating on my cheek.
“This isn’t a joking matter. You’re in a good place. Why risk it by going back to what sent you spiraling out of control?”
“In a good place? Me? In a good place? I’m an alcoholic, sitting in a bar, sipping on my third whiskey. Oh and it’s a Tuesday night, by the way.”
Interrupting Larry, I continue.
“How about my legal issues? You remember, dontcha? Morning Wood Productions slapping me with that ridiculous copyright suit that left me with next to nothing. All my hard work in the adult film industry, all for naught.”
“Then there was that pyramid scheme I bought into. That fiasco actually left me with nothing, except a warm, comfy spot sleeping on my brothers futon.”
“Did you really think you were going to sell ‘women’s empowerment’?”
“And to top it all off, this cherry on top of Ted’s shit sundae.”
Outstretching my arms, I invite the musty air of Northwood Tavern to envelop me. Taking a massive whiff, the intoxicating smell of stale nacho platters and urine is almost enough to bring this grown man to tears.
“No one is forcing your hand here. I told you I can get you an interview with the force. You get in, it’s only six months at the Police College and you’ll be making 60k, year one.”
“Be a cop? Gross. I have standards.”
Larry’s fists clench tight, his knuckles going white. Before the outburst behind his lips can be unleashed, a slurred voice in the distance interrupts.
“Heeeey Ted, could I getcha Rye n Coke?” Jeff, a frequent patron of Northwood Tavern shouts from three tables over.
“Can’t you see I’m in the middle of something here?”
“I uh, yessir, but I asked for one like uh fift’n minutes go.”
“Are your legs broken?”
“I asked if your legs were broken?”
“No?” He replies, as if he’s unsure as to whether his legs are indeed broken or not.
“Then get off your ass, walk over to the bar, and get your own fucking Rye and Coke. I’m on my break. Jesus Christ.”
Jeff looks towards Larry and I in bewilderment, but soon realizes that my spoken words are void of any hint of sarcasm or humour, and that I’m serious. He stands ups, and ironically enough, limps his way towards the bar.
“Can you believe that guy? We’re clearly dealing with something over here.”
“I know. Complete asshole. Expecting you to do the job your paid to do. The nerve.” Larry says.
“Fuck you. And oh, fuck you too about wrestling. You may be my big brother but I don’t need your permission or blessing for shit. High Octane Wrestling is my chance.” Pausing, the weight of that statement is like a car crashing full speed into a brick wall. “High Octane Wrestling is my last chance…”
Larry’s aggressiveness heads into retreat, and I can see he’s actually listening to me. He does care, to a fault at times. He may of raised me when we were kids, but I’m not his responsibility anymore. I haven’t been for a long time.
“Last chance for what?” he asks.
“To make something of myself. I’m 32 years old now. My wrestling career through my twenties was a joke. I was so obsessed with building a brand, and growing it and filtering it into every and any avenue possible, that I left so many opportunities on the table.”
“To be great, Larry! To be remembered as one of the greatest to lace up the boots. One of the greatest to throw down in the squared circle. I never made it to the top of the mountain, and let’s be real here, there’s absolutely no reason that I didn’t aside from my own stupidity.”
“And what changes that this time around? You’re heading there with Red and Grady, again. The three of you have been fired from how many promotions? When do you admit that that formula doesn’t work, and if anything, it’s toxic.”
“Again, my own stupidity. I cost us those opportunities. I was the one who got us shitcanned. Every. Single. Time. To be honest, I don’t understand why Red is even my friend at this point. That guy continued to stick his neck out for me knowing full well that I’d fuck it up somehow.”
“Great Ted, you can admit you’ve fucked up. That’s only half the equation. The other half is actually changing. So again I ask, what changes this time?”
Fuck. This guy is like a dog with a bone. Pulling the pack of smokes from the breast pocket of my Northwood Tavern golf shirt, I remove one of the cancerous sticks and light it up.
“Realizing my perceived weaknesses can actually be some of my greatest strengths. My stupidity. My immaturity. I can harness it.”
“How…I…you…” Larry struggles to comprehend my statement and formulate a response.
“Just follow me here. Those ‘weaknesses’ lead me to make decisions your ordinary man wouldn’t dare to even consider. Now, some would view those decisions in the vein of being reckless, however I choose to view them in the vein of having the courage your ordinary man lacks.”
“And…you are going to harness this? How may I ask?”
“It’s simple: direct that energy down one path, and one path only. In this instance, High Octane Wrestling.”
“Ted. This pitch here. It’s, uh, straight up bullshit.”
“See, I get why you say that. But check the history on this one big bro. How’d my career start out?”
“That’s right, straight up Dwayne Johnson. When did it begin to go downhill?”
“Well signing that three picture deal with that porn company didn’t help.”
“Right. And what else?”
“Creating the Sexton Hardon fashion line that was wildly inappropriate.”
“Mmmhmm and what else”
“The sponsorship with Trojan Condoms? Where are you going with this?”
“Those weaknesses didn’t doom me. My lack of focus doomed me. If I had directed all my energy into just wrestling instead of building a brand and whoring it out, imagine what could have been.”
“You were on track to do great things…”
“Well, you won’t have to imagine ‘what if’ much longer.”
He wants to believe me, I can see it. He truly wants to believe this time is different than every other time. But he’s heard speeches like this before. And he’s watched it all come crashing down.
That’s okay though. I’m not lying this time. Not to him. Not to Red or Grady. Not to Lee Best. Most importantly, I’m not lying to myself. It’s different this time. I can feel it in my bones.
The piercing shriek rips through the tavern, rudely interrupting my inner monologue that had Larry staring blankly at me. The voice is familiar and quite frankly, unwelcome.
The short, stocky owner of the voice, and the Northwood Tavern, rumbles towards my table. With each thunderous step, you can hear the weeze that accompanies his exhales. He tries to stop short of the table, but his overhanging stomach splashes against its edge, spilling my whiskey.
“Are you drinking on the job?! Again?!” He moans.
“Calm it down Patrick, I’m on break.”
“I don’t give two shits if you’re on break, you can’t drink on the clock. Ever! And my name’s not Patrick!”
“Woah, wait just a second here. Your name isn’t Patrick?”
“It’s Mark! The name that signs your paycheck every week. And put that cigarette out!” He snaps, snatching the dart from between my fingers.
“Then who is Patrick?”
Mark’s hand slaps his face. I can only imagine the frustration underneath his clenched eyelids that are being held tightly by his chubby fingers. It’s an expression I’m quite accustomed to seeing when dealing with members of upper management.
“I can’t handle this anymore Ted. YOU’RE FIRED! Get out of here, now!”
“Are you kidding me? Drinking on the job? Smoking inside the bar? Not doing your job, at all?” He questions, waiting for me to me to connect the dots.
“Okay, okay. Drinking, you got me. Smoking, sure. But doing my job? That’s where I draw the line. I do my job, and I do it well.”
Mark’s eyes widen as he shuffles to his right side slightly, so I can peer over his outstretched left arm.
“Drunk Jeff is serving himself and other customers drinks while you’re sitting here drinking with your brother.”
He’s not wrong, and frankly, the evidence doesn’t look good at all. Before I can reply, my phone begins to vibrate, dancing across the whiskey soaked table top. Picking the phone up, the screen illuminates, reading ‘Grady Patrick’. Lifting my index finger up towards Mark to indicate I need a moment, he is perplexed as I answer my phone.
“Grady, what’s the word hummingbird?”
“Haven’t you seen any of my messages?”
“Nope, been busy crossing those T’s and dotting them I’s. Taking care of business up here before I head down there.”
“Ted, your pool was released Sunday. Your first matchup was announced SUNDAY. You need to get your ass here ASAP.” He says, his words fast and mumbled with urgency.
“Okay Grady, just relax. When do I debut?”
“Saturday Night, Ted! Saturday Night! Where are you?”
“Northwood Tavern…” I reply, knowing I’m about to hear the little man in the bowler cap bitch and moan.
“Northwood Tavern! That hole in the wall you’ve been bartending at since you declared bankruptcy!? TED!”
“Grady, I’m flying out tomorrow. You have nothing to worry about. I’m just doing the responsible thing, finishing my last shift before quitting.”
“YOU’RE FIRED TED!” Mark screams.
Looking at Mark, I reiterate my need for a moment, extending my free index finger towards him, with a bit more authority this time.
“I’m sending you the press release, one more time. Read it. Learn it. Don’t forget it. And for the love of God, get your ass out here tomorrow, no later.”
“Grady, you have my word.”
Pulling the phone away from my ear, I can’t help but think how rude it was to hang up without saying ‘see you later’. Within seconds, a text alert buzzes through from Grady.
LBI 2020 Press Release
Clicking on the link, as promised by Grady, everything I need to know is there. Quickly scanning the information at hand, I can’t help but smile seeing versus beside the Palmer name once again. It’s with great excitement that I toss the phone on the table, for both Larry and Mark to see.
“Well Mark, I’m officially serving notice that tonight is indeed my last night. My life’s journey has hit that fork in the road, so to speak, and I’ve chosen my path, and it’s not Northwood Tavern.”
Mark and Larry look down at the phone. Larry’s expression evolves into that of slight confusion, whereas Marks greasy lips widen with a creepy smile.
“I veered off my path of destiny years ago, stripping the world of wrestling from witnessing the ascent of one of the greatest performers and competitors of this generation. I owe it to myself and the fans to rightfully take my place in the annals of pro wrestling history. The story of Teddy Palmer is about to have its final chapter written. Spoiler Alert: it’s going to have a happy Hollywood ending.”
“And it starts with this Black Mamba fellow?” Mark asks as Larry shakes his head.
“It starts with Black Mamba.”
“Any idea who he is?”
“Not even the slightest inkling. But I’m going to meet up with Red and Grady, I’m going to do my research on Mr. Mamba, and I am going to coordinate the game plan of all game plans to show the world that Teddy Palmer hasn’t lost a step.”
“And, uh…who is…” Marks voice cracks as he tries to hold back his laughter. “TOM PALMER” he blurts out, losing his shit.
Larry hasn’t stopped shaking his head, as I feel my smile retract. I grab the phone, my eyes darting line to line. Refueled. Saturday, January 25th. Black Mamba versus Tom Palmer…
Tom Palmer. Fuck me.
“Looks like pro wrestling has forgotten all about Teddy Palmer.” Mark blurts out, piling on to my rosy cheeked embarrassment. “Now if you would kindly get out of my bar, that’d be fantastic.”
Unclipping the “Theodore” name tag from my shirt, I place it on the table. Sliding off my stool, I let my feet hit the ground. I sulk passed the cackling owner towards the exit. I can feel Larry’s presence behind me, as the sting of embarrassment follows with him.
“Bye Ted.” Jeff yells from behind the bar.
“Take care, Jeff.” I fire back.
“Get out from behind my bar! And you are all paying for those drinks!” Mark yells for all to hear.
Pushing the door open, I step into the snow that has been littering Toronto’s streets since mid afternoon. The fresh winter air is quite the contrast from that of the Tavern. The cool wind is soothing on my flush cheeks. Closing my eyes, I can’t help but repeat the name internally.
Tom Palmer. Tom Palmer. Tom Fucking Palmer.
Have I been forgotten?
Larry places his hand on my shoulder, breaking me from my torturous trance. His eyes peer into mine.
“I can’t say that I agree with your decision…”
“No. You talked, now you listen”
His grasp on my shoulder is firm, but the look in his eyes is different than earlier.
“I don’t agree with your decision. It worries me. History has shown that greatness is a potential path for you. But it’s also shown the likely path is failure, heartache and self destruction. I want to believe this time is different, I really do.”
“Time will tell. But regardless, I’m here for you. You know what you can achieve. I know what you can achieve. Remind the world who Teddy Palmer is and don’t fuck it up.”
No response is needed other than a knowing head nod. Turning away from Northwood Tavern’s entrance, for what is hopefully that last time, we walk off into the brisk snow flurries.
“I love you bro.” I say, breaking the silence. Those four words mean more than the obvious statement.
I won’t let you down.
I appreciate you.
“I love you too, Tom.”
What a fucking dick…