North End Tavern
302 N. Main Street
Friday Night October 30th
The ‘Budweiser On Tap’ sign outside the stone exterior lights up the façade over the front door and also illuminates the area surrounding the entrance while shining light in through the two windows on both sides of the glass front door.
Alan Jackson’s “Honky Tonk Christmas” fills the bar with the requisite holiday spirit while the patrons in imbibe in a different type of holiday ‘spirits.’ The brunette bartender in a tank top sporting tattoos up and down her left arm pulled back on the Budweiser lever and poured out a brew for a waiting customer. She served the beer in a cold mug and handed it to one of a long string of people manning the elevated stools at the front bar.
Meanwhile, at a corner table, a bald man with a salt and pepper goatee and an old school Queensryche t-shirt holds up an actual record album- Queensryche’s ‘Operation Mindcrime.’ He shows off the black, white, and yellow illustrated album cover and poses for a picture with several friends and multiple ‘happy birthday’ balloons making up the background of the shot.
Another North End Tavern bartender, this one a middle-aged man in a baseball cap and a black and gold University of Missouri sweatshirt, opens up a jug-like bottle of Crown Royal whiskey located to the left of nine shot glasses waiting to be filled for a party that’s grouped along the bar.
There’s a slight rumble that can be heard and felt inside the building as on the other side of Main Street past a thin row of parallel parking spaces resides a railway line on which a train passes by on.
Somewhere in the mass of happy humanity is Joe Bergman, decidedly un-happy as he’s dressed incognito in a red and black checkered flannel shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap. Joe’s located at a table just off the far corner of the bar, away from the birthday party and the opposite end from where the tattooed brunette continues to pour beer from the tap for her customers.
Joe’s glum expression radiates from his face like a movie on a drive-in movie screen. It’s clear he’s got a lot of things on his mind. A fact that’s not lost on an old Mexican cowboy, a vaquero, who just happens to be sitting at the end of the bar. The man genuinely looked old. Really old. Like one hundred years old really old. His wrinkled brown skin glistened as the overhead light shined on him.
The vaquero eases from his barstool holding a shot of tequila in one hand and made himself at home at Joe’s table- plopping down on the chair next to him much to Bergman’s surprise. The intrusion snaps him out of his thoughts and instantly causes him to sit up straight.
The Vaquero: You sure look like you could use a friend, amigo.
Joe Bergman: You’re probably right.
Tilting his head back, the vaquero downs the shot as if he’s done this thousands of times before and places the empty shot glass on the table upside down with a distinctive thud.
The Vaquero: Ahhhhhh.
Still taken aback by the sudden appearance of the crusty old cowboy, Joe lets himself smile- a little.
The Vaquero: I’ll bet it’s a lady, isn’t it?
Joe’s not quite sure about spilling any information of the sort to the cowboy. However, he knows the vaquero is right, of course, and senses that he probably has a treasure trove of life experiences that would fill an entire set of encyclopedias to reference from.
Joe Bergman: Yeah.
The Vaquero: I’ve got all the time in the world, son.
Leaning forward, elbows on the table and hands propping up his chin, Joe transports back in time to small ‘kerfluffle’ that went down not two hours ago at home when he informed his wife that Lee Best had offered him a contract to wrestle Steve Solex at ICONIC.
Earlier that night…
Laura Bergman: HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?
Immediately on the defensive, Joe holds his hands up to slow down his wife’s temper that builds like a rogue wave out in the middle of the ocean.
Laura Bergman: ARE YOU INSANE?
Joe Bergman: Honey-
Laura Bergman: DON’T YOU HONEY ME!
Laura’s extremely raised tone of voice signifies her very negative feedback towards Joe revelation about Lee’s offer. To be fair, she’s also in her ninth month of pregnancy now and it’s painfully obvious that she’s due to give birth to the Bergman’s first child any day now.
Laura Bergman: THERE’S NO WAY IN HELL YOU BELONG IN A WRESTLING RING! IT’S NOT EVEN FOUR MONTHS FROM WHEN YOU HAD YOUR SURGERY!
Joe Bergman: Laura. Let me explain-
Laura Bergman: NO!
Joe Bergman: Laura-
Laura Bergman: NO. NO. . . .
Joe Bergman: Aw come on-
Laura Bergman: . . . AND NO!
The vaquero snickers at Joe’s description.
The Vaquero: I’ll bet you didn’t get a word in edgewise.
Joe nods in the affirmative and takes a swig from his Budweiser.
Joe Bergman: Nope. Not at first.
Shaking his head, Joe realizes that Laura’s anger at the mere mention of him returning to wrestling even exceeded his expectations. He knew going in this was going to be a tough sell. So he heads for the living room to regroup.
Laura, moving with all the grace and agility of a large aircraft carrier, ponderously plods forward in what can charitably be called a ‘not-so-high speed pursuit.’
Joe Bergman: What.
Laura gives him quite the annoyed look.
Laura Bergman: I don’t understand after everything you’ve gone through in the past four months why you would even consider getting back into the ring.
Joe doesn’t respond.
Laura Bergman: Do you understand just how serious this was? Your heart, dammit. They had to fix a valve in your heart. You cannot think for one second that getting back into the ring – AT ALL – is . . . is . . .
Unable to finish her sentence, Laura just throws up her hands in exasperation.
Laura Bergman: Do you think for one moment your doctor would go along with this? Do you know what he’d tell you? It’s suicide, Joe. Suicide.
Joe turns away from her.
Laura Bergman: I know you’re pissed off over what Steve Solex did to your sister and Dawn McGill. But you can’t get into the ring with him. Steve’s been wrestling for the past six months. You haven’t been in the ring since War Games in June AND YOU JUST HAD MAJOR HEART SURGERY! WHY DO YOU WANT TO DO THIS?
Finally, Joe whirls around- denoting that a dramatic moment is about to take place.
Joe Bergman: BECAUSE I’M A WRESTLER!
Firm and resolute, Joe tries to explain why he has to do this. It helps that Rocky IV is on television at the scene where Rocky Balboa tells Adrian that he’s going to Russia to fight Ivan Drago. Adrian is dead-set against him fighting Drago. Joe picks up a couple lines from the movie.
Joe Bergman: That’s who I am! That’s how I was made.
Joe sneaks a peek at the television.
Joe Bergman: That is what you married. This is all I’ve known for the past fifteen years.
He sees that Laura still can’t grasp the reasoning behind his thinking and again casts a quick glance at the television.
Joe Bergman: I can’t change what I am. All I can do is go with what I am-
She finally blurts out.
Laura Bergman: WOULD YOU STOP WATCHING THE GODDAMN TV AND TALK TO ME!
The Vaquero: I see.
The man rubs his hand over his worn and weathered forehead.
The Vaquero: Joe. I’m a little short on cash. For a shot of tequila, I’m pretty sure I can give you some dang good advice.
Pawing at the half-empty bottle of Budweiser, Joe debates whether or not to accept the offer. As luck would have it, one of the floor waitresses, a busty suicide blonde wearing a cropped top and Daisy Duke shorts with cowboy boots, shows up at the table at the exact moment Joe proceeds to finish off most of the remaining beer in the bottle.
Waitress: Can I get you another one, darlin’?
Joe examines his now nearly empty bottle of Bud and exhales.
Joe Bergman: Yes.
Joe points at his new friend.
Joe Bergman: He’ll have a shot of tequila.
The waitress acknowledges the order,
Waitress: Comin’ right up darlin’.
She returns a couple minutes later and places the bottle of beer in front of Joe at the table, the shot of tequila in the vaquero’s hand. Joe pulls out a twenty from his wallet and hands the bill to her.
Joe Bergman: Merry Christmas.
Smiling, the waitress thanks Joe and heads to the next table.
Joe mumbles under the breath to himself.
Joe Bergman: Well, at least I made one person’s night.
The vaquero raises his glass.
The Vaquero: Cheers.
The vaquero downs the shot in one quick gulp and again resolutely puts the empty glass upside down on the table.
The Vaquero: Okay Joe. First off, don’t leave your beer in the hot Texas sun.
‘Proper advice’ Joe thinks to himself.
The Vaquero: Don’t live your life like a sad country song.
Joe thought that made sense.
The Vaquero: Never argue with a woman while she’s holding a gun.
Joe Bergman: That goes without saying.
The Vaquero: Good. Now listen close. Pride is a bandito, breaking hearts as he goes . . .
Then he points at Joe.
The Vaquero: . . . and a fool in the stool is still a fool- right or wrong.
Pushing the chair back and rising to his feet, the old vaquero cut an imposing figure even at his advanced age.
The Vaquero: Go home my friend. Go home to her and make it right.
Joe returns a weary smile to the sage advice he’s just received.
Joe Bergman: That’s the best counsel I’ve been given all day.
The Vaquero: You know what to do.
Joe nods back as the vaquero turns to leave. But a few steps later, the vaquero stops and turns back to him.
The Vaquero: But whatever you do, and I cannot emphasize this enough mi amigo, it is not wise to ever . . . EVER . . . compare your very pregnant wife to a large celestial planetoid with orbiting celestial bodies . . . or to a Goodyear blimp . . . or to a large aircraft carrier.
He pulls the cowboy hat down over his eyes.
The Vaquero: That’s just wack.
Joe Bergman: Right. Gotcha.
The Vaquero: Vaya con dios.
Saturday November 28th, 2020
Standing in the middle of a Missouri Valley Wrestling ring, long flowing blonde hair extending down to waist level in the back, MVW’s resident backstage interviewer Kellie Burkowski holds court in her sleeveless black mini-dress with a pair of black tennis shoes (she tends to have to run from place to place on show night).
A HOTv camera is trained on her as the HOTv television crew films the event for MVW’s weekly Monday wrestling show.
Kellie also has the distinction of being the one who followed long-time HOW backstage interviewer Blaire Moise after Blaire returned to High Octane Wrestling (Blaire had inexplicatively been released by HOW and spent a few months at MVW before she was brought back). On a side note, one of the perks of being on HOTv is Blaire getting to mentor the twenty-two years old rookie broadcaster still learning her craft in the first year of her broadcast career and still relatively fresh out of college.
Kellie calls out to the fans.
Kellie Burkowski: Springfield, Missouri! Thank you all for coming out here tonight!
She speaks to the crowd with enthusiasm and youthful energy.
Kellie Burkowski: We’ve got a special guest to bring out right now. And we want to bring out-
Kellie catches herself and makes a quick on-air correction.
Kellie Burkowski: – I mean, it is my pleasure to bring out the one and only, the TWO-time High Octane Wrestling World champion and former HOW Tag Team champion! Ladies and gentlemen, welcome with me . . .
She points towards the stage at the far end of the arena where a spotlight now shines. The fans rise to their feet when the opening bars of Sammy Hagar and the Circle’s brand new record, a cover of David Bowie’s class ‘Heroes’ begins to play and Kellie bends back and bellows into the microphone.
Kellie Burkowski: ‘ORDINARY’ JOE BERG-MANNNNNN!
Vic Johnson’s chugging guitar mixed with Michael Anthony’s always reliable bass holding down the fort and Jason Bonham’s pounding drumbeat rocks the arena and amps the crowd so when Joe appears on stage, they’re ready to let loose.
“I. I will be king.”
Relaxed and clearly enjoying himself, Joe scans the crowd and takes it all in.
It’s been a while.
“And you. You will be queen.”
He raises his arms and mouths ‘thank you’ to the cheering fans.
“Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day”
After Hagar finishes the first verse of the song, the crowd- already singing along with the Red Rocker- makes sure their voices are heard at the chorus.
“WE CAN BE HEROES . . . JUST FOR ONE DAY!”
Joe makes his way towards the ring, slapping and shaking hands all the way down. He rolls under the bottom rope and joins Kellie in the middle of the ring.
Kellie Burkowski: Welcome back Joe.
Big grin. Joe’s pleased to be back in a wrestling ring.
Joe Bergman: Thank you Kellie. You have no idea how great it is to be here tonight.
The HOTv cameras maneuver around the ring- one camera close up on Joe, the other camera a two shot of both Kellie and Joe. There’s a third HOTv technician in the ring. He’s the guy holding up a portable monitor. On the monitor is HOW’s Refueled show and Steve Solex is wrestling Zeb Martin right now.
Kellie Burkowski: I tell you what Joe. You can hear the chatter not only here in Springfield, Missouri tonight but all across the American Heartland. People want to know why you– Joe Bergman- have decided to come back and face Steve Solex, face to face, at HOW’s ICONIC show.
Joe Bergman: Kellie, that’s right. Joe Bergman will wrestle Steve Solex face to face at ICONIC just like you and I are face to face right now in this very ring. Why? Because if nothing else, what this world needs right now is . . . HEROES!
The video screen at the JHQ Arena comes to life.
(VIDEO CLIP: High Octane Wrestling’s Refueled XXXIX)
Solex pulls a PBR from the back pocket of his black operator style cargo pants and holds it up to the crowd, a sort of ceremonial toast to the crowd as Barbie Q cheers him on with a clap and a smile.
The scene shakes wildly as the camera man has been startled and loses his footing or grip of the camera, it’s hard to tell but he quickly regains focus, and zeros in on Barbie Q laid out flat on the cement floor of Section 214 and covered in beer. The crowd roars with boos as the sister of Joe Bergman lies flat and motionless.
He slowly inches closer to the fallen body of Barbie Q until he’s standing completely over her. He wads a mouthful of saliva and snot and spits it right into her face. She doesn’t move. She remains still, the loogie dripping down the side of her face.
Joe shakes his head in dismay.
Joe Bergman: No. That wasn’t real heroic now wasn’t it?
Again, the video screen comes on with a second video clip.
(VIDEO CLIP: Rumble at the Rock)
Solex drops McGill to the floor and rolls her into the cell. Solex goes to shut the cell door, but it flies back open and hits him right in the face. He stumbles a few steps backward as McGill lunges toward him.
The two exchange punches, but suddenly Solex pokes McGill right in the eye. She immediately drops to a knee and is clearly in agony as she shouts out. Solex grabs her by the hair and slams her head first into the concrete wall. McGill falls to a knee again. Solex drags her over to the cell door, and instead of throwing her inside…he first smashes her head in the steel door, and then unceremoniously shoves her to the ground inside the cell. Solex pulls a skeleton key from his pocket, shuts the gate and locks it closed.
The crowd boos.
Joe Bergman: No, that wasn’t really heroic either. And then there’s this.
(VIDEO CLIP: Refueled XLV)
“This Means War” by Avenged Sevenfold plays throughout the arena as Steve Solex makes his way out onto the entrance ramp from behind the curtain.
Benny Newell: Oh my God, this is GREAT!
The crowd boos wildly as Solex marches down the ramp, with Zeb Martin drugged unconscious and tied down in a wheelchair. Steve Solex runs and jumps onto the back of the wheelchair, like some kid in the grocery store pushing the cart when his parents are paying attention.
Benny Newell: Zeb Martin must have requested to come out and join us as well. Look at Steve Solex, still living up to that number 1 dad moniker!
Solex takes the ride all the way down the entrance ramp, and around the ring to the commentator position. He takes a seat next to Benny Newell, and fastens his headset. He grabs an extra headset and haphazardly places it on Zeb’s head.
Joe sadly shakes his head.
Joe Bergman: Nope. Not heroic. Steve Solex served our country and for that he deserves our respect and gratitude. But since September, whenever he tries to pass himself off as a hero, well, let’s just say that Steve falls a little short in that department. A hero doesn’t blame everyone else for his shortcomings. He’s mad at me because I won the tag belts with Andy Murray. He’s mad at Barbie-Q and blames her for PBR not working. He’s mad at Dawn McGill because she didn’t back down from him so he locked her in a cell at Rumble at the Rock. And I don’t know why he did what he did to Zeb Martin. A hero isn’t jealous. And that’s what this is all about. Jealousy.
Kellie Burkowski: You’re saying that you feel Steve Solex was jealous of your success?
Joe really doesn’t want to say that. But . . .
Joe Bergman: I guess. Hell, I guess the question is this. If Steve Solex would have won the golden ticket that night and was the one who teamed with Andy Murray against the Hollywood Bruvs, would he be acting the same way he’s acting now? Hell no.
Kellie Burkowski: And what about you? Would you, Joe Bergman, be acting the same way he’s acting now?
Joe Bergman: Would I be acting like Steve is now if he would have won the golden ticket and won the tag belts with Murray? I can answer that question Kellie- hell no. I would have been happy for him. Jealous in some respect- yes. But I would have been happy and supported him. The fact of the matter is I came to the table wanting to make PBR a success. I came to the table fully committed to making that tag team work. And it could have worked had I not got sick. The real truth is while I was committed to the team- to PBR, Steve Solex was committed to himself. That’s why he’s blaming me for PBR failing- even though there was nothing I could do once the diagnosis came down and I was done with wrestling, well, at least for the moment.
Kellie Burkowski: Does this mean you are back in wrestling full speed ahead?
Joe Bergman: No. This is definitely a one-off. That was the deal I made with my wife to do this. One match and out. I am back for one reason and one reason only- to take care of unfinished business.
Kellie Burkowski: Solex?
Joe Bergman: No. War Games. I didn’t like the way my career ‘ended.’ So thanks to Lee Best for putting this together. Lee may be blind but he can still see a perfectly good grudge match and certainly given Steve’s behavior since September this would qualify as a grudge match. But yeah, losing the tag belts at War Games and then finding out twenty-four hours later that I had a big health problem put a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. At ICONIC, I will kill two birds with one stone. I will take care of Steve Solex and bury the memory of War Games.
Kellie Burkowski: And if you don’t win?
Joe Bergman: Then I don’t win. The bottom line is that I will go to ICONIC. I will compete to the best of my ability. I won’t have the Best Alliance behind me but I’ll have my own ‘Best Alliance’ backing me- the people. I’m always outmanned and outgunned talent wise – the two star schmuck, the underdog, the dark horse, but here I am again. Still standing after heart surgery. Still fighting like hell to make the most of my opportunities. I will feed off the energy of Section 214 and use it to fight like I’ve never had to fight before. Solex thinks life’s thrown him a curveball? Life throws all of us curveballs. It threw me a whopper of a curveball in June. But you know what? I survived. I’m still standing here Steve. He wanted to get my attention- he’s got it. And I plan on making him pay for what he did to Barbie-Q and Dawn McGill and make good what I should have done at War Games. Then after the match, I’m taking Section 214 for a celebration.
Kellie Burkowski: What was the ‘thing’ about you and Section 214?
Joe Bergman: Section 214 wasn’t all about me. Section 214 was always about the fans. The sad thing Kellie is Steve Solex could have been a hero. He could have continued on with what he and I started with PBR and the folks in Section 214. Instead, he turned his back on it.
Joe points to the crowd.
Joe Bergman: I was a part of Section 214. Not the leader- a part. My part was playing big time wrestler. Their part was supporting us and cheering us on. They were a big part of my success- hell, the fans were an important part of my success going back to the Halitosis days. Look, I had days after the surgery where I woke up and the last thing I wanted to do is get out of bed. The people in Section 214 have to get up and go to work every day- and I did too. Because I had to- it’s the only way I was going to regain my strength and get better. My job for four months was to get well. Even on the bad days, I had to put my head down and keep pushing forward. When Lee Best called, I really had to go to work to get in wrestling shape. Am I in the best shape now? Not even close. Am I ready for this? Probably not. I’m going to need Section 214 to get behind me like they’ve never got behind me before because at ICONIC . . . WE can be heroes . . . just for one day.
The HOTv tech points to the portable monitor. Zeb Martin has just pinned Steve Solex. Barbie-Q is in the ring and about to punt Solex in the balls.
Joe motions towards the fans and then points to himself.
Joe Bergman: I promise you this. At ICONIC, we will be heroes.
Kellie steps back and out of the camera shot. The HOTv tech with the monitor counts down. Joe can see that Solex has pulled himself up from the mat at the Best Arena in Chicago, Illinois and is trying to recover from what just happened.
The tech points at Joe.
Joe Bergman: Hello Steve.