The meeting went off without a hitch. It was exactly what I figured it would be based on their reaction when I called them the day before. I drove down to the “office,” or, as I like to call it, a small, run down medical clinic on the outskirts of town, and they talked a lot…I listened.
I wanted to tell them they could count on me, I wanted to tell them I’d been ready to be a part of something bigger since I signed on with HOW…that was one of the things that made me sign on the dotted line: Lee Best’s promise of a great world of new opportunities, to be a part of something bigger than myself (if that’s possible – literally, not figuratively), to be on every television set in the United States of America.
But we all know what I really said.
Maybe that was for the best. Maybe what I needed to do was just stop worrying about all the things flowing through my mind, and just focus on what matters right now: taking Cecilworth Farthington to task, and showing these four what they’ve invested in, what kind of rewards they’ll get in return. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not expecting to be placed on a throne, or to be fawned over by the likes of the Bandits…no. I just want to be able to do my part, to be a member of a team…that’s what I’ve been missing since my rugby days.
What was with this guy anyways? He wants to make an example out of me? Please, the only example he’s making is how to be a top tier transitional champion. Hell, I wonder how it feels going from being the chocolate in the neapolitan ice cream to being the strawberry? I mean, I don’t think it matters, everyone knows Cecilworth Farthington will always be the stinky pinky of the Group of Death…SHOCKER!
That’s when the idea was thrown around about taking some classes. Working on some balance, maybe some cardio…I mean, all the big guys in football do it, right? I wasn’t a football guy, but if it’s good enough for them, it’s gotta be good enough for me, right? Apparently it helps them clear their minds too, and, well…I could use that. So, what’s the harm? What’s the worst that can happen?
I remember October of my first year at George Brown College. I even remember the biggest punch in the dick I ever had on that rugby pitch. I was watching the ball sail through the air, deep into our end…and I remember the look on Paul’s face when he realized he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. That motherfucker!
Paul was the fullback on the team, and he had this penchant for always pushing forward. Why, I’ll never understand, but he did…and usually it worked.
It was the last minute of the match and we were up by two points over Mohawk College who, of course, were our rivals AND the best college team in Toronto, right? So the ball lands a good fifteen metres behind Paul and I was already on my way there.
But I wasn’t the only one…and I wasn’t the mountain I am now. No, I was a pretty scrawny bastard then…I looked awkward and gangly, like my legs and arms were too long for my torso or something. But I was fast, I had good hands, and I could take a hit, so Inside Centre was the spot for me. I remember seeing movement from my right JUST as I got to the ball, two steps ahead of Paul, and that’s when I got knocked clean out of my boots – seems that movement I saw? It was Mohawk’s Number Eight with an opportunity, and oh boy howdy did he take that opportunity.
He ran right over me like I wasn’t even there. I remember seeing stars and smelling copper, and then I remember the cheering…and that’s when I knew Paul didn’t make a difference either.
It was a team building experience…I think that’s what they call it. We all learned something, so it qualifies I think. I learned more than one thing that day, in all actuality…I learned a couple of things. The first thing I learned was that I had to start hitting the weights a hell of a lot more. The second was how to overcome a big loss as a team…as a unit…and we did.
They gave me the address of the YMCA a few blocks away from my apartment, and told me about the class I was on my way to. He said it would help with my cardio, and apparently the music’s really good – I’ll be the fucking judge of that. I SHOULD be focusing on Farthington, not going to step aerobics with a room full of Karens!
I mean, it could be worse: it could be a room full of Cecilworth Farthingtons. The thought makes my skin crawl…utterly. I can’t stand his condescending tone, this bullshit idea that he’s so far above everyone? Must be the British coming out…I mean hey, after all, I’m just a dumb redneck colonial, right? That’s my other advantage, if you think about it – call it a National pride thing.
I walked into the front lobby and looked at the handwritten schedule on the whiteboard behind the tired looking receptionist. Sure enough, 2:45 in the Sunset room: Step Aerobics with Karen. Oh, sweet irony.
As I walked down the hallway towards the locker room, there it was on the right: The Sunset Room. That’s when my heart sank. Large windows allowed onlookers to gawk and stare, exactly what I DIDN’T want. I shook my head and carried on down the hallway.
As I pushed open the door and stepped inside, the smell of stale sweat hit me like a bat to the face. I don’t know whether it was that, or the overweight, naked senior citizens mulling about having conversations with each other, but I wanted to vomit. I managed to find a spot in the corner that was unoccupied and I set my bag on the sturdy bench that ran down the middle of the banks of lockers on either wall, and as I sat down and closed my eyes, for a few moments I was back on the pitch again.
It was the beginning of November when we played Georgian in the first round of the playoffs. We’d come a long way as a team, after that big loss we’d gone undefeated for the rest of the season. I mean, when it’s only five games, that doesn’t say much. But still, we went undefeated for four games.
They were making a break on the flank, the ball making its way down the line: scrum half to inside centre, inside centre straight across to their winger, and he took off. Their front 5 were lagging behind, fighting to release from the scrum, and our wing line pushed forward, buying time for the big guys to catch up. Stu dove towards their winger, who neatly paused and tossed the ball ever so gently to his left, directly into the hands of their second winger who charged along the sidelines.
Without warning, their winger tripped and went sailing, dropping the ball. That was our saving grace that game – the ball skittered out of bounds and we all breathed a sigh of relief. We’d dominated Georgian on lineouts, and all we had to do was hold on, just keep possession off of the lineout and we were on our way…and we did.
The ball sailed into play, from the sideline directly into the hands of Jason, being lifted aloft by John and Rob. He pulled the ball close and landed on his feet, turning his back to the other team and setting up a maul. As both teams pushed back and forth, the shrill whistle of the referee brought the game to a close.
We’d won again…5 in a row. One more win would put us in the championship game…and we were hungry for some gold.
I strolled into the Sunset Room quietly and set my bag along the wall with everyone else’s. When I scanned the room, I was pleasantly surprised – not a “Karen” in sight, well, save for the instructor. No, most of the attendees were just like the old guys in the shower, shrivelled up husks of what used to be vibrant, healthy people. The majority of them noticed me early, the clucking in the hen house was that someone new had finally showed up.
They eyeballed me with nervous smiles, unsure of what to make of the six foot nine, four hundred plus pound behemoth that had decided to show up for step aerobics. I made sure to dress comfortably, basketball shorts and a tee shirt, nothing fancy. My Adidas runners were laced up, and I was ready to step…or die trying.
Just like Saturday night…except I wouldn’t be doing YMCA step aerobics then, I’d be stepping on an untarnished record. Or I’d die trying.
There were various coloured plastic steps arranged in neat rows on the floor, surrounded by what was presumably enough room for a participant to move freely. Looking at them, and then at myself, I was pretty sure this wasn’t going to work properly.
That’s when Karen walked in. She was a pleasant surprise: far from the blonde soccer mom with resting bitch face, no, this Karen was straight out of the 80s, and easily in her 50s. Her cheetah print bathing suit style workout gear with the black unitard underneath, and the teased hair? I don’t think she’d changed a thing since 1994, and to be honest, it suited her.
“Good morning, class! Welcome to beginner’s step aerobics with Karen – that’s me! Nice to see familiar faces, and one new one! Everyone, I want you all to say hi to Rick…I’m sure you’re all seen him already, I mean, he’s pretty hard to miss…”
She gestured at me and I felt their eyes on me again. Some smiled, some waved – I did the same.
“…now, from what I was informed, Rick here is a Cancer, he likes long walks on the beach, and apparently he’s single, but he might not be ready to mingle just yet, Gladys!”
A small chuckle erupted in the room before Karen bent down and pressed play on the boom box plugged into the wall.
As it searched for the beginning of the song queued up, Karen tried to get everyone together and ready.
“Ok, everyone! Let’s get ready to step! We’ll start off slow, work ourselves in…I don’t want any pulled muscles on my watch!”
As “Mr. Vain” began playing, Karen began stepping up and down every other beat, urging the others to start as well. I did my best to follow along, and at first, oh was it awkward. But once I started listening to the thumping 90s dance music, the rhythm started coming naturally…and it was fun!
My cares started floating away…all I cared about was keeping up with people three times my age! My cares about Matt Klazzic, about Scott Woodson, no. Those cares melted away.
But Cecilworth? He was still there. In my thoughts. Like the virus he is to High Octane Wrestling, I had the chance to be the antibiotic. I had to make this work – I had to make HIM work. This can’t just be a walk in the park for him…that’s on me. I’ve been in this same situation many times, when shit’s on the line and it’s just up to you? That’s when you find out what kind of man you really are.
It was the end of November, and the season was wrapping up. We managed to make short work of Laurentian College in the semi-finals, and now we were on to the finals. And just our luck, Mohawk College was the opponent. The very same Mohawk College team who handed us our only loss that year.
Just before halftime, Mohawk tried the same play that had netted them a victory earlier in the season. The ball sailed high into the air, over everyone’s head, deep into our defensive zone…but wouldn’t ya know it, Paul had learned – admittedly, he took that loss hard, blaming himself…he didn’t push up for the rest of the season, and he sure as hell hadn’t now.
The ball landed right in Paul’s arms and he sprinted forward, making it almost clear of our twenty two metre line before getting touched. I was on the move too, headed over to give Paul an out. I ran just slightly behind him, in prime position for a dump pass…and all I could see ahead was daylight. As Paul got hit, the ball shot free and tumbled end over end through the air, floating just long enough for me to put a hand on it and reel it in towards my chest, and then I was off. I slid all the way down to that end zone like a turd pops out when you overtrust a fart after Taco Bell.
Crossing the goal line, I touched the ball to the ground, and suddenly George Brown College was up five to nothing over the number one ranked team. Lowly George Brown College went on to win ten nothing that day, as not only did I score a try…but Paul managed to score both the two point conversion, and he also managed to net a drop goal – and the smile on his face…gigantic, warm, genuine. Just like I’d gotten from those four during that meeting. Weird how everything ties together like that, eh?
As the music stopped, Karen thanked everyone for coming and told us to keep up the good work. The seniors began to file out, and I reached down to grab my water bottle…and that’s when I could feel it. Again…another pair of eyes on me. Staring at me.
I didn’t know where it was coming from, just that I felt it. I looked all around the room, but no dice. Clearly it was just my imagination…right?
That’s when I saw the figure outside the picture glass windows. As I turned to see who it was, all I could do was smile. Staring at me through the window was none other than Dan Ryan. That smug smirk, bald head, and…masking tape choker? It was at that moment I smiled.
Cardboard Dan watching over me like a guardian angel?
This was a sign. The road I was headed down? It was the right looming, serious decision. It was time for Cecilworth Farthington to eat his humble pie, and I was ready to serve it up to him one slice at a time on Saturday.