July 4, 12:45 AM
“The first words that came could have been more inspired. You must be hungry, or tired and frozen..” I hum to the empty hall, just a half hour from fireworks and patriotism enough to bleed your eyes. I swear it was all just happenstance that Gomez’ ‘In Our Gun’ was queued up on the shuffle, but protest it’s criminal this track hadn’t, as yet known, hit the screen, silver or small.
Yes, while the faithful had shuffled out to the streets of the Capital, I found myself in the centre of the CapitalOne once more. Fret not, the only stick I got in my hand is used to turn the turnbuckle. The boys in the back out on the town, or stuck back for last minute care and pills, I don’t know as though I’d been here long enough to rightly care, I just know this is where I expected to be.
But it was all too apparent I was the only one.
A hand on my shoulder pulled me from my music as I pulled down the headphones to hear, “Uhhh.. do you need us to wait?”
“Hm?” and my tilted head. “Oh, hi, Mitchell,” my paw extended.
And received, through an equally puzzled visage, “Garfield, and I know. You’re that new guy, right?”
“So, are you going to be long here? Some of these guys can be perfectionists and try to run through every little thing that went wrong,” the wiry tech trailed as he thought he caught himself in the middle of some offence. And despite the midnight coffee in hand, gave me the strong impression he had no intention to be here much longer.
As I turned back to the turnbuckle and pull the top one free, I spin back with a short smile.
“Oh,” the refrain from the assembled techs my little 360 afforded me sight of.
“Guessing this is a little different, huh?” I address no one in particular.
“But welcomed all the same,” came forward a squat shock of white hair. The way he carried himself, and just the crispness of his polo told me this must be the leader. “Davis,” his name. “And this is Garfield,” but I’d already heard, “Roman,” the dark crew cut ringside. “Diago,” the buzzcut leaning against the guardrail. “And Carmen,” the brunette sitting on the apron working on the bottom buckle at the opposite side.
“Well met,” I tip the not currently wearing cap. “Well…”
“Let’s get at it then,” the general gave orders to the troops. Each set to a section of this altar of violence, and I tried not to be too standoffish, only slipping the headphones to cover one ear.
You’ll hear me call this business a circus, know it’s in the most sincere of terms. That travelling family of entertainers, each as dazzling as they were as mismatched to the normal life that showed to the shows. Like any good family, or cult, again, not been here long enough to tell exactly what this High Octane operation truly was, but like any good family, there comes a ready built sense of duty and obligation. I’d say that’s how I started this tradition. But why I kept the routine was probably more than just routine. And I’ve been a drifter for near long as I care to regale, so it wasn’t expressly love for a found family.
I am out here because of the therapy in it. One last moment to replay that passion in the crowd. One last moment to see a replay of everything in the mindseye more clearly than any screentime in later days, three seconds from perfection. Then put the moment behind you. To physically work through and compartmentalise the day’s work, pack it up and send it straight to that second star on the right and keep going. A lifehack that might put a serious dent in the psychologist industry that I’d swear is at least half kept afloat by the bundle of ego and issues that are professional wrestlers.
Still, I don’t think Netflix is coming any time soon to make me the next Marie Kondo.
“Hey, look at this,” calls the youngest, Diago. “Newell even left his bottle of Jack behind.”
We all laugh shortly, before the lad grins and moves toward it. And then we break into hysterics when a hand shoots up from its makeshift grave. “Mrrahaghah!”
“Shit!” Diago leapt back from the zombie? Vampire? Mummy?
All just a gulp of the sour corn mash to bring colour and warmth to Newell’s face, but none to his heart, “Get to work, asshats! I’ve got a date with the same strip club Clinton went to! Wooo!” And with those words, the voice of depravity that so perfectly matches the ultraviolent content was off to make some poor girl just working her way through college regret her life choices.
Left to the task, six hands made quick work of the job. That, and the timely Daft Punk track had me moving doubletime. The canvas rolled up, the ropes bundled neatly, lumber stacked to the side, I caught a look of satisfaction on most faces.
“We’ll let the grunts get this on the skids and into the trucks,” the hereto unknown tech sketched out a hierarchy. “Good work,” Davis tossed the compliment my way in particulars.
“You guys still in?” Roman looked like the cat that ate the canary.
“In?” my curiosity kept me from diving back into the music.
“Dux here has been talking up this dive bar just over state’s line in Maryland all day,” the lady of the bunch teased.
“Best wings and dip on the East Coast,” was surely a boast. “Say, you probably got plans and all, but, more the merrier.”
Plans being hitting the road to continue the vagrant life, they wouldn’t be upset by a detour for some wings. Insomniac I am, it’d still be dawn before my eyes got heavy. “Best wings?”
The General Public House
Third exit off the 270 and you’ll see this barn converted, but with all the same charm calling you from the roadside. For what was described to me as a dive bar, it’s bigger than some of the Knights of Columbus halls I got my start in. The half-full moon to illuminate the entrance and the mostly barren parking lot, understandable just an hour and some from last call.
And me, last to arrive.
“There he is!” gets a sarcastic golf clap happening in the back corner, the hops still foam-headed and rather full.
A quick glance to see how much attention I’ve garnered would be peculiar for a man in my line of business, but at least the fellow patrons hunched over their glasses don’t break from watching the bubbles rise. It’s a short walk asking, “and who was that speed demon I was supposed to be following?” shade tossed to Carmen. “You got lead in them tennis shoes, girl?”
She shrugs, but I’d swear she dragraced a trooper and won.
I’m barely shuffled into the end of the wraparound booth before I’m quizzed, “What about you, what’s your pick, Mitch?”
“I’ll kindly ask for context here.”
“Most attractive singer,” Garfield gets out in between sips.
“It’s this argument we’ve been having for what, three years now?” Roman looks to the general. “And whenever we are graced by new blood, I welcome the opportunity to remind Davis here that Cher is not a valid option.”
Putting down the frosted glass, Davis points with a thumb, “You just try to watch that video of her on that battleship and then tell me she isn’t THE sex symbol.”
I touch at the ridge of my brow, then wait for Roman to step up with the offering, “Britney Spears, but you know, before she got crazy and shaved her head and all that.” Goes without saying. “I mean, that thing at the VMAs with the snake?”
“As usual, you are both dead wrong,” seemed Garfield had taken a moment to strain the ‘stache for lost ale. “Partial marks to Roman, but wrong woman at that VMA. Madge?” A few chuckles, but I am starting to piece together ages given the girl of the time period.
I look around for next, Diago, maybe? Then Carmen starts in, “Madonna was something, but Nikki Minaj pretty much is sex on a soundtrack.” There’s this dare in her eye, just waiting for someone to pipe up, but seems down that no one challenges her pick of the same sex.
Diago for his part just grins sheepishly and tries to cast all eyes on me. Alright, “Good choices for each personal reason,” and since no one would here or reading would know who Skye Sweetnam is, I offer up another Canadian beauty, “the answer you’re looking for is Shania Twain.” Though my answer is hardly acknowledged as three of them get back to debating the merits of boyhood flames.
I am relaxed, until an elbow hits my side. “Hey,” she asks, “what branch did you serve in?”
For my part I just do that thing where I look like your dog when he doesn’t understand the question, head full tilt.
“The way you’re looking at all the exits, each potential threat. Navy, myself,” goes a way to explaining the matching naval stars tattooed over each shoulder, facing forward. The Lola Bunny riding a bomb on her thigh peaking through the high cutoffs, less. “Davis was a Ranger. Roman a military brat. Garfield, an Army washout. Diago,” she tries to think what his connection again was, but draws blank.
“Can’t say I’ve ever worn any uniform, ma’am. I have, however, been around this great blue globe trying to find a place in this business, and found that one thing that transcends culture and dialect: a guy my size is exactly who the drunk will think fighting will impress his friends, and/or significant other. And that’s before they even know that I’m a wrestler,” I shake at memories of fools mid-foolishness.
“Oh,” draws my attention to examine just a little closer.
“And what got you into this?” trying to piece together why this one isn’t quite like the others.
“To do this,” comes without hesitation. “To do what you do. Only, you know, win.”
Low shot, kiddo.
“Been training for six months now, and with this crew just about as long. I figure I want to have my foot in the door the exact second I’m ready,” I couldn’t refute the logic.
“Alright, we’ve got the Nashville hot wings for,” the house waitress reaches over me to start distributing the assorted appetizers that had been ordered probably at the same time they asked for the suds. “Huh, latecomer?”
Shrug and nod.
“You just here for the conversation, or were you going to be having something yourself, hun?”
Brazen enough to work without a menu in hand, “order of wings dusted in cajun, and…” I strain trying to think of a beverage, “just a glass full of ice, please.”
At this she stops with the pen to paper and looks right at my third eye. In a huff she departs, but apparently my table was not too involved in hoovering down the hot meal to look at me with faces twisted.
“What?” the fool’s invitation to rotten tomatoes.
“Ice?” comes from across the way, Diago.
“Yeah. I thought you guys knew I didn’t drink. You know, I’m pretty used to being the DD,” doesn’t seem to be the answer D was after. “So, I don’t drink liquor, and I wasn’t about to order any soft drink,” more stares. “The water, I can smell the metal in the taps when I walked in. Honestly relieved when it wasn’t a late setting concussion. And, well, the ice comes bagged.”
“How?” comes in unison from Diago and Carmen, my two closest.
“The same reason that I can tell Roman here,” I glance to the left hand, and yup, “put on way too much cologne two days ago, and hasn’t been able to shower it off yet, despite multiple tries. Hey, congrats. Anniversary?”
And now the whole table back to me, shit. At least Roman is nodding, got that right.
“Part bloodhound,” I point to the olfactory.
“Could have just played it off as some Canadian thing,” Garfield is quickly showing his position as Sage.
And now that I wished I had ordered the ice to be crushed and maple syrup added, I depart for the restroom to splash some water on my face. Who knew it got so hot inviting so much heat? But on my return, it seems I wasn’t the last straggler into the establishment. Three college aged women on a pub crawl I shared a dance with just trying to get around without collision.
“They looked happy to see you,” pulls Carmen.
“Or just trying to keep from being barrelled over by this boulder?” I counter, diving into the wings that had arrived to avoid talking about the dangers of drunk strangers when you’re a D list celebrity who might have money because you appear on television.
“Most famous person you’ve met,” Roman switched subjects for me.
“No contest,” Davis sighs. “How do you compete with the kid of a diplomat’s aide?” draws Diago’s food-filled smile.
“I don’t know, once met the Boss at a Denny’s just outside of Philadelphia,” Garfield countered. Which reminds me, I need to hit that Springstein on Broadway show someday, when we’re back north.
“What about you, Mitch? You going to name some wrestler you’ve shared a locker room with?” Roman presumed.
“Not exactly. Just a minute, shouldn’t take long to find this meme.”
“What?” comes before I slide my phone across and between empty plates.
“Is that Putin?” from Roman.
“With a polar bear!?” from Davis.
“And me, yeah. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I was more afraid of the bear or Putin in that one,” I say, looking again at the two years I spent as ace for a fledgling Russian promotion. “You know how the story goes, fall ass backwards into stopping an assassination attempt on a guy who turns out to be a Russian mobster, and the next thing you know you’re in Moscow meeting his Godfather.”
A silence fell over the table, trying to decide if this stranger was full of it, or had just been provided quite the vivid life chasing a place in the sport I love.
Eventually it livened up again, where the topic of unusually food came up. Davis’ pickles and peanut butter receiving thorough rebuking as a thing of the Devil himself. My peanut butter and black forest ham, pleasantly, a mixed reaction. But the short hour before closing time hit flew. One by one they hopped into waiting taxis back to the waiting hotel stay, save for Carmen, who took a ride with the inebriated college girls, and Roman, the last with me walking to the parking lot.
“So, where is your rental?” he asked as if I wasn’t standing right in front of it. “Wait, that!?”
I beam beside the beamer.
“That looks like the sort of van you tell children to stay away from, handing out candy,” he says of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Crew Van.
“No, no. Look,” I say pulling open the rear doors, to show the mattress full of air, a pillow nearby. “It’s awesome on room. Two, I can leave a show without getting spotted once. And trios, as a rented work vehicle it’s actually cheaper than a passenger vehicle.”
Roman looks on, stunned by my brilliance.
“And this is where you were going to sleep tonight?” he asks as if that was unusual.
“A few hours of shut eye, then back on the road,” I nod.
Scratching at his short beard, Roman objects, ‘Nah. Okay, that’s it, you’re sleeping on my couch tonight. My house is only five minutes from here.”
And while I can’t say I am happy to have my genius huffed at, the idea of A/C in the face of this wet blanket of humidity that’s sat on the east coast for weeks now sounded soothing.
July 4, 8:15 AM
The sun is up, and so am I.
Roman is half awake and rumbling around in a housecoat about a half hour after I’d waken.
“Morning,” I offer.
An indistinguishable grunt is the return. He blows past me en route to the kitchen and the brewing pot. With cup in hand, my host returned, slightly more friendly, but no more intelligible. I decide it best to let him take his time.
In the in between time, a second set of legs come from the master down the hall, a missus Dux, I must assume. Not wanting to be found ungrateful or rude, I offer her wishes of a good morning, too.
She, just as unhappy a morning person, but far more alert. “Hi. Roman, could I have a word with you?”
I give them their space and wander back into the kitchen. Oh, the bloodhound thing, turns out they have great hearing also.
“Don’t just say, ‘Morning’ like there isn’t a stranger in our house.”
“Oh,” the caffeine must have only just kicked in, “no, don’t worry about it. He’s a new guy at work. He’s one of the wrestlers, actually.”
“And you just invite him back to stay at our home?”
“Well, I said he could stay on the couch.”
“Didn’t you say every one of them are a grade A asshole, and half of them are psychos?”
“Yeah, but,” Roman isn’t quick enough before I can pick up expectation in silence. “He’s a half decent guy. Plus, well, he lost to Bobby Dean. You don’t leave a guy alone after something like that.”
After a saddened sigh shared among all three of us at the thought, I hear the femine voice ask, “What’s that I smell?”
And with the plates loaded and warm, I place them on the table in what I think they call a breakfast nook. “I was up early, and you know, thought you might have wanted some pancakes?”
All joined the table, I find the missing piece smuggled in amongst my things. “Almost forgot, straight from the maple forests in Quebec,” I present the golden nectar.
They both thank me for the effort, though I hear Roman discuss in hushed tones in astonishment that they didn’t even have pancake mix in the house.
“Mitchell, by the way,” I try to solve some of the tension that hung in the air. “Quinlan, whichever.”
Taking the hint, mercifully, Roman takes a second away from his seconds into the stack to introduce, “And this is my dear, wonderful bride, Dalia.”
I really need to start wearing a hat if I am to tip the cap all the time.
“So, Mitchell, you’re one of the wrestlers, my husband tells me,” and for a woman without her warpaint on yet, Dalia was still ready for a fight at the drop of my nonexistent hat.
“I am, mademoiselle. Just joined up with the outfit, truthfully. But been here and there, everywhere really for the better part of 14 years now.”
“So, that would have put you at what when you started?” seems my boyish charm hasn’t been scarred too much to confuse guesses.
“Nineteen when I got the break. Just been staying on since.”
“So that puts you at the same age as my Roman is, huh.”
And that ‘huh’ was enough to prompt Roman, “And what is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, maybe Quinlan here could finally help you figure out how to use that three thousand dollar contraption of a home gym you bought and haven’t touched yet,” Dalia was quick when fueled with coffee and short stacks.
Roman and I just share an awkward laugh as we been aware her eyes are sizing and comparing the two of us.
“I mean, adding a little muscle won’t kill you.”
“Well, look at that,” I scramble, hit off steady by the turn in conversation, “guess everybodies done with their plates?” As they were empty and the short stack now no stack.
“Ooo… He cooks and cleans.”
Booking it to the kitchen, I toss on the headphones to some Chilis to start planning how I extract myself from this increasingly awkward situation. I’m barely through The Zephyr Song before I get the tap on the shoulder, and it’s Roman.
“Listen, Mitch, I’m sorry, but, you can’t stay here. I mean, I’d love to help you and all, it’s just the wife, you know?”
Though I sense it’s a lie, I’m just as happy to help save his ego and get back to the road. ‘I was just going to hit up a mass in the area, and I’ll meet you in South Carolina, alright? And, hey, thanks.”
Misfits and runaways.
Grown men and women running around the globe trying to chase the dreams they dare dreamt as children. Some of us refusing to grow up at all. We might have drivers licenses and credit cards, but they’ll never take the spirit from us.
That spirit that says each of us are just one of the Lost Boys, and this is our Neverland. Though funny how our Captain Hook has two eyepatches.
Memory is a funny thing, especially when you choose to forget your yesterdays, knowing that they won’t help with today. This Saturday it’s the battle of the streaks, someone has to walk out with a win.
Fuck that narrative. I’ve yet to show this world who Q is, sure as I know that you aren’t in the barest bit happy with the fate and farewell HOW seems happy to give you, Eleanor. It’s time to let you in on one little secret I’ve found in my travels, and it is that it doesn’t matter where you are on the show, if you’re on it, you can still steal the show.
I’ll be happy to admit that I don’t crow like Pan the Man, though Nibs will just as well face any danger you had for him.
This is no storybook.
Let’s make magic, kid, and teach those awful folk what we can really do.
Forever and always a Lost Boy,