Enough was enough.
The frigidity of the Chicago air and the uncertainty of his living situation in the next few months had already bore down on Zeb Martin. The lost opportunity to capture the tag titles was the frozen frosting on the ice cream cake. Every effort made had seemed to be in vain for the Watson Mill Kid. While the blame could have easily been placed on someone else, it was simply not in his character to make excuses for what had happened. The familiar verse of a Jimmy Buffett song that had been drilled into his head time and time again from listening in his stepfather’s truck rang true.
It’s my own damn fault.
The Comer native’s pride took another blow, and with the ongoings of life outside the ring, it had only deepened the wound. The “attaboys” and “we’ll get ‘em next times” seemed sincere, but by the time Sunday had come, Zeb was deep into his head. He began to recollect when he first arrived on the scene at High Octane. Despite being uncomfortable with larger audiences and lacking the flash of the competitors that had twice the charisma and three times the experience, he leaned heavy on his ability and approach to the sport. The “Dixie Backhold” had the look and feel of a familiar British style, but Zeb had more than a few tricks up the sleeves of his thermal undershirt to show these vets.
He was starting to realize that those qualities weren’t as effective when you’re prone to the same rookie mistakes, especially in tag matches. Locking in a submission hold while the opponent’s partner is just a few feet away. Letting yourself be goaded off the corner to take away the team’s safety net. Getting caught up in distractions caused by former partners.
Most every feeling surrounding that Sunday was awful. No real motivation aside from putting on the same clothes from the day before and occasionally making a trip from his bedroom to the kitchen: eyes glued to his laptop as the brain candy of Netflix and Hulu served as his painkiller. It was a poor substitute to grain alcohol, but it provided some temporary relief.
There would be a benefit to sobriety, though. In the midst of watching Grumpy Old Men (a favorite of his Pawpaw’s), he had a stroke of inspiration. If a distraction was ultimately what led him to this funk, then maybe he needed another one to pull him out of it. He’d found himself with a little leftover pocket change due to a one-off event’s payday finally arriving in the mail the past week. Combined with a decent chunk of United miles, he found himself at O’Hare early Tuesday morning with a round trip ticket to Southwest Florida.
Sure, he could have traveled about a thousand less miles and simply worked out his frustrations at the gym, gearing himself up physically for the next opportunity. His body felt fine, though. It was his brain that needed preparation, and a great way to do that was a change in both scenery and temperature.
With three hours of flight time and a quick check-in at the cheapest motel he could find on such short notice, Zeb Martin stood shirtless on the white sandy beaches of Fort Myers along with the other snowbirds. The breeze from the Gulf Coast was a welcome change from the harsh winds and snow piles that he’d left behind. While it would be quite the job, the sun had slowly begun to chip away the pale egg-shell that months of fleece and flannel had painted over his body. As soon as he had stepped on the sand, the thoughts of cancer and seeing eye people had instantly evaporated. The agonizing mental analysis of what’s gone wrong was replaced with the salty wash that rhythmically poured over his feet.
All wasn’t exactly perfect, though. Gulls were periodically floating and inching closer to a small bucket of shrimp that Zeb had carried with him to the shore. They paid no mind to the angler in the Levi Garrett cap that stood only a couple of yards away from the bait, only turning their attention away from it when Zeb would spit snuff into the water. It was funny how the calm of the sea seemed to defy the fears around the natural order of the hierarchy. True at this point of both bird and wrestler.
There weren’t very many nibbles at the end of the hook so far, but the joy for Martin had long since surpassed the objective of actually catching something. The simple exercise of setting the bait and casting the line was impossible at this point for him to fuck up. It involved actions that he would never forget, yet lately had done so infrequently that it felt new and interesting again. Awake after frozen comatose.
The only threat within eyesight were a few pairs of webbed feet and spindly orange legs. There was a passing moment of slight frustration that he didn’t opt to ask for a styrofoam container with a top.
“So much fer a dream getaway, I reckon,” Zeb chuckles aloud, reeling in the line. He shakes his head at the observation that yet another shrimp had been snatched by a wily snapper without any sort of tug on the pole.
“Ya,” a voice follows. “Coupla things wrong with this picture.”
Martin grins as the soft patter of a pair of flip flops grows closer to where he stands. He cranes his neck and glances behind him to a familiar face in a pair of cutoffs and a forest green bikini top. A faded Minnesota Twins hat covers her brown pixie bob: an appropriate replacement for the raccoon cap that her Jennie Appleseed persona normally wore to the ring.
“I leave you alone for an hour and you still haven’t caught us dinner yet?”
“Supper,” Zeb corrects his roommate and travel companion. “We in the South now. It’s called ‘supper’ here.”
Danielle mimics the drawl as best as she can. “Welp, okay den! Why ain’t yew caught us no supper?”
He smiles and offers her a try by extending the rod in her direction. “I’s waitin’ fer the expert tuh show me how it’s done.”
“Welp, you finally admitted it. And that’s the first step, ya know? C’mere,” she commands playfully, grabbing his hand and guiding it toward the bait bucket. “Wrap your fingers ‘round one of these gross things that I will never ever touch myself and put it on that hook, and I’ll show you how to properly, uhm…what do you call it when you make the line go way out there?”
“Cast,” Zeb answers.
“I knew that,” Danielle says. “I was only testin’ yer knowledge.”
For the second time in days, yet another distraction had come along to interrupt an activity that he assumed that he’d always been good at. Only this time, it was a welcome one.
Me from ‘bout a year ago kept my lips shut and eyes open fer the most part when it come tuh braggin’ and Babe Ruthin’ ‘bout successes that ain’t come yet. I reckon from what y’all heard from me a week ago, matur’ty didn’t come with age.
I pointed tuh the center field fence and dun end up got the third strike called swingin’ at a wild pitch. Lookin’ ever which way but at the ball. I thank that’s what you might call Po’etic Justice. I snuck one in past Sektor, and he threw a counter punch right back two weeks later. When it mattered most.
Credit due tuh Starrsek based right thar on that last sentence. Don’t make a dang bit uh diff’rence ‘bout neither uh them comin’ up short in the HOFC, ‘cause they come out and kept what they got. They handled they business when it mattered most.
I’m not go’n get trivial about handin’ a ‘assist’ tuh CJ, neither. I’m tryin’ tuh continue tuh be a good lil’ student when I get schooled, and I’ve spent a couple uh days replayin’ that match over’n over in my head. Fact is, I had a few spots where we coulda put it away be’fo Jiles run out there, and I ain’t come through. Jus’ like I had a few back in the summer at Wawh Games, and jus’ like I had a couple defendin’ them same pieces uh waist jew’ry with Rick.
Bidness wudn’t handled when it mattered most.
I shore do love memories, don’t y’all?
And come Saturdee, once again I’m passin’ the tater salad to a man I’ve sat across the table from a few times ‘round here. Brian, you had the pleasure uh bein’ on the positive end uh one of them times where I wudn’t able tuh pull out the win I jus’ had tuh have. An’ that win? Got you an’ Darin back up on that pedestal, relivin’ the glory days uh the Hollywood Boyz. Much as I hated losin’, bein’ a stepstool for y’all wasn’t near as bad as it coulda been. Heck, hat loss right there was a spark dun lit the wick that blew up the eGG Bandits. Which I know don’t seem like a positive, but lookin’ at Jiles now, is a silver linin’ that ate the cloud.
Problem is ah ain’t too shore what version of Brian Hollywood I’mma get. The one who decided after one tough go that he’s cut out fer singles instead uh taggin’? The one who held his chin up high and shook a green bo’ from Jawja’s hand after I beat ‘em in my debut? Or the one who’s go’n claim that he’s ‘new and improved,’ AGAIN, fo’ the third time this year? All due respect tuh a vet’ran, you kin bathe a pig in buttermilk, but they gonna find their way back tuh the mud at the first opportunity.
Won’t be no surprises from me. Brian, you tusslin’ with the same ol’ kid, jus’ about twenty pounds ‘er so bigger’n the last time. Mo’ muscle ain’t go’n mean much if anythang, and shoot: if you end up bein’ the better man, I’ll congratulate ya and keep on bein’ the Zeb Martin I’ve been bein’. If I end up whoopin’ yer butt again, though?
Well, hope the well ain’t dry with excuses. Thank you dun run outta ways tuh reinvent the definition uh losin’.