March 7th, 2020
Why the fuck are we even here?
No, I’m not thinking existentially, but rather pondering if our presence was really needed at the Allstate Arena this evening. If anything, it felt highly unnecessary for the two of us to show up, brood in our cubicle, and briefly appear on High Octane Television for two minutes of screen time. Absolutely nothing was accomplished on our part, save for sulking about last week’s drubbing and conjuring another ‘plan’. I’d much rather have taken the week off, recharged, and come into next week’s Refueled exactly that, Refueled.
But Grady insisted.
In his eyes, not showing up would mean admitting defeat. Not showing up would send the wrong message to the fanbase and company. “Red and Ted take their ball and go home” was one of the hypothetical headlines he predicted would pop up in the media. If we didn’t show up, we would continue to let our momentum spiral in the wrong direction, and maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t be able to right its course.
I suppose history does support his concerns…
And of course there is this small, tricky predicament we find ourselves in: Red vs Ted. March 14th. Winner advances to the Lee Best Invitational Finals. Loser has the pleasure of not only dealing with the crushing defeat that was our Tag Championship opportunity, but is gifted the opportunity to watch his best friend move on in his quest for that elusive World Championship, while wallowing in the dark abyss.
To say Red and I haven’t spoken much in the wake of our loss and on the road to our head to head would be quite the understatement…
“Ted wait! Where are you going!” Grady shouts.
Pushing the door open, I exit the arena into the mild Chicago evening. Before the door has the chance to swing shut, Grady is propping his body in front of it, breathing heavily from his pursuit. Ripping open the pack of smokes from the front pouch of my hoodie, it isn’t long before one is lit, resting between my lips.
“FLORIDA?!” What? Why?”
“There’s someone I need to go visit.”
“You don’t know him.”
Grady puts both his hands to the side of his face in frustration. The bowler cap on his head finds its way into those hands, crumpling into a balled fabric mess.The veins in his neck have began to bulge, his face glowing an angry shade of red. Let’s call it Vermilion. That seems accurate. His mouth opens, but his words are clearly waging war with one another, because not much sense is coming out.
“I’ll be back by the end of the week. Just chill out.” I say, knowing he will do anything but chill out. “Already said adios to Red. Keep him company. He’ll miss me.”
“Ted. The night’s not over yet.”
“Mine is.” I bluntly state.
“But Best and Ryan still have to go on.”
“That has nothing to do with me. I’ve got other things I need to worry about.”
“Nothing to do with you? Ryan dumped Red on his head last week. Best gifted Kael the Tag Titles with that Goddamned truck! What do you mean it has nothing to do with you?!”
Placing my hands on my hips, I look at the pavement below my feet. The night’s mist has created the illusion of an ice-like surface, allowing my reflection to stare back at me. The eyes I’ve locked onto have a burning anger within them, knowing Grady is not wrong with his assessment. When it comes to Michael Best and Daniel Ryan, I definitely owe both men a measure of payback.
But that revenge won’t be sought out today. When the time is right, I’ll act accordingly. But Lindsay Troy and Max Kael are the Group of Death members I need to concern myself with for now. And if all goes well, Cecilworth Farthington soon after.
“Take care Grady.”
March 8th, 2020
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Ocean Breeze Recovery
“It starts the same way, every single time…”
I’m seated, in a darkened arena. From high above, beams of light shift and slice their way through the dark, briefly highlighting various faces throughout the audience. From what I can see, the house is packed, bursting at its seams. There is an anticipation that grows amongst the mass, the excitement is palpable.
The beams of light disappear and are replaced by a single spotlight on the stage. Standing in the illuminated circle is Grady Patrick, microphone in hand.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome.” He proclaims with the standard tone of a host. “Tonight, you have the pleasure of watching an extraordinary escape artist attempt to survive the impossible. I present to you…THE WATER TORTURE CELL!”
A second spotlight hits the stage, highlighting exactly what Grady had just announced: A Water Torture Cell. The contraption stands a good foot taller than Grady’s 5’8” frame, and is filled with crystal clear water. Its four cornered edges are reinforced with steel, cross beams stretch horizontally across the glass panels as a means of support. The audience lets out an impressed, elongated “OHHH” at the very sight of the human aquarium.
“It is my great honour to first introduce to you the most trusted of assistants. This man has travelled the world alongside our main attraction, selflessly dedicating every waking moment to him and these spectacles.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “I present to you…ALEXANDER REDDING!”
A Third spotlight hits the stage, and you guessed it, there stands Red. But…what the fuck is he wearing? Black slacks and shoes to match, a button upped white oxford accented with a red bowtie and matching cummerbund. He tosses his arms out sensationally to his right, thrusting his hips to the left. His glare towards the onlookers is unrelenting, a look obviously inspired by Derek Zoolander. His eye contact is equal parts inviting and creepy. This moment is his and he is fucking owning it.
What a dork…
“And of course, the man everyone has gathered here to see…”
That palpable excitement peaks, and the audience loses their shit. I’m talking cheering, clapping, hooting, and hollering. The beams of lights re-emerge, this time obnoxiously multicoloured and to the delight of the now mostly standing crowd. A chant begins to take life, reverberating off the brick walls. At first it’s staggered, but eventually they find their stride and it’s loud and clear in unison: “TEDDY! TEDDY! TEDDY!”
Wait, what? I don’t remember signing up for this shit…
The audience continues their chant, and it appears that Grady and Red are staring directly at me. I go to stand up, but I can’t. My legs feel as if they are being held down by an indescribable amount of weight. I can’t even shuffle my feet along the concrete floor. I go to raise my arms to wave them over, but no such luck. My wrists are zip tied to their partnered arm rests. I try to wiggle them free, but it’s to no avail. I go to yell for help, but nocando. My voice doesn’t exist. I’m unable to create even the slightest muffled cry for help.
“It’s my privilege to introduce the single greatest showman of the twenty first century.” He declares, predictably pausing. “THE INCREDIBLE TEDDY PALMER!”
If I thought the crowd was hot before, I was sorely mistaken as they erupt like Mount Vesuvius. Their reaction is genuine and flattering, but it’s difficult to appreciate the moment as a muted prisoner. Does anyone even realize I’m sitting amongst them, front row, center stage? Why the hell is no one offering their bound main attraction a helping hand? Is this part of the act? If so, I reiterate once more, I did not sign up for this shit.
A fourth spotlight emerges, but it’s not on me in the front row. It’s to the left of Blue Steel Red, and wouldn’t you have it, I’m standing dead center. ‘But how,’ you ask? No fucking idea, because last I checked, I’m stuck right here. What the hell has Grady done? Are we witnessing that monumental step forward in cloning that we’ve all been waiting for? Wait…God No…
I…er…Teddy…is decked out in a costume nearly identical to that of Red. Sprinkle in some white cloth gloves, a black sequin jacket and red ribbon accented top hat and…KAPOW! Presented is the man of the hour. That sensational pose Red is holding tight and firm? Your boy matches it with the same pizzazz. That Blue Steel? Meet Cherry Almond Hurricane.That eye contact? We are talking about the gaze of a serial killer right now. You want to talk about owning the moment? Ted has taken out a mortgage on it.
Dork to the power of two…
The next sequence of events are blurred. Instructions are given. Unfunny jokes are cracked. More weird posing is done. The complete adoration of the audience is acquired. And again, no one has offered to help the real Teddy Palmer stand up.
But now we’ve hit the point where shit is about to get real. Teddy has shed the sequin jacket and tossed away the douchey top hat. Red has ventured behind the curtain, only to reemerge with an armful of chains and locks. Grady, in typical fashion, sports his goofy grin and dollar signs glisten from his eyes.
“Our loyal assistant will now chain the Daredevil of the North.”
Red does just that. He tosses a chain over his shoulder. He wraps it snuggly around his waist. He uncomfortably tucks it between his legs…HEY! WATCH THOSE HANDS BUDDY BOY! Teddy has his hands clasped together, leaving just enough room between his wrists for the chain to be looped and padlocked. When it’s all said and down, the mess of chains looks like an unsolvable puzzle.
I suppose that’s the point though, right?
Teddy lays down, and Red proceeds to shackle his ankles. Attached to said ankle bracelets is a rope that descends from the ceiling as part of a hoist system. It’s at this moment that an ominous melody begins to emit from the arena’s sound system. Slowly it begins to retract, Teddy’s legs elevating from the stage. In mere moments, he is dangling upside down, spinning with a complete lack of control. The grinding of the hoist’s gears begins to fade away as his head soon reaches above the top of the water filled death trap, at which point he smiles for what could be the final time.
“Those of you who are easily made uncomfortable, I implore you to now look away.” Grady closes his eyes, lowering his chin slowly. After a few seconds, his eyes crazily pop open, showing an uncomfortable amount of white before continuing “FOR NOW YOU COULD VERY WELL WITNESS THE DEATH OF ONE, TEDDY PALMER!”
What. The. Fuck?
As Grady slams his hands down against the wooden stage, the rope gives way, plunging Teddy into the tank of water. The audience lets out a collective gasp as the tank overflows, water spreading across the wooden planks of stage. Teddy squirms upside down in the water, trying to break free from his restraints. Red won’t look at his best friends struggle, choosing to instead stare intensely into the crowd.
He’s not breaking free. I’m not breaking free.
The masses’ excitement begins to transition to apprehension. Teddy begins to squirm less and less. His eyes stare out of his prison, crying for help. Help that no one is willing to offer up. Neither Red or Grady will look at him. They refuse to acknowledge the imminent danger.
Fucking help him already! Help me!
He’s not moving very much at this point. It’s been way too long. This can’t be part of the schtick, can it? Maybe this is the hook that gets even the biggest of skeptics to believe? “He’s dying…” I hear softly from a woman a few rows back. Teddy exhales what air is left in his lungs, the bubbles floating to the surface. His eyes slowly fade shut. The audience fades into a deafening silence as all the lights shut off, except for the one cast on ‘The Willing Villain’.
“Thank you and goodnight…” Red exclaims, taking a bow.
“And that’s when I wake up, heart pounding, gasping for air…”
“It’s pretty obvious though, right? Being bound to that chair, chained in that water tank, completely helpless. It’s symbolic of being zip tied to that guardrail during the ladder match. I mean, this dream didn’t start happening until after that tag team battle took place.”
“That’s one way to look at it.”
“What…what other way is there?” I ask.
This is why I decided to fly out to Fort Lauderdale and roll on into Ocean Breeze Recovery: the guidance and expertise of Dr. Binh Nguyen. Binh, as he insists I call him, was the only staff member I connected with during my stay at this facility back in 2012. He is a man of few words, but the words he does speak are profound and thought provoking.
“Why didn’t Red help you?”
“That I’m not too sure of. I was hoping you’d be able to help me make sense of this dream.”
“No. During the fight. Why didn’t Red help you?” He asks.
“Oh. Well, if he could have, he would have. His battle with Farthington was pretty intense.” I say, looking up from the floor towards Binh. “He almost won the match for us a few times, you know?” My reply confident, and not lacking in trust.
He was so fuckin’ so close…
“Almost” Binh says, letting the singular word linger like a dirty fart. “Two sets of hands are better than one.”
Huh. I slouch back into the blue fabric sofa, letting my weight sink into the cushion beneath me. Binh, leans back in his leather chair, running his fingers through his grey, fifty something beard. Looking around the room, I try to let anything take hold of my attention to avoid thinking about his question and follow up statement.
Say, that picture of the woman floating off with the handful of balloons is interesting…
Oh, and why the fuck didn’t Red help me?
Looking down at my wrist, the skin is torn and scabbed in certain spots. A thick, purple bruise outlines where the zip tie secured me to that metal rail. How could I let myself get put in that situation? How could I not break free from that restraint? How could I let the dynamic duo down?
But again I ask…why the fuck didn’t Red help me?
“You’re not wrong.” I admit. “He could have lent a hand, so to speak.”
“Tag Team requires teamwork. No teamwork, no success.”
Teamwork, you say. Why would he try and win the match himself? Was he looking to hog all the glory? Did he not trust I was capable of helping win that match? He did have to trick me into film study at his place. And I was fresh off the heels of a psychotic break in Montreal. If he didn’t have faith in me during that contest, I suppose I gave him plenty of reason to feel that way…
“Okay Binh…I’m gonna level with you here. Full disclosure. I kind of let my prescription run empty…” Binh shakes his head in disappointment as I continue. “…which kind of led to a delusional episode.”
“Oh Ted…My Little Ponies?”
“Dear God no…the Frenchies are currently on the lookout for Batman…”
“Ted, Ted, Ted…your illness is no joke. You must take your medicine.”
“I know, Binh. But Red was there for me through the entire mess. He was the one who dragged my ass into the pharmacy to get that prescription filled.”
“When I needed his help the most, there was never a question if he’d come through for me. When it matters most, our teamwork is second to none.”
Mini-Crisis averted. Calm it down, Ted. Issues between You and Red are nonexistent.
My trusted Doctor sits quietly for a moment, sitting on his next statement, letting it ferment. I can tell he’s slightly uncomfortable with what he is about to say, but I know whatever it is, I need to hear it. He leans forward in his chair, furrows his brows, and opens his mouth.
“Are you handcuffing Red? Would he be better off on his own?”
Fuck Binh. Talk about a gut punch.
But maybe…yeah? It’s not fair that he’s had to play the role of caretaker for the better part of a decade. Who knows where he’d be if he didn’t have this two hundred and twenty one pound ball and chain dragging behind him. He could have been a countless time World Champion. A Hall of Famer. A Legend of The Business…
“There’s no doubt I’ve held him back through the years. You don’t…do you think he’d be better off on his own? Should I set him free of this Ted Weight?” I quip, trying to divert from the seriousness of this conversation. “Do you get it? Ted Weight? Like Dead Weight?”
Binh is clearly unimpressed with my assessment and/or lame joke. He points his index at me with what I assume is his version of an authoritative wagger, and says something that sends a chill rolling down my spine.
“You, Ted, are not dead weight. You must learn to see yourself as more. You have great value.” He pauses for dramatic effect, much like Grady in my dream. “You, my son, fear success.”
If I thought his last statement was a gut punch, this one was a kick to the nuts. And here’s the thing: it’s true. I’ve been in similar situations before where everything in my world is going better than planned, and I self sabotage myself. Success means responsibility, and responsibility is something I have never wanted any part of.
Take my run here at HOW for instance. I enter the Lee Best Invitational as a relatively unknown veteran, having been out of the wrestling industry for five plus years. I beat Black Mamba. I beat Deacon. I beat Chris Kostoff. Crash Rodriguez gets shit canned. I’m the first competitor to win his group and punch his golden ticket into the final four. I essentially earned myself a bye week to sit back and watch the other three groups tear one another apart, limb from limb.
And how do I respond to that? I let my prescription run dry for the first time in, you guessed it, five years. I go on a psychotic crusade against fictitious villains. I have to spend my time readjusting to my medication while Red is left to shoulder all of the preparations for our Tag Team Championship opportunity. No wonder he tried to win the damned thing himself. He’s been doing everything himself, with little help from me all this time.
Well no more.
“…It’s time to put my big boy pants on, isn’t it?”
“Still be Ted, don’t lose his essence. Just be Trustworthy Ted. Be Hardworking Ted. Be Successful Ted.”
Successful Ted. Huh. That would be a nice, welcome change of pace…
Our tender moment is interrupted by the office door swinging open, the handle slamming against the wall behind it. A middle aged man in a lab coat stands in it’s threshold, and he looks to be unimpressed. Binh is quick to spin around in his chair to face the man, while I stare at him wondering ‘who the fuck are you?’
“What are you doing in my office?” he demands.
Well for starters I guess he’s the resident of this office…
“Dr. Barnett…” Binh begins, before being cut off.
“Are you pretending to be a Doctor, yet again?” the now identified Dr. Barnett snaps.
Okay, so here’s the thing. While Binh is employed by Ocean Breeze Recovery, he’s not technically a Doctor, but rather the facility’s Janitor. But you’ve heard this guys pearls of wisdom, right? He might as well be a Doctor.
“This is the final straw Binh!” he spews, foaming with anger. “Pack your shit and get out of here. YOU’RE FIRED!”
It’s at this moment I must defend my confidant, jumping in with a “You need to chill the fuck out.”
Dr. Barnett shifts his attention towards me. I make a point of wiggling my ass a little further into the couch cushion, stretching my legs out and crossing my feet. I’ve marked my territory, and don’t plan on leaving.
“Wait? Theodore? Theodore Palmer?” he says slash asks, his unamused beady eyes locked onto his unwanted guest.
“Theodore, ew, gross.” I groan, unable to think about anything other than my mother scolding me. “I prefer Ted. I don’t mind Teddy when it comes to family, close friends and potential sexual partners. You, don’t fall in any of those categories. Just call me Mr. Palmer.”
“Theodore” The poor listener begins. “You were booted from our program.”
“Pfft, that was like eight years ago,” I say, as if it’s no big deal.
“…and banned from the premises.”
“That I don’t recall” I lie. ”But even so, isn’t there a statute of limitations or whatnot for that type of thing?”
“I’m afraid not. I think it would be in the best interest of everyone that the two of you leave, immediately.”
“Oh yeah?” I dare, standing up. “Or else what?”
“Or else I call the police and let them sort this mess out.”
“Dr. Bronson, always a pleasure.”” I say, courtesy nodding with a fake smile, shuffling my feet forward.
“Of course, send my regards to him too. Binh and I will just see ourselves out now.”
“You have reached the voicemail box of ‘Alex Redding’. At the tone, please record your message. When finished, hang up or press pound for more options.”
There’s something I gotta get off my chest. There’s no easy way for me to say this, but it’s something that’s needed to be said for quite some time now. So lets just rip this fuckin’ bandaid off, alright?
I’m sorry for not showing up for our Tag Championship Match. You fought your ass off and I fuckin’ choked out there. In what some were billing as a potential match of the year candidate, I was a non factor. And so we’re clear here, non factor is my polite way of saying complete failure. Hell, when the final bell rang and it was all said and done, Troy, Ryan, Dean, Jiles, Doozer and perhaps most embarrassingly, Grady, walked away with more highlights for their reels than I did. You deserved a better fate that night, and it’s my fault you didn’t.
I’m sorry for the years of serving my shit up on your platter. Alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness. Those are my demons to fight, not yours. You should have never had to step in and lead the charge. I should have been checking myself into rehab, not you. I should be the one making sure my prescriptions are filled and readily available, not you. You deserve more than being a glorified babysitter, and I’ve been selfish in that regard.
I’m sorry for the career you’ve had up to this point. I know you would never say it or agree with it, but we both know that I’ve been a burden to you. Fuck man, you’ve never had a World Championship pop up on that resume of yours. Your list of accomplishments and milestones would be significantly richer had you left me behind. You deserve a legacy better than that of the man with wasted potential, and I’ve been your number one hindrance.
Well no more.
I’m done letting you down. I’m done relying on you. I’m done holding you back. It’s time I become the teammate you need, the fuckin’ friend you deserve. That ladder match will soon be remembered as nothing more than a hiccup, I promise you that.
This semi final between us, you’re going to see a Teddy Palmer you’ve never seen before. You’re going to see the Teddy Palmer you’ve always believed could exist. I’m bringing everything I have into this match, and I need you to do the same. We’re going to show Lee Best, Group of Death and all of High Octane Wrestling for that matter that Red and Ted are the real fuckin’ deal.
Red or Ted in the Lee Best Invitational Finals, it’s guaranteed. But I’m gonna do my damndest to make sure it’s the latter representing our duo. I’m gonna make you proud, and prove the years you invested in me and our friendship weren’t a complete waste.
Good Luck Bro. I’ll see you in Chicago.