James Cornfield: Well wouldn’t you know it, young Adam Ellis won himself an award.
The sweaty, heaving face of an old-timey wrestling promoter hangs over the microphone, taking necessary advantage of the spit filter over the audio rig.
It’s a relatively expensive setup for what could ultimately be considered a hobby– the James Cornfield Wrasslin’ Hour was by no means in the iTunes Top 10, but what his audience may have lacked in size, they certainly made up for in diehard, cult-like loyalty.
Cigar smoke fills the better part of the studio, as James Cornfield sits in a pair of sweatpants and a PWA t-shirt. Maybe if it was a video podcast, he’d bother to dress up, but the aging promoter has chosen form over fashion on this particular occasion.
James Cornfield: Not just any award, neither. The Men’s Young Wrestler of the Year over in M V Dubya. Hell of a job to that young man. You know, he’s gonna catch himself a lot of flak from the so-called “big boys” in High Octane Wrestling. They’re gonna say everything he’s been up to over in Missouri Valley is a buncha hullabaloo, and that it don’t amount to scratch in the big leagues. But they’re dead wrong about that, lemme tell ya.
He taps his finger twice on the desk, like an exclamation point on the sentence as he drags deep from his cigar. He lets the thought breathe for a moment as he exhales, blowing out a little ring into the dead air around him.
James Cornfield: You know we always shoot you straight here on the James Cornfield Wrasslin’ Hour, so let me go ahead and tell you something you ain’t gonna hear on mainstream television. A place like H O Dubya, that’s a place where wrestling goes to die. I tune into that television program, and you know what I see? I see a parody of professional wrestling. I see men being hung up on crucifixes, in mockery of the sport I love and the Lord who loves me. I see much ado about ballpoint pens, in a way I’m sure the BIC corporation would absolutely not approve of. I see wanton felonious behavior, rampant sexual exploitation, and a whole lot of usage of four letter words on television, in lieu of anyone actually having anything to say.
The contempt in his voice is near toxic– it’s as though his issues with HOW go a lot deeper than just the content that they produce. What a midwestern promotion like HOW could have done to draw the ire of a regional wrestling promoter from the Southeast is a mystery, but whatever the offense, it’s bleeding into every aspect of Cornfield’s life.
James Cornfield: So Adam Ellis, if you should happen to listen to this humble little show I host by hook or by crook every Thursday evening, I want you to listen real close to what I’m about to say.
He leans in to the microphone, his voice dropping to a dull but meaningful whisper.
James Cornfield: Get out of that cesspool while you still can.
The words are grave as a terminal illness, but as soon as he’s said them, ol’ Jimmy leans back in his chair and cracks a smile. His voice returns to its usual booming, self-promoting grandiosity as quickly as it turned serious, and he tucks his hands behind his head as he goes on.
James Cornfield: John Sektor, well… it’s too late for ol’ John, ain’t it? I am a tremendous fan of Mr. Sektor’s work of late, but he’s about as in bed with those comedy wrestlers and mudshow hacks as you can get without leavin’ money on the dresser when you’re done. You rub elbows with feces for long enough and you’re bound to get some on ya, and ol’ Sektor is so married to High Octane “Wrestling” that they put a damned ring on his finger. But not you, Adam. It ain’t too late for you.
He waggles a finger at the microphone, not that anyone can see it.
The office is filled with wrestling memorabilia, most of it from his own Atlanta-based promotion. Pro Wrestling: Assault flyers and poorly made t-shirts litter the room, but there are a few knick-knacks and merchandise pieces from other companies as well.
James Cornfield: I see your potential. You don’t need to tell me all about what you did to Redneck Bill Dickinson, kid, cause I saw it. I saw you fight back from a concussion and give it your all. I saw what could be a star in the making… ‘cept that unfortunately, you’re already developing that insufferable attitude that makes Saturday Night Refuse such trash to watch in the first place. You’re good, Ellis, but you sure like to talk mess for a kid whose greener than gooseshit and hasn’t drawn a dime since Franklin D. Roosevelt posed for it. Adam, there are states in this twisted country where you can terminate a PREGNANCY that has gone on longer than your wrestling career. Heck, kid, Ivy English is twenty six years old and has been an incredible professional wrestler for the better part of nine of them. But see, that’s what HOW has made you believe in… what’s what word I’m always hearing on your radio shows?
He feigns ignorance, stroking as chin as though he can’t remember it.
James Cornfield: …oh right, the Perception.
He shakes his head in disgust.
James Cornfield: Y’all think because Genosyde doesn’t know where the hard camera is, that means he’s not as good as… or heck… better than ol’ J.J. Dahmberts. Genosyde would hardly hear you squeak if he stepped on ya, and every “Big Thing” in professional wrestling had to start somewhere. Do you honestly think I picked him up from the flea market on my way over to HOW and taught him how to tie up a pair of boots?
The promoter laughs, but not because anything is particularly funny. Jimmy’s laugh has turned almost cruel, like he’s in on a secret that Adam Ellis doesn’t yet understand. A lover of dramatic irony, Cornfield goes on unabashed, the delight becoming more evident as he goes on.
James Cornfield: Ivy English is the PWA World Champion, and near as I’m concerned, THE world’s champion, until someone proves otherwise. But I think you know that. Cause see, he wasn’t the one you were making all those adorable little jokes about. You made jokes about my nuclear weapon. About my career ender. And that’s fine, kid– you make your jokes and you crack wise like the rest of those people in HO Dubya making a mockery of this sport, but I’m gonna tell you this once and I’m gonna hope it sticks for your own good: You don’t know the first thing about the man that they call Genosyde.
A pause for effect, as his canines show beneath a wretched, toothy smile.
James Cornfield: And what you don’t know is realllllly gonna hurt you.
Three Weeks Ago
Hell, Michigan (Really)
The crowd is a torrential storm.
Roaring in its intensity and continuing to rise, louder and louder as they climb to their feet, one by one. Thousands of them, hidden beneath the blinding arena lights… they are the faceless and the many, the masses who had once mocked and derided him. Who had thrown garbage at him, and called him names. Tonight, they weren’t mocking him. Tonight they weren’t calling him names. Tonight, they all chanted… one… name.
GENOSYDE! GENOSYDE! GENOSYDE!
It was music. A symphony written only for him, a veritable hymn composed in a key that only his ears could comprehend. Time is nearly frozen, as he stares out into the near upside-down crowd, sailing through the air toward the perilous and unforgiving canvas below. A shocking spark sizzles up the center of his spine as his tailbone connects with the mat, but nothing in the world can hurt him right now. He is invincible. Impervious. A force like none other on this earth, and they are chanting. His. Name.
GENOSYDE! GENOSYDE! GENOSYDE!
His opponent’s head collides with the canvas in perfect harmony, smashed against the mat as though he’d been shot out of a cannon. Perfectly executed– three hundred and one pounds of Canadian Destroyer lands immaculately in the center of the ring, as the hulking monster of a man rolls exhausted onto the chest of the champion. The referee’s hand drops to make the count, as Genosyde hooks the leg.
In this one moment, everything has been worth it. Years of sacrifice and humiliation. A lifetime of being told that he wasn’t good enough, and that he’d never amount to a single fucking thing in his entire miserable life. Tonight, he had showed them. Tonight, he had proven every single one of them wrong. Tonight, he was a winner.
Tonight, he was a champion.
GENOSYDE! GENOSYDE! GENOSYDE!
The referee’s hand hits the mat, and the champion isn’t stirring. Every single chair in the arena is empty, as the fans desperately rush toward the guardrails with their camera phones out and rolling. This is historic. Unprecedented. The day that was never meant to be.
This is it. It’s over. He’s done it. No last second kick outs, no last minute changes of plans. No “better luck next time” or “sorry, kid”. The broken body of Ivy English lay unconscious in the center of the ring, unable to move. Unable to breath. Unable to do anything but look up at the lights, as the referee’s hand comes down for a third time.
Jones! Look alive out there!
The voice cuts a thousand layers deep, breaching into the shadows and ripping him back to reality in a half second’s time. Nelson’s head shoots to one side, startled as he’s sucked from his daydream– it’s a disorienting feeling, as he transitions from the lights of the arena to the bright fluorescent lights overhead of his register.
“What are you, high?” the manager scrunches his nose up, sniffing the air. “You stoned, Jones? Or do you just really like to perpetuate the stereotype of the big, dumb fucking moron?”
The manager continues to literally sniff around the workstation, looking for even the slightest hint of the smell of marijuana. Not that he looks the type– if this guy has ever caught so much as a contact high, it was completely by accident and he definitely cried afterward.
“Uh, sorry.” Nelson answers, sheepishly. “Lost in thought.”
Hands on his hips, the manager– whose name is evidently Charles, by the nametag– stares a hole into the front of Nelson’s forehead, his eyes filled with twenty years of small dick energy and propensity to abuse even the most minute amount of perceived power.
You don’t owe him an explanation, Nelson.
Don’t. Not tonight.
“Lost in thought.” Charles repeats, in a mocking tone. “Well, if you wouldn’t mind doing me a HUGE favor, Jones, maybe you could get lost in thought about your fucking job. You know, since you’re on the FUCKING CLOCK.”
Like a condescending step-parent on a power trip, Charles lifts the corded phone directly off of the desk and drops it aggressively into Nelson’s lap. Nelson Jones looks down at the phone, and then back up at his manager.
Stop letting him talk to you like that.
No… no. He’s right. I was daydreaming again.
On all sides of the argument, a thousand other tiny cubicles make up the layout of the call center, each filled up with another soul-crushed survivor of life. Single mothers working nights while their children sleep, parolees on their last shot at keeping their own freedom. Guys who dropped out of highschool, and teachers too proud to take second jobs at Chilis where their students might see them. Drug addicts. The people who life forgot.
It was never his dream to work as a telemarketer. It was never anyone’s dream to work as a telemarketer. There was no circle of Hell more torturous than a sea of unwanted cold calls, dialed out from a landline in a cold warehouse at a cold, carbon copy desk. A single dying plant rests on the corner of the table, watered just enough to remain alive but not nearly enough to thrive and grow.
I think they call that a metaphor.
No one would miss him if he disappeared.
P-please. Stop it. Stop.
Gritting his teeth, Nelson tucks his hands underneath the chair, gripping the underside with white knuckles. He can feel his heart rate starting to rise beneath his ill-fitting button down shirt. It’s the one with the mustard stain on the collar that he keeps swearing he’s going to get rid of, but never does.
Deep breath, Nelson.
“I’m sorry, Charles.” he swallows, forcing half a smile. “Guess I’m just a little tired. Won’t happen again.”
The manager sneers, adjusting the belt on his cheap slacks and looking down on his employee, both figuratively and quite literally.
“Won’t it?” Charles scoffs, with a mocking, single laugh. “You know, if you applied yourself to this job, you might be halfway decent at it. But no… always off in space. Always got something better to do. You know, Daniels made his numbers a week ago. How many sales have you made tonight?”
Just do it, pussy.
“I, uh.” Nelson glances toward his desk, looking at his spreadsheet.
“UH. UH.” Charles mocks him, louder this time. “What about last night? This whole week? This month? How can you be bad at literally the easiest job in the world? A fucking MONKEY could do this. Dial a number, read a script, go to lunch. So are you a moron? Or are you a loser?”
Break his neck, Nelson.
His foot begins to tap under the desk, rapid and without a consistent rhythm. A single bead of sweat rolls down his temple, mingling into the wispy hairs that hang from his pulled back ponytail. His heart is pounding nearly out of his chest, as he feels the vein in his forehead ready to burst.
“I’m sorry.” Nelson begins, his voice caught in his throat. “I really didn’t–”
“It was multiple choice.” Charles interrupts, snider than ever. “Are you a moron? Or a loser?”
DO IT NOW.
BREAK HIS FUCKING NECK.
In this one moment, everything could be worth it. Years of sacrifice and humiliation. A lifetime of being told that he wasn’t good enough, and that he’d never amount to a single fucking thing in his entire miserable life.
TONIGHT, YOU COULD SHOW THEM.
“I need to leave.” Nelson blurts out, bursting up from his desk.
The chair kicks out behind him, skittering across the bland tile floor with a deafening roar amongst the white noise of quiet phone chatter. It’s as though the entire call center is suddenly brought to a screeching halt, and suddenly all eyes are upon him. He pushes past Charles, sending him careening into the empty desk next door as he sprints for the exit.
You’re a coward, Nelson.
A fat, miserable coward.
Shut the fuck up.
Cardio has never been his strong suit. His lungs are filled with fire as he tries to set an unseen record for his forty time– the hallway seems to last an eternity of identical desks and identical drones. Thousands of them, hidden behind the blinding lights of the call center. They are the faceless and the many, the masses who mock and deride him. Who throw garbage at him and call him names.
Finally reaching the exit, he bursts through the double doors into the cold and black of night. His feet stumble over one another as he hits the pavement of the parking lot, and immediately, his hands hit his knees.
You need me.
He keels forward and tries to catch his breath, his lungs as on fire as if he’d inhaled an inferno.
Chest heaving, Nelson slumps his way across the half empty parking lot, clutching his chest as he falls against the trunk of a beat up Nissan Sentra. The world is white noise, as he tries to stave off the oncoming– or very much already here– panic attack at hand. His hands shake, as he desperately reaches into the pocket of his slacks and pulls out his keys… they barely fit into the lock as he jams them into the trunk, manically twisting until the trunk pops open with a rusted clank.
Good boy, Nelson.
The sweat drips down Nelson’s face as he pulls the knot out of his ponytail, letting his quickly soaking hair fall over his face as he stares down into the trunk. The twisted leather monstrosity that stares back at him is curled into what could almost be mistaken for a smile.
It’s not just a mask.
It’s his mask.
As he reaches down into the trunk, he can feel the relief wash over him, bathing him in love and release. A warm blanket in the frozen night, he holds the mask in front of his face, taking a deep breath as he loosens the buckle. He can’t keep it at bay anymore… It’s making him sick. Making him hurt. Well, he’s tired of hurting.
It’s time for other people to hurt again.
Welcome home, Genosyde.
We have work to do.