|Wolfram J. Paulovich
From: Fat City, Baby
Since last post: 2634 days
Last activity: 2004 days
|AIM: || ||#1 Posted on 31.1.04 0227.09 | Instant Rating: 7.59|
THE OBTUSE ANGLE
Rumblin' Royal Irrelevance
January 31, 2004
by Jeb Tennyson Lund
"I can't think of the last time I marked so hard for a victory. It nearly brought a tear to my eye seeing Benoit win. Sure, I might have predicted it, but it's really something else that they actually went with it. So, this might get screwed up somehow, and maybe Benoit will look awful at the end. None of that matters right now. For now, all is right. Benoit won the freaking Rumble. Ever thought you'd hear JR saying Benoit was going to WrestleMania to main event?"
— canadianchick, poster, CRZ's Wienerboard.com
I have a point, and I think it's a good one. But I'm going to take a while to get there. A long while. Bear with me. Let me ramble.
I hadn't seen a WWE pay-per-view since Survivor Series. That one aired before I moved, which I think is the reason behind my non-viewership. The last time a PPV Sunday rolled around, I was too clobbered by yardwork to stir from the sofa, much less drive to the one bar in Tampa that airs the shows. Even reading the recap made me feel tired.
I suppose I could have ordered the shows from home — all with the flick of a remote. But they're forty bucks. I just moved into a house and find myself having to budget for things like a new water heater and a new roof; and the other week I actually looked my wife straight in the eye and said, seriously, "We need to buy 2,200 pounds of flat river rocks." Figuring that in, forty bucks for a PPV becomes an unnecessary expense. At the worst I need that forty bucks for booze — if only to take my mind off the fact that I am now the sort of person who feels he needs to own over a ton of stones and spend a weekend deliberately scattering them.
But this weekend was the Rumble. A bigger show, a different story. Plus there was all the buzz about Benoit. I knew that if he won and I missed it, watching it on tape wouldn't be one-tenth as cool as seeing it live, uncertain of the ending. I would kick myself. Out of a sense of obligation to wrestling history, I left the wife to The Simpsons, called a buddy and set off for sports entertainment.
I dodged Town Cars piloted by the undead all the way to Tampa proper, to a place called the Press Box. The name's apt. It looks like a giant bunker. Except it's been inexplicably painted a nauseous Kelly green, with the name and trim in a kind of Timothy Leary torment-inspired yellow. In fairness, the press do often show up. Half the times I've been there, I've met a journalist who's living the press stereotype by trying to live on whiskey. Also when Monday Night Football shows "dedicated Bucs fans who couldn't get tickets and instead went to a local watering hole to catch the game," often the cameras are at the Press Box. I don't know if it's the best sports bar in the area, but I do know that it's about ten blocks south of Raymond James Stadium. Maybe that explains it.
Inside, the walls are lined with TVs and a few snug booths. Low-slung tables with wood armchairs cover the floor, save for a bar area. The whole place is dank, but a kind of "family friendly" dank. There's no smell of vomit or urine. Most stuff is grungily clean, but you know deep down that everything has been wiped off with the same unwashed rag that has probably been employed there longer than the manager.
At the bar, attractive career women sit next to Polo-clad men, next to chain-greased bikers, next to collegiate shits like me, next to dissatisfied transplanted Englishmen and Germans and Canadians and New Yorkers and Bostonians and sybaritic Californians... all next to the long-necked big-adam's-appled Native Floridians who have been breeding within their own closed community since the end of the "War of Northern Aggression." In short, it's great, and it's very "Florida": the worst parts of the rest of the U.S. and Europe all in one damp place. The day everyone there comes from the same socioeconomic and geographic bracket is the day I stop going.
I get there early, for a good seat, get my beer and start reading. Of course, I'm the only person in the place reading a book before showtime. I get some funny looks. But I'm waiting on my buddy Jon, and I know he'll be late. Apart from tardiness, the guy's almost irritatingly flawless. He's good-looking and well-dressed in a hip-but-classically-stylish way — and so naturally inoffensive that you get the feeling he's the only guy in the world to whom a girl's father would say, "You seem like a good man. I cannot be angry at the fact that I know you salaciously penetrate my daughter." Yeah, he's that guy. Basically I always want to make Jon spill something on himself so I can drag him down to my level.
Just before the show's about to start, the manager (who looks almost cruelly like Michael Cole) asks me to leave my table. I feel like Hunter Thompson when he gets a notice from the hotel: "Jesus Christ! I haven't done anything yet!" Turns out there are people at every table, and the guy's trying to seat a family of four who just came in. I would've gotten up anyway, but Michael Cole offers me a free drink if I'll be accommodating. I hem and haw and say, "I don't know..." for a minute until he ups it to two free drinks.
I move to my new table, which I'm sharing with a portly guy who's nearly a dead ringer for Uncle Dursley from the Harry Potter movies. The only thing he's missing is the mustache. Check that, he's also missing his upper-right canine tooth. This unnerves me terribly, because I have a weird pain that I can't self-diagnose in the same tooth. I realize that I don't want to look like this man for the rest of my life and resolve to rob a liquor store if it means getting the cash for a dental visit. Other than that, the guy seems okay.
When the hubbub and chair-shifting dies down, free booze item #1 is brought to me, and the show's about to start. This is good. The preshow nonsense ends, and the WWE "nuh nuh nuh nuh" let's-build-excitement music kicks in. Whoops and claps ring out from the eighty-odd people in the room. Then, nothing. The screens are blacker than a Spinal Tap album cover. Jon calls. He's somewhere on the outskirts of East Jesus saying that he's going to be later than he expected. I'm unfazed. Out of every person he knows, Jon is the only one who never expects that he'll be late. It's also so apparent that he's not concentrating on what I'm saying that I half expect him to ask me what the score is. Instead, he asks if he's missing a good match, and I assure him that Fate bailed out his lazy ass yet again.
Something's wrong with the satellite feed. I get DirecTV, so this pisses me off, because it's yet another thing people will use in an argument with me to justify why satellite sucks. Whatever. It saves me thirty bucks per month. I don't got problems; the bar's got problems. Michael Cole comes out and makes some squeaky announcement to the crowd while on hold, on a cordless phone, and fiddling with a remote control with the other hand. His performance is less than statesmanlike. I return to my friend Mr. Book and his acquaintance, Mr. Booze.
Everyone remains in their seats, silently and universally obeying the "I'll give this situation five minutes" rule. Minute six hears football discussions break out all over the place. The guy who I swapped tables for comes over to thank me and offers to buy me a thank-you drink. I tell him it's no problem and not to bother; we shake hands. I then notice that he and his family are one of the best-dressed and well-comported families I've ever seen. The guy is decked out in full regalia — not pricey, just nice — and so are his wife and two kids. The girl, probably two years-old, and the boy, probably five, are sitting up straight at the table. Neither one is fidgeting, running around, throwing stuff or looking the least bit peeved that there's nothing on the tube. Their parents aren't even yelling, scolding or swatting at them either. They're all class. They're all smiling, too. I suddenly want to join their family, or at least ask for some loose affiliation with it.
The best part — the one that gives me secret delight — is that they're African-American. Florida is by and large one of the better southern states when it comes to minority tolerance, but there's still a lot of seething concealed racism here. (I've had an up-till-then intelligent charming woman tell me a nigger joke the moment the last black person left a bar. I guess it was her way of getting back at "them" for daring to have a drink within twenty feet of her. I didn't ask her about it: I just made a disgusted noise and left.) And nothing, to my way of thinking, severely fucks with a racist's mind more than seeing minorities who are undeniably classier, more polite people than he is. It's like he's seeing someone else be the person his mom wanted him to grow up to be, only the color is wrong. It's his failure reversed, like a photo negative, graciously and tacitly rebuking him, his life, his twisted social-pervert mind.
I don't want to get off on a racial tangent. Let's just say that this family was carrying itself better than 95% of the people in the Press Box. The only guy in a very expensive suit in there was also the only person who said "fuck" audibly several times, within earshot of kids. The polo dudes were all hitting on women and looking like an updated version of Jack Tripper's buddy from Three's Company. Was I the only person appreciating this remarkable politeness from this family? To be honest, I don't care what color you are: I will celebrate you if you are considerate of other people in public. It's such a rarity that you become my personal gods for the duration of my time spent near you.
I kept looking back to the family and wishing that I could call them to rescue me whenever I'm in a restaurant and a pair of yuppie-scum spawn (of some Boomer on his second family) start hurling egg rolls and trying to flying tackle the legs of some luckless teen waitress hustling trays for gas money. I wanted to have them on speed dial so I could get them to teleport into the hypothetical restaurant, walk them over to the Boomer Bastard, rip his surgically attached Motorola Camera Phone from his goddamned head, point to the cool family and scream, "LOOK! LOOK, YOU REAGANITE FUCK! These are the types of kids your children should be and the types of adults they should grow up to be! These are the people who'll be sweating under a 45% Income Tax along with ME because YOUR VAIN ASS rediscovered voting for the Democrats the moment you fucking retired from twenty years of orgiastic tax cuts, shady investments and creative fucking accounting. And you know what your kids will be doing while we're all at work paying your medical bills? DOUGHNUTS ON MY FUCKING LAWN IN A FUCKING FORD EXECUTION OR WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU CALL YOUR GM FAMILY TANK! Now tell Brittany and Tyler to sit down and cram their scream-holes with moo shu before I get the Basic Goddamned Decency Police to come in here and pimp-slap you back into the kind of Great Society "be kind to your fellow man" mindframe you claimed to believe in while trying to get into the hemp pants of some chick named Moonbeam in 1967. And pick up my fucking tab on the way out!"
These are the sorts of things I think of when the TV's busted and I get distracted from my book.
After another twenty minutes, the show's still not on. Giant black screens flank the place, save for one or two small screens devoted to pro and college hoops. I read. The whole book thing begins to seem like a much wiser idea to several people around me. I catch smiles and nods here and there. I even catch two guys in NBA replica jerseys peering over my shoulder, trying to figure out what I'm reading. Selfishly I think, "Who's laughing now?"
Five minutes later, around minute thirty-two of the show, the feed cuts back in. Eddie's doing an amazing reversal sequence with Chavo. As if to spite my belief in being within fifteen minutes of "on time," Jon shows up. "What'd I miss?" he asks. Almost dejectedly I tell him, "Nothing. The feed was out until seconds ago." He smiles, "Oh, wow, that's lucky." I want to punch him. Then he tells me he wants to order a pitcher of Michelob, and that makes me want to punch him more.
Eddie and Chavo is good but short. Just as I'm telling Jon that their match's ending ought to be a very entertaining sequence of cheating and counter-cheating ("Because they made their reputation on lying cheating and stealing," I explain), Eddie wins clean. I feel like a complete boob.
Jon's filming a documentary on a very local wrestling promotion that puts on old-school NWA-style shows for local charities. He and I met because a mutual friend recommended me as a good authority on wrestling. Basically, I explain terms, moves, common themes and psychology for Jon, while vetting the information he gets from the people he's filming. For the show he filmed, we knew who was going over and what swerves we needed to film. This is the first show we've seen together where neither of us knows the ending, and I've just come off like a total ass. I decide to relate my troubles to my friend Mr. Booze. He seems to understand.
Jon is drinking a bottle of Michelob, and I think Mr. Booze is telling me to knock it over and recommend something else to Jon. I can't really tell, though, since I don't hold the glass up to my ear to listen and instead feed it directly to my slavering booze-hole.
Brock v. Holly comes on, and I know that this is a time in which Jon and I should convince Mr. Booze to invite several of his friends to visit, since I know neither of us will enjoy remembering this match in the morning. Mercifully it's over before we even see our waitress — a nice girl who's wearing some ribbed turquoise shirt and looks like she's about to audition for the role of "strawberry-blonde neighbor girl who just blossomed into a woman when the adolescent narrator wasn't looking."
Triple H comes out and I tell Jon that "I'm fairly certain the last near-perfect match Triple H had was Biscuits 'n' Gravy." Jon remembers Triple H from some McMahon-Helmsley Era tapes I leant him and asks what happened to his body. I guess that it's a combination of his honeymoon and going off steroids. I contemplate a "he's pregnant" joke, but opt not to try it. Jon makes some crack like, "He's switched to 50 ccs of undiluted hog fat." I know that's not it. I just remember that it was a lot funnier than whatever was rattling around my mind.
I go smoke. Since I live in Florida, that means exiting the building and standing around like a miscast extra in Donnie Brasco. Jon comes out for solidarity, and there's even a TV mounted on the porch, showing the match. But I'm so used to the "Smokers Go Outside with the Lepers and Pope Abusers" policy that my conditioning kicks in and I smoke too fast for any enjoyment. By the time we go back in and sit down, all Michaels and Triple H are doing is looking redder than normal. We have this conversation:
Jon: What are they doing?
Jeb: I don't know.
Jon: They're just standing there bleeding at each other.
Jeb: I know.
Jon: Now they're just bleeding near each other.
Jeb: I know.
Jon: What's the point of that?
Jeb: I don't know.
Jon: Shouldn't a title match have more going on? I mean, this is just them standing and bleeding.
Jeb: I know.
The match ends.
Jon: Is that it? Was that "the big blowoff?"
Jeb: I don't know.
Jon: If it was, that sucked.
Jeb: I know.
Jon: Isn't this the third time they've done this?
Jon: Can they top it? Tell me if you know. I don't. Can they make it better?
Jon: So are they going to do this again?
Jon: Are you going to watch it?
Jeb: If I have to pay for it, no.
Jon asks a lot of questions.
Now it's time for the Rumble match. I'm pumped. I've made close friends with Mr. Booze at this point, so I tell Jon that I'm pumped about three times more than necessary. I want Jon to get fired up about this. I know, in the same vital part of my gut that I'm currently denuding with alcohol, that Benoit will win. I don't want to say this out loud, though, because I don't want to jinx it. I say it anyway. Dammit, have I screwed it all up?
Before Jon showed up, I chatted with the Uncle Dursley guy I'd been seated with. He seemed okay, chowing on a burger, smiling, mid-forties, no wedding ring (since getting one, I notice those things now) comfy being just a guy. Now that the Rumble's starting, I want to hear his guesses.
He picks Angle, and I ask him why. He tells me that he thinks Kane and Jericho and RVD don't have a chance and that Michaels isn't entered. That's why he's thinking Smackdown guys only. He thinks Angle's due for some revenge. As for Goldberg, he expects Angle to make him look bad with amateur-wrestling skills. I notice Orton's #2, so I ask him about Orton, noting that the #2 position sometimes seems significant.
Dursley Guy: He'll get tossed out, fast.
Me: Yeah? Why's that?
Dursley Guy: He's a punk.
Me: Yeah, yeah. Do you think he's any good?
Dursley Guy: Nah. He's boring. He's got the Champ look, but I don't like him.
Me: Really? (now I'm sort of acting offended, trying to see what he'll say if he thinks I'm an Orton fan) Why's that?
Dursley Guy: It's like their trying to make him be The Rock again. I like The Rock. But that guy's nowhere close.
Now I'm intrigued.
Me: Outta curiosity, do you read about wrestling on the internet? Or read wrestling magazines?
Dursley Guy: No. Do you?
Me: (lying, obviously) No.
Dursley Guy: Yeah, it seems like a waste of time.
Maybe it's the booze, but this man is now my friend. Because I'd asked him questions, Uncle Dursley asks me a bunch, about who's winning, how some people are losing, etc. I decide to ditch my cool vibe and run down a list of things I expect to see happen. Lesnar's taking care of Goldberg. Some weird shit with Undertaker is getting rid of Kane. Foley wrecks Orton's chances. Benoit wins it all. I pull every smart card possible in making predictions, but this time I do it because I feel it's right. It has to be.
Uncle Dursley asks me how I came to figure on all of this. I decide not to lose whatever remaining cool I have, so I lie. "I'm a compulsive gambler," I tell him. "I'll put odds on anything." He nods, whether out of authentic shock or sincere concern I'll never know. To ease his mind, I tell him (truthfully) that I hang out with a local guy who's a campaign advisor and pol and who'll give us odds on any candidate for national or statewide office. "Some people are just natural oddsmakers," I tell him. Now I know he believes me, but I'm still uncertain if that belief is colored more by pity than anything else.
At some point, I tell Jon my predictions, too. After Kane gets spooked by the Undertaker Bell and after Foley takes out Orton, Jon's confidence in my knowing anything about wrestling has returned. When Benoit takes it all, Jon is excited. Uncle Dursley looks at me like I'm some malevolent Nostradamus... or maybe a benign Rasputin. "That's incredible," he tells me. I don't care.
I don't care, because Benoit wins. I stand up and clap. I'm unbelievably ecstatic. "WHADIDITELLYA?!?!?!?!" I yell. Jon's only been learning about wrestling for two months, and he's happy. The whole fucking bar is happy. Me, I'm out of my mind. I knew it would happen, and I still — still, now, here, writing this — can't believe it's happened. God, I'm happy.
When all this happens, I'm in a bar full of marks. The peculiar bond that is formed when smokers are forced outside has allowed me many opportunities over many months to ask these people why and how they like wrestling. To a man (or woman), all have liked it since youth. All just watch and enjoy. I know this from chatting about matches and wrestlers: each of these people wants to have fun, and be damned questions of overness and glass ceilings.
As Benoit cinches his lock on Show's neck and drags him over the top rope, each of these people erupts in a sudden shout of pleasure: basic fun clanging out of mouths and palms, knocking over glasses and shuddering chairs backward across the floor. You don't need to be a dour insider commentator to know that Benoit is stertorous and dull on the mic. That's also not a requirement to know that excellence achieved, excellence triumphant, excellence rewarded is a story that anyone can respect and enjoy.
Everyone around me — whether they analyzed it and broke it down into its dramaturgical parts, or just felt it innately — went home happy. Benoit overcame the odds and did good. Incredible. Perhaps I was blinded by my own sense of satisfaction, but I noticed no glum faces, grimaces or complaints. Just smiles. It was a good show.
Now, just days later, message boards, newsbites and columns are awash with doom. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with sense should long ago have resigned themselves to the fact that Benoit would probably never win a WWE championship — unless it was a token one-month farewell reign. Instead, against all probability, he won the Royal Rumble as the #1 entrant. He will face the champion of his choosing at the biggest wrestling show on earth.
Yet Benoit winning the Rumble elicits the same sort of non-joy and looming dread that is usually reserved for Boston fans when the Red Sox make it to the Series. This isn't even baseball, and yet Benoit supposedly has a kind of curse on him. We long-suffering Benoit fans have been graced with a gift that even we wouldn't have dared demand for him in any logical manner. How is this not enough? Would a guaranteed token championship for a retiring veteran be better than a historic victory at the Rumble and a failing shot at it all? Is a kind of charity acknowledgment better than the magnificent focus of his struggle for gold on the biggest and best possible stage?
Are we really this greedily intractable?
Me, I reeled out of the Press Box, giddy not with drink but with the match I'd just seen. My face was so fixedly happy that I must have resembled a kind of gaunt and menacing clown. I piled into my clown car, smiled my way across a freeway, got a call from another friend, smiled my way to a party, then spent two hours relentlessly destroying a twenty-year-old at darts — all with that clownish grin on my face.
I awoke the next day, hungover, wondering what the hell I'd done — awash with those half-remembered visions of the night before. Of a blank screen and then Michaels and Triple H seemingly at Rocky Balboa tryouts. Of Jon gnashing on a Buffalo Chicken sandwich. Of the Dursley guy smiling gap-toothed at me. Of some guy named Jake or Mike or Aaron suffering from Aggravated Post-Adolescence and throwing a dart like it was his own defiant Dick-Missile. Of some guy doing a physical Billy Corgan impression and talking to me like he was the insipid cloning product of Jesus' blood mixed with Ron Popeil's. Apparently it was that kind of party. Of course, I remembered Benoit wrenching Big Show over the rope and pulling himself along the mat for leverage. My head was blistered by my own conspicuous consumption and by the nightmarish heads of all these people and cretins.
I'm still grinning.