I have spent my life... time being paid to lose. And selling myself cheaply at that.
I wonder some times, at moments like these where the only noise is my breath and the popping of my joints as I stretch protesting muscles to prepare them for the abuse that I will inflict on them later…
I wonder, even though every loss has been an illusion. I wonder, even though I live and work in a world where victories and losses are just the lies that propel the stories that we tell. I wonder, trapped in my tunnel of carnies and kayfabe with the glimmer of the light of my freedom beckoning...
I wonder, if I have somehow contaminated my own life by assuming the mantle of the perennial loser. If a life... time of lost hopes and disappointments, of personal tragedies and shattered dreams are the karmic consequence of my chosen career?
This is why I’m retiring. Bad enough that I ache for days after a match. Worse still, is getting to the venue hours before anyone else to do the stretching that I need to do to be able to do the real stretching that I will have to do to prepare for my match. I have been moaning and pissing and bitching about the same shit while I do this routine for close to thirty years. You would think that after thirty years of this I would know better. I should have forced one of my students to meet me here this morning, give me someone to yell at to keep my mind off everything.
It will be hours before Pete get here with the ring. It’s a new ring that he bought off some dumb shmuck bastard in Ontario who thought that he was going to be the next Toots Mondt, did two shows, lost thousands at each one and then his ring, his pride and joy became an albatross around his neck, a reminder of his failures. He was desperate to sell out and try and get a little bit of his money back when Pete came calling. Pete paid a couple of thousand for the ring, a cage and a trailer, the cage never used, the ring used twice. Like the used car only driven by a little old lady to church and back on Sunday. The whole kit would normally have set him back twelve, fifteen thousand. The bastard has been cackling over his bargain for weeks.
Of course, a new ring like that will be stiff as hell. The spring still not broken in, the plywood still firm, the metal still rigid. Another good reason to be here early to stretch. The old ring may have been falling apart, listing dangerously to the right, the ropes dangerously loose because if you tightened them as much as you could, the ring might snap in half. But I knew all of its quirks. Loved them in a way. I knew the best places to bump, the soft places to land, the places that made the most noise, the parts to avoid like cancer and the plague.
Listen to me. I’m getting old and afraid of change. It’s time to go.
I can hear the kids whisper about me. They hate my ranting about stretching. Half of them down a beer and go out there with tight muscles and don’t give a shit how much damage they could have avoided with a few minutes of preparation. Of course for most of the boys this is nothing more than a glorified hobby. There are a handful that have broken out of Montreal that can get bookings in the States, a couple of lucky ones that can go overseas although most of the time, they are going for the chance of a free trip and not much else. Not that they tell me the size of their envelopes, but it’s not like it was when I started. But then what is?
At least the lucky ones are smart enough to come to me for advice, for instructions on how to behave in a strange locker room. How to work with a new guy, how to protect yourself, what you must do, what they can’t force you to do, what you must never do, always, always how to be smart.
The truth is even though they have to work four times as hard as I ever did for half the pay or less, I would give my right nut to be back where they are – traveling, creating a buzz, twenty year old backs, twenty year old knees, not my creaky, cracky falling to pieces, too many miles, too many bumps, too many losses, too many broken dreams...
I have seen better days for sure, like this place.
The venue is a piece of shit. A dark, grimy pool hall, the walls yellow with decades of cigarette smoke. Even if you are not actually allowed to smoke indoors in Quebec any more, the ghosts of fifty years of smokers still lingers, peeling off the walls with the once white paint. The bar is tucked underneath the Autoroute over-pass, a battered dividing line between the French and the English and between the rich and the poor. The place is too dark, the ceilings are too low, the electrical system is archaic and it is as dangerous as a chimney fire.
Still, for five years it’s been home for me at least once a month. The place where I use the skills that for more than twenty years put bread on my table and money in my wallet. And while the owner is a cheap son-of-a-bitch Greek who squeezes nickels till they bleed pennies, at least he trusts me enough to give me the key and the code to the alarm system. Not that there is anything in this dump worth stealing.
“Hey Super Mario!”
Who the hell is here at this hour and looking for me?
“Who the fuck is that?”
“It’s us Mario. The video crew.”
Oh hell, it’s Mark Lachance and his guys. He calls them Kayfabe Video. They drive up from Ottawa every month to tape the shows and they film a few shows around Ottawa and Cornwall as well. There’s Gordie, the main cameraman, who is almost as much of a psycho lunatic as the most reckless of the boys, getting so close to the action that he’s eaten his fair share of inadvertent blows in his time. Little Petey is the voice of the crew, able to talk for hours without winding down, with a frightening photographic recall for wrestling moves and grapples, he has the lungs of a beluga whale packed into the frame of a hobbit. Tweedle-Tim and Tweedle-Tom, carry the equipment and pretend to be useful, but as far as I can tell once the show starts they are just there to be fat fans. Mark always seems too well dressed not just for our shows, but for wrestling itself. He always looks like he’s slumming a bit.
I have never understood the economics of it. I know that he gets paid to shoot the shows, but I am not sure that he even makes back his gas. Of course, this is wrestling in Quebec at this level. Not big enough to be known by everyone, too big to be contained in a church basement. No one is getting paid the full value of their efforts or even close to them, but the fans complain that the tickets are too expensive anyway.
“When the hell did you leave Ottawa? To get here this early you must have damn near left yesterday.”
“Close enough. We had that chick fight show last night to shoot, so we just got a room and stayed in Montreal afterwards,” says Mark as he shakes my hand and his whole crew lines up to do the same. They do know how to show respect, even if honestly, I could give a shit half the time if people search me out to shake my hand. It is one of those weird little wrestling traditions that I had beaten into me, but I don’t pretend to understand.
“Makes sense, but why are you guys here this early? Pete won’t get here with the new ring until at least two and you can’t even set up the lights until it’s assembled.”
“Well, you keep promising to give us a shoot interview and we figured that if we didn’t get it done the day of your last match, we would never be able to pin you down to do it ever again,” says Mark grinning.
“FUCK!” He’s perfectly right. I have always been polite, too polite, about agreeing to do this stupid fucking thing at some future date, but I was always hoping that I could postpone it into eternity, “Mark, what the hell’s the point? Sure, I have bummed around wresting for thirty years, but no one gives a crap about my career. It’s not like I won any titles.”
“Or any matches at all?” smirks Little Petey.
“We’re doing the shoot interview because I want to hear your stories, even if I never sell one DVD of them. But it will sell if you let us do it properly. You may not believe it, but you have a ton of fans out there. They all want to hear the stories of the Grapefruit Man,” pleads Mark twisting my arm.
“That fucking Irishman and his fucking promo.”
“You know that it’s on you-tube right?” breaks in Tweedle-Tim.
“Yeah, I told him when it was put up a few months ago,” Little Petey hastens to throw in, always the expert, always having to be first.
“Besides Mario, you did promise,” Mark throws in his clincher.
There are days, and this is one of them, that I wish I had figured out a way to build a reputation as an unapproachable untrustworthy son of a bitch. Would have made my life a whole lot easier at times.
“All right, all right, fine, we’ll do your shoot. God knows why anyone would pay good money to hear my ramblings, but if you insist on asking your damn questions, I guess I will answer them.”
“OK, we’ll set up the lights and the camera. Petey, you get your questions ready. Tim, Tom get the rest of the cases. We’ll need the backdrop,” Mark starts ordering his troops around, the perfectly tailored video Patton.
“I have never heard you tell anyone how you got started in wrestling,” Little Petey eager to start in, even before anything is set up.
“Yeah, well I had my reasons. It was not exactly my finest hour.”
“Oh this I have to hear,” begs Little Petey.
“You can wait until they set up for the full story, but it has to do with two Hershey chocolate bars that I shoplifted when I was twelve.”
“Shoplifting?” asks Tweedle-Tom, waddling out of the loading dock with his arms loaded with video equipment.