It's not like I wanted to carry it. If there was some magical way to just beam it from Jon's place to mine, believe me, I would. For someone to actually recognize it, in public no less? Jesus. I'd rather not discuss it, really.
I kept it under my arm, pressed between what counts for my bicep and the outside section of my chest. With the case caught near my breast, it showed two contrary, but potent, emotions: care and shame. You wouldn't have seen it unless you really looked hard enough, at least that's what I convinced myself as I walked on the platform towards the F train that would carry me home.
The good part was I didn't have to transfer. The bad part was that it would be me, the package, and the rest of the passengers together for forty minutes. If you listened silently, you could hear the bomb ticking away under my wing, counting down into an inevitable launch into embarrassment.
To make matters either better or worse, I spy a very attractive blonde, a bombshell type, merely a column of underground space to my right. Ignoring my obvious limitation, I looked at her, she looked back, and we were off. The train arrives and we hop on, sitting across from each other.
We casually jump our eyes around, darting back and forth, vacillating between our own interest in the person and gaging the other's interest in ourselves. I'm not sure which is more important. The foot on her crossed leg bouncing every so often, steady, like a buoy; always reminding me where to find home again. This curious back and forth goes on through the lower part of Manhattan. Everyone seems to be having a good time.
And then, she sees it.
It's quick, at first. She looks at it then, slowly, as if reading me from the chest upward, she reaches my eyes. There she looks into me (quite literally into my person) now armed with a completely new respective. Whatever I was to her before is a distant memory. Her eyebrows furrow, eyes narrow, staring at me with something just above disgust. She read the case.
"The TRUE STORY of Wrestlemania."
"Did you just say CM Punk?" Jon says, leaning forward in a conspiratorial way. He crosses over the table, hovering eagerly just above our two buckets full of now-empty Labatt Blues. We ignore the Devils/Rangers pre-season game that plays on the giant screen, which would make me feel like a big shot if we weren't in the most barren bar in all of Williamsberg. A sports bar in hipsterville left vacant on a Friday night. Go figure.
Even with an empty bar, I lean in, and reciprocation, say "yeah. Did you see any of his promo the other--" and before I can finish he's already gushing -- gushing -- about this now-fabled interview. As our excitement rises, we are still aware of our voices in this bar, so empty and cavernous; god knows where these words could reverberate to.
We then had a conversation for twenty minutes about the sport we'd deny watching to almost anyone else. We mention our Top Five favorite wreslters of all time, very blatantly ripping off High Fidelity (mine were Bret Hart, Hogan, Flair, HBK and The Rock for those counting at home). We go through each federation, ripping through some of our favorite moments, like two guys re-living a championship season. Everything in the past, but so much closer in your mind than you'd ever thought. Then six kids stumble in and the conversation shifts back to hockey, as if it never left.
About every ten years the sport will bubble in popularity and end up back on the pop cultural landscape. In the '80s it was led by Hulk Hogan, a name and face that everyone knows (well before the reality show), and in the '90s it was The Rock and Stone Cold with a help from the career rejuvenation of Hogan (he turned into a bad guy, the world shifted). Then we could all willingly throw our Mondays away and enjoy the physical storytelling as these large men weaved bits of betrayal, patent jealousy, and straight-up anger into a digestible product for two (maybe three) hours of mindless entertainment and athletic prowess.
For as long as it has been around, it has been roundly mocked by anyone above a certain class. As if it is the lowest of common denominators, some trifle that rots your brain and dulls your sense and blah blah blah. But we don't have the same disdain for Real Housewives of Where Ever who are not only just as fake, but not very convincing in their portrayals. At least wrestlers don't talk on the nose as much. It doesn't have the mindless debauchery of Jersey Shore; wrestling at least has some general goal other than a night spent in the drunk tank. And if you really want to talk "lowest common denominator," have you seen the Republican Presidential debates? The shameless pandering forces me to get the shower running about ten minutes in.
But still, it is something that I shun, and something that feels like it should be shunned. For me, though, it's a big different. Wrestling is not just a relic of my past. It is so intrinsic to my being that, well, it frankly makes me a bit of a bastard to so thoroughly ignore it. Without wrestling, I wouldn't be the person that I am today. Not even close.
I learned how to tell stories by watching Hulk Hogan. It's a perfect lesson in writing an arc in five minutes, all safely nestled in between the ropes. Hogan comes in as the good guy, but he is befallen a series of conflicts that slowly break him down. Then, just when you consider him down and out at the end of Act II, he reaches deep, summoning this energy -- seemingly from out of nowhere -- that turns the tide and wins the match. Good triumphs over evil like you knew it must, like it did last time, like it will surely do again.
It taught me how to write. At the tender age of 13, I took to the internet and wrote for The Nirvanic Chamber, a wrestling opinion board skewed toward analysis and criticism of the wrestling, the angles, and the characters involved. It was farcical (insofar as our talent took us) and gave me the space to find my voice. I have written on the internet, in some way, shape, or form, ever since Halloween Havoc 1999.
With some cursory lessons in HTML I later gathered a number of writers from that site and created my own, anywherebuthere.net. It was the first literary venture I ever ran and contained a litany of posts on pop culture. Some of those people I've continued to work with, some even write for this very site. But there is no way I'd understand what it took to do this without the original impetus of writing through wrestling.
As a filmmaker, it gave me the first opportunity to have a video camera in my hand. A large group of my friends (about ten of us) made up our own "basement" wrestling federation, taking on the guise of famous wrestlers as we wrote the matches and storylines. Every month, as described by the rules of wrestling production, we'd have a big story-moving, title-changing pay-per-view which, naturally, needed to be filmed (how else would people theoretically pay for it?). So I would grab the camera on learn on the fly how to track motion, keep good framing, focus on the important pieces that tell the story while knowing when it was important to expand out and swing over to something else, understanding when something went long and when something needed to keep going. It gave me all the tools that I was eventually taught in film class, some ten years (and thousands upon thousands) of dollars later.
And how do I think this event that has so wholeheartedly shaped my existence? Pushing it aside as if it doesn't exist. But it doesn't matter. Wrestling will still go on without me, covertly shaping the lives of thousands of kids like myself. And even though it's sure that these kids will abandon ship just like myself and many others of my dark, internet past, it'll always welcome us back with open arms, like I am (somewhat) reluctantly doing now.
That's the thing about wrestling. Just when you thought it was down and out, it comes roaring back. Like it always does.