Private: Balaam the Mask of Malice
You have not fully experienced life until you have watched the majestic beauty of dusk on a beach. John Kennedy Royko Sr. always booked a trip to the Lani Kai on Fort Myers Beach in Florida the week of the Superbowl (good rates) to escape the cold and take a break from his seasonal depression. John Kennedy Sr. always took his son JK Jr. and his wife Amanda to create JK’s happiest childhood memories.
Weirdos on a one-wheeled bike, oversized red umbrellas for shade, swimmers amongst the waves, kites flying high dancing in the breeze, lovers entrenched in arms, stoners stoned, drunkards drunk, sand everywhere, the smell of suntan lotion, pina coladas, and shrimp boiling somewhere are vivid in his thoughts of those getaways.
The best part everyday was when everyone would gather on the beach together and watch the big orange ball sink into the water along with everyone’s cares, the harshness of the sun’s warmth fading giving way to the calm coolness of the night, and always the start of a party.
But dusk in Prospect Heights, Illinois in the grip of an arctic blast in the early days of February means absolutely dick. John Kennedy Jr. is now back at his recently departed father’s home. He is in the old man’s study, smoking a joint he found amongst others in an exquisitely carved wooden box with a sun painted in the center.
The smell of old records is one of the last bastions of 20th century masculinity. It excites the senses with its almost mildewed scent of aging cardboard and old vinyl. JK flips through his old man’s records, admiring the covers and pausing on the classics. A jazzy, funky version of ‘Ode to Billie Joe’ by Booker T and the M.G.’s, spins and plays as he unwinds. JK stops on the Miles Davis album, “Birth of Cool,” and sets it to the side for his next listen.
His soon-to-be mother of his first child startles him as she enters the room.
Aurora: The hell are you doing in here?
Aurora waves her arms in the air trying to clear a path through the pot smoke.
Aurora: Yoooooo when did you start smoking weed? I thought skunks got under the porch or my Auntie was in town?
The attractive girl hops on JK, straddling him and almost knocking them both backwards off the ottoman he is sitting on in front of the recliner.
JK Royko: I found a few old joints in that box. The old man liked to chill out at the end of the day and listen to these old jazz records to just escape.
Aurora: I’m digging this, what are you listening to?
JK Royko: Booker T and the M.G.’s.
The former Miss Alabama starts griding to the rhythm on JK who gives her a devilish smirk. He grabs the joint and passes it to her.
JK Royko: I mean it’s not your cousin Kenrell’s shit that knocks you into the void, but the old man’s smoke gets the job done.
She waves him off insistently.
JK Royko: Damn, when did you become such a good girl?
Aurora: Since you got my ass pregnant, genius.
A look of “oh shit” flashes across JK’s stoned glaze as he smashes the joint out in the old man’s dirty ashtray shaped like the state of Illinois. He waves the plume of smoke away from her as she laughs, wrapping her arms around him before kissing him.
Aurora: A lot of things are going to need to change to make this work.
JK Royko: I know, baby.
A lot has already changed with the passing of JK’s father, the news of a child, the end of an NFL career, and the start of one as a wrestler for PRIME. That is if his knee is ok. With a doctor’s appointment happening tomorrow, John Kennedy Jr. has been high strung all day.
JK Royko: This song’s got soul.
Aurora: You got soul and that is why I love you.
JK grabs her, lost in the moment, and stands up, lifting her with him. He spins her around in his arms as they both laugh. Suddenly his knee gives as he falls back onto the recliner and the record lets out the unpleasant sound of a dying song scratched from the needle, forever ruining its groove. Aurora comes down with him but lands on top of him breaking her fall.
JK Royko: Are you ok? The baby?
Aurora: I’m fine John. Are you?
JR Royko: No.
Sensing his internal pain, JK’s wife-to-be climbs up on him laying her head on his chest. He begins to sob.
JK Royko: What if I can’t wrestle? How will I support us?
Aurora: We will find a way, baby. I can finish my degree. And honey, we have more money than most people our age. You just inherited this house. We WILL figure it out, WE always do.
The big man continues to fight off the sobs as he leans down and kisses her hair on top of her head.
JK Royko: I cannot keep starting over. I can’t keep getting close and having it all taken away from me. I feel like a damn Yo-Yo. Sometimes I wish I would have died in that car crash that destroyed my knee.
Aurora: Do not ever fucking talk like that again around me, or our child. This is not you; this is the blues talking. Fuck that shit. Your strength has always impressed me. You know I’m not talking muscles; I’m talking about the man who buried his mother when he was 16 and maintained his education and his stature as an all-state athlete. The man who almost died in a car crash the night before the NFL draft, still got drafted, and worked so hard to walk again. The man who only a few weeks ago buried his father and still held his head high. The man who stepped into a major league wrestling ring with a veteran and no hope, and walked out a winner.
JK Royko: …Limped out.
Aurora: Don’t make me beat your ass!!
A smile cracks across John Kennedy Royko Jr.’s face, breaking through the self-pity.
JK Royko: For better or worse, until death do us apart.
Aurora: That’s right, but if you keep talking like that, death ain’t the only thing you gonna be doing apart.
She makes a jerk off motion with her fist then the gorgeous pillar of reason and understanding in John’s life whacks him gently in the balls with a swat. He lets out a painful “OWWWW” and laughs as his wife-to-be gets off of him.
Aurora: You still going to make meatballs tonight or are you going to keep listening to Miles Davis and smoking weed? If so, I can bring you munchies, and we can order pizza?
The big man rubs his balls, then his knee as he sits back up.
JK Royko: I’m making the meatballs as promised, but I’m still going to blast Miles Davis while doing so.
Aurora: You wouldn’t know the birth of cool if it came out of your ass like some demon baby. You sure you don’t want me to play you some Fall Out Boy off my phone?
JK Royko: Fuck you.
She laughs as he watches her walk out of the room, admiring her grace and beauty.
Two meatball sandwiches, a Netflix binge, and a lot of tossing and turning before the morning alarm goes off and the two lovers make their way to the doctor. JK and Aurora make small talk in the surgeon’s office, the white walls adorned with medical degrees and family photos.
JK Royko: I don’t get the expression “preaching to the choir.” Like, anybody who is going to church is already passionately committed to their religion. Nobody goes to church to just chill. If you preach to people who do not want to listen, then what is the point. I am more worried about the guys preaching to the non-choir. Like the guy who is always on State Street with the loudspeaker. He’s preaching to the people on the street, yet nobody wants to listen. If I were a preacher, I would enjoy preaching to the choir which is why I don’t get the expression.
Aurora: Did you smoke another one of your dads’ funny cigarettes this morning?
The wrestler laughs.
JK Royko: I get the rambles when I get anxiety. You know I have no chance against Dusk.
Aurora: Stop that thinking. Damn. You thought you had no chance against the last guy.
JK Royko: Yea, but the last guy, was the last guy, and he’s in the past. This guy is in the future, and he’s from the past, and was really good.
Aurora: So? You are from the now, and damn good too.
JK Royko: If it weren’t for this damn knee, I would be unstoppable, but Dusk is legit even if he’s super old. I’ve got to remember not to lean on that if they ask me to cut a promo. I don’t want to be that guy.
The old, white doctor walks in with his black spectacles resting in his thick grey hair. He takes a seat behind his desk.
Doctor Johnson: John, I have looked things over and it’s all about the same.
JK Royko: But what about the pain?
Doctor Johnson: The knee is a complicated joint. You had one of the worst accidents I have ever seen. It really is a miracle we saved your leg. If you were 40 years old, in good health, with the same injury and had gotten this far in your recovery and asked me if it would be ok to start jogging again, I would tell you no. So, the fact you are wrestling is still a problem. It is holding up. The pain you are feeling could be real, or it could all be in your head.
JK Royko: Are you saying I am faking it?
Doctor Johnson: No. I am saying the knee is complicated. I don’t think you are putting on a show for attention or pretending the pain you are experiencing is for a pain meds script. Your nerves and your body could very well be sending false signals to your brain panicked because it does not understand the trauma you have been through. Look John, you are lucky to be walking and I don’t think you should push it being a wrestler. We’ve been through this. It’s holding up for now, but how long will it last?
The doc adjusts his glasses to his eyes.
Doctor Johnson: I had a friend who was a great surgeon and one day he noticed his hands starting to shake. A neurological disease made his hands unstable. He knew he couldn’t be a surgeon anymore, and instead of waiting for his hands to hurt somebody he reinvented himself as a surgical consultant. He went on to have an illustrious career.
JK Royko: So, you think I should become an illustrious wrestling consultant?
Doctor Johnson: I don’t know, maybe a manager or a trainer but why prolong the agony of the inevitable?
John Kennedy Royko is flooded with both anger and sadness as he tries not to lose his cool.
JK Royko: It’s easy for old surgeons to adapt, but you don’t understand; I am a wrestler, and being a wrestler or an athlete means everything to me.
Doctor Johnson: You are approaching this from the perspective of the young man that you are. Blinded by youth, you can’t clearly see the big picture. Your girlfriend mentioned to me that she is expecting. Doesn’t being able to lift your child on your shoulders or even go for walks with them mean more? It may not end bad today, but it WILL down the line. I mean, if you keep going with wrestling, at best we will do more surgeries and you will deal with more pain, and at worst, it’s still a real possibility that with the wrong injury you could lose the leg. Do not lose sight of that.
JK Royko: But legally I can still wrestle?
The doctor looks sad as he knows he is not getting through to the young man.
Doctor Johnson: Based on your x-rays, nobody is going to stop you. Based on thirty years of experience working on knees from athletes, it’s a really dumb idea.
JK Royko: Well, I guess I’m dumb.
The big man stands up as his girlfriend tries to calm him.
Doctor Johnson: John, I wish you the best but please sleep on it. Please talk to your girlfriend. Please understand I am just trying to help.
JK Royko: Yea, well, maybe it’s all in my head. Tremendous help. I’ll be looking forward to the massive bill, thanks.
With a head full of conflict and a stubbornness that cannot be tamed, JK storms out of the doctor’s office with his soon to be bride in tow, noticeably limping. With his head down he hardly notices a little geeky guy with a microphone along with a fat, hoodie-wearing camera man who probably knows every lyric to all the Insane Clown Posse, and Anthrax songs.
TMZ: Mr. Royko, I am Blade Bronson from TMZ, and we had a few questions about your knee.
In no mood to talk, the big man pushes past the reporter who follows him step for step with microphone pointed towards the wrestler’s face.
TMZ: WILL THE KNEE HOLD UP?? WHAT DID THE DOCTOR SAY? WILL YOU HAVE TO RETIRE?
Feeling the weight of the questions hurled into his direction, and in no mood to be the lovable face he truly is. JK Royko snaps, and spins around which causes his knee to hurt more and fright to shiver down the young “reporter’s” spine intimidated by the wrestler’s rage filled eyes.
JK Royko: I told you I don’t want to talk! Keep pushing and I will chop you down! I’m not kidding, man! This is a parking lot and I have no problem going full blown Alec Baldwin on your ass!
TMZ: The extremely popular Dusk is a legend in PRIME, do you think you have a chance, if you can even go? You look like you are in pain. Does your fiancée have a comment? Did you get DUSK anything for his fiftieth birthday?
JK Royko: You want a God damn comment?
Aurora: Let’s go John, he’s not worth your time….
The sweet lady pulls on JK’s arm, but he does not budge. He just stares daggers into the reporter’s face while towering over him in the most intimidating way possible. Surprisingly, the reporter, knowing that the law and camera are on his side, stands his ground. This breaks JK ever so slightly.
JK Royko: Normally I would talk about how much I respect Dusk, because I do. Normally I would talk up his experience because it is truth. Hell, normally I would let the world know I’ve marked out for Dusk when I was a snot-nosed kid cheering him on at the Rosemont Horizon. I normally would give you everything you want, but this isn’t that moment.
The wrestler takes a moment to feel the frigid air on his burning face.
JK Royko: You caught me in a really, really bad moment. A moment where I have to stop and realize the reality that I’m facing a man on his fiftieth birthday for an opportunity to be the champion of the future for the rebirth of PRIME.
The young man has a look of disgust on his face as he rationalizes in greater detail the situation, he is facing a ball of dust, but he’s one whose body is more broken.
JK Royko: Fifty years old, and yet he feels the need to accept a roster spot, and soak in the crowd’s cheers to feed his ego. That’s bullshit man. Is it fair his body is still holding up this far in his over-stayed career, while I’m limping around like I’m the one in my fifties? Hell no. Yet here we are.
The big man looks down at his knee and just shakes his head in antipathy for the cards life has dealt him.
JK Royko: I do not know what Dusk is fighting for. The man allegedly has more money than he will ever need. Does he want to buy a new boat? Did he piss it all away, and this is his last grab? I doubt it. Does he want to do it for his grandkid’s wealth, and so they can see him wrestle? Hashtag “HOW RICH.”
Aurora tries tugging on his coat again as she can tell he is not himself and is being overly long-winded.
JK Royko: I don’t know if it’s self-preservation, ego, or just because he absolutely loves being a wrestler. That is noble and again, I normally would not care. I am sure he has good reasons deep down inside his own mind. Regardless of the “why,” the fact remains he is trying to out a man fighting for his family who is NOT rich. A young man fighting for a START to his career, not for a bow to wrap up a successful conclusion. I could lose and they could cut me from the roster and I’m out on the streets you lose and you’re in the hall of fame. My success MUST happen to survive. His does not. I am my father’s son and I want to be a man whom fans can love and respect in PRIME for a LONG, LONG TIME, not for a brief term of nostalgia and a long goodbye.
The big man puts his massive hand on the small reporter’s shoulder. John takes a deep breath and calms down a bit, the harshness in his tone disappears as he realizes the guy is just doing his job.
JK Royko: I’m glad Dusk got his legend’s pop. I’m impressed he still has it in the ring to win a match, but now he’s about to do the honors and fall to the future. What I got Dusk for his birthday? A retirement celebration in LAS VEGAS, in the center of the PRIME ring, live on the ACE NETWORK February twelfth for all his friends to tune in and watch. One show. Two parties. The actual birthday of Craig Maloof and the retirement celebration of the dust-ball DUSK. Craig, go be with your kids, and leave the future to these massive, capable hands.
The big man shows off his big mitts to the camera.
TMZ Guy: Dusk has said his PRIME dream match is Nova.
JK Royko: Funny, my dream is to be the first Universal Champion in the new era of PRIME. If I beat Dusk, I get closer, and next time it will be Cancer, or Nova. So being a guy who likes to make other dreams come true while still maintaining mine, we can do this. This upcoming show I can beat Dusk, which would free up his booking dates, and instead of a thrown-together tournament match he can really dig into his dream and build up a match with Nova, whom the following show I will also take out. That way I can still move on to win that gorgeous title and the two old timers can have a great match all the fans will love! Everyone wins!
Royko rubs his hands together like he has figured it all out.
TMZ Guy: You both wrestler in similar styles, do you think that benefits you? Or do you prefer distinctive styles?
JK Royko: The gods have aligned to give the PRIME audience a classic. I may be slowed down a bit by a bum knee, and he may be slower too, thanks to age, but I know he will give me his all. I know I will give him my all. When two forces collide, both going full speed, destruction you can’t look away from will be created. The PRIME audience is going to be the real winner, as they are going to see a fight that will steal the show. Some doctors do not want me to wrestle anymore, but I REFUSE to lay down. I’m heading back to Vegas next Monday, and come Friday, Dusk is going to get a birthday trip to the CHOP HOUSE, with a free slice of pounding-pie with a “big fifty” candle smack dab in the center of it for dessert!! Make your wish, Dusk, and blow out the candles, because Craig? The party is over.
JK walks away with his girlfriend Aurora.
Aurora: Less than a half hour ago you told me you didn’t want to be the guy who made fun of the old guy’s age.
JK Royko: Awww shit! Why didn’t you stop me?
She laughs as the young couple make their way to their 2003 Hyundai Sonata.