The Twins, Then
One sat with his legs folded, leaning forward, eyes locked on the television. The other laid on the carpet, chin propped on an elbow, his free hand adding lines to a sketchpad. The twins’ Saturday morning ritual had begun.
Only one of them cared about the men on the TV screen. Bronze titans bedecked in a myriad of colors moved with the power and grace of large cats stalking their prey on the savannah.
“JJ, why aren’t you watching?” the first boy said. “What are you drawing?”
“This is ‘Butt Mountain’. The mimes go in through the butt, and then they fall through a trapdoor onto a conveyor belt.” As he spoke he traced a path with his finger along the paper, where a multitude of stick figures were meeting their grisly demise amidst a labyrinth of torturous machinery. “Then they go through these chompers and get dumped into lava. Mimes suck.”
“Language!” their mother’s voice called from the kitchen.
“They can try to escape if they go this way,” JJ continued, “but then they have to fight Mike Tyson.”
“Mike Tyson wouldn’t be in Butt Mountain,” the first boy said. “He could just punch his way out.”
“I already thought of that, Andy.” JJ tapped a finger to his temple. “That’s why the wizards are there.”
Andy’s gaze was already back to the television. One of the goliaths had captured his opponent, summoning the whole of his strength to lift the man high into the air, before casting him aside the way Andy’s parents might throw a towel into the hamper. Until a few weeks ago this was the sort of thing that would have prompted him to dive on his brother in a playful mockery of the action on his screen, but that was before the bruise. He couldn’t remember getting it, only that it hadn’t yet gone away, and because of that the mandate from his mother was iron-clad, immutable – there would be no roughhousing.
Andy leveled a finger at the television.
“When I grow up I’m going to do this.” The statement was absolute; the purest conviction from the mind of a child.
“You’re crazy,” JJ said. “Why would you ever want to beat up guys in your underwear?”
“And you have to do it with me.”
JJ erased one of the walls of his drawing that had yet to have any traps installed, adding a new corridor jutting into the sky that he would soon fill with ways to murder the intrusive mimes. “No way, Andy. But I’ll design your mansion for you.”
“JJ, please? Come on, Jared, you have to.”
“I won’t be able to do it alone, Jared.” He met his brother’s eyes. “If I do this I’ll need you with me. I can’t do it by myself.”
“No, you can’t call yourself ‘Juicy Liger’. There’s a Japanese cartoon with a similar name, but I’m pretty sure you knew that.”
The last few years had seen it get increasingly harder to get my agent, Larry Spiderman, on the phone. I know what you’re thinking: Jared, there is no fucking way that you know someone named Spiderman. Guilty. Larry is a special case. I’ve been referring to Larry as “Spiderman” for almost two decades at this point. Why? Because when I was young and stupid (shut up) I thought it was funny. Also I suffer from a debilitating condition that prevents me from letting a joke die. I’m sure there are others like me. We should have our own telethon; raise awareness. Those are still a thing, right?
In the time that I was away from televised wrestling Larry had become something of a hot commodity for sports representation. When we first started together I was his only client, and got all of his attention. Then I fell off the earth for ten years. But he didn’t let me go, despite having every reason to. Larry’s a loyal guy, which is great for me because I’m a schmuck. Professionally.
I’m Jared. A few times every month I pretend to be a fancy berry boy. I won Sin City Championship Wrestling’s version of the Universal title after a brutal one-night tournament. I once became the top contender for that title by dressing up as Wyatt Connors’ dick. The two aren’t related.
Anyway, if you ever see a headline that reads ‘Dipshit Professional Wrestler Killed in Freak Shovel Accident’, please know that Larry didn’t do it. Now, Larry most certainly will have done it, but odds are I had it coming. Don’t arrest him. There doesn’t need to be a trial. Just let the guy go on living content that he’ll never have to take one of my calls again.
Also, you’ll know it was Larry because my body will be stuck to the side of a skyscraper by giant, a-human-sized-spider-totally-made-this webs. Whether or not “fuck this guy forever” is written in them, well, I guess we’ll just have to find out.
“No wiggle-room here, huh?”
On the other end of the phone, Larry sighed. It’s how he ended all his sentences.
“God knows I’ve never been able to stop you before,” he said. “But there’s a chance someone might come after you for it. I don’t know how many international trademarks you might be violating. Look, I’m appealing to your sense of reason here, Jared.”
“But,” he continued, “do you think you’re ready? First televised match in over a decade. Do you have a plan? Do you have a partner lined-up?”
“That’s great.” He sounded relieved. By this point he really should have known better. “Three other teams though; that’s a pretty big hurdle.”
“I’m going to put on a mask and stretchy underpants. Then I’m going to try to slap the other guys before they slap me. Typical stuff.”
“Then I take it your partner is…”
“Still the mannequin. Yeah.”
There was a pause on the other end of the phone. I took the opportunity to mentally collate lists of famous nicknames with fruit-based puns, then realized all the good ones were taken.
“There is something I wanted to talk to you about,” he said. His voice had gotten softer, like he was about to confess his undying love. Or break the news that my cat had been in a tragic car accident.
The car is wrecked, but she’s okay. Only minor damage to the other vehicle. Her blood-alcohol level was well below the legal limit, but the police are baffled by how her tiny feet were able to reach the pedals.
I didn’t own a cat.
“Larry, I know I look great in spandex, but it would never work out between us. I’m a semi-retired pro wrestler. You’re a man with the powers of a radioactive spider. What would your mother say?”
He ignored me. He was good at that. If “Jared’s Career” was an Olympic event, then Larry would be the Michael Phelps of Ignoring My Dumb Ass. I’d be that Eddie guy who did the ski jumps.
I wondered if Larry got those powers from the spider bite.
“Jared,” he went on, “I think we’re going to have to talk about the forklift.”
I hung up.
The older I get, the more boredom factors into the decisions I make.
When I stepped away from televised wrestling at the end of 2010, “King Blueberry” had taken on a life beyond my control. The costume was reproduced and sold online by a number of gear sellers, just like that goddamn clown that shows up at every indie show. You know the one.
From what I understand it sold pretty well, because I started to hear whispers of “King Blueberry” showing up at shows across the country, despite the fact that I was on the verge of merging with the cushions on my couch. Maybe I should have been annoyed at the fact that something I created was being used by so many people – Larry told me once that I could probably take legal action, but that’s not my vibe. I mean it’s not like I worked hard on it. Plus it meant that when the mood struck I could crowbar my ass off the sofa and work a night or two, and no one would have any idea it was me under the mask.
A few years ago the walls of the house started closing in around me, and I’d been finding excuses to get off the couch more often, so I hooked up with a local promotion called Beantown Pro. They were small, usually running high school gyms in eastern Massachusetts, but it was something: a way for guys who were training to get reps in, though you’d also get some oldtimers as well. Most everyone had regular day jobs, so there was an unwritten rule that you didn’t go out of your way to hurt anyone, or fuck up their chances at building a career. The problem with unwritten rules though is that they don’t exist; not really. And a gentlemen’s agreement only works if everyone involved stays true to their word, or was ever a gentleman to begin with.
If there was a downside to the blueberry getup it was that it had a profound negative effect on the local folks. They saw someone from their neighborhood make it on a big stage dressed like a asshole, and then everyone thought they needed something flashy to stand out. The biggest exception to this was a pure grappler in his early 20s named Mortimer Hodge, whose only knock against him was that his name was Mortimer. As soon as that kid learned to talk he should have called social services on his parents.
All in all it was a fun locker room, and a decent group of guys. Mostly. Mort would ask me questions about how to break in beyond the local scene. Ned Bettencourt, who called himself “The Grillmaster”, would talk about business at the family restaurant he owned with his brother Theo. Sometimes Theo would show up and pretend to be Ned’s manager, a chili cook-off champion he called “Fartin’” Van Buren. Lonnie “DONGUS” Donnegan was all too happy to share pictures and stories of his kids with anyone who would listen.
I liked Lonnie. Outside the ring he was a great guy; dedicated to his family and proud of his two girls, Ronnie and Gwen. Inside the ring though, that was a different story. Lonnie’s schtick was that he dressed like a barbarian with a purple football helmet, and he carried a sword with him – one of those dollar store Nerf knockoffs. Except it wasn’t just foam. He’d cored the center out of it and replaced it with a length of PVC pipe, and if things weren’t going well for him he’d jab you in the crotch. Just right in the dick. Not enough to do any real damage – again, unwritten rule – but enough to stun you. Always apologized for it afterwards, so that was cool.
And then, there was Wet Willie.
Bill “Wet Willie” Majors owned a small plumbing operation south of Boston. He’d had some minor success in the mid-90s for a budding national promotion, but blew his knee out twice in a pretty short stretch and never got another look even after he healed up. For almost thirty years he still came out a few weekends each month, but aside from a nasty left hand wasn’t someone most guys took seriously. Drawing Willie on the booking sheet was usually cause for groans, but it had nothing to do with his skill. Old Willie would always drive to the building in his van: the same one he used for work. He kept his ring gear in the back with the rest of his equipment, and when he pulled up to wrestle would grab both his bag and a plunger from the rear of his truck. Whether or not it was a plunger he also used for house calls was a topic of much debate.
Willie and I did not get along. This isn’t uncommon; nature of the beast means that when everyone is competitive eventually some folks are gonna grow to hate each other. I didn’t hate Willie, but he gave off strong “fuck the fuck off, Jared” vibes, so I gave him his space. He made his little comments, and puffed on his Newports, and I left him alone.
“I’m here to give Beantown Pro a good healthy flush!”
That night, Willie was in the ring, and someone had made the dire mistake of giving him a live microphone. Willie was next-level awful on the stick. Unless of course your platonic ideal of trash talk involves casual racism and shitty puns about plumbing, then congratulations have I got the guy for you. I’d long ago learned to tune him out. Instead I was chatting with Lonnie about his kids, and counting myself fortunate that I wasn’t going to have to worry about getting stabbed in the dick by his corked foam sword later.
“Starting with that stupid Blueberry!”
Lonnie was in the middle of a story about Gwen, his youngest daughter, that involved a bowl of spaghetti and one of those plastic ride-on cars when I started to feel the eyes of the room on me.
“And now she’s got her diaper off, right – kid’s nowhere near potty-trained yet, y’know, and she starts making that face, so I know I gotta grab her quick or it won’t just be red sauce on the rug,” Lonnie trailed off. He’d seen the reaction in the room.
“He calls himself a king, but there’s only one kind of throne that he belongs on!”
“The hell’s he talking about you for?” Lonnie said. “I didn’t think either of you guys were on tonight.”
“Because Bill’s on his shit again,” Ned said. “He was mutterin’ stuff about Jared and potential and fairness while Lonnie was fightin’ Carl. I saw him taping up his hands earlier.”
I glanced over at Carl, who was hunched over and holding an ice pack against his groin. Ah, the Nerf sword claimed another one.
“I’m really sorry about that, Carl,” Lonnie said. Carl just grunted.
Ned muttered something about Bill being the type of guy who probably liked his steak well-done; he was always the grillmaster, that guy. I was already digging through my bag. I wouldn’t have a chance to get into my gear – Bill’s call-out saw to that, but the mask was mandatory. I fished it out and started loosening the laces.
“So if he’s got any guts at all he’ll come out here, and…”
No time to stretch. No time to get loose. No time to get the muscles warm. The fucker had me cold. Either I go to the ring and deal with Bill’s nonsense now, or I stay back here and have to listen to his bullshit every time I come to hang out. I tossed my hoodie aside, pulled on the mask, and started for the door.
“Hey, he might have his plunger,” Lonnie said behind me. “You want my sword?”
“And my axe!” Mort said. God, that poor kid. I couldn’t hear his name without wondering if he had pockets full of Werther’s candy.
“What axe?” Ned said. “You got an axe now?”
“Jesus Christ, Ned,” Mort said. “Have you never been on the internet?”
“His Weber doesn’t get wifi,” Carl said.
“It’s a Traeger!”
“Come on out, you blueberry dummy, and let ol’ Willie give ya’ a swirly!”
So with little in the way of alternative, I found myself stepping through the makeshift curtains – curtains that looked suspiciously like someone’s old sheets – into the Lowell High School gym to answer the challenge of a sweaty toilet man, and hoping I’d be able to avoid getting hit in the face with a plunger of questionable origin.
I walked to the ring with my hands in my pockets. No emoting, no fanfare, no playing to the crowd. Hell, I don’t even remember if my music played. But I remember Bill, standing in the middle of that ring, in the middle of a high school gym, cracking his knuckles and grinning like a jackal.
“What are we doin’, Bill?”
Bill didn’t answer. Instead he glanced over his shoulder to where the referee stood. “Ring it,” he said.
The ref, a twenty-something named Barry, cleared the distance to us in two steps. He spoke in a whisper so his voice wouldn’t carry. High school gyms have some weird acoustics. “I didn’t hear anything about a surprise match, Bill. What’s going on?”
“Just ring it,” Bill hissed back. “Now.”
Barry looked to me for confirmation, then back at the village poopsmith, and then got the hell outta the way.
I’m not proud of what happened next.
The bell rang, then Willie spat, and punched me right in the face. It hit like a goddamn brick. A lifetime of working with his hands had made them hard, calloused. It hurt like hell. It was also the last shot he landed.
I can’t speak to the brief career Willie had before injuries took it all away, and his life spun off in a different trajectory. But whatever talent Willie possessed had long since left him. Me? I’d spent a few years away, moving back into the ring here and there when the itch struck, but this is all I’d ever done, even if I never wanted to do it.
That night in a high school gym Willie tested the water. He thought he was wading into the kiddie pool. So I dragged him into the deep and left him to drown.
Sometimes we need to be reminded of who we are, even if it’s not who we want to be.
The Follow-up, a Text Exchange
Jared, you need to call me back.
We REALLY need to talk about the forklift.
ya we should
that thing handled like ass
didn’t even come with a manual
That’s not what I meant.
wats osha cert?
some guy was yelling at me about it
can i do online classes?
Jared, I’m serious.
yeah i no
do you think they can sue me for that?
Well, IANAL but there’s a formal complaint,
and video evidence of you driving it.
I think they would have a strong case.
most girls ive known arent into it
i mean im kinda goin through a dry spell anyway
what does that have to do with the forklift?
IT STANDS FOR I AM NOT A LAWYER!
Fiberglass and Plastic
We are the son of Super Cool Guy, though we do not know how we know this.
We are the same we that we were before, when we were in the place that was loud. It is loud here sometimes, but mostly it is quiet. It is not like the before where it was loud always. They come and they take us out into the loud, and we feel the air around us shake, and so we know that it is loud.
When they come to take us into the loud then they are also loud, but when they come to us in the quiet then they are also quiet. The wind around them moves slowly, and so we know that they are quiet.
They come now. We can feel the rumbling at the bottom of us. It is slow and rhythmic and we feel it stronger, and so we know that they are coming.
“Hey, bud. Let’s get a look at you. Get you cleaned up.”
We have no eyes with which to see, but we feel that we are warmer, and so we know that there is light.
“Doesn’t look like there’s any chocolate on you, but we should probably get that coat off just to be sure.”
We are lighter. We have no skin but we know that we are lighter and there is nothing holding us down, and so we know that they have removed our covering.
“Looks like you’re okay. No need to worry, I don’t think they’re gonna let me do anything like that again for a while. Or ever. Can’t say I blame ’em, either.”
There is often sound when they come. It is frenetic and wild. The air around us pulses and hums, and so we know that there is energy. We listen but do not hear. We can feel the vibrations in the space around us, and so we know that there is sound.
Twenty years, and I’m talking to a mannequin because no one else would agree to this. Because no one else would come. If there’s another dimension where this is… where I am…
What the hell am I even doing with my life?”
Now there is no energy. Now the air is not alive. It is still. It is stagnant and stale.
We do not know what this is.