“Happy birthday to you… happy birthday to you… Happy birthday, dear”
And here we go.
“Ivy/Miss Ivy/Aunt Ivy/Mom/Mama Bear/Pooh Bear/Ms. McGinnis”
Imagine that being sung all at the same time.
“Happy birthday to you….”
For her part, Ivy looks like she would rather be standing behind herself than sitting at the dining room table surrounded by loved ones. She likes to say she built her career and reputation by supporting the stars when she could, and stepped into the spotlight when she had to.
Sorry, Mama Bear, but it’s August 13th, 2022, we’re celebrating your forty-eighth birthday and you have no choice but to be surrounded by love. Let’s run the roster: to her left is her husband, former professional wrestling megastar in his own right, ‘Triple X’ Sean Stevens. To her right is her fifteen year old son Shannon. He takes more after her than his dad – he’s slight of frame, he’s got the green eyes and an unstoppable wit. I think in ten more years he could be a well respected manager if he decided to go into wrestling as well.
Behind them are the rest of the family. Her brother Brian, his wife Karen, and their two youngest kids, Janette and Billy. The older ones have families and lives of their own from what I understand, and weren’t able to make it. The other half of the family, Ivy’s closest friend and yet another professional legend, Eli Flair is behind his old rival Triple X, with his wife Angel the Gothic Diva, their daughter MJ and MJ’s boyfriend Kevin. Angel’s bandmates in Valerian’s Garden, as well as another group called Underdark are standing around the table. Garden is obviously family, while Underdark is here because they happened to be fortunate enough to be recording at Spyder Studios this week – the studio built into the basement of Eli and Angel’s home here in Warwick, New York.
And of course, Rosie and I are here.
“Thanks, everyone,” says Ivy, “It’s a good thing only three of you rely on singing to make a living.”
She’s sarcastic, but she’s touched. We can tell. And she blows out all forty eight candles in one go while the kids clear a bunch of dishes from the table.
Kevin made a massive prime rib roast, and Rosie made the birthday cake. I’m almost positive this is the first time the kitchen was used for something that wasn’t just being reheated, microwaved, or boiled. He’s currently working as a sous chef at a pretty high class French restaurant, and she… well… she loves to bake.
“Knox,” says Ivy. “Can we talk for a minute?”
Sure, I replied.
She leans in to Sean and gives him a kiss. “Let me know when the coffee is ready?”
I’m not sure whether to help her up or stand back. She’s clearly in a lot of pain from the knee that’s in desperate need of a replacement, but she’s also Poison F’n Ivy and doesn’t need help from anybody.
“I got it, kiddo!” she says to her son who has the same thought as me, saving me from having to make a decision.
She’s approaching fifty, her body is showing all nineteen years of time on the road and the scars she earned. Beyond her knee – one replaced, one pending – she’s got three bullet scars, a family of pinpricks from a cross that exploded in her face, and a seven inch line on her right shin from a compound fracture. But she’s still both the most maternal and most intimidating person I’ve ever known.
Sometimes both at once.
“How’s it been going so far?” she asks, a safe distance away from the rest of the party.
Not bad, I said. Disappointed with myself to have lost my shot, but life goes on.
“Mmmm,” she says.
I mean, it’s disheartening how the former guy can get away with telling lies that are easily disproved with ten seconds of research, but he’s the former guy for a reason now, yeah?
“Uh huh,” she continues.
I looked at her.
I really hate it when you do that, I said, shaking my head and laughing.
Ivy winks. “I know,” she says. “You always have. Listen, kiddo, I only see what’s on TV and what I catch in y’all’s poorly encrypted internal running conversation. He’s got the high ground because he’s got the history with PRIME, but he can’t seem to avoid taking a veiled shot at you every time he talks. This one is a marathon, and you’ve got the edge there.”
She leans back on the couch when Rosie enters the room with a tray containing three cups of coffee, and sits next to her across from me. “Always business with you two,” says Rosie. “It’s ya birfday, Miss Ivy, switch off for a few!”
“Hi,” says Ivy, holding out her hand.
“Hello!” replies Rose, a little confused, but she takes her hand and shakes.
“Have ya met me?” continues Ivy, finishing up her little joke. Rose falls for it every time and it’s adorable.
“Still, there’s more important things in the world,” says Rosie. “How long are you guys staying?”
“We go back Monday,” replies Ivy. She has business interests in the Bronx – and obviously here in this house – but she, Sean, and Shannon make their current residence in Sean’s hometown of Orlando. “What about you guys, when do you need to be back in Vegas?”
I’m not booked for Rev 14, I said, so we don’t really need to be back for anything prior to the day itself. LT likes everyone who doesn’t have a medical exemption to be in the building, regardless of appearances.
“We’re gonna spend the week with the Mom’s,” continues Rosie, “and go visit Val again at least once before we fly outta here.”
“Nice,” replies Ivy. “I need to be back here a week from tomorrow for a distribution meeting so I might do the same. Keep me updated?”
Absolutely, I reply.
“In the meantime, kiddo,” says Ivy, turning her attention back to me, “You planning on letting the fuck up on the kid any time soon?”
“Seriously, don’t make me remember,” she continues. “What’s his name with the two last names. The kid you called Bambi, you condescending prick.”
I laugh. Hayes Hanlon, I said.
‘The kid with two last names.’ Miss Ivy certainly has a way with words.
“Who, Impulse 2.0?”
Enter Eli Flair. A lot of people in this sport claim that they don’t care what anyone else thinks of them, but he’s literally the only one for whom it’s true.
“Thank you!” says Rosie. “I tried to tell him that but he didn’t listen.”
We’re nothing alike, I started to argue.
“Bullshit,” says Ivy. “Everyone in this room remembers when you were the wide – eyed rookie, full’a optimism and go-getter energy. It was inspiring, actually.”
The party continues elsewhere in the house, but this room feels more like an intervention. I’m sitting on a chair by myself while the only three people whose opinions I unquestioningly value sit on a couch across from me, reassuring me that yes, they’re on my side and yes, this is a safe space.
“I think it was callin’ him ‘kiddo’ that really hit it home for me,” says Eli. “and that you’ve become the cynical veteran that you always swore you wouldn’t be.”
“Right?” asks Rose. “That’s what I said. I said that’s an Eli word, that’s a Miss Ivy word. That’s not an RK – and – Cally word.”
He annoys me, I said. His blind hero worship is exhausting, and it seems like he’s shoving it in my face every time I see him. Which is far too much.
Eli and Ivy look at each other, with nearly thirty years of professional roads traveled together and an expression that conveys everything while saying nothing.
“I’m willin’ ta bet Evan Aho or Tom Adler would have somethin’ ta say about hero worship,” says Eli, referencing two of my earliest favorites. “Or did you forget how patient they were with you when you were even younger than Hanlon?”
I was never this annoying.
“Probably not,” says Ivy. “I don’t know him so I can’t really say. But are you really being a big fuckin’ hero by breaking his spirit before the biz can do it first? You ain’t helping him, ya know. There’s a reason why none of us jumped in when you were seein’ the NFDub through rose-colored glasses, you needed to get there on your own.”
“Right?” says Rose, tapping the sunglasses perched on top of her head. “I’ve been saying that too, there’s no reason for any of us to fight.”
Eli hugs her.
“Y’never understood why we do what we do, didja?” he asks.
“Oh, sillyman,” says Rosie. “You can fight, you just shouldn’t fight.”
Yes. It makes sense.
“MESSIAH is a bigger deal,” says Ivy. “You’re both friends with Nova, he’s already asked both of you plus Youngblood to have his back, and that’s more important than a petty personal grudge.”
“Nova needs help, ya help,” agrees Eli.
I’m not apologizing, I said. Eli laughs.
“Too late for that anyways,” he says. “Y’all dropped the gauntlet on live TV, you’re gonna have to work it out in the ring. Get it in there, get it done, and get out before you’re in too deep.”
We all turn to look, and see Shannon standing at the door. Even though we’re all family, he looks self-conscious at four sets of eyes watching him.
“Aunt Angel’s opening up the Macallan, but Dad says he wants tequila instead and wanted to know if you wanted him to pour one for you too. ”
Ivy shakes her head and uses her cane to rise to her feet. “Your father has many skills but an accurate pour isn’t one of ‘em.” She looks back at me. “We’ll talk later, okay kiddo? Time to make a toast.”
I nod my assent as Ivy takes Rosie’s arm and they stroll towards the back of the house and a return to the rest of the group. Before I can join them, Eli puts a hand on my shoulder.
“Lissen, kid,” he says. “You and the rookie, that can be repaired – long as you can swallow your pride long enough to do it. You and the former guy? Don’t let ‘em bait you. Let ‘em make his shitty passive aggressive comments, let ‘em milk the herd for validation. If you’re right, history’ll bear it out. Don’t let yourself get dragged into another pissin’ contest.”
Nobody wins those, I agree.
“Nope,” retorts Eli. “He’s got like fifteen years with this company, he’ll definitely win it. That’s why you need t’be smarter. Coop knew you were smarter ‘n me, smarter ‘n him… Patience.”
Another clap on the shoulder.
“You got this.”
He leaves me alone in the room as he also rejoins the masses, and I reflect on the amount of life that’s been lived by the people in this house, and the amount of wisdom that’s just there for the taking if I’m smart enough to listen to it.
Most importantly of all?
Family doesn’t have to mean blood.