“I want to bring life back to your sad eyes..”
Here is the story so far. I wanted to blame PRIME for what was starting to look more like a slow-motion execution than a return to my previous career. I wanted to blame my therapist for killing my edge. He made me talk about things that made it too hard to knock loose the fillings and crowns in men like Phil Atken or Great Scott.
I wanted to blame drugs for stripping me of most of my prime. I tried to blame Alcohol for stealing my days and my nights, leaving me a husk of a man. I wanted to blame this country for leaving me out to hang. I tried to blame God. I wanted to blame anyone, everyone, who wasn’t Pete Whealdon. A loss to Phil Atken was precisely what was expected. I could have spit in passive-aggressive fury about how I was just being used as a warm-up for better wrestlers, bigger names, better people.
But that was giving me a lot more credit than I deserved.
I’d coasted for nearly a decade long past my expiration date. Much like shaving recently, I had been giving too much credence to what I thought people thought of me. I thought I was going to roll into PRIME and everyone was going to celebrate my return to wrestling, the choice to become sober.
Instead, I was appropriately relegated to filling a roster sheet. As the Great American Nightmare was announced, and my name wasn’t on the roster sheet, it wasn’t on the poster, it made sense…
Naturally, I didn’t watch, attend, or rub shoulders. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that if you were wanted, you were getting paid for an appearance. I don’t need to sit in some seat next to some slobbering child, of any age. I didn’t really want to watch from behind the curtain, I didn’t want to pretend I was wanted.
Instead of nursing my wounds from my encounters recently, I sat in my studio apartment in Las Vegas. I didn’t have a Television, I didn’t have a radio, I didn’t have a record player. I had a pile of books, Science Fiction, well-worn paperbacks, spines creased and cracked and well-loved. Some of them are the last survivors of several lives past when I was a young man, idealistic, and a dreamer.
So while somewhere PRIME continued rolling on, I rolled through a paperback, sitting on the concrete stoop that delineated the seven feet of outdoors that was theoretically mine. While I read, I thought over the path that had led me to actively ignore my profession. Feelings hurt that I had been left out.
This is what happens when you spend a Sunday in the Las Vegas summer being cooked by the concrete. At some point, I’m gonna have to figure out what happened at Great American Nightmare. There is a firm line between disinterest and ignorance, and the longer I waited to see what happened, the more likely I was going to be on the wrong side of that line.
I have to wonder if it’s ego making me want to engage. The Revival’s post Pay-Per-View were designed more as a palate cleanser for the fans. A real B team feel to ‘em. It’s those feelings again. Shortly after my loss to Phil Atken, it occurred to me that I was spending a lot of time trying to fit into the expected image. So I decided to chuck my razor in the dumpster behind the stucco building I lived in. I did the same with the scissors I kept to keep my hair trimmed. Like so much of my life, it didn’t have any real functional value, and it let people keep thinking I was who I used to be.
Frankly, I wanted to start disabusing people of that notion a lot sooner than later. They could keep billing me as magnum, and other wrestlers could keep referring to my “golden” era, and I am using that term lightly, but I was ready to embrace that I had entered my rust era, Let the oxidation show, let the iron show its weaknesses, as brownish oranges slowly subsume it.
I had canceled my appointment with my therapist. I wondered why I did it. It was a passive-aggressive way to take a shot at the paymasters who had decided I was good enough to face a man who lost to a moonlighting Math teacher of all the fucking things in the world.
That reminds me, I need to quit feeling sorry for myself and go buy another carton of cigarettes.
Pete Whealdon left the gas station carrying a carton of Marlboro reds under his arm like flowers for a lover. Over a week of beard growth covered his face in the early stages of what would likely become a fearsome briar patch of facial hair in a couple more weeks. His hair, usually coiffed impeccably, was what the observant might call “askance”. He had traded the floral print shirt of yore for a white t-shirt with the words “RIDE OFF AND DIE” boldly scrawled across it. Jean shorts are pretty on-brand for Pete Whealdon. Black flip-flops finish off the ensemble. A bulge in the front pocket of the shorts reveals a zippo lighter, and not that Pete Whealdon is especially happy to see anyone. A cigarette freshly lit hangs from his mouth, the box having been torn open unceremoniously at some point between the doors of the gas station convenience store and the forty-five feet to the street he is going to jaywalk across. As he steps into traffic, middle finger poised to alert any crosserbys to his feelings on the matter, he stops. Full Stop as a car screeches around him. Prostestrations of inviting him to fuck himself lost on Pete.
It had never occurred to him before that he lived within an actual stone’s throw(which is a little harder than you might think if you don’t happen to be a trebuchet) from a hardware store.
After a hard orthogonal turn, he strolled through traffic unconcerned into the hardware store, boldly ignoring the proclamations that he couldn’t smoke in here, and went to the grill and grill accessories section. Cigarettes under the arm, a White Plastic container with a red flip cap in hand, and a box of single-strike matches with the red, white, and blue logo your parents kept with the grill, Whealdon found himself back on the sidewalk, turned towards his studio apartment.
The building itself was the exact image of low rent, stucco previously white, doors painted garishly blue for some reason, gold indicators having been mildly scoured by sand and wind. Three stories tall and set several miles north of the strip, it was exactly where the people who keep Las Vegas running live.
You could gamble here, but none of the garish paint is thrown over the life-ruining sadness this far north.
Pete Whealdon didn’t gamble.
What Pete Whealdon did was set the plastic container down on his stoop, before heading indoors. Turning his speaker phone on he was listening to the messages while rummaging around in his closet.
This is Doctor Woods. I have been told you canceled your appointment. This is disappointing as I think we have been making good progress. Secondarily, I would like to remind you that this isn’t coercion, but you are required by your employer to participate in therapy weekly. Call me back to reschedule and I can let it slip that you needed an extra week to process. I can be reached at…”
Pete came in and hit the keypad to delete the message.
“Hello, Mr. Whealdon, this is PRIME Wrestling calling…”
“You have no further messages. Goodbye!”
The voice on his phone was relaxing and friendly, and it closed his message box politely. Pete felt like it was good to know he had someone on his side.
Coming out of the closet with an armload of various printed button-downs, he tossed them into an errant empty cardboard box. The box is helpfully labeled “Books” and is one of a few post-move detritus items dotting the inside of the room. Above the bed is a range of posters and prints often featuring Whealdon. A museum to a career that didn’t matter.
Tearing them down one by one, they end up in the box just the same as the clothes. Eventually, the room moves from being one of the historical effigies of his career to the walls being reduced to their white paint. The odd corner of color from careless removal remains.
Like a good mid-aughts indy match, tacks litter the floor. Something Whealdon is going to have to deal with later, one would suppose.
Whealdon scratched at his new beard, looking around at his handy work. The paucity of the studio apartment was apparent. A single mattress on the floor with a couple of bunched pillows, unmade. Cinder Block Bookcase. Plaid print folding lawn chair in the center of the room facing towards a window with a remarkable view of nothing and a gas station. A single fan jammed in the open window, new, but an early candidate for becoming gray with dust and orange with sand.
Whealdon moved around the apartment methodically, picking up the aforementioned thumbtacks. He tossed them in the box for good measure. Whealdon picked the box up and walked back through his front door. Stopping to toss the plastic bottle and matches on top.
One little-known benefit of living in Las Vegas is no one thought it out of pocket for a man to wander into an alley with a box and matches. Just another life being broken by gambling, capitalism, or any other number of vices. No one is going to question sadness and darkness in a town that despite its displays of lights has none of it.
Whealdon certainly had the air of last gasp desperation about him. Opening the white bottle, he began to spray voluminously down into the cardboard box. Sitting in the middle of the alley liquid began to seep into the cardboard itself darkening its brown tone, the marker with the word “books” beginning to run as the solvent soaked through it.
The words were bleeding. The sands of nothingness blew in from nowhere.
Whealdon unceremoniously struck a single match and tossed it on the box, which ignited instantaneously. Whealdon pulled out a cigarette and lit on his burning clothes and memorabilia. Watching the tongues of flame lick with no rhyme or reason, he missed the audible “What the fuck?!” that came from a decent citizen at the mouth of the alley. Whealdon ignored this. As the flames gathered in intensity, Whealdon took off his aviator sunglasses and tossed them on top of the pile. Polyester and Rayon shirts quickly began to melt into a coagulating blob of Hawaiian flowers and other paraphernalia that said “Magnum” to anyone who was in the know. The lenses of the sunglasses began to melt in the heat.
Whealdon watched the box burn down, as ashes tinged in orange began to flutter around. The wind off of the desert swirled them and they landed harmlessly on the concrete around Whealdon, he idly brushed the ash off of his bare arms while taking drags from his cigarette.
As if it weren’t enough to face the guy who lost to a math teacher, we have another one of those returning legends that was a big deal about the time I was drinking enough for three people. I guess I lied when I said I didn’t pay attention to Great American Nightmare. You can go ahead and pin that one on me. Sorry about that. Or not. Whatever. Phil Atken wanted to see some light in my sad eyes. He said I’d thank him for Revival 10.
Phil was right.
Sometime after he put out the lights, I woke up long nap refreshed in the ring. I was told a minute or so had passed, or it might have been twenty seconds. What is time when you’re being given the alarm clock of smelling salts in a large arena and you’re staring at the ceiling? What is anything when you’ve fulfilled being an energetic warm-up to something more important?
I’m sure that I’m not the first person to consider things in a pair of wrestling tights lying in a ring, and while I didn’t come away with any great revelations. The farce of thinking I could be the same wrestler I was when I was fucked up all of the time was over. The shirts, the mustache, the baby oil, the scams, the schemes. It was all over. Whatever it was I thought I was doing here in PRIME is over.
I have become a parody.
I would rather be nothing.
I would rather be reduced to ash.
As it burned down to nothing, the dying fire reflecting in his eyes, Whealdon smiled.
In that final pile of burned remains sat the frames, heat twisted and lensless.
The final remnants.
The end of something.
With that Pete Whealdon turned and walked back to his home.