The Anglo Luchador
Tom broached the foyer in his current home and let out a deep sigh. He could barely contain his excitement as he hung up his windbreaker and hurried into the downstairs office where Tam worked. His giddiness almost hit schoolgirl-on-the-day-of-a-Taylor-Swift-concert levels of off the charts.
“Babe, guess what?”
She swiveled in her office chair with a quizzical look on her face.
She’d suffered that gambit too many times before.
“No. I looked at a house in South Philly. And it’s perfect.”
Her curiosity turned into a scowl, the antipathy curdling the air around her.
“Huh? I thought you’d…”
“You looked at a house. Without telling me.”
“I don’t give a fuck.”
She put earbuds in, scrolled her phone to find something loud and angry, and swiveled back towards her desk. Tom could only look by in dismayed shock.
“Who the fuck calls himself ‘Yours Truly’ anyway?”
Tam pored over the scouting reports for Adam Benjamin while Tom sat in a hotel room rewinding tape.
“I thought you were a wrestling fan. There’s no depths to the pool of egomania guys will sink to, especially ones who need to tell more than they show.”
“But ‘Yours Truly?’ That’s a new low. I can barely get over it.”
“Yeah, I know. He seems like a real dummy-and-a-half, but be that as it may, he’s still the Intercontinental Champion here. I’m still just new.”
“The company’s still pretty new too though. I mean, Empire Pro just popped up, and, ugh, Marcus has already staked a claim here.”
“I told you. My business with him only extends as far as we meet in the ring. Let him deal with the Tricky Song dude.”
“Yeah, Christian Sands. I swear, sometimes, I feel like I’m the only one who actually listens to music. I mean, do you know how many dudes come out to butt rock?”
“Yeah, you do for one.”
Tom grabbed a pillow and threw it at his girlfriend.
“I have a reason,” he retorted after resorting to the vicious violence of throwing the softest object in the room at below-average velocity at the other occupant.
“Yeah, a reason based on a card game. Besides, how unrealistic is it, Moongoose McQueen, a pro wrestler, using the name ‘Chris Jericho?’ Corny. And he looks way too, what’s the word, glassy?”
“Hey, you can’t judge a book by its cover. I mean, some of the buffest dudes in this industry are glass cannons.”
“You still gotta deal with him and with the other egomaniac.”
“Yeah, Promo-Bot 9000.”
Tom bent his arms at right angles and alternated moving them up and down while widening his eyes and forming a ridiculous shape on his lips.
“Beep boop, I am your hero. Beep boop I am better than you. Beep boop I haven’t had my oil changed in three lunar cycles.”
Tam threw the pillow back at her boyfriend while stifling laughter. Tom returned back to normal, or at least as normal as he could be.
“Well, I’ve been looking over the records, as much of the history as they’d give me on Benjamin but also on Dodd, and well, I think I have a way for you to deal with both and come out with an actual title belt.”
“Oh yeah?” he replied, eyes lighting up. She nodded, and he moseyed over to the hotel room desk. After looking over, he smiled and nodded.
“You know, I couldn’t do this without you.”
Tom sat on the couch in silence. The boys were occupied, Zo in the yard practicing jumpers while he still had enough sunlight to see the rim. Vinny upstairs in his room, probably wondering why Smash players online didn’t fear the might of his preferred main, Ganondorf. And his wife stewed in her office doing the kind of work high-level executives do. At least until she wasn’t anymore.
With a flash, she bolted out of the office, making a beeline for the staircase ascending to the second floor. Tom jolted out of dissociation, turning around to try and catch his wife with the sound of his voice.
She ignored him in her mad stomp up the steps. He shot up off the couch and chased her up. As he caught up to her, he grabbed her shoulder.
“Hold on! What the fuck is your problem?”
She turned around with the fury of the Black Tezcatlipoca in her eyes.
“My problem? Back up, all the way up. Why was this house that you decided to go shopping for so perfect?”
He stammered his response.
“Well, uh, it’s big and roomy! One of those three stories on 20th Street near Porter and Wolf and the far South! It’s spacious. Like this house.”
If looks could kill, Thomas Battaglia would’ve exhausted a Contra code’s worth of lives in this moment.
“Did you happen to ask me what I wanted out of this move? This move that we decided would be a good idea?”
“Uh, no! I just assumed…”
“Yeah, you assumed, like you’ve done with every single fucking rash decision you’ve made since you lost that title to Paxton. You assumed I’d be okay with you flying off to Mexico and endangering our financial well-being over a breach of contract. You assumed that I’d just forget when you got drunk and hallucinated some pedophile-looking asshole you were wrestling when you swung on our youngest son. You assumed that I’d be okay with you running across the fucking city at low light just to clear your head, to use a shock collar on national television against someone who was somehow more out of his mind than you are.”
Tom was dead silent, stopped in his tracks.
“Whatever happened to us? Whatever happened to being a team?”
She turned around to face away from her husband.
“When was the last time you and I made a decision together?”
Tom bowed his head and sheepishly replied.
“And that was the last time I thought you actually made sense. At least until this move.”
Everyone tells new parents that a child will fuck over their sleep cycle, but few really let that fact sink in until the kid is on night three of shriek-crying around the time of last call. The cramped apartment really amplified the cries of little Lorenzo, even after three months of being at home from the hospital. The poor kid had been colicky for his entire life thus far, and whatever pain felt by the new parents who walked around like zombies during the daylight hour was magnified in the little one’s belly.
Tam’s company was stingy with maternity leave. Two weeks. That was all she received. As junior sales rep at a big pharma company, you tend to get the short end of the stick, but given the fact that she had a shade over a year’s experience and had the temerity to be a woman in a man’s world, the pressure on her to come back as soon as possible was at ocean’s bottom-intensity.
It technically was “her turn” to get up this time, but she dreaded it. There was a huge all-hands sales meeting the next day. She was already on edge because her numbers were below goal for the month to date. Adjusting back to office life was tough, especially when she couldn’t get enough sleep. With each cry, the invisible tether binding her to the bed loosed ever so slightly until she finally rolled over to get up…
…only to see Tom was already on his way out of the room.
“Baaaabe,” she said groggily, “You got the last one. Go back to bed.”
“Yeah, and I’m going to be doing house husband shit tomorrow. You’ve got a big meeting.”
He shushed her quietly and softly.
“No buts. If I’m going to be at home now, no more wrestling, no more job, then maybe I should do this more. It’s all part of give and take, y’know?”
As Tom went over to the smaller bedroom adjacent to their “master” one, she smiled as she put her head back onto the pillow.
“I can’t do this without you,” Tam mumbled as she went back to sleep.
“So what do you want to do? Go look at a house and tell me and we’ll get it.”
She turned back around, rolling her eyes massively in the process.
“You don’t get it. You don’t get it at all. I don’t know what the hell has gotten into you this year, and it can’t just be losing because Lord knows this isn’t the first time you’ve ever hit a rough patch.”
His shoulders slumped. She continued.
“I want this to be a team effort. You and me, what’s best for us, for the kids. Do you even know why I was so quick to leave our suburban palace?”
“Gonna go out on a limb and say it wasn’t just the safety breaches, given what you’re saying so far.”
“Don’t be a wiseass right now, I’m serious.”
“I wanted out because this house is too big. Too much work just so we can be isolated from each other. Think about it. I’m in my office all the time. You’re in yours up here. The kids are either in their rooms or Zo is out in the driveway, and it’s like we’re just four roommates anymore.”
She collapsed against the wall.
“What happened to us? What happened to our family?”
Tom rushed over to grab her, cradling her as she nuzzled up tight, putting his hand around her head.
“I can quit. I can stop wrestling.”
“No, I don’t want that. You just called the office and said you’d stay on for a year, and that’s what I want for you. I fell in love with a wrestler, not with a house husband. No matter how much I appreciated those years, that wasn’t you.”
She sniffled again, wiping her eyes and nose.
“But this isn’t you either.”
He sighed deeply. For a moment, they each soaked in the gravity of the moment before Tom spoke up.
“Then let’s go into my office. Let’s look on Zillow. Let’s find a house that works for us, for the kids…”
He pushed back his wife’s head softly so he could look her in the eyes.
Generally speaking, the mood of the Battaglias after eating in Center City is much more pleasant, especially when they weren’t the ones paying for it. When Shweta Kallemullah asked to meet them at Butcher and Singer, perhaps the swankiest steakhouse in town, they were curious. When they got there and found out she’d reserved a private room, they were baffled. But then they realized it soberly when she presented them her plea, her request.
“Are you sure we did the right thing, babe?” Tom asked. “I mean, hiding a kid, especially from, well, that psychopath…”
“You’re a South Philly Italian. Isn’t hiding people what you do best?”
“I’m being serious here!”
Cold rain fell on the Shitty Green Explorer’s windshield like it was a Guns ‘n Roses video. The traffic in Center City was still tight and precarious, even as dinnertime spilled over into primetime.
“If you’re asking me if it was the right call, then why were you so quick to say yes?”
“She’s a little girl in remission from cancer. What kind of asshole would I be if I refused to help when we had the means to do so?”
“And you just answered your own question.”
“But you’re sure that you’re okay with it? We gotta be on the same page here.”
“If I wasn’t, I would’ve said so at the restaurant. We’re helping out people in need. Plus I’ll get a wine buddy and the daughter I always wanted without having to deal with the screeching baby portion of it. And I get to see you wrapped around a little girl’s finger.”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of that.”
The light shone green, but Walnut Street still backed up. A SEPTA bus was stopped in the right lane picking up passengers, while the left lane was looking at their phone with their turn signal blinking, not having noticed the throng of people blocking their path had long since passed. Horns honked, but the two sat in the car serenely.
“This is gonna be tough,” Tom said. “But I think we can do it. I couldn’t do it without you.”
“And I couldn’t do it without you. But now you have to drive, MOVE IT.”
The cars in front of them finally started driving, and not a moment too soon. Their Explorer made it through the intersection right before the light changed to yellow, and then red, on their way to the entrance to I-76 West and then home.
It was a corner house in the upper reaches of South Philly, still close enough to the Italian Market to use a rideshare without it costing an arm and a leg with the same being true for the hustle and bustle of Center City. Despite being a corner property, it was small. Not tiny like their first apartment together, but also not a sprawling mammoth that fed Tam’s insecurities about the lessened effect of gravity on the bodies comprising their family. It was a new renovation, chic and befitting a pro wrestler and a pharma exec. And best of all, as long as they didn’t get into a bidding war, they could pay cash if they wanted.
“Well, should we put a bid on it now?” Tom asked as they stood on the corner, waiting for the light to turn so they could get to the Shitty Green Explorer across the street.
“Maybe. I love it, but don’t you think we should look at more than one house?”
“I mean, as a general principle, you should look at as many as you can. But I also believe in love at first sight in special occasions.”
“How about this. We look at at least two more houses before we put in a bid on this one. Okay?”
“What if someone swoops in and nabs it?”
Tam looked up at her husband.
“As long as you’re okay with it, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
He smiled and nodded. The light turned green, and they crossed the busy Philadelphia street briskly, hurrying over to their car that was teetering dangerously close to exceeding the posted time limit for parking. And there was a Philadelphia Parking Authority agent strolling up the street, smug expression on their face, with their electronic ticketer ready to hand out the most irritating fine for a two-minute overage that they could. They slammed the doors, buckled their safety belts, and in a flash, Tom had darted out into the empty street.
As they drove through the city towards the highway, there was a peace in the air he’d not felt for a long time. He spoke up.
“You know, that house in deep South Philly. Whoo. That was big and everything, but it needed a lot of work anyway. It even smelled like the plastic my grandmother had on her furniture in her house on Taylor Street.”
She chuckled and looked down.
“You’re right. I was wrong to rush out. And to do everything I’ve done this year. I can’t do this without you. I couldn’t do any of it without you.”
She turned to him and smiled.
“And I can’t do any of this without you either. We’re a team. We need each other. Don’t you forget it.”