The Anglo Luchador
“I don’t think I want to talk to Dr. Barone anymore,” he said, staring out the picture window at nothing in particular.
“Why not, babe?” asked Tamara back to her husband, holding a rocks glass with no rocks in it, just a flat finger of Suntory. “I thought you were making progress.”
Were. Past tense.
“It stalled. I don’t think he gets the nuts and bolts of being a wrestler.”
A short sip on the glass, almost performative with how little whiskey trickled down the incline in his tongue down his throat. The lights were on, but it was clear no one was home in the wriggled mass of gray matter and synapses encased in his skull.
“I mean, they don’t give degrees in wrestling psychology,” she replied. “All these feelings have to have a universality to them, don’t you think?”
No answer. His deadened stare intensified, eyes sinking further into his skull and deltoids oozing past “relaxed” into “unnaturally tense in the transverse direction.”
“I see you’re in one of those moods again, Tom. Come find me if you actually feel like opening up instead of doing your best audition to be a Walking Dead extra.”
Wife exited. Son descended the stairs.
“Hey dad,” shouted Zo, “wanna see me work on my shot?”
He finally broke the dead stare into the distant trees and roused to attention.
“For you, kid? Anything.”
When Lorenzo first showed interest in playing ball, Tom and Tam decided that there’d be no half-measures, no hydraulic temporary hoop, no ramshackle backboard screwed haphazardly above the garage. Tom used his connections to the network of old school Italian contractors back in South Philly to install a permanent hoop with NBA-quality glass on the backboard in the back yard, paved and maintained so that their son could have all the space he needed to work on the things he wanted to excel at. They even had a regulation key and professional three-point line painted on the blacktop. If they couldn’t have a hardwood gym in their basement, and they didn’t have the house that allowed such extravagance, they would make sure he had all the advantages he could with their space, as immodest as it was by working class standards but as paltry as it was compared to other wrestling superstars who just happened to be married to pharma execs.
Tom ventured outside, leaving his libation in the house. Zo excitedly grabbed his ball and started throwing up three-pointers. So many oldheads back in the old neighborhood bemoaned the shift to the longball, but Tom never discouraged his son from trying to stay ahead of the curve. You can change with the times, or you can die in the wake of progress. It was his philosophy towards wrestling as it was in anything in life. He promised himself he would always be there to guide his sons in whatever they did on the right path.
That’s why the incident with missing his first practice hit him so hard in the stomach, like an unprotected uppercut to the ribs from someone like, oh, I don’t know, Paxton Ray perhaps? Was it necessarily about missing practice, breaking a promise to a son? Parenthood is full of broken promises, at least that’s what his mom would always say. The important thing was intent. Zo got less mad over time, especially since dad was there front row hanging on every shot, every dribble at their first game. Malvern Middle School lost to Fusion Academy at the last minute. Zo had the ball in his hands for the last shot but he missed.
No amount of rosemary-garlic seasoned shoestring fries at Smashburger could assuage his disappointment. He notched 15 assists, but his performance from the field was lacking. Five points, all on free throws. He’d never been this bad at shooting before, but he couldn’t finish when he cut to the rim, and his mid-and-three-point range shot just wasn’t falling. The culprit was obviously lack of shooting practice over the summer. He’d spent too much time rapt in front of the television watching dad, agonizing over dad, arguing on social media about dad. How could he not? His dad was a pro wrestler, a champion in the best wrestling company on God’s Green Earth, a place that was not a home for rejects from other places, but for the pinnacle of the craft. He couldn’t continue using dad as a shield. He had to work.
And that’s why he was out in the backyard. Tom was there because he intended to make sure he could be there for him, even if his knowledge on the fine mechanics of shooting was limited to “bend the elbow, dummy.” He tried focusing on his son’s form as he alternated clangs with chasing down the loose rebounds, but there was a voice in his head that wouldn’t stop forcing its own clang, one with much more bass behind it. Less a rubber-and-leather ball bouncing off hollowed high strength carbon steel and more a cast iron sledgehammer bouncing off a girthy anvil.
“I can’t respect your choice.”
Zo pulled up from the top of the key. Clang. The rim shook.
“This ginja-ganja style of wrestling. Affront to the biz.”
He chased down the loose ball and in one fell swoop launched a corner three right from the baseline. Thud. This one hit the side of the backboard.
“Eh, you’ll never be respectable like me. Ever.”
Tom’s gaze went back towards not a thing in particular. After the fourth or fifth shot he missed, Zo noticed his dad was zoning out.
His voice pierced Tom’s veil with such force that he almost fell over. He shook the cobwebs out and turned to his son.
“Sorry, just got caught up.”
“It’s okay, dad. Have you been watching?”
He hadn’t then, but what’s a white lie from a father to a son?
A pregnant pause.
“Oh, yeah, well, you know me. I know as much about shooting as I do about nuclear physics.”
Zo rolled his eyes and shot his dad the king of glares, one that would even make GREAT SCOTT take notice.
“But… you know what I do when there’s something in the ring or in the kitchen or wherever it is I’m working that isn’t, well, working? I go watch some tape. I watch what other people are doing. I can’t teach you how to shoot, but, uh… I mean there’s gotta be hours of Steph Curry footage out there right?”
“Dad, he’s corny.”
“No duh, kid. I’m not telling you to go buy his shoes. But he’s the best shooter in NBA history, right?”
“You can learn so much just by watching him. C’mon, you go get yourself something to drink, and I’ll get my lappy. I’ll cast it to the TV in the den, and you can watch him and maybe Klay too, see if we can keep you from becoming the next Ben Simmons.”
“Sorry, low-hanging fruit.”
Hours had passed. Tape session gave way to dinner which gave way to cleanup. Tam moved into her study after to tie up some loose ends on the metallurgical study on hip replacements that she’d spent, frankly, too much time on in the last month-and-a-half. Tom quietly crept into the messy office, strewn with papers and open books.
She looked up from her desktop monitor.
“Are you the guy from the Snickers commercial? Just needed to eat something?”
“Nah,” he replied leaning up against the door jamb. “I just figured something out.”
“Why do I get the feeling that it’s not you admitting you do need to see Dr. Barone after all?”
“Because I was never raised to face a problem by going behind its back. I mean, that’s why I became a pro wrestler, after all.”
“So what’s this problem you’re going to run headlong into?” She couldn’t mask the sarcasm dripping off her voice, just one of the reasons why after all these years she still drove him batty.
“You know why I try to be a good father?”
“Uh, because you’re a decent man and any decent man who has kids wants to be one?”
He answered her question brushing her off.
“Because he was such a shitty one.”
“So why are you telling me instead of him? It’s not like he’s dead, although if I were to believe half the shit you tell me, you’d have no problem talking to him if he was.”
“I think the thing is I don’t wanna have that conversation with him again. It ends the same way almost all the time.”
“With him not speaking to you for a month and only calling you to deflect the situation after your mom says something?”
They shook their heads in near unison, as if they’ve had this discussion millions of times before. Probably because they have had this discussion millions of times before.
“I’m just going to have to show him.”
“Well yeah. But you can’t win the Universal Championship until your number’s called, and I don’t think it’s wise for you to do that until you drop the Intense Championship. And…”
“It’s not just that. I have to earn it. I have to earn this number one ranking the computers put on me. It’s not just matches. Look at how many people are getting hurt. If there was a symbol, a strong figurehead that…”
“I’m gonna stop you there, Bruce Wayne,” she interrupted. “You can only do what you can. And I know when you get a cockamamie thought in your head, I might as well be the trumpet-mouth teacher from Charlie Brown, but all you can do is put up the fight in front of you.”
Tam rose from her desk chair and approached her husband, throwing her arms around him.
“Hon, Jon wasn’t your fault. Neither were the attacks on Jared and Justine and Hayes and even Ria. You’re not vengeance. You’re not the night. You’re Thomas FX Battaglia and all that it implies. If you stretch yourself too thin now, when it comes time for something that requires you to hold the fort, it’s going to tear through you like wet tissue paper.”
He closed his eyes, and tears squeezed from the ducts.
“C’mon, let’s get some ice cream from the kitchen. That always calms you down.”
“How about you get the ice cream. Let me get to the den.”
She nodded in kind and ventured off to the kitchen. He went towards the den to see that his laptop was still casting to the television. In one deft motion, he swiped across the mousepad to find YouTube was still up on the browser. Pausing momentarily, a figurative lightbulb shone over his head. He sat down on the couch and went over to the searchbar. He began to type.