Let me paint a picture for you.
It’s 2001, and Primetime Championship Wrestling is at the very apex of the entire wrestling world. This fact is debatable among the pundits of our fine sport, but one thing that is not is that Alliances is the greatest spectacle to have ever been conceived by The Phantom Booker. We wrestled all over this planet, from Indiana to Shanghai, but nothing is quite like that experience.
For those who may not know, Alliances is a one of a kind event. Every wrestler on PCW’s vast roster joined a stable of four people. These groups ranged from politically incorrect deviants, young talent trying to claw their way into prominence, and legendary performers that were destined to show why they had the reputation that they had. An entire arc of events happens, some teams bond, some fracture, some just barely make it to the show. Two live events a week is difficult enough, but the brass at PCW didn’t particularly care for the talent. What mattered was could you survive the crucible? Could you harden and become more than you were at the beginning of the adventure? And once you were out, would you ever be the same?
All these thoughts, feelings, elements of humanity, they collide inside a locked enclosure. It’s simple math. You enter with four members of a team. Once all the members are beaten, your team loses. As long as one of you stands, you still have a shot at the whole thing. What is the prize? I don’t remember. Titles or something equally superfluous. The real prize is winning the whole damn thing.
You may be asking “Ok, Samoan, but did you actually win the event or something? What are you getting at here?”
Not exactly. Only three people ever “won” an Alliances event. Scott Naket, Jeremy “Krayzie” Howard, and Xavier Kannon. I didn’t compete in the first one. I was a rookie in the second on Team Asylum with the aforementioned Jeremy Howard. I led Team FSW as the World Champion in the third. Do you know who eliminated me? Ivan F’N Stanislav and Tyler Nelson. It took the greatest big man of all wrestling history and my own team-mate (and a certified PTC Hall of Famer) back-stabbing me to take me out.
The point I am getting at is that these events were full of the best that ever walked this planet. Certified legends.
And I walked among them. I fought with them. I was forged by them. We shared blood together.
I also betrayed one of them in a moment that has haunted me my whole life.
I was brought into Team Asylum as a fresh face. Ed Novak vouched for me. Miayagwa…well he never really trusted me and with good reason. Jeremy Howard though…he bought into me. He tried to mentor me and teach me the way to get to the top through hard work and paying dues. I should have listened. I was a young man then. I was broke. I had a new girlfriend and had just hit the big time. The behind the scenes powers at PCW made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. It doesn’t really matter, these are excuses, and you know what they say about those.
Tom Petty once said “you don’t know how it feels to be me,” and sometimes I think that epitomizes being a former professional wrestler. It’s impossible to describe how it feels and only those who have competed on the highest level as the centerpiece of tens of thousands of fans will know. I guess that is why I bonded with The Anglo Luchador so quickly. He’s been around a long time and he gets how lonely it can be to be the good guy. He also understands how equally isolating it can be, for different reasons, to be the bad guy. What is it about guys named Tom anyhow?
For the five people who will get what is about to happen, I want you all to know I understand and I’ve been trying to make this happen for twenty years. As it turns out, some people are true to their word. As a Samoan, I understand all too well how Aiga, family, can change things for even the most successful. The simple fact is, they don’t come more successful than Jeremy “Krayzie” Howard.
I stand and raise up my hand, waving, hoping against hope what he sees is a weathered old man and not the idiot kid that wasn’t there all those years ago. He sees me, and for just a moment, the black flowing hair and round sunglasses of all those years ago shine in my imagination. However, that’s not who stands in front of me now.
“Timo, my goodness, it is good to see you! Good night, you are in shape at fifty! Are you still wrestling?” he asks.
I smile back. I suppress a tear of relief.
“No, not really,” I absentmindedly replied. Then I snap back into reality. “I am working for Lindsay Troy now as a senior officiant.”
“Holy moly, Timo Bolamba is Buzz Meachem. I never thought I would see that.” Jeremy next does something very unexpected and opens his arms wide and he hugs me. Of all the moves I’ve taken over the years, all the bumps, all the times being busted open, I have to admit this one was the most devastating. “Who is Lindsay Troy?”
Is he serious? I have to know.
“Are you serious? Do you not even watch wrestling anymore?” There, I asked. You can all put away your pitchforks. “She is one of the most decorated wrestlers and promoters of all time.”
“Huh,” he says. “That’s pretty cool, brother. I am glad you are happy.” He gestures toward the table I had been sitting at. “Should we sit?”
This is surreal. Absolutely ethereal. I have been imagining that I had a Balaam sized knuckle sandwich on deck for what I did all those years ago. Part of me is upset that it didn’t happen the way I imagined. I nod and we sit down together. He picks up the menu and starts humming a bit as he looks it over.
“Did you know they used to use bread from the local shop here? They switched over a few years ago though. Now they truck it in from a factory back where I am from.”
He stops and looks up from the menu. “Yeah, Timo?”
“What is going on right now?”
“We’re ordering lunch?”
“But…you and I…we…what in the actual hell is going on right now?”
He sighs a little and puts down the menu. “Do you really want to talk about what happened twenty years ago? Is that what this is all about?”
“Ok. We can talk.”
“How well do you remember everything that happened that night?” he asked me.
I shrugged. But I knew what happened. “I remember you winning the event and Boda and his goons attacking you as the show closed.”
“Yeah, that happened.” He nodded. “I also remember Ed and Miyagawa trying to help and you were nowhere to be found. At the time I chalked it up to Ivan Stanlislav nearly putting you through the mat with his Iron Curtain. Anyone could have been hurt by that. But that’s not what happened, is it?”
“So there is Ed, Miya, and me.” He stares right into my eyes. “Three out of the four members of Asylum, and we are getting pummeled by Boda and the Wild Deuces,” he stops for just a moment. “But not you.”
I nodded a little. “Look, Jeremy…”
“You were the only one among us with the brains to see what was happening.”
“The what?” I summoned from deep within a confounded mind.
Jeremy picked up the menu and looked at it for a bit. “How is the Reuben here?”
“I don’t know, it’s a Reuben Jeremy. They’re all pretty much the same.” I answered.
“No, see, that’s where you are wrong.” He flipped the menu down a little to look at me. “A good Reuben needs the right ingredients. Thin sliced home-made rye bread, corned beef that melts when you put it in your mouth, tangy swiss cheese, aged sauerkraut, Russian dressing. Grilled. All of the flavors meld together to make a perfect. Reuben. Sandwich.”
“Are you trying to make some sort of metaphor about Asylum being a sandwich?” I asked, genuinely confused.
The menu raises again. “No, PCW is the sandwich, we were just the corned beef…well, the three of us were. You were something else entirely. You never really belonged on the sandwich in the first place.”
He puts the menu down and taps it a couple times with his hand.
“See, PCW will always be remembered for the legendary characters that made it what it was. Meanstreak, The Chef, Scott Naket, Trash Can Man, Kremmen, Ivan Stanislav…me.” He dragged the list out slowly. “You, you were something new, something that changed the entire dynamic. It was obvious to anyone who had been around. I, on brand, got greedy and thought maybe I could harness a little of that new blood lightning when we formed Team Asylum in 2001.”
I hadn’t looked at my menu yet. “I just wanted to be like you guys. I thought you would be proud of me for getting a title shot. It turns out they promised a lot of things that didn’t happen.”
“I know Timo. Hell, I joined Tyler Nelson to form Greed Inc. Do you think I don’t know this game comes with a little betrayal?” He adjusted his glasses a little. “Nah, I don’t hold that against you.”
It was my turn, and I had the right question queued up, the one that I had waited twenty long years to ask. “Why did you wait this long to talk to me? I needed you. You were supposed to be my mentor. You left me to deal with Jason Snow and his taco obsession and ego. With the charismatic black hole Chris Chase and that ass clown Corey Williams. I know I left you. I know I turned my back on you. But I also reached out to you when I knew I had made a mistake and you weren’t there.”
Jeremy nods. “You’re right. I was pissed off. I also had other problems that you didn’t know about and didn’t need to be dragged into. You’re not the only one who has dealt with problems, after all.”
The waitress approaches us and Jeremy casually orders the Reuben. I’m not all that hungry and order a salad. Chef’s, I think. It doesn’t really matter. The clear focal point of this meal isn’t the food anyhow, well at least not on my end.
“Timo, I walked away at the peak of it all. I had to take care of my family. I uh…I lost.”
“I know. But didn’t you miss it?”
“Of course!” His eyes light up briefly. “Do you know what it feels like to run down a dozen steps or more and hurl Kremmen into the crowd twenty-five feet below? The adulation, the fans all chanting P-C-W! It still makes my heart pump!”
I casually smile. “Jeff Marx said it was fifteen feet live on air.”
“It’s not the height Timo, you’re missing the point.” The waitress brings two plates and Jeremy takes a moment to assess the sandwich in front of him before lifting a hunk of it up in the air. “The point is I couldn’t do anything about my situation, so I watched people from afar. I watched when Kriegman pulled the plug on Ed Novak. I watched when PCW folded. I watched when White Mexican became a major player in OSE. When Ivan became a good guy. When you fought Mike Marvelous in FSW and won the championship.”
I pick at my salad. Half an egg, some ranch and a couple cherry tomatoes. It would do. “I’m glad you saw that. I guess I didn’t make out so well for the last fifteen years or so though.”
Jeremy points the Reuben at Timo. “Are you kidding me? You just have to find your way back. I think I know what might help you do it, too.”
I admit, I am curious what he is going to say next.
“I talked to Trashy the other day. He and I think you’re doing some good things in this world and maybe our time has passed, but you still have time to represent what we stood for.” as he eyes up his half a sandwich again, he seems to be lost slightly at what comes next. “You uh…you are the last of us. You need to keep it all going. For Asylum. For PCW.”
“I don’t know if I can carry all of that, Jeremy.” I reply weakly. “Some days I can barely carry my own burden.”
He nods and smiles. “I know. But you can do this. You’re already doing it and you just don’t see it. What’s more, I will always be ready to help you when you need it.”
“For Asylum?” I ask.
“No, for you Timo. For you.” He takes one last look at his meal. “It’s time to be who you were always meant to be. It’s time to be whole. Make peace with your life and be happy.”
I breath deeply and watch as he takes a bite. The weight I have carried for twenty years dissipates as he finally swallows and smiles.
“That’s a damn good Reuben.”