To say that the last couple months had gone well would be a lie.
I’m not going to dwell on the details because anyone who has been paying attention knows that I’ve had my ass handed to me several times by GAS, Dave has been put on the shelf for a while, I blew my shot with Ava, and I’ve kinda sucked since beating Mushigihara. Lately, it feels like Dave was right on the money when he told me “Life’s a dogshit sandwich and each day is another bite.”
But, I digress.
It’s cliché, but sometimes when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And then you mix it with Dave’s sweet tea and make an Arnold Palmer. Then you add copious amounts of vodka and make it a John Daly. Two or three of those sumbitches and you’ll feel better than The Anglo Luchador on one of his spirit quests after pissing off Tam.
As I walked through the halls of the Footprint Center in Phoenix with a kendo stick in my hand, three men drinking coffee and talking about rigging cables greeted me heartily. As I saw them, a smile replaced my scowl.
“Hey, Mr. Eddie! How’s Dave doin’?”
“Hey John! Long time no see! Oh you know him, tougher than a two dollar steak. He complains a lot, though.”
John Kaplan’s mustache curled upwards as he beamed. He was flanked by Pete Berch and Juan Castroneves, AV riggers on the road crew for PRIME. I met them a couple months back and they helped me stream into the show to challenge Mushi.
“What’s with the sword? You planning to do a little training on your night off?”
“Nah, I’m looking for Gamble. Have you seen him?”
The three shared a nervous glance.
“Well sure, he and the goombas are down by the commissary. Hey, you ain’t plannin’ to go down there and fight them all are ya?”
Disgust etched wrinkles into my nose.
“I dunno. I thought I would figure it out once I got there.”
After huddling for a few minutes, John broke like a quarterback and approached to clap me on the shoulder.
“Fight Gamble, don’t fight him… that’s on you.” He opened a case and pulled out an action camera, replete with velcro straps. “But be smart about this; let’s do another stream. This time, send it straight to the Boss Lady so she can see what you’re up against and maybe at that big show you can get a fair break. Me and the boys will get you wired up.”
What did I have to lose? They went to work as my arms went up at my sides. As they strung cables under my olive drab GG shirt and installed a fresh battery into the camera, I linked my streaming account to the equipment. As John was taping down a microphone cord, I wondered what it was he saw in me that nobody else did? My curiosity got the better of me.
“Why are you helping me, John?”
He smiled again, kindly, and his eyes flashed with a twinkle as Pete checked a light.
“I have a son, Wesley, and he is about your age. Every week I think maybe he will call me up and we can talk a bit. But he is so busy; he travels a lot for work, you see. Between his schedule and my schedule, well you know..”
He continued his work, his hands deftly hiding the wires with years of experience showing through. “If you were my kid I wouldn’t want to see you fight this guy, but I know you’re gonna do it anyhow… so maybe I can help you out a little. That make any sense?”
I nodded absently, not entirely sure I knew what he meant.
“I guess so. But…” I was interrupted by the crew.
“All done, Mr. Eddie. Test ‘er out!” This time it was Juan that piped up as he tested the forward screen on the action camera by waving at the lens.
I pulled up my phone and looked. The usual gang popped in one by one to follow my stream and they seemed to be delighted that they were getting a backstage look at a wrestling show.
Rossian oh shit, we live?!
@lejandro ReV30! FR?
boxCAR we Gucci, fam!
“Works perfectly,” I smiled and shook John’s hand. A question gnawed through me. “Hey, I gotta ask you something.”
“Why don’t you just call your son?”
John winked and I could tell that he knew what I had just said meant something more profound than I thought it had been at the time.
“Were it so easy,” he sighed. The unintentional Halo reference made me smile, if only slightly.
I was sitting in a makeup chair later in the week when I met John’s son.
Wait a minute, before I get to that part, I need to talk about how I wound up in the chair to begin with:
After Rev30, I was at home nursing yet another series of bruises and a black eye. I wasn’t even sure if my gamble (no pun intended) had even paid off, but I felt pretty good that it would. Dave was trundling around his house in a pair of tighty whities with a band that was trying its damndest to hang on to the underwear by a few over-taught strands, but was due to lose the battle any day now.
As I sat at the table with a bag of frozen peas over my eye, I saw my phone light up and vibrate on the table.
Why the hell is Elijah calling me? He made it pretty clear I was done with the team.
I picked the phone up, put it on speaker, and waited for the answer to the question. I didn’t have to wait long.
“Eddie, I’m pretty busy so I am going to cut to the chase. The team has an opportunity to represent a new game and we need someone of your stature to be in the commercial.”
After the way our last convo ended, this is not what I was expecting.
“You can’t cast someone? The talent pool for guys that look like me can’t be shallow with all the comic book movies out there.”
“Sure, but you’re a known commodity. PRIME is all over the country, on TV, on the net, and you’re a gamer. We want to go authentic because people can sniff out bullshit.”
“I don’t know, J. What’s the game about?”
“Trust me, this is up your alley. FPS, hyper competitive, great graphics. You’re going to love it. We’re doing a crossover promotion with merch and it’s going to be huge.”
I looked up to get Dave’s opinion, but it looked like he had fallen asleep watching Letters from Iwo Jima. After a moment where it was clear I didn’t know how to react, Elijah interjected.
“Look, I thought you’d jump at this chance. It’s a real shot to get back on the team and build your brand. If you don’t want to do it, I’ll talk to someone else.”
Shit. No. don’t blow this again.
“Sorry, I just have a lot on my mind right now. I’ll do it. Give me a time and place, and I’ll be there.”
So that’s why I was in a chair being smothered in makeup. I felt more out of place than Tony Gamble in a room full of women with respectable morals.
“And, done!” The makeup artist finished drawing a line over my brow and I opened my eyes to see a haunting image in the mirror. “What do you think? Pretty badass, if you ask me.”
I blinked a few times and my eyes ran over the skull painted over half my face. The attention to details, expert shading, it looked like my skeleton was tearing through my skin. I recognized the iconic skull on my face and I realized this wasn’t just a shoot for an upstart game. Suddenly, I became really nervous, really fast.
Luckily, the artist seemed to notice that I was uneasy and broke the tension.
“Hey, sorry to ask, but you work for PRIME, right?”
“Have you ever run into a hand named John?” he asked me with almost a tinge of anxiousness in his voice.
“Yeah! That’s him.”
Suddenly it clicked and I looked at him for the first time in earnest. Similar features as his Dad, but something was different. He was more feminine in how he moved and spoke, as if he must have inherited his build from his mother.
“You’re his son, Wesley?”
“That’s right! How did you know?”
“We were just talking about you at the last show!” I admit I had a hard time containing my excitement. “Damn, it’s true what they say about it being a small world, isn’t it.”
“He talked about me?” Wesley seemed very surprised.
“Yeah, he told me all about his son and how you two had some crazy work schedules that conflicted. I think he really misses you, bruh.”
“He called me his son? John… John Kaplan? You’re sure it was him?”
“Well, yeah.” I went on for a bit about some of the things John and I had talked about and while it’s not important to the story to know all those details, Wesley seemed to be very interested in hearing more about his Dad, so I obliged.
Eventually, one of the producers came to let me know that they were ready to start the shoot. We exchanged a fist bump. “Hey, after this is over, I’ll hit you up to grab some coffee or something.”
“That sounds great,” he casually replied and as I stood up and towered over him, I stopped for a moment and looked at him again. It suddenly meshed together and I cursed myself for being… myself… Wesley was a son, but he was assigned female at birth. That hardly seemed relevant to me, but it did explain a lot of things.
“Yeah. Hey, I’ll catch you later.”
As I rounded the corner out of the dressing room, there they were: Jesse Gimmore aka DJVox, Colin Fischer aka BrokenGlass, and Brandon Ingram aka UnYielder. Sitting at the head of the table was Elijah Parks aka JesterzCap. My old team was all seated at the table. I started sweating.
The director motioned for me to grab a prop rifle and stand in the middle of a green screen. Soon two women that were younger than me showed up wearing almost nothing. I did not find the situation comfortable, and all I could think about at that moment was what Anna would say. (probably something snarky like “Rip off some of those fake military patches and give them to the girls, they could use more clothing!” Then she would laugh at the predicament I am in right now. The point is I didn’t think this was very respectful and I don’t think she would either.)
“Hey uh, J, is all this necessary? There aren’t any girls in bikinis in the game.”
“Yeah, but we’re trying to brand the team, and this is the oldest sales tool on earth,” I heard him reply. “We want people to think that our team members are chick magnets and if you wear our merch, you can be too. Plus, everyone knows you need bikini girl thumbnails to get clicks.”
“OK, I get that, but aren’t we lying?” I asked. “I mean, Colin wet the bed until he was 14.”
The call out caused Colin to flush red in the face. Elijah stood up and walked over to where I was standing. He looked up at me and I recognized the same dismissive facial expression and tone that I had seen time and again from Tony Gamble.
“Who cares? We’re giving you a chance, Eddie,” J continued. “You have a good look, you’re marketable, and you’re good enough to compete at least on the local circuits. You might not make full time on the team, but you have a camera presence we don’t. With our guidance, you could be one of the biggest names in gaming.”
He looked at the table and then back to me. Then he jammed his finger into my chest and it took all the restraint I had not to break it. Instead I just listened.
“This is a big fucking deal. We’re talking about a major game release here, not some show run by an old lady. Pro wrestling? ROFL. That shit is over. EGaming is the future.
He walked away dismissively.
“Trust me, you could be God tier, bro. Do the smart thing, shoot the goddamn commercial, and watch as you blow up.”
Holy shit. It just occurred to me, he’s right. I am the marketable one. I am the one who they need, not the other way around. Then I recalled that day, many months ago, when I asked for help and the team was nowhere to be found.
“Elijah, do you remember what you told me when you fired me from the team?”
“Not really,” he responded. “I don’t think about the past.”
“You told me ‘We don’t sponsor losers.’ Did you know I had to sell my rig to afford to eat?”
“So? What’s your point?”
I looked down at him. Moments ago I felt true fear at the prospect of saying anything negative to this person who controlled my fate on the team. Now, I just felt like tearing him apart piece by piece. And the reality is, if I wanted to, nothing could have stopped me in time.
I used to be like this guy. I used to think these people were who I wanted to be. Then I met Anna Daniels. I met Kohime Mori. I… I met Ava. I looked up and caught sight of Wesley in the doorway watching the commotion. Emotions I didn’t think I had left bypassed the medicated barrier I had in place and I realized I have had enough. Enough of the Grant Hamptons, the Elijah’s, the Tyler Bests… The Tony Gambles.
“My point is you’re the losers Elijah,” I said, rasping into a snarl for effect. “How many League Championships have you won? What happened to this team? We wanted to be the best, not sell merch and try to score with Egame groupies.”
I walked past Elijah and over to the table.
“Jesse got accused of stalking a female player at a convention, and when she outed him, he pushed the blame onto her and got her banned from competition.”
Jesse looked away, unable to match me eye to eye. I scowled at Colin and he said nothing. The rumors about his bedtime problem were well known. Most other teams called him Pisspants instead of his actual tag, but I wasn’t going to go there.
“Colin regularly uses homophobic slurs during his streams and encourages his followers to do so as well. Little kids watch you and look up to you, bruh.”
I shook my head and kept going down the line.
“Brandon swatted three people last year when he was going to lose and only scored in the qualifiers because he was hacking with an aimbot.”
I turned to Elijah once again. He smirked at me and put a taunting tone in his voice.
“That’s cute, and what kind of dirt do you have on me?”
“Nothing,” I replied.
“I thought so. Now if you’re done, you’ve blown a day of shooting and we have work to do to replace you, you stupid fuck.”
I growled like Grom Hellscream and looked up with furious eyes.
“I wasn’t finished. I was going to say you’re nothing at all. You sit behind a desk and make phone calls. You make deals. You think you are the leader of the team, but any one of the players at the table would murk you 1v1. You’re nothing without them.”
I took a deep breath as a fire roared out of me.
“You all act like a bunch of immature pricks and the sad thing is I used to think that was cool. I used to think if I made it on this team I could have all the money, the girls, do whatever I want, act however I want. But that’s not how the world works. It hurts when you bully people out of the league. It hurts when you use problematic language in chat. It hurts when you take away another person’s dream because you’re cool with cheating to win. It hurts when you use people to get what you want.”
I looked at the team. Suddenly, they all seemed so insignificant to me. I said the only thing I could think of at that moment. I felt the only thing I could feel at that moment. My anger swirled in me and all the frustration of the last three months blew up all at once.
“Fuck you, Colin.”
“Fuck you, Brandon.”
“Fuck you, Jesse.”
“And fuck you too, Elijah.”
“But most of all, fuck me for ever listening to you pieces of shit. You’re no better than that assclown Tony Gamble and his henchmen.”
I’m sure they replied. I didn’t hear it. I pulled off the costume and threw it on the ground before storming back past Wesley and into the dressing room. As I changed into my normal street clothes, a thought danced through my mind.
I owe Gamble a debt of gratitude. Somehow he showed me what I would have been if I never met him. I would still be just like the rest of the team; self absorbed, easily manipulated. He is right that I should have been in line to join GAS.
However, I am today very different from the boy who had to explain in futility he was nothing like Tyler Best. At least that’s how I feel. Maybe I am right. Maybe I am full of shit. At least I’m trying, though.
After a few minutes, I was dressed and gathered myself before walking out the door. I expected to be greeted with more arguing from the team, security, or even police. Instead it was just Wesley.
“What are you still doing here?”
He shrugged. “You owe me coffee. Plus I wanted to know if what you said earlier about my Dad was true.”
I nodded. Waves of anxiety receded and I spoke through a raw throat. “Look, it isn’t my place, and I don’t know what happened between you two, but I am starting to believe people can learn from their mistakes.”
He smiled, and motioned to see if I needed a hug. I did. As we shared a moment I heard a worried sigh come from the much smaller person.
“I hope you’re right.”
I sat in my car looking at the last text message that Ava sent me. All around me calamity seemed to follow and I had to wonder how much of it was my own fault.
I decided to call her, and unsurprisingly it went right to voicemail. I thought about hanging up, but before I could make a decision her greeting ended and the phone beeped.
Well, I guess now is as good a time as any.
“Hey Ava, it’s Eddie. I don’t really know what I am supposed to say here. I fucked up bad and I should have talked to you. I understand why you don’t want to hear from me and I am sure that I hurt you. I never wanted to and I’m sad that you feel that way about me. But I deserve it. All of it. I was selfish, arrogant, and entitled and I should have seen this a long time ago, but I didn’t.”
I felt a deep pain in my chest radiating and aching as I realized all at once what I had done. And for what? I didn’t even win.
“I know we didn’t really date or anything, but I think it was pretty obvious that we had a real connection and I fucked all that up the second I got a chance to win a belt. The truth is… “
I stammered on my own words.
“Well the truth is I miss you, and I just hope I didn’t hurt you too bad. You deserve better than me.”
I stared at the call timer and realized I was running out of time to say what I needed to get out. So I choked back everything else and for the second time followed Dave’s advice; I went with what was in my heart.
“I guess what I am trying to say is I am sorry. I keep looking around for people to blame and I’ve been the problem all along.”
“But I’m trying to grow.”