Private: Phil Atken
People let you down.
I once sat and listened to a friend of mine describe one situation of heart wrenching disappointment after another. Just a parade of human misery. The list of misdeeds committed upon his person was vast from such a swath of the community of our little planet. It was impossible to leave that conversation without feeling sorry for the man.
The thrust of his theory really interested me though.
Was it true that everyone will let you down in the end?
As I’ve grown older, perhaps wiser, I’ve wondered if that explanation was missing an element. One day though, it hit me in the face like the harsh daylight sun after a night of imbibing the fancy gins.
Letting you down assumes an attempt of acting in good faith. I think I’ve realised the actual reality of the cursed human condition.
People beat you down.
We find our intrepid hero, Phil Atken, in the past. Some time around 2008 to be more precise. We haven’t actually time travelled or any of that flimflam sci-fi nonsense, we’re just visiting the past for a few moments in this narrative construct, so just fucking deal with it. For Christ’s sake, do I have to explain everything to you proles?
Atken was found sitting down in the dark corner of a locker room, ready for another night’s indignities, waiting for whatever “hilarious” idea management had cooked up for him this time. He barely even knew where he was anymore, his soul checked out some time ago, his brain survived at a part time rate. Was this Philly? Chicago? Fuck… Portland?
To Phil, all the backstage locker rooms were starting to blend together. A small folding chair, placed away from all the other boys in the corner, with lighting that would have to be ten watts brighter to be declared “dim”. He’d tried to get to know the others. He was still a professional after all. On his first day, the routine was always the same – handshakes, big smiles… the air of being eager to please. For Phil though, everyone quickly picked up on one undeniable fact. The scent of desperation for acceptance wafted from Atken like freshly baked bread.
Wrestlers are smarter than often given credit for. They know that at any moment, any time, any other wrestler can be a threat to their spot. A move hits the right way, a crowd gets the right chant, a t-shirt gets a big order… suddenly the new guy’s leapfrogged his way to the spotlight, and you’re left in the dust. That’s why you wanted guys like Phil Atken on the roster. When you’re too needy, you never notice the sabotage happening right under your eyes.
The little bit of light that Atken got to enjoy in his small corner suddenly faded, causing him to look up, likely for the first time in hours. Standing before him – a lady that could be kindly described as a behemoth. Six foot five, a weight that everyone would be too polite to investigate, she took a drag from a cigarette and looked at our sad sack hero slumped down on his chair, playing with athletic tape.
“You Phil?” inquired the gruff voice, flowing out behind the cloud of smoke. After a weary sigh, and a small nod of the head, she continued.
“Your boss tells me that I’m your mother now, they gave me this viking helmet. So I was thinking… ZHOULD I TALKS LIKE ZIS?”. Another cloud of smoke fired into the chest of Atken as the lady fired up her second cigarette in as many seconds.
Atken closed his eyes, trying to will himself into anywhere else in this world, or the netherworld. Unsuccessful at either spontaneous combustion or teleportation, a weak smile rolled up the left side of the mouth.
“Yeah, sounds great”
A viking mother.
I’ve hired some of the greatest mathematicians and statisticians of our age, and no one can quite figure out why my career failed when I had such great guidance from my bosses on high. Truly it boggles the mind of even the brightest boffins.
I didn’t even bother to fight it. Just smiled a pathetic smile, said “that sounds hilarious” and jumped back into my clown car. That’s the interesting thing about a man just so, so desperate to find a place that he belongs, he’ll try anything once. Whatever indignity he is next indentured for, all part of the job. All part of starting at the bottom. All part of getting that respect from your peers.
The biggest joke was that I actually believed any of it.
Oh, sure boss, I’ll write a hate ridden show review on the website!
What’s that? You want me to make vague illusions to fact I am fucking a sledgehammer? Cool! Sounds good.
Oh, I’m so pathetic now that I’m going to tag with a monster and he’s going to use me as a weapon? Can’t hurt!
On reflection, I should have realised that there was no one to please. People don’t want competition to succeed. They want to bring you to heel. They want ammunition for the second that you get your head above water.
“Weren’t you that idiot rambling about ponies?”
“Sure, I’d make you a champion if I ran a company… AS A JOKE”
“Didn’t you waste everyone’s time with weird political satire?”
Wrestling is really just a game of Whack-a-Mole. Those who wield the mighty hammer look to make sure that everyone else stays in the hole. They don’t want you getting better. They don’t want you to learn. They want you weak and subjugated.
A tactic as old as time itself – weaponise your failures, glance over your successes. Make everyone know the times you failed, bury the accolades.
I suppose the interesting thing about this whole reflection is that you can easily extend it beyond the confines of our fucked up industry. People from all walks of life will have people who they have called friends who, in the name of “banter”, will remind you of every error you’ve ever made. The thoughts that haunt you at night, the ones that creep into your mind to ensure that you never have a good night’s rest, good luck trying to process them.Your “good friend” Captain Dipshit is going to announce to the entire bar about that time you went “off-the-rails”.
You aren’t allowed to grow.
You aren’t allowed to move on.
You must stay in the filth.
People beat you down.
What town was it now? Seattle? Orlando? If he wasn’t just shuttled from hotel to arena, he’d probably at least have some idea of the local climate. There were definitely trees, but he couldn’t really figure out what kind. When asked to describe them, “tall and green” was not exactly an answer that was considered particularly helpful.
The city didn’t much matter at this point, it was just another day on the job. Phil had stopped getting excited about booking sheets and potential opponents some time ago. His morale was last seen breaking ground somewhere near Canberra. The life of a failed star wasn’t glamorous but it paid.
Phil had accepted his fate, he knew that whatever strange dreams he had of being a big wrestling star had turned into one big nightmare some time ago. He wasn’t allowed to have moments of hope, his peers and superiors made sure of that. Get a little bit of momentum, a small chant in the crowd? Now your viking mother sings opera in the middle of your matches! Good luck with that, you fucking idiot.
Resigned to his career likely ending with the women now known as “Helga” (hello Big Book of Stereotypes, we have a new entry for you) by his side, Atken rolled into the locker room with very little regard for himself or his hygiene. He wasn’t sure when he last showered, and didn’t much care to think about it either. Anyone who followed his career (so, no one) could have seen that his passion had dimmed, his desire to fight non-existent.
Get the shit kicked out of him
Some Helga bullshit.
To Atken, there was no point fighting the tide. The wave was too powerful.
So there he sat, in his corner once more, playing with his athletic tape.
A man defeated.
I think people have really misunderstood the motivations of myself and my friends at The Glue Factory. There’s this mistaken idea that we are simply here to destroy that which is considered old hat, that if your date of birth in your HR files indicates you were born before 1980, a mute giant is going to come and rip your soul directly from your body. If you have a story about watching the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, you will be the next product in our ever expanding product line. I suppose it’s easy to create a beautiful vision of black and white, hero and villain when you spin up that narrative. Mean old Phil and his pal Hank are here for the olds, the monsters!
It’s a comforting idea and it certainly makes The Glue Factory seem predictable and irrational. Why, I’m certain that a man like The Anglo Luchador will be spinning up that tale something fierce. He wants to be viewed as a good and decent sort. Goes to great efforts to assure you of his positive intent. Have you noticed how he uses humour to disarm wrestlers and viewers alike?
Couldn’t be any bad intentions hiding behind that mask, he does the funny dances and the “Dusk is dead” jokes.
Yet I would ask all of you to look deeper. Look at his actual actions, look at what he has done since PRIME arose from the grave.
He’s turned promising young talent into a fucking improv troupe for a start.
Is it heroic to constantly try and beam yourself into everyone else’s spotlight?
Do we typically view politicians as aspirational beacons of good and right?
I look at someone like Ria Nightshade and my heart genuinely breaks. People were starting to whisper her name in the corridors of PRIME power. She was finally getting the attention she deserved, getting the recognition she deserved and then…
Now she’s the next caricature on The Anglo Luchador’s Cavalcade of Comedy. Ria Nightshade quickly went from a star in her own right to a bit player in someone else’s show. See, that’s why the Glue Factory exists.
The Anglo Luchador can clearly spot talent, he knows new stars, he knows that he can use them for his own means. He has little care for Ria Nightshade as a person, loves her as a launching point for his own desperate chase of public adulation.
The Anglo Luchador has embraced Ria Nightshade as his opponent for The Great American Nightmare because he sees her as a wonderful pawn in his quest for the Intense Championship.
People may call me cynical but you just have to open your eyes to what has been happening in PRIME. The young talent are all bit part players in the slapstick escapades of the talent from a bygone era. Name one new talent, one fresh face who stands on their own terms in PRIME and hasn’t been hoodwinked into some sub-SNL level skit.
Apart from GREAT SCOTT.
He’s his own thing.
It’s easy for legendary figures to have a laugh. They can sensibly chuckle as they do press conferences, dress like retirement home dwellers, roam the MGM Grand in a forklift…
They can live out their sitcom fantasies to their heart’s content, they’ve already done their art. They’ve already etched their name in title histories, in Hall of Fames, in countless message board and website “Top 10” lists. In the eyes of the public, they’re already adored.
Young talent? Right now, they’re already in the process of getting written off as jokes. Consigned to a bar trivia question that no one knows the answer to.
The Glue Factory was created to protect people like Ria Nightshade from the influence of men like The Anglo Luchador. Those who care only for the Youtube hits on their skits, not the people they degrade to get them.
This cycle will end, and it will end by my hand.
Phil looked down at his hands, or at least what he could still see of them, hidden between the gaps of the tape that he’d rolled around over and over again. The man with mummified arms listened to the roar of the crowd through the walls, his head still hung low. Atken tried to keep his ear out for the music playing. He knew his next scheduled embarrassment was soon, so he had to make sure that his ears were alert.
There was one signal that he knew he could always count on though. He could hear and smell Helga way before her arrival. The sentient nicotine cloud around his on-screen mother was as much a call to the stage as “Fucking in the Bushes” by Oasis.
You know, that theme song has really done the rounds over the years…
On this night though, there was no scent of Helga anywhere in the locker room. Phil was pretty unperturbed by this development, his body’s perturbment gland had died off several months earlier. As Phil rummaged around in his bag for more tape, his hunt was interrupted by a loud clearing of a throat.
“Phil Atken? Dirk Dickwood, pleasure to meet you. I’m supposed to be playing your father…”
Atken’s eyes narrowed as he studied the man from top to tail. Dickwood looked to be, at best, a couple of years older than Phil. He certainly didn’t look like he could represent a fatherly age gap…
“Oh, your boss said us looking the same age was a “funny bit”. To be honest, his eyes were really red, I’m pretty sure the word “spoon” would have been equally as hilarious to him at this point”.
For the first time in a long time, a genuine smile creeped up upon the face of our hero. He had a keen ear, he knew the accent that Dickwood had. It was his accent. It was a Scottish accent. It had been a while since Phil had heard a real one, minutes since he’d been subjected to a terrible impression of one. The accent wasn’t much, but it was a shot at a connection.
Atken extended a be-taped hand to the man in front of him. Dickwood wrapped his paw around Phil’s wrist and one of history’s most awkward handshakes was recorded.
“Maybe you can just be my manager…”
Dirk chuckled as he tried to pull his hand away from the tape, clearly struggling to do so.
“I look forward to building you up”
“WHERE IS THAT MOTHERFUCKER? I AM GOING TO TEAR HIM APART!”
The roar currently deafening your precious ears is the modern day Philip Martin Atken screeching into the backstage corridors of the MGM Grand, dragging the corpse of his intern (and failed dentist!) Gary Tongueman behind him. One of the smaller office doors swings open and we see that a small A4 sign has been glued to the door, with “The Glue Factory” hastily written with a biro pen. Dirk Dickwood sticks his head out from the door, trying to quiet down his rather irate pal. He ushers Atken into the office, Tongueman still being dragged along the ground at his back.
“I had to carry Gary all the way back here! That should be Hank’s job! Speaking of Hank… where the hell was the big lug when David Lynch’s less successful twin decided to come calling to the Glue Factory stall…”
Phil’s rant is cut off in its tracks by a large grunting noise from the back of the office. Atken snaps his head around and sees Hank leaned up against the wall, eyes wide with a significant amount of anger behind them.
“…of course, Hank had earned a break so it’s completely understandable why he wouldn’t have been on hand for the whole situation…”
Atken clears his throat and begins tapping his hand against his chest, innocently looking around the room, trying to look anywhere but the icy glare of his Head of Security. Much to his relief, Dirk starts talking, so he actually has something to look at.
“Sorry Phil, it was my mistake, I had an important meeting that I needed Hank for…”
The Proprietor of The Glue Factory blinks in confusion a few times.
“You had a meeting that I was unaware of, that’s what you’re telling me right now?”
Dirk throws up a set of apologetic hands as he seeks forgiveness. “My mistake Phil, my timeline didn’t have Dusk seeking righteous vengeance for another couple of weeks. He’s got a bit more spirit to him than my calculations anticipated. I really thought it would be fine leaving you and Gary alone at the stall.”
Phil gestures towards Gary, who is now writhing around on the office floor, groaning in pain. “I don’t think Gary appreciates your calculations.”
When I stepped back into a wrestling locker room for the first time in ten years, it dawned on me how little the game had changed. Particularly when you have the kind of embarrassing baggage that comes with being Phil Atken.
I don’t think I was expecting a warm welcome, certainly not from the old guard. When your entire “thing” is putting them on notice, they tend to be pretty cold. Then again, I could have run down to the ring and given a thirty minute speech celebrating the long and storied career of Dusk and I don’t think it would have made a single ounce of difference.
It didn’t surprise me a single jot when the boys in the back started up the old “cringe” game. People love to remind you of your failures. Your misses. Your mistakes. Your poor taste, poor judgement.
Ten years out of the industry, ten years of self-improvement, ten years of learning, of reflecting, of bettering oneself. Doesn’t matter to the Old Boys Network. The games they play never change.
If the game itself never changes, a modification of tactics is required on my end.
I beat them down first.