We can’t decide how The Other perceives us, we can only react accordingly.
I’m faced with an internal struggle over this imminent match against Tapioca Puddings. On one hand, that’s what Rosie asks me to make for her when she’s not feeling well. On the other, it’s the punchline to one of the funniest improv comedy moments of all time.
On the other other? My opponent is one of five or so athletes on the PRIME roster that’s smaller than I am, and let’s face it – of the other four, the five or so pounds I’ve got on Cecilia Ryan wouldn’t really make a difference. But it’s a rare case of a match in which I’m not considered the underdog, just out of hand.
It would be easy to dismiss Tapioca. Easy to call this a warm up match. Easy to call a victory a low hanging fruit because I’m clearly above Tapioca, the number one contender to the Universal Title. And easy to write off a defeat as one where I wasn’t giving it my all, where I was saving my energy and my balls-to-the-wall mania for an opponent that ‘matters.’
I don’t like doing things the easy way.
When you look past one opponent to focus on the next, you don’t deserve to step in the ring with either of them.
The fans might perceive this match as a lay up for me. I can’t change that. But I also can’t afford to buy into it.
“Hey Randall, how’s everything?”
Michela, I said, nodding at the bartender and taking my usual spot on the end. Before I could do much of anything, she slid a glass in front of me.
Ginger beer, fresh lemon, and a shot of simple syrup. It’s my goal, anywhere I go for a drink, to be a regular to the point where I don’t even have to order. But I slide a fifty across the bar and she takes it appreciatively.
Pro tip, youngsters – first of all, always tip your bartenders and tip them well. But if you give them a much bigger than standard on your first round, you become their priority for the rest of your time. Michela’s good, though – she knew my drink by my third trip here, and she’s pretty good at gauging Cally’s moods. Sometimes it’s a bright and colorful fruity drink, sometimes it’s bourbon with exactly two (not one, not three) ice cubes.
“Flying solo today, huh?” she asks, filling two pints for another customer. “Where’s your lady at?”
New Orleans, I said. She’s working a benefit for a little girl’s cancer treatment.
“Ohhhh,” says Michela. “That’s sweet. And sad. And sweet. But very like her to do.”
There’s another reason I like coming here – since nothing I say is a lame attempt at a pick up line, they can relax and do their job and be themselves.
Yeah, I said. It sort of came up out of nowhere and she volunteered her time, which is a cause that’s pretty close to her heart.
I’ve got work to think about, I said.
She looks at me doubtfully. “I don’t know that you need to think about this particular one all that hard.”
Really, I asked, chuckling. Since when did you start following professional wrestling?
“Since my favorite Big Easy transplants started coming here on the regular,” she said. “That boy ain’t right, and I think you could’ve taken the night off.”
Maybe, I said. But I know myself, and I know I need to stick with a system to do the best job I can.
“Don’t you ever relax?”
I wrestle on Friday nights, I told her. From the minute I get out of the ring until Monday morning, that’s my weekend.
“And that’s enough?”
City like this, it better be. Any place you can buy a crack pipe, a lapdance, and a five dollar steak within one city block lends itself to excess. Having the down time between shows, the disposable cash to get literally anything I might want or be curious about, and the privacy to experiment? Nah.
Seriously, the most dangerous three words in a world like this are ‘first one’s free.’
“I admire your restraint,” says Michela, handing me another drink. “I knew I had an easy night ahead of me I’d probably go a little too hard before going in.”
And that’s how they get ya, I said, with a wink. We toasted our respective drinks and hung in silence for a few seconds.
“Seriously, you’re not worried about her going out by herself?”
Nope, I said.
Michela’s good. I didn’t follow up but she waited, expectantly, since she knows most people can’t handle silence. Fortunately, she had to step away to mix what looked like a pretty decent dirty martini.
“All I know is that you’re a good looking guy,” she says, returning to me and breaking her own silence, “and she’s a good looking girl. Y’all might be cool with an open relationship but I know I wouldn’t let her outta my sight if I was you.”
And I stopped.
I never really thought about us being in an open relationship, I said. I mean, we just sort of ended up together and it works. We never had the talk, we never had the need to define our relationship. One day I referred to her as my girlfriend and that’s all she wrote.
“I mean, y’all cool with it, just be cool with it,” says Michela. “If it works there’s no need to mess around with how it goes. Better that way than whatever what’s his name and his chick are doing.”
And now I full blown laugh. “Tapioca and Muriel. They’re actually siblings.”
Michela stops in her tracks. “Ohhh. Oh that’s sad for him.”
Hey dere, I said. How’d everything go?
“Swimmingly,” says Rosie, on the other end of the phone. “Weellll…actually it was a cluster. The alcohol didn’t show up until a few hours late, the Messiah guys were giving the keynote, and sweetie Shweta ended up totally schmammered by the end of it. But Nora is so frickin’ cute and she has the sweetest smile and it was so totally worth it to go. How about you, what have you been up to?”
The usual, I said. Arm day at the gym, cardio training. Went over to Smoke’s for a drink and a bit of food, Michela was asking for you.
Listen, I said. Are you sure you were cool with flying solo?
“Yeah,” says Rosie, You have to stay ready for battle, I love your dedication. Why?”
No reason, I said, quickly. I’m just second guessing a bit.
Her mood takes a noticeable shift.
“Listen, Linda,” says Rosie, “Who got all up in your headspace?”
Michela, I said. Apparently we’re an open relationship because we live our own lives.
“I mean… sure?” says Rosie. “I already sleep with as many people as I want to and I hope you do as well. What’s the alternative, being surgically attached by the cheeks like JC and Vickie and Zion? They’re running outta cheeks!”
I laughed. The visual is hilarious no matter who you are.
“And sure, maybe Tapioca Puddings isn’t exactly Brandon Youngblood, Cancer Jiles, or Tapioca Puddings with a machete, but the fact that you’re preparing for this match the same way you would for the other three means something, babe.”
Hopefully, I said. It’s been a struggle this week without you here, so this is a good time for him to shine.
“So what if it is,” asks Rosie, which is a good point. “You’ve still got your title match at Great American Nightmare, and I know you’re not gonna begrudge a little Tapioca on the side.”
Wordplay, I said. Clever.
And I laughed.
“Now I want some tapioca,” says Rosie. “But this is New Orleans so I’ll settle for a cafe au lait and a plate of beignets.”
Jealous, I said. You enjoy, dere. Looking forward to seeing you at the airport.
“Samesies,” says Rosie. “Love you more than my myriad of other lovers.”
Love you back, I replied, before clicking off the phone.
So where’s this leave us, Tapioca?
I can’t shake the visual of our first meeting. To be fair, it’s a pretty memorable introduction to have Calico Rose slicing you out of a cardboard box. It might’ve just been a Friday for you, but that kind of visual sticks with me.
I want to win this match, Tapioca. But I don’t want to brutalize you, hurt you, or embarrass you doing so. There’s that. And I won’t be taking it out on you if you get your hand raised at the bell.
There’s that, too.
This sport lends itself to the stranger side of life, and I know my perception amongst the industry in general and the PRIME roster in particular is that I’m the control group. Wrestler. Nothing out of the ordinary.
You’ve got a bit more of a colored reputation, and one that lends itself to the perception that this match is an easy lay up for me.
I don’t look past any opponent, because that’s when you lose. And I can’t afford to do that. Every night, every match, is a challenge to the idea that I even belong in the conversation for that Universal Title. And if I can’t hang with everyone that isn’t Brandon Youngblood, what business do I have stepping into the ring with the one and only?
Which makes you, Tapioca? The most important match I’ll ever have in my career.
Because I’m a wrestler.
At least, that’s the perception.