The Anglo Luchador
“STAY WITH ME! STAY WITH ME YOU HEAR ME? GOD FUCKING DAMMIT.”
Sometime in 2006 – it doesn’t matter exactly when – Tom held his baby brother in his arms. “Baby” was a relative term here; Michael Vincenzo Battaglia was a grown man in the throes of a heroin overdose.
“JESUS CHRIST, LOU, OUR BROTHER’S ABOUT TO FUCKING DIE. GIMME THE GODDAMN NARCAN.”
“Alright! Alright! I… I don’t know where I put it down!” Their brother, Luigi, meant well, but he was what the kids called a serial fuck-up.
“WHY DID YOU PUT IT DOWN? GODDAMMIT. THAT WAS THE LAST ONE I HAD! I GAVE IT TO YOU TO HOLD ONTO.”
Narcan, generic name naloxone, was the only thing that reliably kept Mike alive through the worst times in his life. Tom didn’t know how or when Mike got hooked on smack, but he had to make sure he’d get him clean when he found out. He bought six doses of it, hoping he’d only have to use one at most.
He wasn’t lying when he told Lou that was his last one.
“TRY HARDER!” he barked at his ne’er-do-well brother. He turned his attention back to his youngest one. “Mike… Mike, stay with me. STAY WITH ME.”
The tears fell like waterfalls down his cheeks.
A lot can happen over the course of seven months. Back in February, The Anglo Luchador was out of shape, flabby, a mess who squeaked by Alexander Redding and Garbage Bag Johnny, staring down imminent doom against the standard-bearer of PRIME in the quarterfinals of the Seymour Almasy Memorial Tournament. He could barely keep up with his brother Mikey on their grueling jogs through the Far Northeast.
It’s September now. Mikey was happy to let his brother lead the way, to see where his runner’s nose would take the two. They avoided Roosevelt Boulevard like the plague, keeping to the winding capillary side-streets that twisted around the city past where the centrally planned grid saw its limits. Tom had a spring to his step that wasn’t there before. Mikey appreciated it.
“Buh, jus’ wanna say I’m proud-a you.” Mikey said as they ended their early morning jaunt in the eerily cool-but-humid fog of post-climate change September in Philadelphia.
The old luchador, whose signature PRIME hooded sweatshirt had absorbed considerably less amounts of sweat than it had at the beginnings of his regimented runs with his brother, huffed, almost indignantly.
“Proud of what? We’re just running,” he trailed off a bit. “I don’t need to be patronized.”
“It ain’t like that, buh,” he replied. “I’m just happy you’re thriving. You’re in shape. You’re a top guy in PRIME…”
“I’m sorry, do you think your brother is Brandon Youngblood?”
“I’m bein’ serious,” he snapped back. “And don’t fool yourself, buh. You took ‘im to his limit. And you took Atken to his limit. And that Knox guy they fired. You’se a Champion too. I’m just glad you finally are doin’ as good as you is a person.”
The old luchador removed his PRIME hoodie and threw it in the opened window of his shitty green Ford Explorer.
“Now you’re really laying it on thick.”
“Tam been tellin’ me you been down on yourself lately.”
“And the truth comes out.”
Mikey brushed off the sarcasm.
“It ain’t like that, buh,” he said again. “You the reason why I’m still here. You saved my life, well, you and Lou.”
Tom closed his eyes and shook his head.
“We’re brothers, Mike. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”
“Fuck you, buh, you know that?”
The old luchador was taken aback by the tonal shift. Mikey continued.
“I got two other brothers too, ya know. Where was Johnny and Chuck? Huh? Where? They didn’t give a fuck cuz they thought I deserved it for bein’ a junkie. They never visited me in rehab. Lou didn’t either unless you dragged him. An’ they only fuck wit’ me during family functions cuz I got clean, but I see the contempt in they eyes, Tommy. It burns me. You ain’t never been like that.”
Tears started welling in Mikey’s eyes.
“I love you, man. I just want the best for you, and I don’t need you beatin’ yourself up cuz that jitbag Balaam is more than happy to do it for ya.”
“I love you too, Mike,” the luchador said before he grabbed his brother in a big ol’ GREAT BEAR hug.
“Jus’ do me a favor,” Mikey said. “Rip that motherfucker’s face off and show ‘em all you’se the biggest, baddest dude there.”
The old luchador nodded as he embraced his brother tighter.
The year was 2000, late summer. Date again not that important here. A1E Television had just finished airing somewhere on the West Coast, a location punctuated by two comely young human beings sitting at a booth at an In N Out location. Dusk (not the wrestler, obviously) had given the mountainous backdrop outside the big window a view Bob Ross would’ve loved recreating on public television. The woman in the booth was a younger, more ebullient version of Tamara Mooney, no Battaglia at this point. The guy was the then-young luchador. A couple of months after meeting, their torrid fling had turned into a budding relationship.
His dour face belied the fact one of his favorite West Coast road meals, a Double-Double with crinkle cut fries, sat in front of him. Tam’s order doubled his, always the voracious eater without ever packing on more than a cutely desirable layer of baby fat in all the right spots, and she made hers Animal Style to boot. Tense silence dotted their corner of the fast-food joint above the din patrons shuttling, pardon the pun, in and out of the order queue or to their own booths. She’d only known him for a few months at that point but picked up the innate sense of when and, more importantly, how to pierce his thick forcefield of self-loathing and depression when it generated deep from within his soul.
“If you don’t start eating,” she said, “I’m gonna have your dinner for dessert.”
A mild chuckle rose from the man whose “Anglo Luchador” moniker at that point was a secondary nickname given to him by commentators who never knew “Anglo” wasn’t a synonym for “white.”
“I’m serious, babe. Is this about what… he said?”
Who the “he” was wasn’t really important. Well, he actually was important, but the name will be left out of this flashback because there’s no need for Tom, to worry about the hairy dork who may or may not have led Canada’s trucker convoy.
Anyway, Tom’s presence in the A1E locker room was controversial because he was, in a word, vocal, at least at the beginning. He’d made some powerful enemies, ones that beat his vocality down to a trickle. His inability to beat Torment, the current Cyber Champion, only fueled the schadenfreude from this well-connected bully. It was fine. He could take it because he knew in his heart he was still a better wrestler than most anyone they threw at him.
It was when they started taking shots at Tam, or more pointedly, her promiscuous past, that he started lashing out again. On this particular day, Tom blew a gasket. Words were exchanged. Threats were made. Given the aggressor’s connections with the front office, it was a wonder Tom’s career didn’t end before it really began, but it was one of those things that marred his tenure in the company, whose past has been mysteriously and suspiciously deleted from existence. Almost like it was about to be used in a Canadian federal trial for sedition as evidence. But that’s digression.
The young luchador dodged a confrontation, as benign as it would’ve been with her, and broke his own silence.
“I’m sorry, babe.”
Her face contorted into an incredulous look in response to the apology.
“Why are you apologizing? I should be thanking you.”
“Besides,” she continued, “I never fucked him. He always smelled bad.”
More tense silence.
“You… you aren’t bothered by my past, are you?”
He finally looked up from his half-eaten burger.
“Does it bother you how many women I slept with before we met? If your little black book bothered me, I’d be a hypocrite. We wouldn’t be looking for places to live when we’re not on the road. And I wouldn’t be about to pop the question to you.”
Her face beamed.
“Will you go the next step with me and appear with me on camera as my manager?”
Her excitement dampened.
“No! I’m serious! You could actually make some money as a member of the roster, you’d get to be a part of the show, it’d be rad. We just gotta think of an on-screen name for you.”
She smiled as she shook her head. She went back to her fries with the gears in her brain turning.
When Tom entered his house, he found Tam with her laptop open sitting on the chaise lounge instead of in her office.
“Rough day at work?”
“Eh,” she replied, “Getting old stinks. No matter how ergonomic they advertise those chairs as, they never are meant for real people to sit in for more than an hour at a time.”
He chuckled as he hung his PRIME sweatshirt on the hook by the door.
“So you’ve been talking to my brother?”
She groaned slightly.
“You know, he’s worried about you, just like me. The mood swings and the deep mental breakdowns. Wrestling was supposed to be good for you, you know.”
He flopped on the sofa, his body language drooping like he was trying to dissolve his bones and slither away like a sentient non-Newtonian liquid.
“I mean, it is, right? We’ve been able to pay off the mortgage early because of the money I brought in the last nine months. And I’ve never been in better shape…”
“That’s all well and good, but are you happy?”
“Well, yeah! I’m doing what I’m meant to do.”
“That’s not what I asked.”
She got up from the chaise lounge and put her laptop carefully down on the back end. She sashayed over to the big sofa and plopped down next to her husband, draping her arm around him.
“Hon, do you know what I think is your worst trait?”
He turned to look at her with shock on his face.
“What the hell kind of marriage counseling head-ass question is that?”
“It’s pretty simple,” she said, brushing off his attempt at diffusing the situation with humor. “You care way too much what other people think about you.”
The blunt assessment hit straight at his already bleeding heart.
“I mean, I get it,” she continued. “You’re a wrestler, and wrestlers live and die by what the fans think about them. But I see how bent out of shape when FLAMBERGE pings you on Jabber. You retreat into a bottle every time Phil Atken mentions you unprovoked in a promo. Like, shouldn’t you be happy those dudes hate you?”
“It’s a thing about respect though.”
“Yeah, respect, big bullshit bravado man term, but you think you deserve it. I know you do. Have you ever thought of, I dunno, respecting yourself?”
He curled his eyebrow up and gave his wife a wide-eyed look that would startle the dead to life.
“Your best quality,” she continued, “is how much you fight for the people you love. Remember when we started dating, and that dude we don’t talk about came after me backstage? It was… what, Frisco? Oregon? I forget, but you defended me from that walking hairball’s gross misogyny.”
The vein above his right eye started twitching.
“There’s a reason we don’t talk about him.”
“That’s not the point. This isn’t about him. It’s about you.”
Now his cheeks were red.
“You fought for me that day, and that’s when I knew we’d still be here right here and now. You’ve never stopped defending me, or Mikey. In the short time you’ve known them, you’ve never stopped going to bat for Timo or Ria either. And the lengths you’d go to make sure no one ever said a cross word about Pom Shinjoku…”
She trailed off.
“The point is,” she continued after it was clear her husband had no intention of saying anything, “if you defended yourself the way you did others, if you put up barriers, if you accepted that a loss didn’t mean the end of the world… I saw your phone after you lost to Daniels. I felt like cutting a promo on your ass right there.”
“Why are you using insider terms, babe…”
“Because I used to be in wrestling, duh. Remember? You got me into it.”
He nodded, guilty as charged.
“My point is you’re the one who has to buy in before anyone else does,” she said emphatically. “Whatever it is that’s bugging you, whatever it is that has been or will be bugging you, it doesn’t end with a pep talk from me or from Mikey or from, I dunno, who’s the best, most legendary wrestler you can think of?”
“Hornet. Definitely Hornet.”
“Okay, if Hornet somehow rappelled through the window to tell you that you were worthy of doing whatever it is you were trying to do, it wouldn’t matter if you didn’t think you could do it.”
They both looked over to their picture window, half-expecting the original icon of wrestling to smash through for a moment.
“So what is it you’re having so much trouble wrapping your head around?”
“You’re going to laugh at me.”
She gave a look that implied the words “try me.”
“Okay, I’ve been struggling with whether or not I’m a good person…”
“A good person??” she replied incredulously. “A GOOD PERSON? God-fuckin’-dammit.”
“You’re right, I am just going to laugh at you now.”
“This is serious.”
“And so am I,” she said with an air of playful disgust in her voice. “I built my life with you, and I don’t regret it one bit, and it’s not because you were, and still are, a wrestler. You really do need to find out what it is that is at the core of your soul.”
He sat wide-eyed on the couch. All that was missing was a feeble attempt at impersonating Owen Wilson saying “Wow.”
“That’s a lot of philosophical talk for a pharma sales executive.”
“And you’re the petit boug communist having an existential meltdown on our expensive sofa,” she laughed. “Who’s the real fish out of water?”
“So that settles it? I’m evil.”
She rolled her eyes before clocking her ragged husband with a throw pillow.
“I’m not going to answer that for you,” she said, earnestness returning to the tone of her voice. “I am going to say you need to look at yourself and find what it is you need to discover.”
She got up from the sofa.
“But you’re right, I am a big pharma sales exec, so I should probably get back to work. I love you.”
He looked down and sighed.
“I love you too, babe.”
His wife’s words stayed with him for a couple of days, remaining with him on his jogs and his trips to the supermarket. His inner-facing quest tucked him in at night and crowed like a rooster in the morning. It’s not like the stakes weren’t life and death, no. Just either his mask or his soul, a soul he still wasn’t sure was worth saving.
One could assume a luchador’s mask was just a cloth face-covering. They’d be wrong. Mexican or gringo, a mask is a luchador’s honor. The Pascal’s Wager foursquare looked dire. If he bet on himself and lost, he’d lose his identity. If he took the supposedly supernaturally powered mask from Roderick, either outcome – losing his soul in victory or losing his mask and whatever other consequences the macabre pseudo-face’s removal would entail – was, in a word, suboptimal.
The only chance he had to stay completely intact would be to bet on his own heart passing the test and tearing Balaam’s face off. There were voices in his head shouting to be heard over the cacophonous din, like a schizoid version of the Continental Congress, only every voice was as assertive and smarmy as Benjamin Franklin’s.
“You’re the reason Ria Lockhart went to rehab!”
“You kept bringing Roderick McRatrick around no matter how much it annoyed people, especially Lindsay Troy.”
“Dusk saves your ass on the reg, but where were you when he needed you?”
“Wait a second, how could a man who donates that much money anonymously and puts in so much work for a little girl he never met and whose daddy probably wants to punch him be bad?”
“Don’t listen to these creeps; you’re the only guy on the roster who listens to everyone and hears them out.”
The house was silent, but inside of his head might as well have been so loud he felt the raging arguments spilling out of his ears and his neighbors calling the police for yet another noise complaint. Tom needed a distraction, so he pulled out his phone. Twitter. Just caught up in a vortex of HOW wrestlers all ganging up on Darin Zion in his mentions tab. Close. Facebook. Oh, wow, the Bama Grill Master is smoking a brisket again. How novel. Close. Text messages… a number with a 334-area code sending him a line of unanswered texts. He thought it was spam he didn’t delete, but he opened it.
“TAL please save the father of my child.”
“Please, let me know how I can help.”
“I’m coming to Vegas.”
Aurora. He was transfixed by the messages he was reading so much he didn’t notice he ended up outside his younger son’s room. Vincenzo loved cartoons, especially Infinity Train. Thanks to corporate greed, he couldn’t watch that particular one on his streaming service of choice, but his second favorite, Steven Universe, was still there. The volume on his television was disturbingly loud for a kid going into fifth grade, but the sheer noise didn’t make the old luchador notice. One line, spoken by the show’s protagonist, did.
“If every porkchop were perfect, there’d be no hot dogs.”
It hit him harder than any chokeslam Balaam threw him down to the mat with. The voices died in his head. The imagery shifted from The Mighty Mask of Malice holding his effigied, decapitated head in front of him at ReVival to hot dogs, his children enjoying them, his wife challenging Kobayashi to a contest eating them (and nearly winning), to Tim Robinson dressed as one trying to find out who crashed the hot dog car through the wall at the men’s boutique. Hot dogs, what an imperfect food PACKED with byproducts and nitrates. Yet, there they were, a culinary experience that was…
He looked back at his phone and cancelled out of the text message app. He switched over to the actual phone, flicking through his contacts, landing on the contact he only had listed as “RMR.”
“Hey, Roderick, I’m ready to talk about masks.”
“Oh yeah? Leave me on read for a week when I tell you about my primo selection and you…”
“No,” he interrupted. “I am ready to talk about how I don’t need them.”
“HA! Very funny, but I’ve seen how little you hurt that monster. And I know something about pain. My ass still hurts from that illegal…”
He grew agitated. Roderick’s words stung because nothing he did, nothing anyone did could seemingly hurt the monster even if they could keep him down for three seconds at a time to defeat him. But his response came almost supernaturally from a part of his jellies that he didn’t even know worked anymore.
“Shut up and listen to me you two-bit traitor. You will take every single mask you stole. You’ll return them from whence they came. And you will not darken my door or the door of PRIME Wrestling ever again, do you understand?”
There was a tense silence. Roderick broke it after he thought Tom would find a way to reach through the phone and give him a titty-twister.
“What makes you think you can get the job done without me?”
“Because,” he answered, “soy técnico.”