The Anglo Luchador
“I left a message.”
“People still do that in 2022? You really are an old fart.”
Timo Bolamba rolled his eyes at the nearly-as-old Anglo Luchador.
“I’m serious, Tom! It’s gotta be a start, right?”
“Oh, of course it is. Better than leaving it as a missed call. Maybe he’ll be moved by the sound of your voice?”
“Maybe,” Timo said, rubbing his temples. “How did I let it get so far away from me? Junior and Eddie, they’re my everything. And I wasn’t there…”
“Hey, it happens,” the old luchador replied, jamming as many banana chunks in the Vitamix at the smoothie bar in Timo’s gym as he could. “The point is, you’re fixing it. It’s never too late.”
“I envy you, uce,” he replied, looking at the painting of him and Dave Gibson in the carnage of their infamous ambulance match. “You can be there for your kids. Always have been.”
As he pressed the button for “liquefy” on the blender, Tom’s brain traveled across the country to his home in the Philly suburbs.
What kind of father are you, Jake?
I see Patience and Decius. I don’t know if you sired them. I don’t care. I’m not stuffy enough to think that you can’t find family, but I’m also incredibly wary of what hucksters with agendas can do with at-risk youth. The Twins are, in a word, special after all.
You defeated Anna Daniels in a dog collar match at Ultraviolence. You did what I couldn’t do mano-a-mano, but how you did it strikes me funnily. How did your children help you? You sent them to run around the arena almost incessantly chasing a dog. However good a boy Bucky Rex Daniels is, you set them up to be humiliated all so you could strike. Smart strategy, yeah, I get it. Maybe it helped you get the edge. However many times you clubbed the Multitudes upside their tiny little heads without their foreknowledge probably gave you the edge.
There are three attributes any wrestler can divvy their skill points towards. They can be moral, talented, or intelligent. Realistically, a wrestler at the top of their game can only max out at two. Sure, the theoretical perfect grappler shines everywhere, but those people usually get run out of locker rooms like a swindler from an Old West boomtown. You’re certainly talented. Your name is spoken in hushed tones whenever I talk to someone in SHOOT Project. You bested both Balaam and Anna Daniels here, two wrestlers I know intimately.
But are smarts really worth it in the long run if you sacrifice your soul, your family?
“Is Dad gonna be home in time for my basketball practice?”
Lorenzo Giancarlo Battaglia sat at the dining room table, furiously scribbling the answers to homework he forgot to complete the night before in a haze of online Super Smash battles that drew his attention span towards them with their siren song.
“You know it’s always tricky on turnaround weeks,” replied his mother.
“I don’t even know why he had to go out this week. He wasn’t wrestling.”
“Did you see those SICK PROMOS he cut tho?” yelled his younger brother, Vincenzo Michelangelo. “Dad rules!”
“Man, I am so glad they edited out that attack on Jon before I let him watch Ultraviolence,” Tam said under her breath.
“What’s that mom?” the younger brother inquisitively jabbed back.
“I said, did you brush your teeth?”
Vinny’s face stretched and his lips pursed as if he was about to say “oh shit,” and he ran off to the bathroom. Tam turned to her older son.
“Zo, I know you’re used to having Dad around, but this is good for him. He’s made so many sacrifices for you two and for me in the last 15 years. I think we can afford to pay some of it back.”
Zo’s eyes glassed up, and he forlornly went back to his homework.
“But I wanted to show him my handles,” he said under his breath.
Philadelphia International Airport bustled with foot traffic. The five-hour flight home from Harry Reid was pregnant with more worry than normal, not the kind he’d felt over the guilt from using a friend or the looming specter of total annihilation. That night was to be Zo’s first basketball practice for the new season at Malvern Middle School. He wanted to catch an earlier flight home, but there were obligations he had to meet. Various wrestlers had asked him for some brush-up lessons at Timo’s gym. The law offices of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe were in Vegas, and he had to sign some legal documents to finalize a hard-fought victory against some corporate overlords. And of course, there was a visit to Jon. He could turn his head again. Doctors were optimistic that he’d be able to move his arms again by the time ReVival 17 went off the air. It still wasn’t enough, no matter what brave face the New Life put on. There were a lot of people who needed him, and he tried to oblige them the best he could. Tom was, after all, only human, a sympathetic soul in a savage business.
Of all the titles he held, some self-given, some earned, the one he cherished the most was “Dad.” That’s why the jitters of flying home to be there for his oldest cooked him from the inside out. Even with the slight delay on takeoff, he could make it if everything broke right. Start the car, pay for long-term parking, zip outta there with the ready-made excuse that he really had to go home and take a dump. Even if he’d just played it safe and did no more than the seven-over-the-speed-limit on 95 and the Blue Route, he could get to the school in time to see his eldest.
“Shit,” he thought to himself as his eyelids drooped while he waited for his baggage. “I’m gonna need to pep up.”
The Dunkin’ kiosk was never too busy. One large coffee, black, with an espresso shot. He’d be turbocharged and ready for the drive from the airport to Chester County. Seamless, right?
“Listen, I am an IMPORTANT BUSINESSMAN,” screamed a guy in a navy-blue suit and brown wingtips. “I asked for a. Caramel. Macchiato. Half-caf. Skim. Milk.”
His cadence pierced through Tom’s brain like his alarm clock in Guadalajara after a night of tequila, tornillos, and tacos. He didn’t even have to have the hangover this time.
“Where’s the caramel? I bet this is full caf…”
“Sorry, sir, but I’m the only one working…”
“Oh, so I have to suffer because your manager didn’t staff correctly? Make it again,” he yelled at the poor minimum wage counter-jockey.
“Look, the line’s getting pretty long, how about I comp you the drink and I take care of a few behind you…”
“No, do mine again, now.”
“DAAAD,” shouted a youngster leaning against the railing between the Dunkin’ waitline and the adjacent airport gate, face buried in a tablet. “What about my Munchkins?”
“I TOLD YOU your stepmother is buying you an entire turtle cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory when we touch down in Portland! Ugh, kids.”
He’d already waited too long, and he felt every bit as ashamed at his own failures as a father as he felt secondhand anger and shame from seeing this outburst.
You think children don’t have agency, don’t have thoughts of their own. When they’re younger, maybe they take too many cues from the adults in their lives. The mistake is thinking your influence means control, and younger kids, yeah, you want the illusion of control. Lord knows me and Tam begged for ours just to behave at parties and parks. If you’re a good parent, guardian, whatever, you want your kids to be people of their own, people you can be proud of. You see what I’m getting at here, Jake.
Best case scenario for you is you can keep your twins mesmerized. You run them out as human shields or decoys. They do your bidding, keep you elevated. They’re stunted. They don’t have minds of their own. Smart for you if you don’t have a conscience, but it’s wrestling. Consciences don’t win you matches, right? If you ask the boss, she’ll tell you I’m not a smart man, and maybe she’s right. You seem to have it figured out not just here but elsewhere. You’re exactly the kind of late-rising lurker who will lay in wait and snap a potentially overconfident Champion coming off two wars where he spilled too much blood. Your aces in the hole are unimpeachable, like they were against the Multitudes.
But what happens if you can’t keep them under control?
He slammed the door on his Shitty Green Ford Explorer™ and rushed inside of the gym. Whew. He hadn’t missed practice completely, although the team was in the layup line the coach always ran to close the sessions. It was early enough that Zo wouldn’t be left stranded or having to call Mom, but it was too late to fake being there to see the boy show off his handles during halfcourt practice. He sighed, knowing his son noticed he shuttled in late.
Zo hustled off the court until he saw his dad. His gait slowed, shoulders slumped.
“Hey, big guy,” Tom greeted his son.
There was an awkward hug, and they left the gym. Tom had promised after the first practice that they’d go for Smash Burger. The car ride was tense. Dad knew he screwed up.
“So, how was prac…”
“You missed my handles,” Zo curtly replied. “I worked on them all summer.”
“You were gone this weekend. And then you were gone last weekend too. Why? I ain’t stupid. I heard you talking about that Jace dude on the phone.”
“Your dad has a job now and…”
“You said your job wasn’t gonna change things too much. You’d just be gone for a little bit. But there was that whole time back in May when you didn’t come home. Grandpop burnt the lasagna on Mother’s Day.”
He thought he was done living down that stretch of time. There was no Auntie Pom coming to save the day with presents and alluring fits for the male gaze of a teenager. The rest of the drive and dinner and the car ride home were silent.
The clock on the cable box read 11:42 PM. The old luchador sat on his couch with a rocks glass with three, small hexagonal ice blocks and two fingers of the Tears of Llorona. Don’t laugh; Italian-American luchadores only drink expensive anejo tequila when they’re distressed. Tam finally walked into the living room, hair a mess, body language screaming “I quit.”
“Ooh, that looks expensive,” she chirped with a hint of playful razzing. “I guess Zo was really mad you missed most of his practice, huh.”
“You look like you’ve been through hell, too,” he replied. “Want me to pour you a finger?”
“Nah, I gotta get up early tomorrow and follow up. Our titanium supplier for our hip replacements failed another metallurgical analysis.”
His expression went as blank as it did the first time someone told him Jace Parker Davidson was in someone’s Hall of Fame, let alone HOW’s.
“It means they’re selling us the cheap shit,” she continued. “Gotta find out our legal options, new suppliers. Big pain in the ass to start off Q4.”
“I’d rather deal with them than him,” he said, nodding back to the stairwell.”
She sat down next to her husband and threw her arm around him.
“You should be used to this by now, right? You’ve been the stay-at-home dad for years.”
“I never let him down like I did today,” he said before sipping his libation. “I got in line for a coffee at…”
“Don’t,” she said, putting her finger on his lips. “You have a life to live too. We all knew we’d make sacrifices, and you’ve gotta make time for Timo and especially Jon right now.”
“I’m not Timo’s dad, and if I were Jon’s dad, Paxton Ray would be in a morgue, and I’d be in jail.”
“Point is,” she said, “Kids are kids. It’s not like you ran over his dog and told him to suck it up when you cried about it.”
“I still can’t believe your dad did that to you.”
“Yeah,” she laughed as she replied, “and I still, well, kinda forgave him. He’s a smart kid. He’ll get over it once the hormones run their course.”
She rose from the couch.
“But I have to get to bed. I’m beat. Just give him time to sleep on it, okay?”
She climbed the steps while Tom looked blankly at the slowly melting ice in his glass of tequila.
What happens if the Twins ever realize they’re just pawns in your game of life, whatever the endgame of your Family is? If I were served up to play Benny Hill with a dog, no matter how clean my brain was from endless washing, I might start to wonder what was up. You might have gotten lucky and picked out the most suggestable runaways down at the homeless shelter, but even if not, it reveals your hubris, the unchecked ego. People who fancy themselves as one step ahead rarely cover all their bases. There’s a thread dangling somewhere that will be your unraveling. The question is that when the Oogey-Boogey façade peels away and all that remains are the bugs in your soul, will you disintegrate, each insect falling into the fire piecemeal, or do you have another failsafe?
Vampirism is real; it’s just not what Bram Stoker described it to be. People like you, Jake, steal the souls from your subordinates. You have a labyrinthine network of hosts you drain from, and coupled with your natural ability, it makes you formidable. Wrestlers elsewhere might cower when your logo appears on the big screen, but the thing about users is that sooner or later, the body politic gets wise. The husks you leave in your wake serve as a warning sign for those in the future to stay away or put up defenses, or even worse for parasites like you.
They fight you.
“Zo! Come on!”
The elder son looked shocked as his father pulled up to school to pick him up.
“Get in the car!”
“What about Vinny?”
“Eh, he’s fine taking the bus. Besides, I wanna take you somewhere. He’s gotta get home and watch anime or whatever it is he does.”
He hopped in his dad’s car, and they drove off, out of the parking lot, onto 202, into Valley Forge National Park. They pulled into one of the parking lots overlooking verdant fields, families taking nature hikes, inspecting flowers, reading plaques.
“I remember I used to drive you around here when you had the terrible twos and your mother needed to get work done. I’m sure you don’t remember.”
Zo shook his head.
“Look, I know I let you down last night…”
“No, dad,” Zo interrupted. “I’m sorry I got mad. I just really wanted you to see how good I got with my handles.”
“I know, kid. I’m just trying to find my place in all of this too. Being your dad is a huge part of what makes me tick, but…”
“I know. It’s the same thing with me and ball. You wanna be the best wrestler. I wanna play for the Sixers.”
“Be the next White Chocolate?”
Zo rolled his eyes.
“Stop it with your oldhead references. Besides, the best player in the league’s got sick handles.”
He playfully laughed at his son’s lofty aspirations.
“Look, I’ll make sure I’m at your first game, and you can show me those handles for real, ok?”
Zo nodded and reached across the center console to give his dad a hug.
Maybe you call it smart when you set up Patience and Decius to look like fools so you can get the upper hand or have them do your light work while you save your energy for the more pressing task. Maybe it’s strategy. But when I look at you, I don’t see a master tactician. Maybe that’s what makes me such a mark in the eyes of people with bigger eyes and greedier souls, but I’ve spent a lifetime facing down challenges that were bigger than me on paper.
What people also understand about me is that I too have used people. Hell, a little bit of that ugly past reared its head here in PRIME. Ask Ria. I wouldn’t begrudge her if she still harbored resentment for our little dustup between Culture Shock and the Great American Nightmare. But I look at the times when I took shortcuts, when I used people, how empty I felt, how badly it ate at my insides.
Then I look at my sons. Zo. Vinny. For the years I spent away from this sport, they were my everything. They still are. When they took their first steps, I had the same fulfillment and euphoria that I did when I crested the mountain in A1E and Empire Pro as World Champion, both as a tecnico. All their dizzying highs, I soar with them. Their lows, I comfort them, protect them. It makes me feel complete, no. They make me feel complete. I couldn’t imagine using them the way you do to yours.
And that’s the difference between me and you, Jake.
“You visit Jon again?”
“Yeah, uce,” said Timo from the other side of a phone conversation. “He’s in better spirits. I’d like to think it’s in no small part to the heart-to-hearts we have.”
“I’m surprised they let you off detail so much to see him,” he replied. “Cancer duty has gotta be time-consuming.”
“Well, Big Dame and the Enemigos are all gracious enough. People know me and Jon are tight. It affects us all. Team effort.”
“Not to change the subject, but did you make it back in time for Lorenzo’s practice? I know you were worried.”
“Nah,” he replied, “he blew up at me. Rightfully so. Basically ate up the entire Zoom sesh I had with Dr. Barone talking about my paternal abilities.”
The sigh Timo let out could be heard across the country even if they weren’t connected by the 5G nationwide mobile network.
“Of all the things you get impostor syndrome about,” he said, “Fatherhood is one that rings hollowest. You’re the best dad I know.”
“It’s not a high bar to clear,” Tom replied jokingly.
“I know you well enough to know a deflection when I see it,” Timo said, brushing off the sarcasm. “You should be in a good spot right now. You vanquished Balaam. You went into their house and smacked up that annoying three-named fellow who started talking mess about you. You’re the Intense Champion in the best wrestling promotion on the planet. What gives?”
There was a pause.
“I’m not the Universal Champion.”
You are smart, but you’re morally rotten. I spent the better part of the last supershow cycle wondering if I was a good person, and I’m still not convinced I am. But I’m trying. That’s all I can do is try. I would rather spend a thousand days as a loser jerking the curtain as a decent man than one millisecond as a scoundrel with the world in my palm.
But you know what, Jake? I’m not a loser. I’m the goddamn PRIME Intense Champion. I swam through an ocean of barbed wire and faced two rocket-propelled grenades in the form of Larry Tact and Balaam to win and keep this title, respectively. I will keep it as long as it takes to prove to the world that smart or not, I am the best this company can offer, both on the inside and to the rest of this interfed that still needs to pay us, and me, the tribute we deserve.
There’s no room in my path for bad dads, Jake. It’s time to burn the rot out, and I’m going to start with you. For your sake? I hope your kids don’t see what I do to you and realize the lies you’ve jammed in their heads from the moment you picked them up off the streets.