The Artist Formerly Known As Mr. Universe
Posted on 02/12/22 at 11:38pm by Private: Teddy Palmer
Event: ReVival 3
Private: Teddy Palmer
December 31st, 2021
“That hat looks fuckin’ stupid,” Grady whines.
“Hey, you wanted to get people talking,” I smirk, flicking the brim of the black Stetson. “Match of the year, partner.”
“Suppose it ain’t the worst idea.”
“Where’d you get that?” Red asks.
“It was a parting gift when I said adios to Chi-Town back in the summer.”
“So, you stole it?”
“Stole is such a dirty word,” I halt my stride, the gall of Red to insinuate such a thing. “But yes, I stole it.”
The streets are packed as herds flock towards the Chicago River, posturing to get the best view possible for the impending firework show. The three of us have little trouble bullying our way through the crowd, wide shoulders occupying a fair chunk of real estate along the walkway. As infamous we are amongst wrestling circles, this gathering is of people from all walks, meaning anonymity is in abundance.
It’s a pleasant reprieve before we trek back west.
Running my thumb along the bridge of my nose, the rugged terrain has seven fresh stitches from a wayward knee hours prior. The gash has mostly coagulated shut with the aid of the sutures, but trickles of blood still emerge from deeper seams.
“Nice little souvenir he gave you tonight, eh?” Red snickers at the sight.
“You have no idea how much I missed this,” I reply in all seriousness.
“And aside from that incident in Wichita,” Grady’s voice is slightly condemning.
“I told you, I had no idea that was the promoter’s wife,” I plead my innocence.
“Regardless,” Grady brushes it off, not buying what I’m selling. “This little tour of the independents wrapped up beautifully, boys. Wichita, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago. Wins across the board.”
“Dominating,” Red brags.
“You’re damn right. Merchandise is selling like it’s the 2010’s, rumors are swirling aplenty, and two of the hottest free agents are popping up in promotions across the midwest. Heading into Vegas, I think we’ve got quite the leg to stand on when it comes to negotiations, especially if tonight has her thinking Chicago and that Tag Tournament is in play.”
A rogue set of come hither eyes catches Grady’s attention. The flirtatious tension between the two on the walkway is palpable. Grady looks back at us, his face stretching with excitement. As he does so, the leather skinned lizard looks towards Red and I, holding her hand up, creating a circle by joining her index and thumb. She creates a second circle, the tip of her middle finger touching her index knuckle. She then proceeds to fire a finger in each hole, winking at us.
I briefly debate the proposition, turning to Red who adamantly shakes his head no. I turn back to Grady’s likely New Years kiss, and too, shake my head no. She waves the two of us off, as Grady licks the tip of his fingers, slicks his brows, and sensually turns back her way. With an accepting shrug, she still beckons the Irishman over.
“Boys,” his voice trails off as his gimp is less noticeable when a good time is to be had.
“Prude,” I mumble to Red.
“She was like sixty, and more importantly, I’m not rubbing balls with you,” Red says with great disdain. “Grady can have her.”
“Get your mind out of the gutter, you sick son of a bitch,” I spew in disgust. “The only acceptable position in a Devil’s Threeway is the Eiffel Tower.”
“Yeah, my mind’s in the gutter,” he argues. “For the last time, I will never make eye contact with you.”
“Who said anything about eye contact? Stop making it uncomfortable.”
“Whatever,” he brushes off the topic, looking out into the crowd in Grady’s direction. After a momentary delay, almost as if he was ensuring Grady was safely out of earshot, he turns back to me. “Hey, so I’ve been meaning to ask.”
“The answer’s no, freak.”
“Fuck off,” he laughs. “No. What happened here?”
“You declined a perfect proposition and here we stand, lonely on New Year’s Eve.”
“Ted,” his grin fades. “I’m being serious. You fell off the wagon. One week you’re in the main event for the World Championship in a nationally televised promotion, the next your sitting out the remainder of your contract. In fuckin’ Colorado of all places. Did you just toss a dart at a map and buy land where it stuck?”
“Something like that.”
“And, not that I’m complaining, but things were good with the Amazon, at least they appeared to be. And you hightailed it.”
“When it rains, it pours,” I offer with little inflection in my voice.
“You know,” with a snort of air, Red shakes his head. “We are tighter than brothers, no offense to Larry. You, throwing everything away, all at once? You don’t have to tell me why, that’s your choice. But you also don’t have to keep shit locked up either.”
“I just…” I hesitate, stumbling through my thoughts. “I was just done being someone I wasn’t. You know? I’m not a role model. Kids shouldn’t say they want to be like Teddy Palmer when they grow up. I was marketed as something I’m not. Lindsay fell for a fictitious version of who I am.”
“That, I get,” Red nods in agreement.
“I just want to be me, make some money, and tuck it away for the next generation,” I clear my throat, inhaling deeply through my nose. “That’ll be my contribution to this life.”
“Yeah,” I look towards the ground, the cold wind off the river assaulting my eyes. “Like if you or Larry ever have a kid or something.”
As if on cue, a squealing whistle along the river fires skyward. As it reaches towards the stars, it explodes, sending a rainbow of colors flying in every direction. The crowd cheers wildly for the festive display, a collective ‘Happy New Years!’ screamed out in surprising unison.
A hand clasps to the back of my neck, guiding my gaze to the right. The hand belongs to a curvy brunette, who, with a mischievous smile and a tug downward later, I’m in a lip lock with. Her hand slides up the back of my head and underneath the Stetson. In one swift motion, it’s tossed towards the river.
“That was a gift,” I push away, watching the hat frisbee its way towards the body of water.
“Bye Bye Byrdie,” Red quips.
“Heh,” I nod with approval. “Nice one.”
February 12, 2022
Las Vegas, Nevada
The meat of my forearms dig into the rounded stone rail, my body weight pushing through them. In my left hand, the Moosehead can is half full, teetering dangerously back and forth between the tips of my thumb and middle finger. In my right hand, the cigarette saddled between my fingers burns steadily, a slight flick sending the ash spiraling below.
“Another failed football player, Feng,” my words are slightly slurred as I sneak a sip from my beverage, shaking my head. “What is it with every Goodell reject thinking they can just waltz on in? They have no respect for our industry…”
I begin to trail off from my rant. In my peripherals, I notice the same stranger for the umpteenth time today. He has casually posted up a few yards down from me, nestling himself against the railing unassumingly. He has a slender frame that’d be easy to miss, but possess one of those faces that sticks out in a crowd. He side eyes me through his thick framed glasses, scratching the ginger scruff on his chin.
A stalker, perhaps?
With a doubtful shrug, I continue. “You see, Clay got a pass because he came from wrasslin’ kin. He had a passion for this. This wasn’t his fallback, it was his calling. But this guy? Same old trope. At least this hoss was drafted by the Niners, so…there’s that, right?”
“I’m sorry to interrupt,” the voice of the stranger joins our conversation, slithering down the rail from his perch. “But I believe you’re thinking of John Kennedy Royko Jr.”
Looking over the edge, my reflection in the still fountain water stares back. With the back of my hand, I rub my heavy eyes, and blink thrice. Sticking my tongue into my upper lip, it slides down each knotted stitch with a hint of annoyance. After a brief delay and a slight tilt of my head, I look over at the stranger, offering him my attention.
“….And your point is?” I ask, semi rhetorically. “That’s who I’m fighting.”
“No,” he shakes his head, turning his body towards me. “You’re fighting Cyrus O’Haire.”
“You, my creepy little friend,” I push myself up, turning to let my right side lean against the smooth lip, “are mistaken. I’m locking horns with the towering gridiron transplant that PRIME unfortunately invested in.”
“Right. But there are two of them. Royko Jr, and O’Haire.”
“There are two of them?!” I jut my head forward, chin first.
“There’s always been two of them,” he borders on the edge of indignance.
“Jesus H. Christ, It’s like a fuckin’plague.” I mumble, rotating to let the small of my back arch against the cool stone surface. I raise my cigarette holstering hand high above my head. “Lemme guess. About yay tall? Devastating injury ended his blossoming football career? Mounding brick shithouse of bitchtits?”
“Well,” he wrestles with his thoughts momentarily. “I wouldn’t go as far as to say bitchtits…”
“Ding ding ding,” I mockingly pump my fists in victory.
“You don’t understand,” he implores. “Cyrus is quite the physical specimen.”
“They always are,” I jeer, taking a drag from my cigarette.
“I wouldn’t take him lightly if I were you,” he warns, taking a step forward. “Prior to his thought-to-be career ending injury in SHOOT…”
“Woah woah, hold on a second,” I take the final sip that’s mostly foam from the green can. “This guy’s wrestling career ended in injury, too? Talk about your China Doll, no offense Feng.”
I turn to face the Buddhist Monk, whom I had been conversing with prior to ‘Mister Know-It-All’s’ interruption. Feng, who is all of five feet in height, paces impatiently from side to side. His brown robe is a tad long, dragging along the dirty Vegas walkway. He looks up at me, his eyes peeking out from the brim of his white bucket hat, but before he can speak, ginger beard continues.
“Thought to be,” he retorts slowly, as if I’m simple. “He calls himself ‘The Hardcore Messiah’, and he’s lived up to that nickname. ‘The Vyrus’ hasn’t met an opponent yet he hasn’t been able to dominate.”
“There’s so much to unpack here,” I begin, pinching the bridge of my nose, the lit end of my cancer stick nearly grazing my hairline. Pushing myself upright, I crumple the can in my hand and toss it onto the sidewalk. “What’s your name?”
“Sheldon,” he replies with an eager outstretched hand. “Sheldon Novak.”
“Well Sheldon…” I step forward, shaking his hand. “I want you to know…I have a twelve inch horsecock.”
“Wait…what,” he is quick to pull his hand back, looking at his palm with disgust, as if I’d been handling my hog recently and hadn’t thoroughly washed.
My hands, not my dick.
“You see how easy it is to make up shit about yourself?” I scoff with a raised brow.
“Pack a mid size in my trousers,” I cut him off. “Secondly, as far as dominating opponents goes, I think Cyrus should try to overcome physical rehabilitation before squaring up with a technical savant such as myself.”
“And lastly,” I put the cigarette filter to my lips, filling my lungs once more. With a deep exhale and cloud of smoke between the two of us, I push out my final, and probably most important point. “The Vyrus is a stupid fuckin’ name. I’ve noticed it on adverts, and I swear to the high fuckin’ heavens we’ve timetravelled back to 2002 where swapping vowels and misspelling names and words was all the rage.”
“It’s unique,” Sheldon mumbles.
“Sure it is,” I flash a sarcastic thumbs up. “And I bet you’d name your daughter Nevaeh too.”
With an awkward frown as if I hit a nerve, Sheldon bends over and picks up my crumpled beer can. He walks over toward the nearest trash can and deposits the discarded tin. Brushing his hands off on the lap of his khakis, he pulls out a small bottle of purell from his pocket, and squirts a drop into his palm.
“Nature lover?” I ask Feng, who offers no answer.
“Listen, do you want the bracelet or not?” Feng cuts to the chase, holding out his hand.
Looking down into his weathered, calloused hand, a red beaded bracelet is cupped within. I grab the bracelet, rolling one of its beads between the tips of my fingers. With pursed lips, I look at the femine-esque wrist wear, physically debating my decision with swaying shoulders.
“Your tone isn’t very Monk-like,” I note. “That being said, you said this thing would make me stupid rich, right?”
“Not once did I say that,” he rubs his brow in frustration. “I said it brings those who wear it harmony within the universe.”
“And it would be very harmonious if I were to become stupid rich,” I reiterate my life’s ambition.
“Then just take the fu…” he stops quickly, holding his hands out to compose himself. With a rolling gurgle in his throat, he clears his airway before speaking. “Then please, take the bracelet.”
“Okaaaaay,” I reply with suspicion, stretching the bracelet over my hand and onto my wrist. “But how much is it?”
“We’ve been through this. It’s free. It’s always been free. We do, however, ask you to kindly donate fifty dollars to our temple,” he raises a pointed finger, letting me know he isn’t finished. “Or, you can donate in any increment you see fit.”
“I’ve heard about these ‘Monks’,” Sheldon interjects upon returning within our radius, air quoting his over pronunciation of Monk. “This is a scam they run, getting people to donate to their ‘temple’ for some bracelet that isn’t even worth a quarter.”
“Nobody asked you!” Feng sticks a finger into Sheldon’s boney sternum.
“Yeah, Sheldon. Nobody asked you.”
“Look how he’s acting!” he exclaims, looking the diminutive Feng up and down.
“Sheldon, Sheldon, Sheldon,” I laugh, placing my hand on his shoulder. “Spend enough time with me, and you’ll realize this reaction to me is completely justified. I’d be concerned if he wasn’t losing his cool.”
With an exaggerated flick, my cigarette butt twirls through the air, sending the smallest of sparks flying upon contact with the ground. Rummaging through my front pocket, I pull out a crumpled hundred, the last of which I have. Before I can even offer the bill to Feng, he snatches it from my grasp.
“Namaste!” he rejoices, making an abrupt departure with my donation.
“That’s Hindu!” Sheldon shouts.
“Sorry, but you’re mistaken,” I look at my new charm with big eyes and even bigger dreams. “That’s Buddha.”
“Whatever,” he sneers, shuffling his feet backwards. He bends over, and picks up my jettisoned cigarette butt. “I’m not being paid to monitor your finances.”
“Paid?” I offer a puzzled look.
“Ted,” Grady’s voice barks in the distance, interrupting this unusual exchange.
Over from the general vicinity that Feng departed in like a thief in the night, Grady waves me down. His strides are urgent, and in his greasy grasp is a manila envelope. His arrival comes with heavy breaths, and the unsavory aura that follows him everywhere he goes.
“Sheldon,’ Grady acknowledges the ginger before turning to me. “Ted, it ain’t good. They’ve taken legal action.”
“Hold your horses, Shady,” I cut off my business manager, my eyes darting back and forth between the two men in front of me. “What the hell is this? How do you know each other?”
“Haven’t you two met yet?” Grady asks me before turning to Sheldon. “Didn’t you introduce yourself to him?”
“Formally, a few minutes ago, yes,” Sheldon is awkward in his response.
“So you’ve just been following Ted around for the past six hours, not saying a word?”
“Well when you put it like that, it sounds weird.”
“This whole fuckin’ thing is weird,” I interupt their back and forth. “What’s going on?”
“Grady hired me,” Sheldon blurts out as if it were common knowledge.
“Hired you?” I ask, looking at Grady, tucking my tongue into my bottom lip. “For what?”
“To keep you out of trouble.”
“You’re telling me,” my left eye clamps shut, my head cocking to the side. I stutter for a second, not verbally but mentally. “That you’re my babysitter?”
“I guess in a roundabout way,” Sheldon giggles at the thought. “The job advertisement was for a personal assistant, but thinking back, that is how the job description read.”
Grady places a gentle hand on Sheldon’s arm, shushing him in a friendly yet not so friendly way. Turning to me, I can see the mental hoops he’s leaping through as he assesses how to navigate the impending blow to my ego.
“After the fire, and the fact that you’re on a match by match contract,” Grady tiptoes. “I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes looking out for you. Red will be back and forth between here and Quebec and putting out the proverbial fires you set is a full time job in and of itself.”
“A babysitter?” I whisper.
“Listen, you’re lucky that Troy didn’t fine you, or worse after the incident at The Whiskey Down.”
“Luck had nothing to do with it,” I’m stern in my response. “She didn’t fine me because I’m fuckable.”
“Pardon me?” he asks, bewildered.
“The press release said I was and I quote, an ‘Effable Canadian’.”
Grady and Sheldon look at one another with widened eyes. Sheldon turns his back to me and I notice that his heaving shoulders is his poor attempt at containing his laughter. Grady, on the other hand, is less than amused.
“Affable, Ted. Ah…Ah…Ah-Fa-Ble,” he breaks it down phonetically for me. “It means likable.”
“Likable and fuckable go hand in hand,” I talk down to the Irishman. “…Idiot.”
“This!” Grady shouts, ripping his bowler cap off with his free hand. “This is exactly why I hired you a babysitter!”
“All joking aside, I prefer personal assistant,” Sheldon chimes in to no response.
“Just read this.”
Grady shoves the manila envelope into my chest, crushing it inwards. None too pleased myself, I snatch it from his hands, making a very much so juvenile face while doing so. Fiddling with its flap, I find a corner and tear it open.
“It wasn’t sealed.”
Pulling the papers out, I toss the envelope aside. Before it can hit the ground, Sheldon displays his job qualifications, catching it mid flight. My eyes scan the page left to right, up and down, and it’s a lot of big words and run-along sentences. My eyes do, however, lock onto a key phrase that I’m certainly no stranger to.
Cease and Desist.
“What the hell did I steal from ABBA?” I ask. “Fuckin’ Swedes…”
“Yeah, you can’t say that.” Sheldon looks around nervously, relieved to see no one heard.
“Let me see that,” Grady pushes my hand and the papers down to get a good look. His audible click of frustration and roll of the eye is followed by “Move your thumb…Idiot.”
Sliding my thumb to the left, a hidden ‘N’ is revealed.
“What the hell did I steal from NABBA?” I ask. “Better yet, who the hell is NABBA?”
“It’s the National Amateur Body-Builders’ Association,” Grady replies. “They own the term ‘Mr. Universe’. You can’t use it in any further promotional events or campaigns.”
“But…” my heart sinks, as I hand the papers back to Grady. I hold up my wrist and point at the garnet toned beads. “Harmony with the universe…”
“I told you it was a scam.” Sheldon brags.
“No shit, Sherlock,” I snap.
“No, it’s Sheldon.”