The Season of the Luchador
Posted on 03/29/23 at 2:32pm by The Anglo Luchador
Event: CULTURE SHOCK 2023 NIGHT TWO
The Anglo Luchador
Seasons in the northeastern United States are a social construct, especially the liminal spaces between bone-chilling winter and skin-melting summer. Spring hearkens images of idyllic rebirth. Birds chirp. Flowers bloom. Anyone who has lived in the Philadelphia area for more than 15 minutes knows that pristine image of pastels surrounding lush flora is a heaping crock of the stuff farmers use to ensure what they plant in March bears fruit in September. Generally speaking, the average day in late March and early April consists of an annoying 24-hour samsara. The morning presents chills too cold for hoodies but too warm for parkas. The afternoon dovetail teases the average resident with a kiss of warmth that is always followed by a frigid afternoon shower. The sunlight that does last tantalizes just enough to lure shorts out of winter hibernation, but not enough to offset the biting breeze. By the end of the day, the frost settles back in, ready to begin the process anew until one day in May when it’s hot all the time for four-and-a-half months straight.
Tom Battaglia’s life resembled a Philadelphia “spring” day lately. Around this time last year, he would wake up with his heart singing at the return of pro wrestling in his life. This year, however? The aches and throbs of a four-matches-in-five-shows grind made him hesitate getting up out of his marital bed. The bright side was that at least he was sleeping in it again, although the mood of his wife was icy enough to act as a layer of frost on his windshield. He couldn’t blame her. She shelved a lot of bad feelings for his erratic behavior from earlier in the year, but the overflow with all the selfish and destructive acts lately – running off to Mexico, lashing out at Vincenzo, obsessively looking at social media at the cost of paying attention to anything else in the household, the mood swings, the outbursts – she couldn’t take it.
His personal life crumbling around him would have a bittersweet silver lining if he were in line to be the next Universal Champion. Ha, yeah, right, huh? Two Lafayette Lullabies. Two Streets-Sweepers. The Marie Antoinette. He was sure that even though he spiked the nuzzling dipshit on the back of his head that Vickie Hall was somewhere filing petitions to make sure the match would be counted as a win for her charge instead of Tom. Bloggers and would-be wrestling reporters-cum-critics raved at how entertaining the matches were, but that and a quarter gets a man 10 minutes of street parking downtown.
The chill would shake off with his morning jogs with Mikey. With the blood pumping endorphins to all the most important nerve endings, he felt the sheer heat of his passion inching closer, a breakthrough, an epiphany that would leave all of his doubts incinerated underneath the summer sun. But then, the mistakes would creep into his head, all the things he did wrong, even in matches he won. Yeah, the lapse in judgment vs. Larry Tact or allowing Ivan Stanislav to throw him as a projectile or even the strategy he used against Tony Gamble at Colossus, all of that worked, but what if it didn’t? How could he take on 39 other wrestlers in a battle royale if he kept fucking up? The frigidity began to set in, and his life at home, at least with his wife, only sucked the heat out of his mind even more. By bedtime, the chills set in again.
Another day of running errands took Tom out into the evening hours. As he breached the door into the foyer, carrying bags of dinner he was too busy to make himself, he spied Tam sitting on the couch instead of working late into the evening as was her custom.
“You finally quit the rat race?” Tom asked with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
She sighed and slumped lower, not in the mood for japes. He saw the reaction, and his heart sunk into his feet.
“You, uh, wanna talk about it?”
Tears squeezed from her closed eyes, streaking down her cheeks.
“Why does it have to be so hard?”
“Look,” he said, dropping the paper shopping bag filled with falafel and hummus onto the floor and advancing onto the couch. “I’m trying. I really am. I haven’t been on Jabber since…”
“It’s not about that,” she replied, sniffling and wiping her face. “Well, not just about that. It’s just, for so many years, I thought we were happy.”
“But,” she continued, “I lied to myself. I noticed the sadness in your eyes from time to time whenever your friends were in the news or when you’d come across a wrestling show on TV. And I thought we could have it all.”
Tom moved to sit next to his wife.
“But then you’ve just been acting so strange, and it’s not just since Pax. It’s been almost your entire comeback. And, like, can we both be happy at the same time? Not just content, but happy?”
“We can if I work on it,” he said, moving in to comfort his wife. When she pulled away, his heart broke through his feet and crashed through the floor into the basement.
“What if that’s not enough? What if you backslide again?”
He had no answer. She got up from the couch and in one swift motion without looking at him went upstairs.
Hours passed. The food left in the foyer had long been eaten. Floor falafel was just as good as table falafel to two growing boys and an elderly luchador houseguest. Cold reality froze him to his couch, his only movements involving moving his fingers to his phone, debating whether to redownload the Jabber app. He still felt FLAMBERGE’s radius jammed against his carotid artery. In his mind, the people who kept needling him were laughing at his failures, even if in reality, they were too absorbed in their own doings and goings-on even to notice he was gone. Suddenly, a gravelly baritone voice broke his catatonia.
“Oh man, that’s the good stuff. Who knew you could make garbanzos that delicious, huh, hermano?”
Tom sighed. El Guapo Grande noticed what app he was looking at downloading from his Google Play Store.
“You know, muchacho, can I be honest with you for a moment?”
“Seems to be the theme of the day. Shoot.”
The portly old man waddled over the couch and sat beside Tom, putting his left hand around his shoulder.
“You worry too much about being liked. Do you think everyone liked El Santo?”
“Well yeah. He’s the closest thing to an Aztec god to have walked among the mortals in modern times.”
“I’m not talking about the fans. Yes, everyone loved El Santo from the stands, the movie theaters. But what about the locker rooms? No, muchacho, and I was there. In the ‘70s, when Santo’s body started failing him, you should’ve heard the whispers, how he shouldn’t have commanded main events, even if he still had the wherewithal to win them. It was time for someone younger to step up, hold the mantle of lucha libre.”
“Okay,” Tom flatly replied. “So everyone didn’t like him. Whatever.”
“You miss the point, hermano. The resentment was palpable when he wasn’t in the room, but no one dared try to oust him from his position as a leader. Do you know why?”
A moment of charged silence held a beat before Guapo gave the answer to the question he never expected Tom to respond to anyway.
“They respected him. He carried himself in such a way that even if they didn’t like what he did, where he situated himself, they accepted it. He acted in the way he thought was best. He had regrets, but he didn’t let them weigh him down. Do you hear what I’m saying?”
He didn’t answer verbally, but within a few seconds, the Google Play app on his phone was closed and the device placed in his pocket. The older luchador smiled as he patted the not-as-old one’s back.
What is respect? The poor man often asks what wealth is because he can’t imagine a world where he doesn’t have to work to have material needs met. So what is respect to a man who never learned to recognize it? Certainly, he’s had peers look to him as a rock over the years, even as social media allowed any serious veneer to corrode away. Ivan Stanislav didn’t care what people thought about him, but did anyone really respect him when all he’s ever done was spew lies and propaganda? They certainly feared him. Just ask Kenny Freeman, who probably won’t move from the spot into which he was yeeted until his number gets called for the battle royale. None of the people active on Jabber really commanded respect just by posting into the void, and the ones who did were either feared (for different reasons) like Tony Gamble or weren’t annoying little shits about it.
Annoying little shit. Heh. Tom often thought about how his father would call him that when he got on his nerves. He was always like that. Forty-one years. How can a stretch of time be a cosmic blink of an eye and an eternity to the human mind at the same time? When the habits look like they’re instantaneous, solving them becomes easy. As perception slows down to the speeds at which the human mind can process these moments, the tenure becomes an oppressive weight crushing the shoulders, piling on the inertia until one accepts that they have been and always will be like that.
All problems have solutions. Whether those solutions are possible is the conundrum. Tom’s mind fixated on how to compress time and make change easier to enact without doing a swandive into an open grave.
Something about a vigorous shake of the towel on a wet scalp right out of the shower always felt therapeutic for Tom, like the first slug out of a can of Modelo or hitting 85 on the Turnpike with the windows down just past Harrisburg.. His hair had thinned, as was the curse for most Italian men. Still, he had to check it in the mirror. His days while not on the road were mostly light after his morning run with Mikey, although nowadays they’ve been a little busier and hectic than normal. He had to look his best though. Vanity, after all, was always the most fickle of mistresses.
As he looked into the mirror, like it was before his matches with Gladhappy and FLAMBERGE, he didn’t see himself as he was, hair disheveled, naked save for the towel around his waist. His younger self stared back at him, clad in full gear, including his mask. Tom looked his reflection stone-dead in the eyes.
“I’m ready. Name your terms.”
The reflection laughed then shook his head.
“You still lying?”
Tom did not move a muscle before replying, his face stony as a statue.
“Did I stutter? Name. Your. Terms.”
The reflection reacted with a deep “hmph” before adjusting his mask.
“You need to let me go.”
Tom furrowed his brow.
“You’re me. I’m you. I really need to start seeing a neurologist if even my hallucinations don’t make…”
“You wanted my terms,” the reflection interrupted. “Now listen to them.”
Again, the reflection adjusted himself.
“You will let me go. I am dead. You can’t move forward if you carry dead weight with you.”
“I’m still alive though.”
“I’m not. It’s hard to understand, but the weight of your decisions can only inform you. The way you carry your dead weight, you think you can revive it. Make the past right by reaching through time with feeble words.”
He exhaled deeply.
“So, do you accept these terms?”
“Well, I hope you’re not lying. Ghosts don’t die. We just don’t haunt those who don’t deserve it. Don’t deserve my haunting again.”
The reflection in the mirror slowly dissolved into the present day, the image of a middle-aged man naked from the waist up. For the first time in months, he liked what he saw.
Summer is a lot of things, especially now as climate change has gone from threat to reality. Even now, with rising heat and suffocating humidity, one can at least appreciate the consistency of the hot season. In the days of yore, when the air was milder, less choked with the byproduct of the Industrial Revolution, a lovely summer meant a respite from the chaos Tlaloc would rain, quite literally, on the people in spring.
Summer frosts were quite rare even in those days. One could count on warmth at daybreak, at noon, in the evening, and at bedtime. Linguists equating love with warmth, passion with heat knew what they were doing. The cold chill of a spring morning dispelled any propaganda whatever some dipshit poet would spew about winter’s end. Spring was always a premature celebration anyway.
All anyone in life ever wanted was to find their summer.
Chill returned to Philly, and the briskness in the breeze necessitated sweats and hoodies for all but the whitest of men whose outdoor uniform included mesh shorts for anything above freezing. Basketball season had ended, but Zo had dreams of hooping beyond high school. True ballers never slept anyway. Tom sat outside and watched his older son practice his long-range shot. While he could sit and talk wrestling theory for hours, he didn’t know a mesh play from mesh shorts. He just found beauty in a jumpshot, for two or three points.
Vinny broke his concentration coming out to the driveway in a fury of adolescent enthusiasm.
“Kid! Is everything alright?”
He didn’t answer, instead throwing his arms around his father in the biggest bear hug his middle school body could muster. After being taken aback for a moment, Tom did the only thing he knew he could do in that situation.
He hugged his son back.
“What’s wrong, kid? Is everything okay?”
“Yeah! I just saw that you’ve been really sad lately. I thought you needed a hug.”
“NERD!” Zo called from the court, razzing his younger brother to absolutely no response from either of the other two.
“Thanks, kid. I love you so much.”
“I love you too!”
Tom looked in his son’s eyes. In the back of his mind, the mistakes he made, most prominently the drunken incident at Disney, tried fighting their way to the forefront, making him say something to smooth things over. The conversation with his reflection replayed at deafening volume in his head. As he looked more closely into those eyes though, he didn’t see anything but love. It was almost as if Vincenzo didn’t even remember it happened.
In that moment, Tom realized the difference between being liked and being respected. And as a father commanding respect, it was time to teach it.
“I heard what you said, Zo. Shoot 20 free throws, or you have to do his chores for a week.”
It was another late night of putting out fires caused by her incompetent male peers in the Big Pharma industry. Tam’s job, ironically enough, was never as hard as it was until she switched to full-time remote work. The pressure of always being on call in addition to being the only woman in management meant whenever a problem arose, her sexist pig colleagues decided the buck stopped with her, even Edwards, who was several years her junior. Especially Edwards. Her concentration was all she had left at this point. And then even that broke.
I fall to pieces…
Patsy Cline wafted into her ears from what had to be an ancient iPod on docking speakers.
…each time I see you again.
“Can I have this dance?”
Tam looked over to find her husband with the setup in his hands.
“Where’d you find that thing? What happened to your phone?”
Tom chuckled, pulling out a flip-phone from his pocket.
“I upgraded. Now c’mon, you up for a dance.”
She blushed, slowly getting up from her office chair. The downstairs office wasn’t built to be a dancefloor, but like they used to after he got hurt and before she got rich, they made do.
“I figured out how we can fix this. How we can both be happy.”
The look on her face contorted to show a hint of skepticism.
“I start over. From the beginning. Clean slate.”
“Did you pull me from my work to break up with me?” she asked, a faint squeak in her voice. As much as the last year broke her, starting over was the last thing she wanted to do either.
“Oh god no, babe. I said start over, not scorch the earth. What I have here, no, what we have has a good foundation. I can’t date again. I could never put the kids through the two parent thing after we’ve done it so long. I’m saying…”
He held her head close to his heart as they swayed back and forth to Patsy’s mellifluous voice.
“…it’s time to stop trading on the past. It’s time to build a new legacy.”
She nuzzled up tighter, the moment washing over her body as if she was back on the beach in Veracruz on their honeymoon all those years ago.
“Besides. I’m only 41. In lucha terms, I’m still a rookie.”
She giggled as he held her as close as he could.
“We’re going to make this work, babe.”
“I’m still scared though. What if…”
“Don’t. The moment that creeps in, it undermines everything. I’m scared too, but this is the only way.”
She looked up at him, with tears forming in her eyes. With great trepidation, she slowly pushed her husband away.
“I’m not sure I can stop being scared based on a few gestures. I’m…”
She turned away so as not to let her husband see the look on her face.
“No, it’s okay babe. I know I have a lot of work to do.”
Although the sting of his wife’s words left him paralyzed for a moment, he saw through the darkness of the rainclouds a sliver of sunlight.
“I’ve made you feel like a supporting character in my story. You deserve more. For now though…”
He turned to leave the room, but kept his neck turned to catch his beleaguered wife out of the corner of his eye.
“I’ll leave the tunes for you. I think you need them.”
As Tom left the room, tears streaked down Tam’s face. The fires she had to put out could wait. All she could do was listen to Patsy and try her best to heal.
You walk by and I fall to pieces…
Tom woke up the next morning, and although the chill in the air permeated through their drafty windows, he felt warm, even with the uncertainty with Tam from the prior night. For the first time since October, he matched Mikey’s shorts game, but he even left the ubiquitous PRIME hoodie in the car. It took a lot to surprise his youngest brother, but it turned out Tom had a few tricks up his sleeve.
He returned home, showered, and met with the biggest task in front of him. The Culture Shock Battle Royale would be his toughest ticket to date as everyone but the Champion would be lined up in front of him. The test wouldn’t just be outlasting them, but the biggest war in the ReVival Era would be thrust upon him so soon after he’d brokered peace with his oldest and most duplicitous enemy.
“So,” said Guapo, “you’ve got 39 other people in this match. All of them want the same thing. What’s your strategy?”
“Hit the biggest dudes in the match. Assert myself. Command respect.”
“Won’t that place a target on your back?”
“Nah. I’ve got the advantage of flying low. I should send Julien a fruit basket. He did me a solid without either of us knowing it at the time.”
Guapo stared at the corkboard with various pictures pinned to it. Some were known – Youngblood, Ray, Stanislav, Best. Others, well, he had to plan for surprises. Atken was the most prominent of that group.
“I notice you’ve got a lot of people you already wrestled, lost to even, up there. You pulling tape? Watching what you did wrong?”
“That would be smart, Guap, but I already know what I did wrong. I feel like treading old ground, I dunno. It’d just send me down some rabbit holes I don’t want to revisit. I want to find a new slant. Something other places on these fuckers that they won’t expect me to hit. I will need tape. Just not necessarily of my old matches.”
Guapo smiled. He noticed there was a different air around him. The Season of the Luchador seemed to have changed, temperature outside be damned.