The Anglo Luchador
Broken, and bruised, but no longer bloodied, The Anglo Luchador, or without his mask and noticeable only to people who already had the privilege of knowing him, just Thomas FX Battaglia, heard the familiar voice from behind him just outside of the Whiskey Down bar in the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel.
“Pom. I’m so glad you made it,” he said, embracing his friend from across the ocean. “I was beginning to think you were mad at me for spending money on a successful entrepreneur to come across for a wrestling show.”
“Well, you’d have known better if you answered your damn phone,” she said with a devilish smirk. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, you, back in a deathmatch, winning a deathmatch.”
“Do you miss it?” he asked, already knowing the answer in his heart.
She shook her head as if he had just asked the teacher in class the dumbest question possible. “Do I miss the lacerations, and the searing fire on my back from plastique, and landing on glass once a week?”
The old luchador looked like a deer in headlights.
“Of course I do, silly,” she replied. He exhaled, the notion that he somehow pissed off a friend whom he thought might have changed over the years dissipated from his mind. “I would love to get back in there with my students and show them the real Pom. I’d love to get in there with you to take that belt you won. I couldn’t do that without leaving my entire left side wide open though. Gotta think of my health, you know?”
“You probably should too. You told me you have two children? I want to meet them. I want to catch up with Tam. She’s a wild one, you know. God, I wish I could’ve been at her bachelorette party.”
“Oh she’s tamed over the years but not by choice,” he replied. “She just took on a lot of responsibility. She drinks out of frustration.”
“And you drink to forget still?”
He shook his head. “I’m not sure if I’ve quit for good. You know, I only ever really drank when I was active anyway. That’s when the thoughts come back. But I’m trying a different approach. Black tar heroin!”
Pom looked at Tom like he had just shot her puppy. For reference, she really just did get a new dog, a rescue Pomeranian/golden lab max. Looks almost like a tamarin if you catch it at the right angle.
“What, was that in poor taste?”
She broke her demeanor and slapped the old luchador in the back of his right shoulder. He recoiled with an exaggerated OUCH, which was only halfway for show. Ria and Mort and Anna and especially Balaam did a number on him just hours earlier, after all.
“You haven’t changed at all, Thomas-san.”
“You’re wrong,” he said, following with a gigantic inhale as if he was just about to ask Pom the impossible. Maybe he was.
“You and Shoko… you never told me why you grew apart. It wasn’t because of… uh…”
“You?” she completed his question. “No. It’s been a few years, God, I… it’s still a bit to process. I haven’t gotten over it completely. Haven’t been with anyone steadily since her. A few flings here or there, whatever.”
Tom contorted his face as if he wasn’t going to like the next thing out of her mouth.
“But it wasn’t you, no, we just grew apart. Things happen sometimes when you’re busy, and we both were. Me with the school, her with her in-ring career. Sometimes, we were just two ships passing in the night. That’s not healthy.”
There was always a but.
“You never did apologize to her, did you?”
He solemnly bowed his head and let out an exhale. He didn’t hold his breath for that entire time, but it almost felt like he had.
“That’s kinda why I brought her up, actually. I had a whole thing.”
Pom rolled her eyes and gave another one of her wry smiles.
“I could tell. Tell me, Thomas-san, were you planning on doing that whole bat flip the whole time, or did it really take you that long to realize you never needed to stray out of the deathmatch code of honor to find what you were looking for?”
“That’s a secret between me and Mictlantecuhtli.”
“I have worked more countries than just here and Japan, you know.”
“No, seriously, I have no idea what reference you just made.”
She smacked him again on his shoulder. It elicited less of a reaction this time.
“I just… I did go through a LOT of shit,” he started up again. “The woman I wrestled, not the crazy Time Lady, but Ria, I was a real jerk to her. And I didn’t need to be. It was all because of these complicated feelings I had…”
“That Hoyt Williams stirred up, right?”
“Besides, I know who Anna Daniels is, jerk,” she said playfully. “I watch this company because of you, but I don’t just watch for you.”
“I gotta stop being an asshole,” he laughed. Then all the humor drained from his voice. “That’s why I have to apologize to Shoko. I figure better late than never. She might not even pick up the phone but…”
“She will if I tell her to,” Pom responded. “We still love each other, maybe not the way we did when she would take care of me after the accident and when we were so in love in those years after. But I care about her. She cares about me.”
The old luchador slowly nodded, and in the back of his mind, he started to make a mental checklist of things he had to do in order for he and his wife not to start drifting apart like that. He could feel it starting, but it wasn’t too late. But he didn’t linger too long on that thought. He just made a mental note to buy some plane tickets after whatever it was he and his friend would be doing later. His attention went back to the former deathmatch queen of the Kanagawa prefecture.
“And I know deep down,” Pom continued, “She’ll still appreciate it.”
“I just need to know,” she said after another pause, “how is your Japanese still?”
“Oh boy. Shoko’s English still isn’t that much better than it was in 2002.”
“We’ll figure something out, I guess,” he said, shaking his head.
Just then, Pom grabbed his arm and pulled him close to her, startling him. She laughed as he stumbled forward, having to grab onto a trashcan to catch his balance.
“I’m not here to work through your shit though, gaijin,” she said with a playful giggle one might find from a student, not a teacher. “I wanna see Vegas with my friend. You owe me from your little stunt trip a few months ago.”
The color returned to his face. A night out would be nice, even if he was drying out for a bit.
“You know, I’m not drinking right now, right?”
“Do I look like I give a shit? I came here to spend time with Tom the Luchador, not Jose Cuervo.”
“Okay then, let me call my buddy Timo. See if he wants to come along. I know I just talked to him like a half-hour ago, but that was, more business.
Pom smirked. “Oh yeah? You two doing NFTs or some shit?”
The old luchador recoiled in exaggerated horror.
“Oh god no, you’ll find me dead in the ground before I get in on that shit,” he replied. “No, more like mentorship stuff. With him and Ria. I really think he can get her over the hump.”
“You could too, you know,” she interjected.
“I’m not a teacher and you know it, Pom,” he said with a laugh that betrayed a little cold self-loathing still remaining like the tuna noodle casserole leftovers that go uneaten for a month before mom can bring herself to throw them away. He continued, “but Timo, he knows people at this teppanyaki steakhouse downtown. It’s not too far from here.”
“Call your friend, but you really want to take your Japanese friend to a fucking teppanyaki place while she’s trying to experience something other than the norm?”
“Good call. Timo will love you. How about we head down to the Rio and check out Guy’s Mexican joint down there?”
“Guy? As in Guy Fieri? Oh my god, do you think he’ll be there?” she asked with the excitement of a teenage girl in 1964 who just found out her parents got her tickets to see the Beatles for the first time.
“I hope so,” he replied. “I’ve been wanting to meet him too. Maybe now since I’m Mr. Bigshot Pro Wrestler, I can get us in front of him.”
Pom laughed Tom did his best peacocking in front of her.
Their night out was great. Timo did the Siva Tau for Pom in the parking lot. They didn’t see Guy Fieri, and trust me, they tried. The old luchador even flashed his new hardware, but no one at the restaurant really cared. PRIME is back, but it’s not back back yet. Still, Timo and Tom got a picture with Wayne Newton, and Pom kept bugging the server to keep bringing her Donkey Sauce. They went out to karaoke afterwards, and Timo sent grainy video of himself singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” that Pom recorded to El Temblor. All in all, it was a salve from the pain of a deathmatch or watching a deathmatch or having nothing to do with a deathmatch but having to referee a title match and the contest that would decide who was getting the winner of said match a few shows down the line. Timo revved the engine on his brand new cobalt blue Ford Raptor pickup truck. Pom and Tom rode back to the MGM Grand and departed for the night, each to their own rooms. Pom went right to bed.
The old luchador couldn’t.
A whole quarter of lapsed sleep and awful headspace prepared him for a single moment in time, something that was literally 20 years late. Better late than never? That wasn’t up for him to decide. Years of being a pro wrestler might leave the impression that might always equaled right on those with wills and consciences developed as punily and haphazardly on the sardonic and verbose fans on Twitter critiquing wrestlers with every other missive sent on social media. Consent might as well have been a word translated from the ancient Sumerian with no inkling as to what it might mean. Fuck others, right? The man who called himself the Son of the Shogun at the heights of his psychosis-fueled delusion always had one internal feeling stronger than whatever took him at the moment – guilt. Call it a byproduct of a Catholic upbringing. Call it years of being humbled at the absolute worst moments. Either way, even 20 mg daily of Lexapro can’t tame the insatiable need to make things right at times. It was 7 PM in Tokyo on a Saturday night. Maybe he’d catch her at the right time, in the locker room rather than while she was in the ring, or out to dinner, or doing whatever 40-year-old-or-so wrestling industry survivors among the joshi in Japan did at that hour.
“Kon’nichiwa,” answered the voice on the other side of the call.
“Hi, Shoko? Is this Shoko Nabigata?”
There was a pregnant pause, one that seemed like it lasted the entirety of recorded human history.
“Yes. Shoko here. Who this?”
“Uh, I don’t know if you remember me.” He tried playing it off coyly. For a guy who only met his wife because she was already a wrestling fan who recognized him on A1E television and had little to no luck with women without that claim to fame? Yeah, his skills with playing coy with anyone were dogshit.
“It’s Tom. Jerichoholic Anonymous from years ago? Uh…”
“Oh.” Her voice paused. He didn’t think it appropriate to say much else until she said more than that.
“Uh, hello? Uh, it been long time…”
“Yeah, too long.” Pause. “Listen, there’s something I have to say, and I know it’s way later than it should have been…”
Another long silence. He didn’t know how to broach the topic without being blunt, but that was the only way he thought he could move forward.
“I really fucked up, Shoko. I don’t know how to put it.”
“It okay. I listen. Say what you need to say.”
Another pause. A deep breath. “Here goes nothing,” he thought to himself.
“That match, at Korakuen. All those years ago. Uh, I didn’t see the whole picture. I thought you hurt Pom intentionally, and I got real, real mad. I didn’t respect you, and so I tried to take an eye for the eye you didn’t mean to take.”
He was rambling. He knew it.
“But I’m just padding this. I tried to hurt you. I would have succeeded too had it not been for Dragon. And I know not landing it doesn’t make it better. I had malice in my heart then, and I made it worse by not coming to you sooner and apologizing. I really, really fucked up. And I’m sorry for it. Sorry for all of it. Sorry for making you feel like you couldn’t be safe around me. Sorry for being just this fucked up presence in the life of someone you loved. I’m sorry for not treating you like a human being. And you deserve to be treated like one.”
He broke down a little bit. Tears rolled down his face. Perhaps it was the late hour and the delirium of blood loss and lack of sleep. Maybe it was the gravity of the situation. Maybe it was everything. It wasn’t enough for Shoko to know he was crying on the other end of the phone. He was glad for that. He didn’t want her to think it was an act. Lord knows growing up around people with “bullshit detectors” on all the time, or in locker rooms where people had every intention of discrediting you so they could push you out of matches you may or may not have deserved has a way of warping a man’s sense of emotion. A person born with a dick already has immense societal pressure to hide away their feelings thanks to the arcane and toxic ideals of what a “man” should act like anyway.
“Tom… it okay,” she said pensively. “I learn to live with it long time ago. It hard. What you call it… malice? Hard to shake.”
“It’s not okay…” he tried to interrupt.
“No, I had to move on,” she came back in. “But that no mean I don’t, how you say, kansha…”
His Japanese was still rusty. He had to look up what it meant on a laptop in front of him. “Appreciate.”
She continued, “I glad you call though. Thought counts, you know?”
“Yeah,” he replied, “I’m glad you were able to move on, but, I still don’t think what I did was right. Waiting that long.”
“No, it not,” she replied, “But can’t look back. Have to look forward. Do right.”
“Yeah… do right…”
It was the same spiel he himself gave to Ria after Balaam chokeslammed them halfway to Mictlan. Can’t change the past. Must look ahead. He was so easy to spout this to others, but he rarely took his own advice. Hypocrisy isn’t the crime academics and message board trolls might lead you to believe it is, but it still never feels comfortable when worn so transparently. The weight felt globe-sized, and he wasn’t sure if he was Atlas or just another jabroni in that moment. He trailed off into a momentary silence.
“Tom, arigato. You be… ok? Is that how you say?”
He chuckled. “It’s fine, Shoko. You be ok too. I’m rooting for you.”
They ended the call. The old luchador collapsed into his bed, removing only his shoes using his feet to jimmy them off at the heel. Flipping the pages on his phone, he found the airline app and made some last-minute bookings. After that, the phone might as well have been a football and the floor Randy Moss. He slinked down, head onto his pillow and stared at the beautiful, finished ceiling in his suite. Sleep didn’t wait long to take him. The sandman, it turns out, missed his old friend for the last few months.
The next day, he woke up to the knock on his suite door at around 11. Pom finally slept off whatever she drank last night, imbibing for her and for her friend and for Timo, who as fun as he can be never drinks and drives, be it his prized Trans-Am down to the AMC Gremlin he bought on a dare and refurbished to give it performance on the level of a mid-size luxury sedan.
“Hey, Champ! I’m ready to hit up a buffet!”
“I’m still wearing my clothes from last night, jeez,” he said, taking off his khakis hurriedly.
Pom was a lot of things. Patient wasn’t quite one of them. He opened his suite door in his underwear and his shirt from last night.
“I hope my wife doesn’t find out you were in here while I was getting changed,” he said playfully as he threw his shirt off, entered the bathroom, and shut the door.
“As if! She knows you’re not my type anyway, even if I did like men.”
“Oh yeah,” he shouted from behind the thick bathroom door. “And why’s that?”
“You’re a jackass, duh. You even admitted it last night,” she said, playing with the picture of Fray Tormenta that was laying haphazardly on the desk in front of the possibly magic mirror. “I thought you were much neater than this anyway! It looks like it got hit with a typhoon.”
“I’ve had a rough couple of months, okay?” His voice was straining to reach over the sound barrier of the door and the shower he had just put on at scalding hot temperatures. “I’ll just have housekeeping do a once over while I’m back home.”
“Back home? When are you going back?”
He turned the water off on the shower and cracked the door. Steam billowed out as if Dusk were also in there with one of his smoke machines.
“Today,” he said, matter of fact. “In fact, I bought three tickets.”
“Yeah, one for me, one for Mikey, and one for you if you’d come back,” he said while shimmying his towel on his butt, trying to dry the hardest-to-reach places behind him. He’d gotten close to peak fighting shape, but years of disuse left a lot of work to be done on a dad bod of his proportions, one not even four months of jogging with Mikey could fix.
“You already spent enough money on me, gaijin,” she said, chuckling.
He stuck his hand out of the bathroom.
“Can you hand me my underwear? Top left drawer,” he asked. “And I have it. Money’s no good if it just sits in an account in the Cayman Islands. Besides, Tam wants to see you too. And you wanted to meet the kids. And I’ve spent way too much time here in the last few months and not enough time with the people I care most about.”
He emerged from the bathroom, towel draped over his shoulders, still slightly damp from a haphazard rush job on the drying.
“And even though it’s been years, I still care about you.”
Pom smiled as she shook her head exaggeratedly.
“You don’t wear earnest well, Thomas-san.”
“What, I’m just telling the truth.”
“Well,” Pom continued, “Shoko wasn’t last night.”
He turned around so fast he nearly hit his head on the towel rack.
“What do you mean?”
“She called me,” she said, “Told me you called her. Gave me the run down. She lied to you, not about forgiveness or whatever. She was glad you called. Meant a lot.”
“So what did she lie about?”
“That she got over it,” Pom said. “She didn’t say it outright. I can tell when she’s lying. Even over the phone. You don’t spend 15 years with someone and not pick up a few things unless you’re a real lazy jerk, you know.”
“Well, I wouldn’t blame her,” he said, hopping on one foot trying to put his shorts on. “It took me 20 years to get over it, and I was the one who was in a position to do grievous violence to someone.”
Pom burst out laughing. “I’m sorry, I can’t take you seriously when you’re talking about ‘grievous violence’ while doing a whole Jack Harmen routine trying to dress yourself.”
He threw on a t-shirt over his head, masking the mega eye-roll he just gave his old friend. The t-shirt was one of those custom jobs he likes to wear from time to time, this one saying “JON RHINE MUD PIT CHAMPIONSHIP EST. 2022.”
“Why are you telling me this?” he asked.
“I thought you might like to know your actions can have positive consequences,” she replied, now rooting through his fridge looking for a drink. “You son of a bitch, you really are going dry?”
“I didn’t do it to make a big show,” he said, putting on some shoes. “Like, the only reason you know is I asked you for Shoko’s contact info. Timo doesn’t know. Neither do Ria or Mikey or even Tam, and I tell her everything.”
“Oh, I know,” she replied. “But you forget that I watch you every other week. Hell, the students do too. You said you hated yourself on more than one occasion. I saw it in your eyes, Anglo Luchador.”
He nearly fell over dead in his chair at her using his gimmick name.
“You’re not the monster you think you are,” she continued. “I thought you should know that. Even if someone shouldn’t have to tell it to you for validation.”
He shook his head and sighed.
“I don’t even want to talk about it anymore,” he said. “What would Shoko think if you were blabbing to me?”
“I don’t care anymore, to be honest,” she replied, playfully as ever, “She’s not the one in crisis. She also didn’t fly me halfway across the world to watch a bat flip and sing karaoke.”
“Oh,” he replied, letting out a big guffaw simultaneously, “So now you’re amenable to bribes?”
“You jackass,” she said, slapping him across the shoulder again. He once again sold it like a gunshot. “Why do you never hit me back anyway? It’s not like I’m some dainty flower.”
“Oh, I remember the Shogun Warfare Tournament Final like it was yesterday. I know about what you can take.” He looked at his friend’s eyepatch, lingering there. “It’s just my natural tendency is to attack from the left side. You wouldn’t be able to see it coming. I’d like to think I fight fair.”
She laughed as she shoved him out the suite door.
The flight back to Philly was uneventful except for Mikey’s snoring. Like every Battaglia man, he had sleep apnea. Like every Battaglia man NOT named Tom, he was in denial about it. Tom bought in-flight wi-fi and watched the entire series of I Think You Should Leave twice in the time it took to get from Philly to Vegas. He particularly thought it funny that his old pal Torment scored a bit role as Mike “The Rock” Davis. Lindsay Troy never let him live down the fact that he gave the guy the unfortunate “CAPTAIN CAPSLOCK” nickname for his propensity to scream all his interviews, but Tom got to know him over the years. He was a pretty decent guy for being terminally loud and incredibly swole. Pom kept bugging the flight attendants to get her a drink that wasn’t flat soda or shitty coffee. The refrain of “Ma’am, we stopped serving liquor on domestic flights last year” did not go over well with her.
Tom and Pom got back to the Luchador Estate in Malvern. Both Vincenzo and Lorenzo were quite interested in her at first until she started going “psychotic doting auntie” on their asses within seconds of walking in the door. Her interrogation of the boys could only be interrupted by Tamara pulling her away to do some catching up between girlfriends. The old lucha-dad sat down on his comfy sectional and threw his head back. It felt like a second – time flies when you get old – but an hour in repose gave the wife and the tag partner the crazy idea to head into Exton and catch up over chips, salsa, and margs at On the Border. To Tom, it was an affront to his adopted culture. To Pom, it was something different. Tam was mostly unpretentious about where she ate anyway, as long as Edwards wasn’t there.
Edwards. Only less odious than Chet Fleetwood because he’s not an active part of ANY of these stories.
By this time, Vincenzo had filtered out the door to go shoot hoops. Lorenzo went over a friend’s house to do… whatever it is kids do these days. He was alone, like he’d been for a good part of the time between Culture Shock and the Great American Nightmare. It was a different kind of alone though. Peaceful. Serene. Comfortable. He stood up and moseyed into his kitchen, the same kitchen where he’d had a conversation with Dr. Raptor, Jr. He wondered where in Tlalocan the good Doc was making his rounds this time. He wandered over to a cabinet, stocked with all kinds of bottles of adult treats. It was a bottle of mezcal, the same one from that rare distillery in Oaxaca that he nursed after ReVival 9.
He brought it to the sink with ill-intent, not for him, but for the liquor. Pausing to let the solitude sink in, he had an epiphany. Placing the bottle down on the counter, he swiveled in one motion to the cabinet to his left and grabbed the first cup he could find, a tumbler with the Philadelphia Flyers’ 2018-19 schedule on it. The matte plastic design peeled off it, but the look of the cup didn’t matter. He poured a finger into it and took a long but shallow sip, letting the distillate of the maguey cactus linger on his tongue. The vibes washed over his brain like the soft and calm waves on the beaches of Cancun, leaving foamy trails on the smooth sand. No hurricane lingered offshore, causing the waves to inflict violence on the innocent sandcastles being built by otherwise naïve children under the Yucatan sun.
He took another sip, and another, until the volume he poured was all in his stomach. It felt different than every drink he’d taken after a wrestling match in the last 20 years. His demeanor felt like it beckoned even further to the past, where he drank with the boys, or with Pom, or with whatever woman approached him after the show to try and get some of that semifamous dick. The weight had dissipated. He no longer had to use alcohol like they were bricks, sealing up the Fortunato that was his repressed memories of attempted aggravated assault. He could drink it the way Montresor imbibed his amontillado, no ulterior utility, no deliberate murder of his own brain cells. He placed the tumbler in the dishwasher, put the bottle back in the liquor cabinet, and ambled back to his sectional couch. He stood victorious in one battle that had dogged him for two decades.
Yeah, the war against Hoyt and Balaam loomed larger in the background. The Intense Championship painted a bullseye on his back. He knew people would come for him with light tubes and chairs and C4. Larry Tact. Ria Nightshade. Any number of degenerate brawlers who might come after him. Either way, he was better equipped to fight them now that he finally tied up loose ends that had been tripping him for far too long.