“You know the cure for cancer, right?”
“… Tacos, Cally?”
“Tacos! Comer todos los TACOS!”
I’m the second youngest person in this train car, but I am definitely the chaperone. We’re taking a trip from Val’s home in the Bronx down to Manhattan for tacos and drinks at La Contenta in the Village. It’s an errand of love for the girls across the car from me.
There’s Lori Ann. LA was a punk that would put Judy or Sheena to shame. Already a veteran bartender when TC’s opened, she was probably the biggest reason why the place drew in the music crowd and artsy types along with the wrestling fans who thought ‘a bar that Eli Flair and Poison Ivy owns’ would be a gimmicky kind of place. Now she’s grown in her mohawk, replaced her bigass heavy boots for lightweight, stylish… boots… and has left her three kids at home with their father for a night out with the girls. LA has grown up quite a bit.
There’s Valerie. She looks gaunt. Underweight, with a limp head of hair and sunken eyes. Almost nothing like the woman I met eighteen years ago at the TC’s Pub grand opening. As frail as she appears, I still wouldn’t sass her back if she was pouring me a drink. I still wouldn’t try to corner her in a dark alley. Her smile is still the same, however – warm and inviting and lights up a room.
Or a subway car.
The brain tumor is shrinking with chemotherapy, enough for her to have an occasional excursion. And with Rosie and I in town, it seemed the perfect excuse.
“Taco, taco man,” sings Rose. “I wanna eat the Taco Man…”
“Don’t tempt me, babe,” says LA in between laughing fits. “It’s been a minute since my husband and I had a night alone.”
“Give the kids tacos and you’ll have all the time in the world,” says Rosie. Simple, right?
There’s my girl, my person, my Rosalyn Callasantos. McGinnis hired two excellent bartenders to get her business going, and then this seventeen year old scared – as – hell little kid who was twenty minutes out of high school and had no idea what to do with her life.
I wasn’t much better. I knew what I wanted to do but had no idea how to get there. But I got there. Here. I got here.
And she got where she got. Rosie was their apprentice, but quickly became their boss. All three of these women have matured from wild youth to varying-degrees-of-responsible adults, but their interactions, energy, and lust for life don’t appear to have aged a day.
“Hey Randall,” says LA, “How’s the wrestlefights going?”
“Oh, he’s got this next one,” replies Rosie. “There’s a homeboy in a mask, he’s a nice boy and he’s funny and whatnot, but RK’s wrestled him before a few times and he beat him pretty easy.”
Well, I said.
Rose raises an eyebrow. “Wait. I feel like you’ve wrestled some guy in a fruit costume in Albany and you won pretty handily. Am I wrong? Did I time warp? What even is real?”
The girls all turned their stares to me.
Believe it or not, I said, that was a different guy in a mask and a fruit outfit. You’re probably thinking of Melon Balls in the Capitol Carnage Invitational. I’m sure he was trying to bait and switch, but it wasn’t Kay-Bee-Bee.
When you spend several years as an unsigned wrestler, appearing exclusively in tournaments and one-off events, you meet all kinds. The good, the bad, and the woefully uncreative.
“Okay, but I swear we’ve seen King Blueberry before,” insists Rose. “And not here. But he looked different.”
Our guy, the King Blueberry in PRIME, he’s the original guy, I explained. The other guys, they were using the name, they were wearing a copy of the gear, but none of them were Jared Sykes. .
“OH,” says Rosie, and she waits a beat. “Gosh… can they… do that?”
They can, I told her. Me and Sykes have only squared off once, and I squeaked out a win by the skin of my teeth, and that was a dozen years ago. Most of the masked wrestlers you see have to deal with that kind of bait and switch. Remember when Jack Harmen put the Impulse mask on to mess with us?
“Fargin sneaky bastich,” says Cally. “I’m glad we have the real deal.”
Same, I told her. Same.
My mentor was an octogenarian who saw all of professional wrestling from between the ropes. When he started his career, all that mattered was what happened in the ring. Wrestling talent was the most important part of any career.
Times change. Faces, promotions, and priorities change. You still need the wrestling talent to win your matches, but you get your opportunities by getting the fans behind you. You get the opportunity when the fans want to see you get the opportunity.
How do I do that, I asked Terry Cooper, with my dumbass fifteen year old mentality.
“Simple, kid,” he told me, with that gravelly voice you earn from sixty years of cigars, whiskey, and red meat, “Ya make ‘em laugh, or ya make ‘em speechless.”
That? That blew my mind, and I dismissed it out of hand. Obviously, I was going to be the greatest wrestler in the world, and that would be all I needed. I was young and I knew everything, so of course I did.
Now that I’m old and dumb, I finally have enough perspective to see his wisdom.
Make ‘em laugh, or make ‘em speechless.
One outta two on my best day is gonna have to be enough.
“Still need a few minutes?” asks the waitress, looking the four of us over. I’ll be honest, we’ve barely looked at the menu. Two pitchers of margaritas, tableside guacamole with fresh tortilla chips and a massive bowl of queso blend, the conversations have been flowing far faster than the decision over the rest of the meal.
“Tacos,” says Rosie. “I need, like, six tacos right here,” pointing at her table setting. “And then Camarones Mazatlàn, please and thank you.”
“That’s a lot of food,” says Val.
“Balderdash,” replies Rosie, waving her hand and sipping her drink. “The bottomless pit ain’t gone away just because we’re older.”
“If I’m reading this right, the Mole Verde is vegetarian?” asks Val. The waitress nods, and Valerie returns the nod.
“Just a salad please,” says Loriann.
“Oh, pish posh!” calls out Rose. “We’re getting tacos, you should eat tacos!”
Three sets of eyes landed on the only person trying to be good and eat responsibly. I’m sorry LA, but we didn’t come here to eat responsibly.
“Fine” says Loriann after realizing she is fighting a losing battle. “I’ll have the hangar steak. Rare. And a Tecate.”
Short ribs, I said, trying to keep it simple. The waitress nodded, finished writing, and moved on to her next table.
“So what’s it like being a legit celebrity?” asks Loriann. “We turn on PRIME to support Randall, and we see your name on so many signs!”
No, she wasn’t talking about me. And it’s definitely worth being the fourth most important person at this table to see Rosie’s eyes dance.
“I dunno,” she says, actually embarrassed, I think. “I’m just there to support RK, but I can’t be one of those girls who stands there and smiles and communicates with blinks. There’s none of that codswallop in PRIME, thankfully, but I’m gonna talk to the folks that hang out, and I’m gonna just be me about it.”
“In a killer wardrobe,” says Val. “I loved that floral print skirt you wore like two weeks ago, and I was gonna ask you to borrow it but I think it’d hang like a nightgown on me.”
“Bite your tongue, missy,” says Cally. “I got that at a second hand store out west, you’ll just have to come visit and we’ll go thrifting.”
“Randall, you look a lot less bored than my husband would,” says Loriann. “He would’ve come out tonight to keep you company, but we couldn’t find a sitter.”
Don’t worry about me, I told her. I’m enjoying the in-flight.
“He’s a good egg,” says Rosie, taking my hand. “I am lucky smol fae.”
“Didn’t I tell you back in the day?” asks Val, looking at Loriann, “These two are gonna take over the world.”
Narf, I said.
“Narf indeed,” agrees Cally.
In truth, I’m having a wonderful time out on this girls’ night. But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that my motivation was actually seeing how happy Rose is right now. Eighteen years ago she idolized these two women. She spent all her money filling her wardrobe with goth/punk clothes like LA’s. Dying her hair strange mixes of color like Val. Adopting their speaking habits and idiosyncrasies in the most direct example of ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ I’ve ever seen.
They never treated her like a burden or a hanger – on, and I think that more than anything else gave her the confidence to eschew all preconceived notions of what it meant to be a woman serving drinks in a metal dive bar and just let herself blossom.
She entered into these relationships with a certain amount of naivete and hero worship, and it’s heartening to see them today, a good twelve years since the last time they all worked a shift, with an appropriate amount of real world experience that’s left them wiser but not pessimistic.
“Oh my God, do you remember when Vext tried to tell Cally that he was more famous than her, so she needed to serve his drinks and shut her mouth?”
Wait, what? I had legitimately never heard this one.
Loriann looked at me with the giddiness of a teenager. “Holy crap, Knox, you missed a good one. Dozen Guns had just played their first and last set at TC’s, Vext snapped his fingers at her and she was all ‘You don’t do that shit, you come to the bar and ask for what you want.’”
“I don’t believe I used quite that language,” says Cally, sipping her drink.
“Oh, we remember your language,” said Val, and all three women giggled.
“Anyways,” continues LA, “Vext was like ‘Listen girlie, we’re the stars and you’re the help, so you serve me my drinks and shut your mouth unless it’s to say ‘Yes sir.’ Or to suck my dick.’ Pardon my language, Cally.”
“Rude,” agrees Rose.
“So he says he wants a can of PBR, classy broad that he is,” says Val, “and when Cally slams the can down on the bar and opens it and it foams out, he just looks at her and… Damn, I wish I remembered the exact quote.”
“He asked me, ‘Now what do we say?’” says Rose.
What did you say, I asked, genuinely intrigued.
Rose clears her throat and looks at me. “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”
Valerie and Loriann applaud, while I just look at her, mightily impressed.
LA looks at Val. “I think that was pretty much the moment we were able to tell McGinnis, yeah, the kid is gonna be okay working solo shifts.”
The food starts to arrive, so the conversation dies down quite a bit. I consider myself fortunate to be here for it, however – a fly on the wall in a conversation where I’m the outsider in every conceivable way.
When you’re able to find ways to stay young, a dozen years is a blink of an eye.
Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em speechless.
My opponent made it to the finals of a tag team competition with a mannequin for a partner and a proclivity for forklifts. Two for two in ten words.
He and Reina have earned their gold. To date, I haven’t earned a damn thing.
I wonder what goes on behind the mask, however. Is it liberating, or constricting? The name, King BlueBerry, and some of the antics he’s got up to are reflective of someone with a healthy sense of humor who doesn’t take himself too seriously. It’s inspiring and confusing to see, particularly when I am who I am, someone who has a tendency to take himself a little too seriously.
But I can’t help it, and at the very least, I’m always real.
Does Sykes wish he could take off the costume and be a ‘serious’ wrestler, I say, knowing full well how it sounds. Is he glad that he has the anonymity of a mask so that it’s easier to play a role and easier to say ‘How would this guy in a mask approach this particular obstacle?’ Speaking for myself, it was somewhat liberating to wear a mask during the first two years of my career, knowing I could watch my matches with a critical eye and not be biased towards or against myself because I never had to look at my face.
Of course, I’m speculating. I don’t know him all that well.
Or any of them, really.
But that’s my fault. I don’t really make friends all that well.
I’m not completely hopeless – there’s Tom, he and I seem like we’ve got similar perspectives on the sport and we get on pretty well. And Nova, but he’s more like a combat buddy from another life. And the people that – by all rights – I should be friendly with? Hanlon and I got off on the wrong foot and that might be past saving. The former guy’s been telling lies to try and turn the company against me.
LT? She’s the boss, it’s her job to be professional.
Every other social relationship I’ve got in PRIME right now – from Ria to Timo to Daniels, Rhine, Pax, Shweta and on down the line – is because Rosie can’t help but make friends.
In hindsight, that’s probably what had me most entranced by dinner out with the girls, is that they’re all older and have been through the wringer in one way or another – but it’s like the years melted away as soon as they were together.
Good memories and good times keep you young.
As far as the sport is concerned, my time is running out.
Val looked so much better than she had been, I said, as I pulled a pair of fresh hand towels out of the linen closet.
While Rose and I still maintained our apartment in Washington Heights, these quick trips were an opportunity to visit people back home and so we made a deal that as long as we were welcome, we’d stay with either my mother or hers to make sure we kept the parents in the loop. Since this was a trip with a purpose, it made more sense to stay with Rosie’s mom in the Bronx as opposed to mine in Park Slope.
“Right?” asks Rose. “Zounds, she keeps going the way she is and they’ll be able to operate on the tumor by the end of the year.”
I keep quiet. We had another friend about seven years ago who had brain cancer, the tumor was surgically removed and he has, to date, made a full recovery. Val has a good chance but this isn’t a time for pessimistic realism.
Towels replaced, I walk back to the bedroom and passively begin to scroll through my phone. Hashtag notifications. Jabber notifications. News, weather, and traffic. The sound is off because it’s after 2 AM.
Rosie walks back into the bedroom, picks her skirt up off the floor with her toes (she is very proud of this skill), and tosses it into the laundry basket before climbing up onto the bed and crawling towards me.
It’s sexy, but she’s doing her best to make it look like shes a jungle cat stalking a meal.
“Hey,” she says, getting up in my face and kissing the tip of my nose. “Thanks for hanging out tonight. I know you would’ve had more fun if Lou or Scotty could’ve been there, but we really enjoyed having you as a fourth.”
She settles into my shoulder as I put my phone down and wrap my arm around her.
Luis is trying his best to make it work with Sally, I reminded her, and Scott is a bond trader. We don’t really have anything in common and since the whole point was for the three of you to have a night out, splitting a conversation down the middle wouldn’t have been as much fun. Or worse, awkward silence.
“You could’ve talked about… I dunno,” continues Rosie, trying her hardest. “The fiduciary liquidity of powerbombs?”
When you put it that way it doesn’t sound too enjoyable at all, I said. But I’m good, I enjoyed the time out, and I’m glad you got to see the girls.
“Uh huh” she says, rolling over and resting her chin in the crook of my armpit, staring her big brown eyes at mine.
What? She’s really good at staring into my soul when she has something to say.
“I’m just doing a check-in here,” she says.
Because of what we do, because of the fact that we’ve previously had to spend days, weeks, or months apart, we made a deal that at any time, we could do a “check – in.” What are you doing? What are you thinking? How are you doing? So I asked her, what’s on your mind, babe?
“I’m aware that I’m a social creature that needs to talk to everyone and be in everyone’s business and play the host, no matter where we’re at. And I know that like… ninety nine percent of our social outings since we relocated to Vegas have been my plans or my ideas or my insistence, and I want to make sure you’re okay with that, and that you’re having a rootin’ tootin’ good time for reals and not just because I am.”
It’s a good question.
You know what, I said. I feel like I am missing something. You did your usual ready, fire, aim when it came to jumping back in to the sport’s social structure, and I love you for it. I was a little more cautious because of where things have ended up in the past, and ya know how it goes.
I finally relax a bit, and the former guy starts up his brand of crap, so it’s like… won’t make that mistake again.
But that’s a ‘me’ problem, I assure her. Has nothing to do with you and your social empire, and I would never want you to cut down and don’t begrudge you any of your relationships.
We have a lot of friends, I continue, and you have a lot of friends. But I don’t have that many, and that’s not for anyone to fix except me.
After a few seconds, her intense gaze turns back into the million-watt Cally smile, and she returns to my side. “Good,” she says. “I was worried about you and Mushigihara said that I needed to be gentle and direct, and to make sure you knew that my social butterflyism was my deal that I’m ecstatic can also be our deal, but that you were free to be as open or guarded as you wanted.”
Good, I said. Wait a second…
Mushi said that?
“Well… actually he said OSU~!,” corrected Rose, “but I’m pretty sure I can read between the lines.”
Of course you can, babe.
Of course you can.
Make ‘em laugh. Make ‘em speechless.
Allow me to add one more. Make ‘em tell stories.
Rosie summoning the Old Ones will be something that bartenders are apparently still talking about, years later. Ivy McGinnis’ road rage. Shoot, my two hours in the JTP Invitational are still brought up to me as one of the greatest non-winning Battle Royal performances of all time.
They say your legacy can only grow in this sport as long as you’re around to contribute to that legacy. I’m still hoping to flip the script on that. Being in PRIME, the first wrestling promotion I’ve ever competed in with more than a half decade or so of real history behind it, the history can be overwhelming. And the athletes that are no longer around, whether they’re deserving of respect or revulsion, they’re all spoken about like they’re peers and contemporaries.
That’s how your story lives on. That’s how you remain present, even if you exist in the past.
That’s how you stay forever young.
King Blueberry is already there. Three for three.
Me? Not quite.
But I’ve got a road map, a game plan, and a co-pilot.