I’m in the minority here, but for my money, the greatest comedic duo in film history isn’t Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello - it’s Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. More specifically, their second collaboration hits me right in the feels: The Odd Couple.
Me and Cally are something of an odd couple, ourselves. Without her, I wouldn’t be pumped up for the next match, energized by a win, or disheartened by a loss. I would probably take the match, work my ass off, and move on to the next mission.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a bit of a lonely life.
Cally is all about enjoying the little things.
A dandelion growing out of a sidewalk crack. Getting extra marshmallows in your hot chocolate by accident. Having someone you like and respect retweet you.
The little things.
Sure, if I wasn’t there Cally’s life would likely be an endless river of bartending and going to gigs and bartending and going to gigs. She’d be happy, but she’d be doing the same thing every night of her life. Because we met back in high school, she’s on the road with me when I wrestle and working a day job (or a night job, as the case may be) is a choice - and this reality isn’t something she takes lightly.
And if Cally wasn’t in my life I’d be a mechanical wizard in the ring. I’d be winning at probably the same rate, but completely unable to enjoy it. Or any of the side benefits of traveling for a living.
I wouldn’t have found that beignet cart in New Orleans that also happens to serve the best cup of coffee in the world.
Trust me, I’ve been all over.
I wouldn’t be able to call the Harper family out in New Mexico dear friends - nor would she and I be godparents to their youngest.
More than anything, I wouldn’t have had the mental toughness to say ‘Forget this’ when things went bad. Without Cally, I’d probably still be sitting in the New Frontier, maybe the World Champion again, maybe not, but playing second fiddle to a group of politicians.
Life’s too short for that.
Of course, I’d do anything to avoid the drama that goes on in this industry and just get in the ring and wrestle. BAWS man says the CWF is filled with drama. Mariella says the CWF has a good heart but needs guidance.
It’s a catch-22. Mariella loves the place, BAWSman doesn’t. I like and respect both of them and value their opinions.
On another level, though - it doesn’t matter.
I have a mission.
(Fade in. No frills or extras. Just a white word on a black background that says ‘Introduction’.)
(Yeah, just like that. Ready? Go.)
I wrestled my first televised match on pay-per-view, about a week before I turned eighteen. It was the dark match for the FWO’s Countdown to Oblivion 2003, but they included it on the DVD so I’m counting it as my debut.
(Does the pre-show for a pay-per-view count as television? Again, I’m counting it.)
The point is, every paycheck I’ve ever received since I hit voting age has been for professional wrestling. This sport is in my blood, and the competition is what drives me forward.
(Good lord, could I be any more generic?)
I’m a wrestler before anything else, so of course, the first company to which I signed a contract… was a place called New Frontier Wrestling.
(Rest in pieces, New Frontier.)
A bit of history… the place was built as an alternative to the bloated mess that professional wrestling had become at the turn of the century; this place was intentionally smaller, stripped down from the arena shows that had become the norm, and featured my favorite thing about this sport: a four-sided ring and two athletes looking for a place to prove who was better.
Then the Ultratitle happened, and it all went to hell.
(I could fill hours of tape with the psychology of the New Frontier, but I’ll be brief.)
Two seasons of tournament wrestling to crown an ultimate winner. Two seasons that included a man somehow getting involved in what became the first ever three-way marriage between himself, his opponent, and his opponent’s intended wife. The shocking conclusion to their grudge match with his confession that he was pregnant, and then suffered a miscarriage.
(Let that sink in. I’ll wait.)
(I can’t air quote hard enough.)
That ended up as a six foot five, three hundred and fifty pound man painted purple and calling himself Kooter.
And that somehow didn’t end up being the most ridiculous thing about the company.
(Don’t talk about the Dildonites. Don’t talk about the Dildonites.)
The crown jewel - the greatest draw of the New Frontier, 3.0 - was a fat man with a skidmark down his entire shirt, obviously named Joe the Plumber.
(A moment of silence for the BOUSE.)
Now, those of you who don’t know would ask the obvious - why would I, a self - admitted no-nonsense wrestler - put up with all of the ridiculousness?
(And I smirk.)
Those of you who know… you know.
The Wrestling Revolucion.
New Frontier’s owners made a conscious decision to cut through the fat and bring wrestling back to their ring. And it worked.
For a time… dear lord, did it work. I won’t bore the CWF audience with a list of names that they might not recognize or remember, but suffice to say, their Wrestling Revolucion World Champions included both myself and fellow Modern Warfare combatant Dan Ryan.
(Show up, Ego Buster… don’t embarrass me now.)
As with everything, the good times in the New Frontier went away in a disappointing and pitiful way, but the owners did leave me with the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned in this sport.
Never bet on, or against, a professional.
Static jump cut. Or a screen wipe, if you want. We’re in the apartment, some days before Frozen Over, packing for an extended trip. Normally, if there’s more than two or three days between matches we’ll just come home - but with TSA a mess because of the shutdown, on top of the mess that LaGuardia usually is… No thank you.
“The lambs are gonna be so lost,” says Cally. “I’mma come back and all my cheese is gonna be moved.”
I laughed. Her ‘lambs’ are the girls who work under her at the bar. We haven’t been on the road for a full tour of anything in years; Cally has gotten used to being reachable.
They’ll survive, I told her. Besides, we lived in New Orleans for almost a year and nothing burned down.
“That was different,” says Cally.
How, I asked.
“It just was.”
Right, I said with a chuckle. Don’t overpack, but this is gonna be the frozen Midwest and the frozen Pacific Northwest. It’s gonna be cold.
“Like, how cold?”
That’s a good question. I thought about it for a second.
Like, Angel’s cheeks will actually have color when we see them in Omaha, I said.
“Wow. Point taken, good sir.”
And with that, the purple Docs go into the bag.
“So what’s this thing about, again? Winner gets a World Title shot? Winner gets the big gold belt?” asks Cally, as her eyes glimpse the glossy promo packet that arrived yesterday.
Sort of, I said. The tournament is a tournament in and of itself, but the World Champion is in it, and defending the belt every round.
I took the packet from her and opened it up, showing her the brackets.
See, right here, I said. Loki Synn is in our bracket, so assuming we make it to the third round, we’d have our World Title match there and if I won, I’d keep on going until I lost. And if Loki loses her title at Frozen Over…
I went silent, scanning the first round brackets.
...Okay, so both Shadow and Jarvis King are in the other half of our brackets, so we wouldn’t get a World Title match until the semi-finals.
My eyes meet Cally’s, as she considers this.
“What happens if the champion gets themselves disqualified or counted out?”
And I paused.
That’s a good question, I said.
She smirks, and she winks at me.
“That’s why I’m here,” says Cally, looking back at the promo. Suddenly, she stifles a laugh.
“Azrael?” she asks, continuing to laugh. “Why do they have you wrestling Gargamel’s cat? You clearly not a smurf, unless you lead a double life inside a mushroom house.”
Again, I paused.
Then I smiled, and I kissed her forehead. I love your face, I said to her.
(Transition. You can tell by the white word on black text again.)
(It’s a bit of a grainy picture, with a lot of shakiness. I’m filming on my phone in a deluxe sleeper car on Amtrak. Cally and I are settling in; she’s in her pajamas and texting her mom, while I’m just documenting the things.)
(And there’s a beep. I check my notifications.)
Hey. Hey, Rosie - they’ve flipped my first round opponent.
(She glances up at me but keeps her attention on her phone.)
“What happened, did Azrael get into another fight with Batman?”
Doesn’t say; but they’ve moved one of the guys from Danno’s four way in: some dude named Jace LeRose.
“Oh my god.”
(The reaction surprises me.)
What, you’ve heard of him?
(Cally puts her phone down and gets up to her knees.)
“Yeah, wasn’t he in that My Immortal abortion of a fan fiction?”
(I start to laugh, but she’s just warming up.)
“Seriously; Jace LeRose is the most tragically emo name of all time. He couldn’t be more extra if his name was Emo Emoson.”
Oh man, you’re not gonna let this go, are you?
(She holds up her hand.)
“Wait, wait. Jace LeRose. It’s probably contractually mandated that he spends up to forty percent of his payoffs on guyliner and product. And he doesn’t even need the product, when he goes into his salon and says his name is Jace LeRose, his tips automatically frost and it grows like vines right into his eyes.”
Keep it up, you’re on a roll.
(Cally stands up on the bed and puts her hands on the ceiling to steady herself on the mattress.)
“Hello world, I’m Jace LeRose! I like long walks in the rain, writing poetry to my cat, and referring to the girls I date as my ‘consorts.’”
(The camera is literally shaking as I’m laughing so hard, and Cally drops to her knees. But she holds up one finger to keep my attention.)
“One more, one more. So the publishers get the Twilight chick’s manuscript, and they’re all ‘The shirtless werewolves are cool, the sparkly vampires are fine… but you can’t name that guy Jace LeRose… we can only suspend so much disbelief.’”
(And with that, I drop the phone. We’re both laughing, but Cally’s not done yet.)
“Thank you, Seattle - we’ll be here all week.”
(There’s a soft glow of a night light as the view shows Cally again, but this time she’s asleep. And she’s not the focal point of the image. I’ve got her in the lower right hand corner, but most of my shot is of the train compartment.)
“Here’s the deal, Jace.”
“Confidence is a good thing. Arrogance is not.”
(I pause, and let it sink in.)
“I’ve looked over what I can to get a sense of who you are, and I gotta tell you… you make me sad.”
“You’re telling the CWF a story of how you met ‘your girlfriend,’ but so far it’s been a string of disappointing one night stands, one of which you broke off because someone told you that you should.”
“You bring a camera operator without a voice into your palatial mansion to show off all your stuff… and I didn’t see a single sign that you’ve got anyone to share it with.”
(Cally takes a deep breath in her sleep.)
“I’m a three-time World Champion and I live in a two bedroom apartment in Washington Heights. I don’t own a car, let alone three.”
“And I’m happier and more content than you’ll ever be.”
(I pause, and let that sink in.)
“So for your sake, I sort’a hope you win this match, Jace. I lose? I go back to my two bedroom apartment with the woman I love and never think about you or this match again, and I’ve got the freedom to work or never work again.”
(I hope you’re ready for this.)
“I’d imagine the upkeep alone on your gigantic house and multiple cars and pool and all your fancy threads pretty much keep you a slave to the grind, huh? Nikki Sixx was on record as saying that at the height of Motley Crue’s success in the late 80s, early 90s - it cost him forty thousand dollars a month just to live his life.”
“And that was nearly thirty years ago. Inflation can be a bitch.”
“You lose? The world you’ve built around yourself, with you as the star… collapses. You can't make your payments, and everything's repossessed. Because you've clearly built your life around the owning and getting of stuff. Because you clearly have nothing but superficiality and a thin coating of Axe Body Spray to mask your ghetto-rich-on-steroids lifestyle.”
“But your stuff, Jace? It doesn’t impress. It makes me realize that you don’t enjoy it nearly as much as you want people to know you have it.”
(If a Jace is crying in the front seat of a Lambo and there’s nobody else in the house to hear him, could his tears still stain the leather?)
“The problem I’ve got, Jace, is that you’re the worst kind of professional athlete: the type that thinks the world owes you something.”
(Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.)
“I try my damnedest to respect every opponent I get into the ring with, but you make it difficult, Jace. Your attitude makes it harder for me and athletes like me to change peoples’ perceptions about what this sport can be.”
(Between Jace and the Dildonites, I’ll take the Dildonites.)
“Worse than that, you disrespect a sport that I love. And you’re in dire need of an adjustment.”
(I smiled, but you obvs can’t see me.)
“The messenger is not important, Jace… but I hope you get the message.”
(And I clicked off the light.)
“Because the next time you try to be the peacock… I guarantee you it’ll be against someone with far less patience than me, and far more incentive to mess up that pretty face.”
(And we’re done.)