Underground Pool: Wound
By James Ham '12 (Graphic Design)
My hair is stuck to the canvas. I wipe my face with my hand. That is a lot of blood. Phil is celebrating, trying to get the crowd into it. There is minimal reaction. Eventually he gives up and leaves the ring, and I wipe my face again. That is still a lot of blood. I didn’t think I had cut that deeply.
I peel myself off of the canvas. People are already getting out of their seats. I check my wrist tapings, make sure the blade is secure and hidden. Most guys just throw the damn thing across the ring after they cut with it. I’m old school. I won’t just ruin the illusion that way.
The bottom rope is soggy as I roll underneath it and my boots touch concrete. I get my legs beneath me, but my back and knees won’t straighten out. I hobble back to the locker room. I wipe the stringy hairs out of my face and look up slightly, showing any of the people left in the building how bloody I am, still trying to tell the story. They slide into brown coats and move the other way.
I push the curtain to the side and enter the locker room. A few of the guys pat me on the back or joke about the stitches I will need. When I finally see myself in the mirror in the bathroom, I decide to not get stitched up. If I go to an ER, it will waste too much time. I’ll get to the next booking later than I want to.
It is a dingy mirror, but I can still tell that I really did cut too deeply. The sink is turning red. It was already dirty. I guess I just couldn’t feel how far I was sticking myself. I wash my hands, wash my face and chest, and wash my hair as best I can. I pull the tube of super glue from my bag and squeeze some into the cut. There is some blood on the tube, so I wipe it off before I put it back in the bag. I just have to change into real clothes.
My car is the only one left in the lot. You get out last when you main-event. Phil didn’t blade during the match, so even he set off before me. I throw my bag into the backseat and get in behind the wheel. The car smells worse than I do. I just want to rest for a minute. I lean my head back. My eyes close softly. I should call Robin. The old maroon seats in this car make the interior very dark, so I fumble trying to find my phone in the backseat. As I dial home, I grip the steering wheel.
“Hi,” she answers.
“Hi,” I say. My knuckles are so white I can see them. She isn’t happy.
“How is the birthday boy?” I ask. “Did he have a good day?”
“What did he get? Did his friends all show up?”
“He liked his presents,” she says.
“Good,” I say.
“Good,” she says. I can’t remember what we bought him. I should remember. I lean my head back and close my eyes.
“You won’t keep doing this to him, Nick,” she says. “I won’t let you do this to either of us.”
“I can’t cancel bookings whenever I want.”
“You shouldn’t book them in the first place.”
“You know that’s not how the business works,” I say. What is the date today? I shouldn’t have called her. It is too late to talk to him anyway; he is in bed by now. I should have called earlier, before the show.
“We won’t be here,” she says. I open my eyes.
“I have to leave for Philly. I’ll call you when I get there,” I say. She says nothing.
“I’ll call you when I get there,” I say. She hangs up.
I pull out of the parking lot and leave this warehouse behind me for another one in Philadelphia. I set some Mötorhead to play and pull onto the highway. Another ring will be set up in that warehouse when I arrive. The sun will probably not be up yet.
Yellow and green lights flood the car at regular intervals as I speed past signs and posts. I can glimpse my phone in the passenger seat every time the car lights up. There are never many cars on the road at this time of night. This traveling is what the existence of a Professional Wrestler truly is.
Most guys pack themselves into one car and all travel together. My first paid match was for ten dollars, before I had a driver’s license. Once I earned my license, I was the designated driver for those cars. I’d have six or seven drunk, stoned or unconscious wrestlers crammed into this very car, and I would be in charge of keeping them all on the road and out of jails or whorehouses. Every night was a new adventure.
That was back when I used to be the first match of the night. To be in a match at all was all I ever wanted back then, even if my only role was to take an ass-kicking. When you’re just breaking into the business, you usually have to act as chaperone, luggage boy, legal guardian and punching bag for the guys who have been around longer.
I haven’t been obligated to chauffer anyone since the first time a promoter decided to make me the heel in a match. He said that, unlike the other young guys, my looks wouldn’t appeal to female fans. He gave me a shot at being the bad guy, and after the match the veterans claimed I was a natural at making the people hate me. I’ve been able to choose who rides with me ever since. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven anyone but myself. I miss his birthday parties. I’ve missed a lot of things; that doesn’t mean I want to.
My back and knees are more stiff than before. I have trouble pulling myself out of the car. I look around the motel parking lot. The other guys have their cars here already. I should grab myself a room. I pack my things into my bag and reach for the phone. Robin always likes for me to call. She always answers, even when it wakes her up.
I hear a familiar laugh from across the street. There is a bar over there, and I see a broad shape silhouetted against the neon orange of the building. I put my bag back into the car, slide the phone into my pocket, and make my way across the road. I know all of the guys will be in here, already drunk.
They are all in here. Phil and his boys have monopolized one half of the room, as usual. The rest of the guys are eating or drinking at the stools. Several of the younger guys tell me what a great match I had. They tell me the crowd was a bad one and that no man on the planet could make those people pop. They tell me I was a great heel tonight, that I timed Phil’s comeback perfectly. They say that any other crowd would have loved how I mixed my stiff mat wrestling with his highflying spots; I’m such a perfect bad guy to complement Phil’s super good guy act.
Phil is snorting something off his table. Now he is demanding more beer. I thank the boys and excuse myself to a table in the corner. I want rum. I never drink a lot. I’ve never once been drunk on tour, or for a match. Phil and I will be main-eventing again tomorrow night. He will drink up until the show. I should think about how we can structure the match better. I never want to send a crowd home unhappy again.
I always like to start the match like a buzzsaw: very fast-paced with lots of impact and strikes. Sting and Ric Flair always used to start their matches that way, and their match at the 1990 Great American Bash is still one of my favorites. I give the face the majority of the offense, and he gets over with the crowd. They get behind him, and I shut his momentum down with a thumb to the eye, a low blow, or some other dirty tactic. Then we play the people like a fiddle; I hit him with big moves until the crowd stops cringing. Then I give him a comeback, and the crowd gets behind him. I shut him down again until they start to expect when he’ll be shut down. Then he gets his big comeback, the face gets fired up, the crowd gets fired up, we trade finishers, he wins. It’s textbook. I must have done something wrong for it not to work.
There is a scuffle over by Phil’s side of the bar. People are shouting, fists are swinging. Phil is fighting a drunk. The drunk’s friends are cheering the fight on. Phil takes the man to the floor with an arm lock. He puts pressure on the poor guy’s elbow and shoulder. The guy is crying. He has a broken arm. Phil isn’t letting go, just applies more pressure. Phil’s boys are daring the drunk’s friends to jump in. Thankfully none of them are dumb enough. Phil’s grey eyes look right at them, and he laughs.
The screams are very loud. The bartender is getting pissed. Phil finally lets go. He thinks this is all hilarious. His boys joke with him. Some people are calling 911 for the poor guy. Phil rubs his own bald head, orders more beer, high-fives one of his boys, and laughs as people try to help the crying man out of the room.
I look at my rum, and then I get up from the table and head for the door. Phil’s red goatee curves into a smile. I need sleep more than I need alcohol. We all do. I walk back across the street outside, keeping my face away from the frenzied white lights of the ambulance. I grab my bag and head into the motel.
Twenty years ago, wrestlers were obligated to send would-be tough guys away in an ambulance, to protect the illusion of the business. That wasn’t the case by the time I started getting challenged; the illusion had already been destroyed.
I get a room and head deeper into the building. Atlas comes down the hallway and stops to talk.
“Let me get you laid tonight, my man,” he chuckles.
“You know me, man. Off to sleep,” I say. I’ve never cheated on Robin. Atlas and his white teeth smile wide. “I know. Get some good sleep, bud. I’ll fuck enough for the both of us.”
“Thanks,” I say. He laughs, pats me on the back, and I find my room.
The door squeals open, olive paint chips fall off the frame, and I leave the lights off. My bag hits the floor. I leave the phone on the nightstand and hit the bed. Every single spring in the mattress digs in. I should call home.
I roll over and turn the phone on. I concentrate on the blue light it gives off. There is only blue in this room right now. I can hear Magnifico stumbling through the hallway outside my door. I set the phone down. The women with him are loud and very drunk.
“I’ve got girls,” he announces to me.
“No thanks,” I say into the dark.
“I got laid in my ring tights,” he slurs. “Atlas has to match that, and I’ll be three fucks up on him tonight.” I look at the phone. Magnifico takes his conquests further down the hallway. I have to perform better tomorrow night.
I think I slept last night. Still I want to close my eyes for a few minutes, and locker room chairs are not conducive to relaxing. Everyone is excited, as always. The locker room is always buzzing before show time. We seem to have drawn a sizable crowd tonight. My share of the gate will be good. I can buy Robin something nice with it.
Atlas and Magnifico are comparing the blowjobs they got last night. I force my kneepads on, then my tights over top of those. I slip last night’s socks on, then the boots, one at a time. Someone from Phil’s little club just pissed on a rookie’s wrestling gear. He calls it initiation. When I bladed for the first time, some of the veterans made me go to a liquor store and buy them beer while I was still covered in blood. That was mine. They would have never pissed on anyone’s ring gear. The rookie’s entire gym bag is an orange puddle.
I lace up my boots. The white strings are grey now, but when they were new they stood out against the black like pearls. My elbow pads always slide on easily. I tape up my wrists for support and make sure a blade is secure within the wrapping. Phil exits the promoter’s office with a cigarette hanging from his lips. At least he is in his gear and looking like a wrestler now. In normal clothes, he looks like an ordinary bar crawler. He has an average and pale build. He looks me in the eyes, but he can’t for very long. Then he joins his boys in the corner of the room.
There is still some time before the show. I look into my bag and spot the phone. Robin must be worried now. I call her whenever I arrive at my next booking and before and after every show. I just look at the phone as it rests in my hands. I should really call her. Maybe I’ll get to talk to him, too. I can wish him a belated happy birthday. I can close my eyes for a few minutes, first.
The promoter storms out of his office and wants to call a locker room meeting. We all join him in the ring, before anyone has been let in. He tells us all that he expects a better show tonight. He wants the crowd to react. He wants us to make that happen. He expects us to make that happen. His speech would probably be more stirring if he had ever been a performer himself. He’s done talking and everyone files back into the locker room.
One of Phil’s boys comes in behind all of us. He just pissed on a rookie’s car door handle. Phil almost drops his cigarette laughing. Magnifico likes handjobs better. I set the phone back into my bag and zip the bag tightly.
The super glue didn’t hold very well. I tried to nick the cut from last night and I turned on like a faucet. I tried to stop the bleeding with my wrist tape, but the wrappings turned soggy and brown and began to unravel. My hair is stuck to the canvas, and the rest of me feels stuck as well. The lights are very bright in this warehouse. I close my eyes to avoid staring directly into the bulbs. Phil rolls out of the ring and leaves. It doesn’t matter, the crowd isn’t into it at all. Philadelphia fans are the worst. I should have expected this.
I try to wipe the blood from my face. The flow is slowing, but not stopping. I just can’t feel how deep the slice is. I’m able to roll out of the ring, leaving puddles behind. I need the guardrails for support. Most of the fans have already left. Only the hecklers are here to see me make my way back to the curtain. They only watch me go.
I grab my bag, careful to direct the bleeding onto the concrete floor as opposed to my things. In the bathroom, I need a few moments to get my strength back. Lifting my head is difficult. I try to clean up. At least this mirror is clean, for once. The promoter comes into the room, smelling like smoke.
“I’m giving you a break, Nick,” he says. I wipe blood from my eyes and try to look at him in the mirror. I haven’t taken time off in fourteen years.
“It’s just that you don’t know what the people want anymore, Nick. And right now they don’t want you,” he says. He places my three hundred bucks for the weekend onto my bag and leaves the room. The sink was very white a few moments ago. This is not a break.
I use more glue this time than last night. Hopefully that will hold. I set the glue back into my bag and feel around for the phone. I fumble trying to dial home, push my phone underneath my saturated hair and press it to my ear. There is ringing, and I wait for it to stop. I look at the mirror. I didn’t do a very good job cleaning up. My face is still caked in red. My pupils are enlarged, and even my teeth are stained with blood.
It doesn’t stop. I redial and try to splash my face between the rings. The connection is fine. I call again, and I make sure the number is right. The sink faucet is leaking slowly. I can still smell the smoke. The ringing doesn’t stop until I hang up. I set the phone in my bag and close my eyes for a few moments. I peel the soggy wrist wrappings off and throw them in the garbage. I wash my face a few more times and then I leave.
I want another rum. The bartender gives me more. I think I’m supposed to have checked out of the motel by now. Scrunching on this stool just makes my back and knees lock even more. The alcohol probably helps. I should shower out my hair before I check out of the motel. Every few drops of sweat that roll down from my hairline are tinted maroon. Someone pushes my shoulder roughly from behind.
“You a wrestler?” asks a very greasy man.
“Yeah,” I say.
“You fuckin’ suck,” he slurs. He’s too drunk to really be forceful about it. I see several of his drunken friends swaying and laughing behind him.
“Get out of here,” I say. I’m not sure how long I’ve been sitting at the bar.
“I can kick your ass,” the greasy man declares. He is too close to my face.
“Fuck off,” I say. I stand up. I try to calculate how much to leave on the bar. His friends laugh. I try to walk around him, but he gets in my way.
“Fuck off,” I say. He laughs on me. He pushes me, and I sit back down.
“You just pretend to beat people up, cause you can’t actually do anything about anybody,” he laughs.
I stand up again. He puts his slimy face into mine. My eyes close for a few moments. I think my phone is back in the room.
“I’m gonna beat your ass,” he spits.
I push him away. He lands on his ass. He comes up swinging. I catch his arm underneath mine and secure his shoulder with my other hand and bring him to the dark floor. There is no laughing. I put a knee on his head. I break his arm. He is screaming. I’m not letting go.