What I Learned About Pro Wrestling

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When I was a kid, I was into pro wrestling. But this blog posting isn’t really about that.

Instead, it’s about a temporary assignment I completed last week. When I got to this assignment I had no idea how much I would be making, so I was disappointed when talking to others on the job revealed that it was much lower than what I’m used to. Worse, trying to talk to other also reminded me that as much as I pride myself on my ability to make friends, you can’t win over everybody. Some people there just didn’t want to talk. Others were downright hostile. And still others were boorish know-it-alls that frankly, I didn’t want to talk to. There was a brief training that I did poorly on, confirming my reoccurring fear that I am just no good at “common sense” tasks and that my best days are my behind me. When I ended up spending more on lunch than I’d be making in an hour because I wrongfully assumed cheaper food would be available, I was upset. And when I was unable to perform the basic function of the job because none of the people we were serving seemed to want anything to do with me, I felt even worse. To me, I had absolutely hit rock bottom. I was done.

And there were six more days to go.

Though the job part of the job didn’t get any better the next day, I overheard a conversation between two people about pro wrestling. It was an interesting coincidence (I am going to call it that for now, but spoiler alert, I’m writing someday a blog posting about what I think so-called “coincidences” really are), because just days before, I watched John Oliver’s very moving video about what becomes of pro wrestlers and how badly they’re mistreated. As I said, I’d been a big fan of wrestling in my younger days, though as with all of the other “male power fantasy” genres I was into, I’d long since outgrew it. Still, I like poking my head in every now and then and seeing what’s going on in that world, so my ears perked up when this conversation began. It was started by a self-proclaimed wrestling geek who runs a website where he sells wrestling memorabilia. He’s self-employed, and just supplements his income with temporary assignments when business is slow. As a result, when he talked, I could barely get a word in as he went on and on about wrestling trivia and dismissed all of my viewpoints on the subject. To be honest, when I learned he was ex-military and I checked out his skinhead haircut, I really didn’t like the guy much, and assumed that would be the end of it.

But I was intrigued.

As I said, I’ve checked in on pro wrestling off and on over the years, and besides John Oliver’s video, I recently watched one of ESPN’s “30 For 30” documentaries about “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, a pro wrestler who typically branded himself the best there is, but actually had the longevity and titles to make a case for it. His daughter, as it turns out, recently became a champion in the WWE, and I was moved near to tears at his pride in knowing that he was able to pass something on to his child, despite the hard life that wrestlers lead. Being always on the road and subjected to tremendous punishment doesn’t leave much room for parenting, as Jake “The Snake” Roberts knows, having lost any relationship with his own daughter (as chronicled in the documentary Beyond the Mat (Barry W. Blaustein, 1999). In my experience however, wrestling can teach you a surprising amount about the media business in general, as I learned from former wrestling promoter Eric Bischoff’s 2006 autobiography Controversy Creates Cash.  It was in that book that I first learned about the creation of the “N.W.O., a wrestling crew that I never even considered had any relevance to me beyond being a ’90s rip-off of Ric Flair’s famous “Four Horsemen” group. As with most other things about those first few days at that temp assignment though, I learned very quickly that I was really wrong about that.

So the temp assignment continued, and though we hadn’t gotten off to a great start, I was determined to show this wrestling jerk that I wasn’t just a jobber. I really knew a thing or two about wrestling, having collected Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine for two good solid years back in 1988-89 or so. I knew all about the indy promotions of the time, the AWAs, the Mid-Souths, and the various promotions that made up the NWA (READ: not the same as the NWO you see pictured above or “the world’s most dangerous group”). More than that, I had checked in long afterward too, when the ECW was in its heyday, and even after, when Rob Black created the XPW and I was introduced to Sabu and Rob Van Dam before he was actually anybody, and the Lightning Kid long before he bulked up and became X-Pac. I even remembered DDP back when he was just managing, and not yet wrestling! I’d seen Wrestling With Shadows (Paul Jay, 1998)! Again, as with role playing games or heavy metal or superhero comics, I never fully let any of my male power fantasies go – while I may not be up on things anymore, I’m never a complete n00b either. Worse, my ego doesn’t let me allow people to think of me that way. While I can laugh off people questioning my intelligence because of the sheer absurdity of it, and I can get used to the idea that not everybody is going to like me, if you think I don’t know anything about an area of pop culture I was once into, them’s fightin’ words. I got back into the squared circle with the King of the Ring, and I was sure I could get him to submit.

And then… I learned something.

As the wrestling champion broke me down with fact after fact about the ins and outs of the business, he mentioned something that struck a chord and had me on the ropes. He said that Eric Bischoff had gotten the WCW to be competitive by letting its wrestlers do what they wanted to do. That threw me, because an editorial tantrum written by a comic book writer (not remembering who at the moment) said that it was Vince McMahon letting Steve Austin (who I refer to as “The Artist Formerly Known as ‘Stunning’,” because again, I know wrestling history like that) create his own character that led to “The Attitude Era,” as the late ’90s and early 2000s are often referred to in wrestling circles. I was wrong though – Eric Bischoff had started all that, which led to the creation of the N.W.O, a group of has-been wrestlers who got new life after taking control of their own personas. More than that, they made the WCW competitive, actually beating Vince McMahon’s WWE until he bought it out rather than try to compete with it any longer. As Eric Bischoff said in his book, had the merger with Time Warner not ruined Ted Turner‘s media empire, it might still be beating and even supplanting the WWE today. And it was all done with wrestlers perceived as washed up, or put another way, who had hit rock bottom. Who were done.

Sound like someone you know?

As I said at the outset, this blog posting is not about pro wrestling. As with all things that happen in my life, it’s about me. I made an attempt to change careers after a major change in my health nearly a decade ago, and I failed at it. I wasn’t able to make the transition. I did it in the first place though because people had been telling me for years that I was overqualified for what I was doing, and too talented to let that go to waste. I failed, and thought that I was washed up. I forgot my own life rule of, “there is no failure in failing, only in not trying again,” moved back in with my family, and was reduced to trying to get back into the career I left behind. During that period however, a friend of mine from Middle School referred me for a writing job, and I absolutely loved it – to this day, I see it as the best job I’ve ever had. It was fun, it paid really well, gave me freedom (as I was working from home), and best of all, I was good at it. I only lost it because my employer realized that they could get an intern to do it for free, and since I was making $25 an hour and setting my own besides, there was obviously no way I could compete with that. They liked me though, and agreed to serve as a reference as I searched for future writing jobs. Though I haven’t found one yet exactly (I’ve done some transcription, which at least draws from my typing skills), I know I could. Better still, I met a group called Independent Writers of Chicago at a Meetup, who teach writers how to find writing jobs if you join their organization. You just have to be able to pay their very reasonable writing dues. Not impossible if you live with family, temp often, and have your health care covered by the Affordable Care Act. I’ve always said that my only real talents were writing, public speaking, and making friends. Now imagine if I was able to do all of the above on my own terms, like the wrestling nerd does? I think it might start a New World Order for me, no?

Suffice it to say, the wrestling site holder and I ultimately ended the week on the path to becoming friends. Hey, wrestlers turn from hero to heel on a regular basis, so why can’t we? He runs and markets his own business, and if that’s the direction I’m ultimately heading in, he’ll be a good guy to know. If I could get to the point of making my own income and calling my own shots, I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I could do a job to a boss’s specifications. I wouldn’t have to do demeaning temp work, and I might even be able to recreate a personal life like the relationship we saw in The Wrestler (Darren Aranofsky, 2008). I always liked that movie, because it’s about two has-beens getting a second chance at love. If a washed up writer like me can get a second chance, why not? The wrestling heel who turned out to be my hero showed me that as long as you do you, a championship is always possible. You just have to reserve self-judgement, trust yourself and trust your ability to get you that chance. Fight on!

What I Learned About “Manhood”

I had originally thought to entitle this blog posting “What I Learned About Women,” but I don’t know that you can “learn” a whole gender, any more than you can learn all members of a racial or religious group.

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Truth be known, what I want to write about has very little to do with women anyway.

Last week a relative of mine needed to change two shower curtains in her big, multi-story house, and if she’d needed that help prior to my going to California, I probably would have crouched down really low and hoped she wouldn’t see me.  If she did and asked me to help, I would likely have hemmed and hawed, or worse thrown a fit and complained throughout the entire activity.  The tougher the going got the more I would hope she’d see how much I was struggling and tell me to get going, and in most cases where I’d been in that situation, that’d lead to her either sending me away in anger or disgust, thus letting my immature ass off the hook.  Why?

Because for most of my life, I think I’ve been a little boy.

I feel that’s started to shift in recent years though.  When I first got to California, my first friend was this girl I had the biggest crush on, and who was kind of into me as well, I later learned.  So although I didn’t add much to her life at that time, I was a diversion she gladly tolerated.  You see, she’d recently moved back to California after ending a long-term and serious relationship, and I think that to some extent, I gave her hope that there was something better out there for her.  Unfortunately it wasn’t me though, because I was too much, I later learned, like the relationship she got out of, as I’ve found many young men in relationships all-too-often are.

As my friend used to describe it to me, what she was looking for was something along the lines of what her parents had.  According to my friend, the reason why her mother chose her father was because her mother “never had to know the process whenever they wanted to do something.”  That is to say, when my friend and her ex wanted to go somewhere for instance, he’d tell her about how hard it was going to be, and even ask her to make some calls to do some research into logistically what all they needed to do it.  Instead of being some fun, spontaneous little thing, it would become a hassle for my friend, and all of the fun of doing that activity was drained out of it.  Put another way, she wanted the guy who, when asked, would just change the damn shower curtain, not make a big deal about how hard it was going to be for him to do it.

Last week I talked about the actress Krista Allen, who has a podcast I really like called “I’m Fine,” where she reads and discusses self-help books.  The thing Allen’s podcast and her history have taught me about her is that to me she’s a lot like this same relative of mine in that she keeps trying to “save” men, only to be disappointed when they gladly accept the help but never step up the plate to save themselves or anybody else, least of all her.  I feel that this has been my relative’s relationship pattern too, and I believe that it’s part of both my friction with her in the past and the failure of my own relationships.  It seems to me that women are naturally more empathetic than men, so when put into a situation where somebody they care about needs help, many women’s natural inclination is to jump in and do it.  Because it comes so naturally to these women, I feel they naturally expect that these men will do the same for them.  When these men get comfortable with getting helped however, they don’t give reciprocal care, and I feel that it completely grinds these self-sacrificing women down, both emotionally and physically.  As my old life coach Nina Rubin advised me, if I see my relative or any other woman doing dishes for example, I will succeed more in winning her over if I just jump in and start helping – not asking if she needs the help and definitely not letting her just do the work.  Sure enough, I found that when I tried to help my relative with the shower curtains instead of complaining, she appreciated it, we got along better, and she even did something for me in return, without my even asking.  When I expect my relative to do for me or excessively ask her for help, it creates conflict, and likewise Allen has stated that she believes her past relationships have failed because she ultimately just became the helper or the enabler, never the one who was helped.  When I pull my weight however, it keeps my relative happy, and makes her life function that much better too.

What I’ve come to believe is that being a man is doint one’s part in creating a harmonious unit, be it a family, a relationship, a team, a business or anything else.  At the end of the day, I believe that because everybody benefits from the success of every unit they’re part of, it’s implied that everybody should strive to make that unit successful.  The thing is, I feel like most women sort of know this intuitively, so when they’re a part of something, they jump in and make it go without even thinking about it.  Though many men do this as well, I find that many boys do not, and when a woman finds herself in a relationship of any kind where she is, in essence, mothering an unappreciative and dependent boy, it wears on her, eating away at her peace of mind.  To me, you can’t call yourself a “man” if you’re not doing your part to help everybody else in your unit, especially its often overworked women.  To my amazement, success often isn’t even a factor in evaluating a man’s worth to most women – a man’s attempt, without being asked and without complaint – seems to reflect maturity I think, and we men can often be appreciated just for that.

Speaking of appreciation, I also feel like many women feel unappreciated for doing so much, though how a successful man expresses that appreciation differs based on the relationship.  In a familial relationship, I feel that expressing thanks to one’s mother, sister, aunt, etc. goes a long way, particularly if it’s done in the form of taking an action, not just or even primarily words.  I feel this is so not because they are women mind you, but because as women, their contributions have historically been overlooked, while men’s achievements have historically and routinely been celebrated.

In a Romantic relationship by contrast, I believe that showing physical or Romantic affection as a form of appreciation is welcomed, assuming the level of attraction in the relationship is mutual.  California made me into a pseudo-feminist, and as a result, I am big on the idea of consent.  I think that when men get physical with women who don’t want it, or at that moment are not feeling the same level of attraction, these men are ignoring a lack of consent.  I have found that we as men have to be careful.  When the Romantic relationship is working however, I feel that physical affection along with verbal compliments and Romantic gestures are what make the unit – in this case, the couple – work.  To me, part of being a man is being able to engage in this kind of mutually beneficial relationship where both sides express an appreciation that’s desired and in my opinion necessary to maintain the unit.

Long story short, to me “manhood” is all about doing what’s necessary for your unit when required to and expressing appreciation, however is appropriate, to the members of that unit.  To me it’s not about muscles, beating people up, defending honor, watching football, being handy around the house, unemotional, or any of that crap.  Just as film critic Roger Ebert‘s definition of a hero is “ordinary people who are faced with a need and rise to the occasion, a man is an adult who anticipates, and always rises to the occasion before he’s asked.

(…and with a penis, or course.  face-with-stuck-out-tongue-and-winking-eye