Monday, October 14, 2013

The WrestleFest Challenge

When I was booked to do a comedy show in a heavy metal club, I didn't know what to expect, but I sure wasn't expecting the surprise that awaited me in a dusty corner of the room.

There, squatting opposite the pool tables, Golden Tee, and Big Buck Hunter was a piece of my childhood.

The WrestleFest arcade game.

WrestleFest was a staple of my first two years of my post-secondary life. My friend and I used to play it at the Reddi-Mart across the street from the college. It was our way of de-stressing after classes...or between classes...or sometimes even DURING classes.

Hey, music school is tough.

We would play in Royal Rumble mode-me and my best friend taking on all comers. Usually it was fun.

Sometimes it would be frustrating as when your health got low the AI computer would send guys after you while you were trying to escape the carnage to rest. Hulk Hogan and Jake the Snake Roberts were the worst offenders. Jake could be excused-he was a snake after all-but for the champion of prayer-saying, training, and vitamin-eating to engage in such underhanded chicanery was an outrage.

Once, after a particularly tough exam, I went for my daily stress relief and plugged my very last quarter into the machine. Seconds into the match, the Hulkster threw me out of the ring eliminating me, even though I had full health.

I couldn't believe it. I spend the whole walk back to school complaining about the outrage of it all.

"I go to this place to relax, and Hulk F***ing Hogan eliminates me. My very last quarter."

I was furious at the time, but looking back on it now, those were some of the best times of my life.

And here it was: WrestleFest.

And now I got a chance to play it again.

I plugged in a quarter. I selected DiBiase as my wrestler. I eliminated two guys before getting pinned by Bossman. Some things never change.

Except they do. Looking at the console, I realized something. Five of the twelve wrestlers featured in the game are dead.

Hawk. Crush. Earthquake. Big Bossman. Mr. Perfect.

There are lots of articles on pro-wrestling deaths. This isn't one of them, although it seems like a lot of guys in the business leave the earth too soon. This was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I learned Ripper, the color commentator from the first promotion I worked for passed away a month before his thirty-ninth birthday.

Here's the thing though. Everybody dies.

It's like playing WrestleFest. Either you're thrown out of the ring or pinned or the time expires or you finish the game or you have to go back to classes.

One way or another, the game always ends.

The fun part is the playing.

And wrestlers play harder than most. In fact, I remember sitting at a table with three veterans of our promotion when one of the bar staff brought over a tray with thirty or forty shooters on it.

"Is that ALL for you guys?" I asked.

Rivers said, "It sure is."

"J**** *****!" I blurted out. "No wonder you guys all die early!"

They laughed, but no one disagreed with me.

But maybe they know the secret. Life is like wrestling. No matter how good a run you have, it ends with you on your back looking up.

It doesn't matter if you're a wrestler, a stand-up comic in a heavy metal bar packed with a whopping four people, or a night manager at Arby's. All you can do is live life to the fullest.

I didn't get that from a book on philosophy.

I got it from WrestleFest.

And, you know what? I'm glad I did.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Diary of a Compassionate Degenerate: Rolling With Heartache

(originally published at The Gateway Boyfriend, April 2, 2013)

I’m used to grappling in pain. In my short career in jiu jitsu, I bruised my shoulder, pulled my thumb, stretched my groin. As I struggle to defend against the triangle choke my partner is closing around my neck, all of those body parts are making their discomfort known.

But the real pain, the one I can’t ignore, is in my heart.

My posture is broken. My head is down. Legs come around my neck; one arm gets pulled across my body. I wedge my free hand between my neck and his thigh, not much, just a crack of space barely a finger wide. I do the only thing left to me both for my position and for my broken heart.

I breathe.

And wait for the situation to change.

What else can I do?

Unlike other martial arts, I rarely hear my instructors talk about the ‘philosophy’ of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They are practical people with practical concerns: the foot goes here; the hips move this way; the arm pulls now. Yet that very lack of philosophy makes BJJ the truest metaphor for life. Instead of focusing on lofty ideals or spiritual principles, jiu jitsu deals in reality.

And reality--as many of the competitors in the first few UFCs can attest--can be a hard thing to face.

Rolling Doesn’t Lie

Rolling doesn’t lie. The position you are in is the position you are in. I could pretend I’m not in a triangle choke right now. I can make all the excuses in the world--I didn’t eat breakfast, it would be different had we started standing, I’m distracted by heartache--but none of that changes where I am.

I could say the same thing about my relationship. If only I’d tried harder or less hard. I should have paid attention to those voices inside my heart. Everything would have worked had she been more open or less of a perfectionist or been anybody but the person she actually is.

But rolling doesn’t lie. The position I’m in is the position I’m in.

Little things become big things

A hand holding onto the sleeve of my gi or gripping my collar while I’m in somebody’s guard. Not a big thing, a little thing. I’m still on top, I’m still keeping my balance. Now there’s a foot in my bicep or hip. Again, a small thing. And then I go to stand and then I’m falling and now my partner is on top of me and all these little things have turned into a big, big problem.

A problem that could have been avoided by paying attention to that grip. That little thing.

I remember little things in our relationship. I remember the first little thing.

It comes back to me in a split second flash as I’m being swept. In the fragment of time before I hit the mat, I feel her in my arms, lying on the couch together. I hear the words she said to me, and I hear the words I said back, offering comfort. But I also hear the words I didn‘t say, the fear I kept inside.

It was the first time I kept something from her, the first time I decided not to trust her. It was the first brick in a wall we built together, brick by brick standing on opposite sides, until finally it was so high we couldn’t see each other anymore.

I wish I could go back and strip that first grip.

I wish I could go back and undo that first little thing.

There is no winning or losing. Only learning

I’ve been tapped out dozens of times. Sometimes it happened quickly, before I even knew what happened. Other times it was slow but inevitable; I could see what was coming, but with no way of stopping it, the goal became to prolong the outcome as long as possible.

But defeat was never personal, and I learned something--sometimes several things--each time.

It’s a hard lesson to apply to the end of a relationship, especially one I’ve worked at for a long time.

I feel like a failure, like I‘ve given everything I had and have nothing to show for it. It feels personal.

But it isn’t personal. It’s never personal. It’s just the way things happened.

That’s the last, and perhaps most important lesson, I learned from jiu jitsu.

A triangle choke isn’t personal. Nor is an armbar. My partner and I got together and thanks to our combined experience, attributes, choices, and maybe just plain dumb luck the situation became what it was. Sometimes things don’t go our way. We take time to learn, to look at our decisions, to seek help when necessary, and recover from our injuries.

Then we find our next partner, put the past behind us, slap hands, and try again.