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.