Kenny Lush, Roddy Piper, and Nelson Creed; Portland, 2001.
(Photo credit: author).
Thursday at Delany’s Coffee House. 10:30 a.m. Four hours into my shift. Four more hours away from leaving for Portland and a wrestling dream come true. I just had to survive till then, to wait for my gasp of air above the drowning surface of day to day life. The smell of coffee, of peaceful mornings, with the gentle buzz of hushed morning conversation was broken by foaming milk. After waking up at 5:00, I still squinted while looking out from behind the espresso machine. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds, through the big bay windows, and onto the wooden seats of Delany’s.
“Tall latte no foam extra shot” I called.
“Is this skim milk? I asked for skim.”
“Uh, let me look at the paper. No, it’s not,” I sighed.
“I have a tough time with milk fat, can you make me another one?”
“Sure…. Dawson, when you write on the papers, make sure you specify if it’s non-fat” I coached in the direction of the till..
“Oh, I thought I did. Well, I said non-fat when I punched it in. Doesn’t that work?”
“No, it doesn’t. I’m already making another drink when you do that. I’m busy concentrating elsewhere. That’s why we write them down. You know that, you’ve been here 3 weeks.”
Three weeks in hell. For both of us.
“Oh, well I just figured it was okay" he blurted.
“Well it’s not, so write it down" I said, gritting my teeth.
He and I both found our odd-couple work relationship frustrating. He had no idea what he was doing; I had no idea why he had no idea about everything.
“Here you go sir, tall latte, no foam, extra shot, non-fat,” I beamed.
“Oh great-- is it half decaf like I asked?”
I glanced at the paper in front of me. I looked at the customer then shook my head. He nodded, handing it back to me, and I began the order again. Once he was gone, I had a moment. He had a promo coming. If I could explain it in wrestling, or even Joe terms, it would be “Pack your bags, you’re bloody awful and get the hell out of here.” But, I had to speak like a manager, not a pro wrestler. If only.
“When you take a drink order, write down all the information that the customer tells you.”
“I thought I did.”
He was genuinely lost or the greatest undiscovered actor on planet earth.
“You didn’t. It should say non-fat, half-caf on it.”
“Well Jeez, excuse me. You’d think nobody ever had to remake a drink before.”
There is a smart-assed impunity in the generation of entitlement that comes from having no shame. Give me twenty seconds as a wrestler, please! Let me heel on him, be the Mad Bomber, and absolutely thrash him with milk jugs and cookie sheets. It sounds vindictive, but Dawson, in all fairness, was a complete tool, and had no idea that getting catty in front of customers is unprofessional and embarrassing. Neither did he realize that the person who supervises him at work, at this time me, had a lot better things to deal with.
Dawson had ADHD, had quit school in grade 11 because he felt “constricted” by it, and was only a few degrees below flaming in his personality. I stared at his blond hair and lost, beaky face with a sparkling earring. If I spoke right then, the wrestler would really come out. I was grumpy. Dawson was a special case. Overall, I enjoyed working with gay guys. I didn’t have a problem with the flaming side of Dawson’s personality unless he used it to become a whiny bitch to work with, which he often did.
The rest of the boys were fun, happy, and easy to get along with. A few customers wanted to get into my pants, which made them great tippers. They knew I was straight but hoped for a moment of “indiscretion”. I admired their persistence, but only when polite. Dawson was basically the worst of all there had to be with a fake personality- nice and entertaining at first, a real bitch and whiny as hell when things didn’t go his way, and ready to cry foul or “hate crime” at the first opportunity. He would turn Gandhi into a violent bigot. A justified violent bigot. Especially after another 25 minutes of idiocy.
“Dawson, don’t talk to the customers for so long when you‘re on cash.”
“I’m just being social” he quipped.
“And you’re holding up the line while people want to get a coffee and go to work or catch a bus. Keep it moving; talk to one customer and serve the next.”
“Dawson, don’t eat in front of the customers. Go do it in the back room.”
“But I’m hungry.”
“Yeah, but people don’t like seeing someone who’s serving them food eat it first. Do it in the back.”
After another thirty minutes of this, I hid in the back, making cookies, praying for the end of his shift… and mine. One last hurdle to jump.
“Dawson, you’ve got to restock the front fridge before you leave.”
“Uh, I think it’s ok” he asserted, not really knowing since he never looked in it.
“Go look at it and make sure it’s ok before you leave.”
“But I’m off in 2 minutes.”
“It’ll take you two minutes to do it.”
“Nobody’ll notice if I don’t.”
“No, only the next person on will. Do it.”
Out to the front fridge and back again twenty seconds later.
“K, it’s fine. Anything else for my last minute here?”
The words “hate crime” hung heavy in the air above my head. My forehead would make such a perfect dent in his nose, and his collared shirt had such tempting handles. It would be a great way to quit…
“Just go already. Let’s just call it a day.”
“Bye. Enjoy” he waved.
In tromped Jolene, store manager; 50 years old, a bob haircut, and reasonably good to look at, all things considered. She sometimes even seemed sexy with her southern drawl.
“Hon, I just went to make a latte and there are only 2 jugs of milk up there. It holds 14. Why didn’t Dawson stock it up?”
“Oh god… he said he did” I groaned.
“Well, you need to check up on him. Make sure.”
“I need to check on him, or he needs to do his job properly? Honestly Jolene, it’s just easier if I do it. I’m tired of fighting for competence around here and he‘s an idiot.”
I searched around for an escape from this nonsense. If only I was a wrestler, not just a pretend, weekend warrior.
“Hun, your job is to make sure Dawson does his job. The point is that you tell him to do it, not that you can do it quicker or better.”
“Jolene, don’t hire idiots.”
“Hun, he’s not an idiot. He just needs some help sorting his life out.”
My eyes wandered to a length of rope dangling from the hole in the ceiling. It was about 20 feet long and could make a good lasso. Huns were notorious for killing people by lassoing them and dragging them behind a horse. I would’ve loved to have really been a “Hun.” Is killing an idiot because they’re an idiot a hate crime?
“Look, I’m going to restock the front fridge then take my break. I need some air. Sherri just got in and can help you for the next bit.”
“Well, don’t take too long, it’s almost time for lunch rush.”
“I’m going to take my 15 minutes that I’m entitled to - I’ve been on since 5:30 and I can’t leave Dawson alone to run the store cause he‘s an idiot, so I’m taking 15. You and Sherri can handle it.”
“Well, if I have to buzz you to come up, you come up. You can’t just hide in the back.”
Doc Bruce Banner,
Belted by gamma rays,
Turned into the Hulk.
Ain’t he unglamor-ous!
Wreckin’ the town
With the power of a bull,
Ain’t no monster clown
Who is as lovable.
As ever-lovin’ Hulk! HULK!! HULK!!" (from the 50's Incredible Hulk Cartoon)
In a faraway voice my head started to hum as my eyes turned green. I could feel my skin stretching, bulging. If I stayed any longer, I’d split into a monster. The Hulk always was my favourite comic character- there’s a certain orgasmic release in completely losing one’s temper and thrashing everything in sight; I would really enjoy it. Funnily enough, one of my Halloween costume at Delany’s was the Hulk. The symbolism is an essay unto itself, not just for Freud. But this day the good doctor and desperation for a dream kept the Hulk under wraps. Too bad, but bills had to be paid while I waited to become a star. I sighed…
“I’m going across the street for Shawarma. I’ll come back and eat here in case there’s a problem.”
It was the best I could do without snapping. Why does society get mad at nice people if they don’t cover for morons, yet never gets frustrated with the morons who caused the problem in the first place? Usually because morons are in charge- Jolene had sympathy for Dawson, and that said all I needed to know about that. This dilemma haunted me everywhere in life, even in my WWE tryouts.
Of course I ate lunch across the road over a leisurely twenty minutes, not ten or fifteen; I had a few hours until I could free the beast in the ring. A few hours until Kenny, Roselli, and I drove down to Eugene, Oregon for one of the biggest nights of my life as a professional wrestler, working for Roddy Piper in front of a crowd of 5,000. For the moment, I was still a barista being harassed and earning $8.75 an hour plus tips while going to college and training to wrestle 3 times a week, but hardly actually doing matches because of the local politics. If you worked for one company, you couldn’t work for the other. I had almost broken my neck working for one, and they were a garbage fed that was embarrassing to bring friends to, so I worked for the other, which never ran shows.
“You and Kenny are going to get yourselves killed doing that stupid wrestling. You should grow up and get a career.”
Who says that to a 20 year old? What gives a 50 year old woman who has to manage a coffee shop full of morons the right to talk to anyone like that? Apparently $8.75 an hour does because I put up with her attitude to keep that $8.75 an hour coming in.
“I’m going to school, I’ll have a career. Wrestling is my passion.”
“Well, you guys are just asking for trouble.”
“Should I quit and work here the rest of my life?”
“It’s so violent and stupid, I could never do that.”
“You don’t have to, but thanks for the support. See you in three days.”
“Don’t be late Monday.”
We did the trip, rented a Durrango, a 10-seater and a pig on gas, but Roselli insisted he would pay for it. Kenny slept the whole way because he never got a driver’s license. Luckily, we didn’t have any problems with border guards and didn’t need to come up with any lies. The trip down was easy. And the night before the show was fantastic.
Two of my favourite wrestlers of all time were Mr. Perfect and Dan “The Beast” Severn. They both were in Roddy Piper’s hotel room the night before as the boys hung out, ate pizza, crushed beers, and a few of the guys took turns wandering into the back room, coming out with crossed eyes and dilated pupils. I had partied and drank with wrestlers before, but nothing like this.
Jim Duggan, Greg Valentine, Piper, Perfect, Severn, Roselli, Kenny, Bart Sawyer, and I all in one room-- a huge step for an unknown like myself. Only 4 local guys were in actual matches, the rest were established “names” in the business, guys who could draw a crowd wherever they went and they had been major players in the WWF of the 80‘s and 90‘s. All the other local wrestlers had been piled into a battle royal to be cannon fodder for the big names. There were a lot of jealous eyes shooting daggers at Lush and me, and as much as we wanted to succeed, every other local wrestler wanted us to fail in a fiery ball of a clusterfuck match. Roddy told us he wanted us to go out there and “kick the show into high gear” by having a fast paced, stiff match. It was time for a gut check.
5,000 fans? Check.
Legends in the back critiquing our every move? Check.
Every other wrestler jinxing us? Check.
The usual nerves that makes you shake before you get out in front of crowd? Check
Extra worry because of a fear of injury in the states when you don’t have health insurance? Check
Possibly a way out of the daily misery that is sucking the life out of you every second you are away from the ring, and a huge hope to escape the aimless sea of unknown local wrestling? Check.
And a “What the fuck is your gimmick anyways?” speech by Bart Sawyer just before I walked out to do the biggest match of my life, stabbing at my confidence as a wrestler? Check.
Did I know my gimmick? Hell no, but I knew that I was more “The Mad Bomber” than Ben Nelson at that point in my life. I didn’t have a clue who either one was, only that “The Mad Bomber” was a damn good wrestler, from Canada, and he would get a hell of a lot of heat and show all the jealous assholes in the back and at home that he was one of the best local guys around, and that was why he got the match for Piper.
I can honestly say, in the highest stakes match of my life, I went out there with Kenny and tore the roof down. We stiffed each other with slaps, ran great high spots, and popped the crowd with an awesome swerve finish. 5,000 people yelled their lungs out at me, swearing, cursing, throwing stuff, and hating me; 5,000 yelled even harder for Kenny, deafening the arena with chants of “U-S-A” and exploding when he pinned me. Pro wrestling is a team effort, and he and I both earned the heat and the pop. His cheer was my cheer, his victory my victory. Job well done. To celebrate, I journeyed into the bowels of the stadium, got undressed, and began showering in a dingy, tiled locker-room shower. Soap smell mixed with mildew. I was pondering the meaning of all this wrestling when in walked Mr. Perfect in all his man made and god given glory; 6’4”, blonde, criminally tanned, built like a Greek god, and completely naked. I was too nervous to speak; he could care less.
“You got any shampoo dude?”
“Uhh, no, but I got a whole bunch of soap in my hands from the dispenser.”
“Can I have some?”
And I poured the liquid soap from my hands into his while we stood in the University of Oregon shower, alone and naked. It was a scene dripping with homoeroticism, and I have to say that naturally I checked out his package. What else could I do? He was my idol, so I had to see if he measured up. He did. Life as a professional wrestler continued to amaze me. I spent the rest of my shower staring at the wall as we made small talk. My mind was a whir. On one hand, I didn’t want to weird Mr. Perfect out and was pretty much just standing there, hosing off, barely going through the motions of showering. On the other hand, how often do you get to shower with Mr. Perfect? If it was a rugby shower, ten other guys would have walked in and we would have had a naked football game, cirques against toques. That wasn’t an option. There were only two of us. After what felt like was a reasonable amount of time pretending to clean myself, I abruptly turned off the shower, then dried and dressed. I grabbed my unsold T-shirts, went upstairs and sold a few more, doubling my pay to $300 for one day’s work.
I couldn’t have gotten any higher- except I did when I picked up a ring rat after the show and made out with her in the Durrango, putting the reclining seats to good use. It was a fumbling, messy affair, but I loved every second of it. When she went her way, I ran into Roddy who gave me a congratulatory rub on the back of my neck, thrust a beer into my hand and said “Son, glad you guys are in the business. Thank you for coming down and working for me.”
“Any time sir, the pleasure is all mine”
“Call me Roddy, you’re a worker.”
In the words of Roddy Piper, I was a worker, a good wrestler, not a pretend wrestler who only did this on weekends and was working a day job, but a real wrestler. I could go anywhere, I could do anything, I could actually be a professional wrestler doing this for a living, having parties every night, sowing my wild oats across the world and living the dream. Forget the local scene of jealous wrestlers, forget the assholes at work who told me I couldn’t do it, and to hell with the parents, girlfriends, and forget everyone else who ever told me it was stupid to try or that I was gonna hurt myself. I was living my dream.
I tried, and I succeeded. I was good enough; dreams do come true. Sell out yourself and miss out on your dream all you want but I love wrestling and I have done it. I am a pro wrestler and I can go anywhere. Mexico, Japan, to the WWE, anywhere that Roddy had been was now open to me as a wrestler with his endorsement. I could go anywhere! When no magic opportunity came up immediately, I went back to Delany’s Coffee House. The next day at work came too quickly.
“Grande Latte, extra shot, extra hot for Dwayne. Hey Dwayne.” I beamed.
“Hey, you look great. Good weekend?”
“The best, went down to Portland with Kenny, wrestled a show, had a crazy party afterwards.”
“Oh cool, how much fun! Let’s hear it.”
“Well, first we got--”
“Ben, I need a hand bringing in the milk delivery from the back,” cawed Jolene, “and we’ve got to make it snappy. It’s hot out and I don’t want the milk to spoil.”
“K, I’ll get it in a second”
“Hon, it’s going to spoil. It’s hot out.”
“Dawson’s in the back, get him to do it.”
“He’s on a break, and he’s not strong enough.”
“I’m just talking to Dwayne I’ll do it in a minute.”