From "You're Gonna Hurt Yourself"
Joe, owner of the school and “head trainer”, was constantly using his warped “psychology” to confound us. His psychology was his understanding of how people thought, and how to make people think the way he did. We struggled to match him wit for wit, always submitting angrily. In the ring, in the house, on a shopping trip, on the way to an event, Joe dumbfounded us with his psychology. A mentality where he would “turn around” and divide a mattress that was two inches thick into two one inch halves, then double them up for more effectiveness. Nonsense was reason. Bit by bit we became brainwashed into thinking like him.
One amazing lesson came on the set of the Jesse Ventura Story Movie. On the outskirts of Toronto, we spent days rehearsing and filming in an old army barracks, the location for the film. We had a ring stationed a flight of stairs away from the cameras, in a dusty, cloudy windowed room. We were enjoying our break from Joe’s complete control. Then he called a meeting for us. We boys heeded and came. His boys slumped onto the floor and crash pads; he polluted the dusty air, his voice trailing out of the secluded room, down the stairs, and onto the rest of the set. For the outside world, his voice was diluted and ignored. For us, it was potent wormwood.
“Guys, why do people come to wrestling shows?”
A hushed silence fell. We pawed with his words. The answer of why people came to a wrestling show was blatantly obvious. Why would you go to a basketball game? Basketball. Baseball game? Baseball. Hockey game? Hockey. You get the idea, we got the idea, but we knew it wasn’t as obvious as that. His psychology made us doubt reality and ourselves. Certain defeat loomed, but we still wanted to try. Like a child trying to wrest control from a parent while still in the crib, oh god, we had to try! If not for honesty, for sanity! There had to be some truth not controlled by Joe. He was not God; we had to fight him, truth or psychology, or not. Why did people come to wrestling shows? Anyone knows that! ANYONE!
“Wrestling, Joe?” said Jeremy. Irrefutable. From Joe, silence. Then…
“Nope” he scorned, puffing out his cheeks.
Our best weapon, commons sense, died.
“High flying?” asked Romeo.
“Nope” puffed Joe.
“Good storylines, Joe?” My contribution.
“Nope” accompanied by scorn and disparaging look.
“Hardcore wrestling?” came another voice.
“Stars?” asked Rudy.
“Nope” he scoffed.
“Action?” pleaded another.
“Nope.” His puffing picked up pace.
“Excitement?” Bryan tried.
“Nope. Nope. Nope. No, Guys, no! OH MY GOD!”
Defeated and broken, our minds splintered from the unbelievable stupidity of it. It was like trying to reason with a baby, an all-powerful, dim-witted, baby. There was no reason to it! But Joe knew, he held the secrets, as he so often told us, and the secret here was again, psychology.
“Jeez, guys, no wonder your wrestling is so awful; they come for the Pyro!”
Ashamed and confused, we hung our heads. If we had daggers, we would have used them; not on Caesar’s body, but on our own. This turmoil, this purgatory of nonsense was more than anyone with a reasonable mind could bear. No wonder we went nuts. Give me honesty or give me death; our training was bad, but Joe was the head trainer. Our psychology was bad sure, but Joe was the guru who was to teach us. If we were bad, it had to have something to do with the trainer and guide in the school, namely Joe. None of us had real daggers, just the ones in our eyes that stabbed into the miserable ground that supported his immense weight. We stared at the floor by the ring, a floor already rotten, outdated, and nearly useless. How could a floor hold up so much fat? So much stupid, ignorant fat? 400lbs of wasted food and my wasted money straddling a beam in the floor, a beam that if God or decency existed anywhere, would break, letting those pestilent portly jowls fall to certain death. Damn him, damn his psychology, damn this floor, damn the beam that didn’t break, and damn life. We sat stupefied as Joe leashed our minds.
“Wrestling fans want to see pyro. They come for the fireworks. The WWF has it, WCW has it, everyone knows that the number one reason wrestling fans come to a wrestling show is that they want to see fireworks. We are going to give them the best god-dammed fireworks show they ever seen since the fourth of July. They’ll tell everyone. We’ll show them why we’re number 1.”
Never mind that we’re in Canada and the 4th of July is an American holiday, or that I’d been breaking my body for months trying become a good wrestler. All that time I should have just focused on choosing a good theme for the pyrotechnics before my match. The devastating psychology of Joe defeated any and all of us; it dammed not only what we were doing do to achieve our dream, but everything we had done so far. We felt defeated. Hopeless. If only there were some objective standard, something that couldn’t be argued with, that no reasonable person could deny! A truth such as “snow is white” where everyone based on common witness would have to admit, agree, and concede that truth was indeed, truth, would be a god-send. We were surrounded by snow in Ontario but we still needed a saviour; how else could we defeat the fat obstruction standing between us and our goal? Time passed; desperation grew. Once the movie finished, we were confined again to the school. But we had our dreams. We pushed ourselves, hoping that beyond the insanity of ICW Hart Bros school, our wrestling skills would give life to our dreams. Normalcy returned… somewhat. We went back to training. Our minds healed when we avoided Joe, hope revived, and then, when we least expected it…
“Guys, do you smell gas?” Joe puffed, walking in, and making a big show by sniffing at the air, flaring his nostrils.
This was in the training ring, weeks later, back at the school. I was mid-headlock, a high spot away from the finish of the match I was taping for my promo video. The match was ruined. Never mind that, I was told, you’re not ready anyways. Just listen and later, Joe said, I’ll show you how to really work.
“I smell it sometimes guys, and I’m really worried about carbon monoxide killing you. Terry is going to come in here and put in a gas detector; we gotta make sure you guys are safe while in here.”
Never mind that he smoked while watching us train, or that carbon monoxide was undetectable by the human nose- those were foolhardy volleys of logic batted away as gnats by an elephant; he could smell it, doctors were wrong about cigarette smoke since it never harmed him, and gas was a worry, especially while we were training. If the gas killed us across the hall in our bedrooms, it wasn’t such a big deal apparently. But to die in the ring, well, that was not for fate to decide. Terry (or as Joe labelled him on posters throughout the school, Terry “Lipshits” Norris) put the “smoke detector” directly above the ring in the training room, pointing directly at the vending machine; the vending machine was a bitter point of anger. For Joe, it angered him because it was being stolen from. From us, it typified the whole psychology of the school.
Joe had a car, we didn’t. He bought cans of pop at Zehrs, $2 for a dozen, then sold them through the machine to his prisoners at a dollar each. I suppose it was theft to take them, but when you pay $3,500 to go learn how to wrestle at the ICW Hart Bros School of Wrestling and not one of the Hart Brothers is there (they had left long before and Joe hadn’t changed the name), you feel entitled to a bag of chips or free pop now and then.
Nobody was fooled by the “detector” above the ring, but there was enough of a bluff zone between us knowing what it really was and Joe knowing that we knew for us to play with ambiguity. He would never come out and admit that he had lied to us; he would just accept later that it was known, and never mention that it was supposed to be a secret. He’d say he knew we were going to find out, he was just testing us. We took the little draws as very real victories; they helped us keep our sanity. We took this opportunity to load his back with our blitheness. I ran the ropes in a thong, fingering the smoke detector while calling it such, daring him to expose himself as a spy. If it was just a smoke detector, we were innocently making fun of it, not him. Nobody would be stupid enough to steal in front of it. We should not have doubted the master. A few days later, as we loafed around the TV, a decree came down.
“Guys, we’re having a meeting. Everyone in my office.”
The vending machine was still being stolen from. Well, we were all being stolen from, but in a different way. Pop was physically disappearing; dreams are seldom tangible enough to say someone has stolen them from you. You can hardly ever grasp them, so how can you blame someone else for losing them? We marched into the office. Time for one of our pointless meetings; perhaps tonight it would only be an hour. No, I don‘t have anything better to do at 11:30 p.m. I’m happy to be here, Joe. We sat around a human smoke stack, with it popping and spewing bullshit into the air.
“Guys, it’s not the guys from the outside that are stealing from me, it’s the guys living here on the inside. You come into my house and steal from me. But I’m a forgiving man. I’m going to give you a chance to come clean. Someone in this room has stolen pop from me. They’ve stolen from each of you too, by doing that. So, if that person wants to come clean, now’s his chance.”
We couldn’t be right or win, so why beat around the bush? Someone from the inside, not the outside; stealing from this man in his own house. I glanced around at the hodge-podge crew of misfits, all of us exhausted, ready to sleep, pissed-off -at-having-this-stupid-meeting, students.
“His chance”. That narrowed it down; there were 9 students, only 1 female. Vanessa probably hadn’t gotten desperate enough to steal yet; plus her coordination was suspect. It would take planning and a coordination to manipulate the machine. Down to eight. I could count myself out, since I had come with some money prepared for the school and didn‘t drink pop. That left 7. Jeremy had a job and lived away from the school, as did Romeo; that left 5. By default there could be only--
“Guys, I’m going to give you one more chance; does anyone have anything to say, or apologize for as far as theft goes; does anyone want to admit to stealing? If you‘re honest, I‘ll give you a second chance.”
Silence. Still down to 5; Ball, Rudy, Ted, Javad, and Marco. Marco worked like a madman, and was never at the school since he was always out chasing girls and sleeping over at their houses. That left 4.
Rudy wasn’t fool enough to steal, or was too lazy; he spent the whole day smoking and only drank chocolate milk anyways. He wouldn’t jeopardize himself for a can of coke. That left 3. Ted would probably not steal from you, but would kill you if you called him a thief and were wrong. He would probably kill you if you were right too. Joe understood this. He knew our minds, and Teddy’s. Joe proceeded carefully; the “Dirty Dutchman” sat there sucking on his filthy handlebar moustache- FSSSTP- staring at his fingers curling a twist of his hair in front of his eyes. Once in a while he looked at Joe. If he had stolen, he would soon explode with anger at the ambiguity of it; he hated incoherence.
“Yeah, I heard ya Joe” shot Teddy.
That ruled Ted out. Or did it? Could we be about to see a showdown? Teddy just sat there in his chair shaking his leg, and he had one hand in the pocket of his pajama pants, which he wore almost all day when not working at Sears Auto. He even wore them grocery shopping, an odd match to his full bomber jacket- FSSSSSTP. He could match Joe with Psychology, but it would end real ugly, like how the cold war could have ended. I looked for the exit. Teddy just sucked on his ‘stache, nodding a little bit, shaking that leg of his and fumbling in his pocket, either with his member or a knife. What the hell was going on in his head?
“Ok guys, I’m going to tell you, I’ve got someone on tape stealing from me. Does anyone have anything to say? Anyone? Anyone at all?”
I was pretty sure we were down to two, and who would steal from the stupid Vending machine at this point? We all knew it was a camera. Then I remembered; Ball was stoned and Javad was away when the whole “I smell gas” performance happened.
Javad and Ball sat there, two bored 4 year-olds being preached at for chewing gum in church. Everything was going in Javad’s left ear and out Ball’s right, but Javad had his ‘face’ on. I’d seen that face before. It was the face that said “I know something, and you probably know it too. In fact, I’m certain you know what I know, but I won’t say what I know because I’ll be damned if I’m going to call my bluff for you.” It was the same face he would make in a car after somebody had farted, it wasn’t you, and he was the only other person there. You’d look at Javad, wretch a bit, and he would say nothing, like you’d imagined it; he’d lie to your face and make you feel stupid for it. Every time Joe ordered fast food, Javad volunteered to pick it up so he could spit in Joe’s shake and rev the van to max before slamming it into gear, trying to kill it but not suspiciously. The van squealed and complained, and only Javad knew what other liberties he had taken at the school. He had his own psychology. Revenge was in his thick Iranian blood. Maybe he could out-psychology Joe. Maybe.
The other candidate was Ball. Aaron was always a likely candidate for theft- no job, always hungry from the munchies, and a little slow. He barely talked, never really had anything funny to say, and spent his time stoned, laughing at TV on the big screen. We called him Ball because Aaron (his real name) sounded too lofty. He liked green things, and once on a tour he sat for hours saying nothing, then when he saw a kid playing soccer with a green ball, Aaron just spouted out “ball,” and that was it; from then on he was Ball. Once he watched a wildlife show about Zebra’s. When the Zebras finished mating, the male pulled out and ball saw that horses probably envied Zebras. Ball’s comment was “Zebras are cool” and that was all there really was to know about Ball. Although he could solve a Rubix cube in 30 seconds, he was not a match for Joe in a battle of psychology. Poor ball. If he had stolen, he was doomed.
“Guys, last chance. Is there anything you want to say? Anything at all? AARON, I’m looking at you. Anything to say? About stealing? AAIRR-RUN?” Joe whined.
“Nope” with trilling, punchy n, and a finish like a popping bubble.
“Yyyyep” said Ball as he looked at Joe, too stoned, or too scared to respond.
“Erry (Terry) ” big inhale for dramatic effect, “rolllllllll the tape.” Terry “Lipshits” Norris put in the tape, pushed play and Javad, Ball, and Teddy all took a deep breath in. So did I. We had all been outdone! It wasn’t of the training ring as we all thought, no! It was Terry’s room! The camera that protected the precious Van that Javad repeatedly violated was now focused on Terry’s messy den of toilet paper, greasy clothes, uncovered mattress, and few cases of pop. We had been so easily duped. Who would it be? We watched in horror at the still filth of Terry’s musty room. The tape rolled. Then the victim entered.
Ball walked in, looking side to side as though he knew something was up, then walked to the pop. He took one, opened it on the spot, and took a long swig. He drank probably half that pop and picked up another one, pocketing it. Another sip. Again he looked side to side, one side being directly at the camera, and then walked out of the shot, one pop in hand and one in pocket. I noticed Javad’s gut extend a bit further over his belt, and his mouth opened slightly as he exhaled; his expression didn’t change, but he had survived. Teddy sat there still curling his hair - FSSSSSTP- his leg still twitching. Apparently game not over for T. For Ball though, the writing was on the wall.
Truth. The camera had seen it. We had seen it. Joe had seen it. Ball had seen it. Hell, even the silence hanging in the room had seen as plain as day; Ball had stolen pop. Undeniably, on camera, without even a hat to offer some hope of a plea of “not me,” Ball had taken a pop, opened it, drank it, and left with it all on Camera. We looked at Aaron with sympathy and awe at the obstinacy of his “Nope.” The grand inquisitor had done his part, now only the confession had to come. Joe paused for dramatic effect and pursed his lips together. Twiddling his fingers together above his gut, he inhaled as he got ready to impale the traitor. Ball was in the stocks but we were all going to lose-- again. Psychology match over, victory to the master.
“Aaron, I’m going to ask you one final time. Did. You. Steal. My. Pop?”
Ball looked right at him, then looked nervously around at all of us exhausted, ready to sleep, pissed off at having this stupid meeting, mentally exasperated, no trainer, out $3,500 for nothing, students. Theft.
He looked at Joe. Square in the eye.