And Another Thing: The Road: New Meat
Posted by Hyatte on 01.01.2000
So begins a rookie’s journey.
It took a year, but here was the sequel to the first “Road” piece. This column is one of the reasons why Josh Grut loves me.
The first part dealt with an old timer’s relationship with the business. This part deals with a rookies. Remember, this was supposed to be a Trilogy, so the third part, if there is one, is to focus on a current superstar.
(originally presented November, 2000: 411 wrestling)
It took Ted Malloy nine hours to travel four hundred and seventy miles. Nine hours on the road, with the Stones, the Who, the Doors, and Van Halen for company. He left his home at 7:00 Friday morning, he arrived at the building at 5:00 p.m. In about five hours, he will have his first ever professional wrestling match. Needless to say, he was excited.
Lou was there to meet him. When they first met, Lou told Ted that he was a "circuit booker". Basically, Lou was in charge of making sure big names who were "working the Indys" knew where they were going, had Hotel rooms, and got paid. He was the middle man for those Stars who needed some cash while they were "between companies" as the saying goes. Lou had stories, a million of them. When they first met, Lou talked about the time Cowboy Bill Watts once showed up unannounced at a show and immediately signed two workers to his Mid-South company. Being only 19, Ted was more than willing to believe Lou on that. Then Lou told him about how he personally planted a chair at the far end of the entranceway and told a very green Steve Austin to "just sit there and watch!" He was lying, Austin told that story to "Rolling Stone". Only Stone Cold didn't say the guy who told him that was named Lou. Ted knew this, Ted read the article too.
Lou told Ted that another part of his job involved scouting fresh talent and touring them around the Indy circuit. Independent companies are teeming with wrestling wannabes, but are terribly short on actual talent. Ted knew that Lou never shook Vince McMahon's hand and looked him in the eye. Ted knew that Lou never shared a cab ride with a young star named Terry Bollea. He knew that Lou probably never got drunk with Arn Anderson and talked him into driving around and look for Hookers. Ted doubted that Lou did any of that. What Ted did believe, thanks to the local Indy promoter he worked for, was that Lou knew his way around the Indy scene and did bring new talent around for some "on the job training" and experience.
This is why Ted was very interested in becoming Lou's friend.
Ted always wanted to be a Professional Wrestler, ever since he was barely into his teens. There's a saying that has been going around lately, "On Monday night, everybody wants to be a Wrestler. The ones who still do on Tuesday have a shot." Since he first saw it on TV, Ted knew what he wanted to be. He immediately joined his Amateur team at school, mostly to gain balance and build his conditioning. Once he hit his Sophomore year at High School, he was actually quite good; not great, certainly not Scholarship material, and he lost a great deal more then he won... but he knew how to bridge, he knew how to execute take downs, and he knew how to maintain body awareness at all times. That's all he really wanted.
He went to his first Indy show two years ago and caught up with the Promoter afterwards in the parking lot. He pleaded his case, asking... no... begging the Promoter for some information on training. The Promoter offered him free training within the company in exchange for free labor. No one gets rich in the Independents, there's simply not enough money to go around... so free labor is worth more than Gold. The Promoter told Ted that if he showed up at every show four hours early, help set up the ring, help arrange the chairs, and take the tickets; then help break it all down and sweep up afterwards, he'll get to work out a little before the gate opens. Ted readily accepted. It was the ideal set up. The Indy fed was local, running shows primarily in his state. He could be at every one. He could learn, without having to travel hundreds of miles a week to an overpriced school to learn from a bitter old worker who'd spend most of the time griping about how wrestling has changed.
So, for two years he set up rings, arranged chairs, and took tickets. He also learned the trade. He had more practice than he thought possible. See, Indy workers have day jobs, and sometimes, they weren't able to get off work early enough to have a "run-through" match against his opponent. Run-throughs aren't all that important in the big leagues, all those boys really need are the highlights of what's scripted and they can improvise everything else. For Indy workers, however, run-throughs are vital. Ted got to be in a lot of run-throughs. He learned the art of calling spots, boiling them down into quick, single syllable commands. He learned how to land safely on his back from almost any height. He learned how to use a chair, how to take a chair. Most importantly, he learned how to sell his moves and his opponent's moves as well. No one would mistake him for Chris Benoit or Billy Kidman, but they might start mistaking him for an actual wrestler. That was good enough for him.
Lou introduced himself to Ted after watching him have a run through with a big bruiser named "Cannon". Lou was on hand because he brought Tito Santana to work tonight's the main event against the fed's current champ. Lou told Ted that he had a certain fluidity about him in there, and it's not a lot of guys who could be so graceful against a 300 pounder like Cannon. They got to talking, Lou told his stories and Ted listened kindly. Finally, Lou asked him if he wanted to work a show in two weeks two states over. "Ready to taste it?" was his actual question. Ted said yes, he most certainly did want to taste it, no matter how far he had to travel in order to. Lou laughed, then encouraged Ted to keep up that attitude.
Two weeks and two states later, Lou and Ted entered the building through a side entrance. Ted could barely stop himself from smiling. They met the Indy boss... named Hutch. Hutch and Lou spoke for a moment, mostly about Ted and if he was ready. Then Lou told Hutch to trust him. Hutch agreed. He said to Ted, "You'll be great tonight, Kid. I'll open you up at the top right after Intermission. You'll be working with Jack Cyclone. He's been working our circuit for six months." Ted nodded eagerly. Jack Cyclone. No problem.
Hutch then said, "You'll be putting him over, of course. I have him planned for a title run in a few months. I'll give you eight minutes to show us what you got. You cool with eight minutes Teddy?" Ted was very cool with eight minutes. He wasn't thrilled about being called "Teddy", but Ted decided not to mention anything about it to the man who will give him his first eight minutes as a real pro wrestler.
Hutch laughed, and told Ted to go find Jack Cyclone and run-through their eight minutes. After giving Ted a rough description of his first opponent, Hutch and Lou took off to talk business. Ted went off to find Jack Cyclone.
He eventually found Cyclone in the Men's room, smoking a joint with a few other wrestlers. Ted tried to hide a look of disgust. This is not how professionals act... even professionals in training. He must have hid his distaste well, or maybe Cyclone was too wasted to notice (and judging from his bloodshot eyes, either choice was a strong possibility. Cyclone shook Ted's hand and asked how matches he worked. Ted told him the truth. Jack Cyclone roared with laughter and screamed "NEW MEAT". The other dopers in the bathroom joined him in chanting "NEW MEAT". Jack Cyclone ran out of the bathroom, the others followed him... they chanted "NEW MEAT" down to the dressing room... where everyone joined in. Ted walked out and found himself surrounded with Indy wrestlers all chanting, "NEW MEAT, NEW MEAT,. NEW MEAT". Ted smiled, only because he had no clue what else to do. After a few more minutes, the chant broke up. A laughing Jack Cyclone took Ted and walked towards the just erected ring. Still giggling, Jack explained to Ted that this is what they always do to new comers. It was sort of a ritual. Ted wondered if smoking pot in the men's stall before trying to work a safe match against someone was a ritual too, but he didn't ask. All Ted knew was that Jack Cyclone was in for the hardest eight minutes of his life. That's all Ted knew.
The run-through was a breeze. Cyclone has always been the Face since he started, and he has no plan to change tonight. Ted was to be the Heel. Cyclone felt that it would be best to go "old school" tonight. The Face works his spots early. The Heel takes the middle minutes, then the Face rallies in the last two minutes and scores the dramatic pinfall. That means that once they cleared the first two minutes, Ted had four minutes to show he's got the skills. Cyclone asked Ted if he could use a chair, because he wanted to practice taking some stiff shots on the head. Ted said he did, and clubbed Cyclone a few times lightly to show that he knew how to hit him correctly. Cyclone asked what Ted's Finisher was going to be. Ted said Tornado DDT. He picked it because it was exciting, it looked great, and it made him look fast and athletic. It was also a Finisher that the victim totally controlled, so it was a tough move to stiff and really hurt someone with. Cyclone liked it, and told Ted that he could use it to cap off his four minutes and set up the dramatic finale. Cyclone's finisher was a Victory Roll. Both men agreed on the finish. They practiced the finer points of the match and set up some quick code words to call for moves. The run-through was barely ten minutes long. The doors were about to be opened and other workers needed some time in there. Cyclone wanted to go smoke another joint with some friends to "mellow out". Ted said nothing. Ted promised himself to give Jack Cyclone four minutes he'll never forget. Wrestling is a Sacred Business. It should be treated that way.
The doors were opened, the seats were filled, and the crowd was in good spirits tonight. The Indy card was off and running. Ted was already in his gear, standard elbow pads, knee pads, black tights, and white tape across both knuckles. Sweat poured out of his body as if he had a leak somewhere. He did push-ups, sit-ups, dips, stretches... anything to release the nervous tension. Finally, the Intermission. He was up next. He was about to officially begin the first day of the rest of his life.
Lou and Hutch called him into a makeshift office. He walked in and saw that Lou was holding a bow tie, and not a clip-on either. Hutch explained to him that if "Ted Malloy" came out there, the crowd would quickly start staring at their shoes, running to the bathroom, or talking to their neighbors. Maybe worse, they may start the feared, "BORING" chant... the one thing that every single worker hates worse than anything. Lou explained that the first match after Intermission has to be a barnstormer, because the fans had a chance to cool down after cheering, booing, and screaming for the first part. The post-Intermission opener needed to get them right back into the heat of the moment. It needed to be hot.
Lou handed the bow tie to Ted and told him to put it on. Hutch said that a good Heel is cocky. A good Heel is arrogant. A good Heel thinks he can get any woman he wants. A good Heel believes that the men boo him because they are jealous of him because he can get any woman he wants. Hutch said that no other gimmick works that notion better than a Chippendale's Dancer gimmick. Ted slipped the bow tie around his neck and allowed Lou to fasten it properly. Hutch looked at Ted's well chiseled frame, built on years of steady work outs and proper nutrition, and gave Ted Malloy his stage name. He took off to tell the Ring announcer whom he will be introducing. Ted was left alone in the office with Lou. Lou put his hands on Ted's shoulders and said, "You waited your whole life for this moment. Trust yourself." Ted said that he would. Ted also thanked Ted for the opportunity. Ted through him a wink and said, "Do this right and you'll be thanking me a lot more."
Intermission was over. Ted Malloy bounced on the balls of his feet just outside the door. Jack Cyclone was next to him. Cyclone tested Ted on the spot codes they made up barely two hours ago.
The ring announcer introduced Ted under his new name. Ted was so freaked, he almost forgot that he would be leaving "Ted Malloy" backstage. Jack Cyclone giggled obnoxiously and said, "Forget your name already, sporty?" Ted smiled at Jack Cyclone and opened the door.
The Stud Muffin walked out and met the fans.
Ten minutes later, Ted Malloy walked back into the dressing room to a standing ovation. His hair was ruffled, his shoulder clapped, and his hand was shaken. Hutch came over to him and said that he never saw anyone jump so high off the top rope like that. Another wrestler, one who was smoking the doobie with Jack Cyclone in the Men's Room, praised him on his Moonsault. Jack Cyclone said that improvising that Piledriver on the steel chair was a sweet touch. Three workers asked him how he went headfirst through that table and still be standing. Everyone was in awe at the way Ted played the Heel to the crowd, wagging his tongue to the girls and laughing at outraged men. "Instant Heat" is the term. Everyone agreed, Ted had "Instant Heat".
Finally, Lou came up to Ted, hugged him deeply, and told him to shower up quick. He said that he'll go square up the pay with Hutch.
Ted showered as fast as he could. It was amazing. He hadn't lost an ounce of that energy. The old saw that worker's feed off the Fan's energy is no joke... not for him at least. The whole match was pure magic for him. He sold everything Cyclone threw at him, took every bump, allowed every punch to barely connect before rolling with it. Several times, he heard the crowd "ooh" and "aaah" in amazement. He made Cyclone look great.
And during those four minutes of "Heel time"... his four minutes... he became a God.
Ted finished his shower and changed back into his civvies. He met Lou in Hutch's office. He tried to hand back his bow tie. Hutch laughed and told him to keep it. Ted tosses it in his gym bag and thanked Hutch for the opportunity. Hutch refused to take it, and instead thanked Ted for showing up and putting on one of the best damn performances he's ever seen from a rookie. Hutch reached into a cigar box and pulled out two twenties and a ten. Ted was only promised $30 for tonight, but Hutch told him that he earned the extra $20. Ted took the money. Lou fished his hand in and took a twenty. His other hand gave Ted a five. "Finder's Fee, kid", he told him, "It's part of the game." Ted didn't mind one bit. One final round of handshakes, then Lou and Ted left Hutch's office. It was time to go home.
They were in the parking lot at Lou's car. Ted was ready to give Lou another generous heaping of thanks for the night; but before he could, Lou turned to him and said, "Do you know how good you were in there?"
Ted said that he did. He was being honest.
Lou asked, "Do you realize how good you'll be after your second match? After your third? After a year?"
Ted said that he didn't.
Lou then asked, "There are two more shows this weekend. One is tomorrow night in Clarkstone, 500 miles from here. The other is on Sunday in Handsborough... which is 300 miles from Clarkstone. If we leave now, we can be in Clarkstone by noontime tomorrow. Want to work the road this weekend?"
If Ted Malloy said no, it could have ended right there. He had every reason to refuse. He had taken tonight off from work bussing tables at the Oyster Bar with the promise that he'll do a double shift on Sunday. His Mom would be worried... and he promised his Girlfriend that they would go to the park on Saturday. Ted Malloy did have certain promises to keep. His mind raced as he thought if this was worth risking his job and maybe even his girl over... just for a pair of very long car rides (with one MASSIVE ride back home afterwards) to get to two more eight minute matches. Ted asked himself if it was worth risking his life over?
It didn't take long to answer.
Lou said that they could ride together in his car and split on gas. Lou told Ted that he can leave his car on the lot for the weekend, nobody will touch it. Ted was worried, but not enough to really care.
Five minutes later, they were on the Road. Lou drove and talked about the time Jim Ross asked him if Mick Foley could adapt to the WWF. As the hours crept by, Ted fell into a state of not quite sleep, but more like contented meditation. He was at peace with his choice tonight. He felt like a wrestler. Over and over in his mind, he repeated, "I am a wrestler, I am a wrestler, I am a wrestler"
Quietly, a strange voice in his mind said, "Not yet"
Ted didn't know where this voice came from, it could have been those Butterflies that tried to talk on his way to the building that day, the Butterflies he drowned out with a cranked up CD Stereo in his car. He leaned back in his seat, eyes half closed, pretending to listen to Lou drone on about the time he heard Verne Gagne tell a fifteen year-old Roddy Piper that he didn't have what it takes. Ted sank deeper into his drowse and listened for that strange voice. He mentally asked, "Why aren't I". Then he waited, focusing his eyes on the single slashes of white paint that marked lanes of the Road.
Finally, that strange voice answered, "Because you haven't traveled enough. You haven't spent enough time with me. We haven't become friends yet. I might help you with your dream; or I might eat you up and spit you back to your cozy little suburb. I haven't decided yet."
Ted asked who was this little voice. Where did it come from?
"I am everywhere. I lead to everything," it responded. "I can show you so many things. Take you to so many places. There are three places I know very well. Three places that I'm sure would interest you. One will be in Philadelphia. One would be in Atlanta. The other, of course, is where I've taken many like you. Many with hopes and dreams. It is... the Mecca for all aspiring wrestlers. Do you know where that would be, Stud Muffin?"
Ted knew exactly where that would be. "In Stamford", he said
The voice answered, "Oh yes. In Stamford. I can take you to any of these three, but eventually, I'll bring you to Stamford. All you have to do is stay on me for a long, long time. Much longer than you might think."
"I'll ride you out for as long as it takes", Ted shot back.
The strange voice answered, "Yes... I think you will. But be warned, not every place I take you will be a good place. I take you into some very dark places, Studmuffin. Places that will upset you. I will take you to Motor Inns filled with rats. To street corners where those you would idolize smoke crack. To secret alleys where you will be offered muscle enhancers to compensate from missing a work-out for a week. I will run your car out of gas while your wallet is still dry. There are other dark places. Perhaps your friend knows about a few of them. Listen to what he is saying now and see for yourself."
Ted opened his eyes wide and turned his attention to Lou. Lou was talking about stopping at a motel room in a little while for a two hour break. "Just to chill awhile," he said. "I have some pot in the back here. We can mellow out a little. Smoke some, maybe get some beer. Really discuss your long term future. You up for it, Teddy?"
Ted looked at Lou for a moment. He asked himself a few questions. Questions concerning suspicions, pride, dignity, morals.
Lou then said, "That bow tie, man. You looked real good out there. How did you get that body in such shape?"
That little voice spoke up again, "How far are you willing to go, Studmuffin? I have millions of miles to show you. How far can you last?"
Ted looked at Lou and said to himself, "all the way."
He told Lou that a few beers at a Motel room sounds great. He didn't bother telling him that he hated to be called "Teddy".
Lou said, "cool", then decided that they would log on 50 more miles before stopping.
Ted sat back and watched the single slashes on the Road zoom under the car as they drove. He started counting them.
Once he got to 500 slashes, the Road spoke up one last time:
"Welcome to my world, Studmuffin."
This is Hyatte too.