From the moment he witnessed “Crippling” Ed Diction throw Coconut Swallows into an on-coming car outside Classy Lou’s in Fontana, John always wanted to be a pro wrestler.
One morning, thirty-seven years earlier, Johnny’s Uncle Ronnie decided they would take a little detour to a stripmall rather than to Johnny’s school. When Johnny asked if they were here for a round of bowling or pool supplies, Ronnie laughed and laughed and walked inside Classy Lou’s without another word. And while Johnny appreciated Ronnie leaving the radio on, he still couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that they weren’t here for a new pool skimmer.
Fifteen minutes later, sometime during Steve Perry’s repeated insistence that he is, in fact, still someone’s Steve Perry, Uncle Ronnie stepped back out of Classy Lou’s. At least in the sense that Mr. Diction threw Ronnie by the mustache out the door and onto the asphalt. And as he witnessed some sort of criminal act in progress, Johnny noticed Mr. Diction was a rather large man capable of hurting a man much, much smaller, fatter, and drunker than him with great ease and immense pleasure.
Sometime around his ninth birthday, Johnny thought to ask his mother if she’d heard from Uncle Ronnie recently.
“Who the shit is Uncle Ronnie?” she replied in that way when one really, really wants to know who the absolute shit is Uncle Ronnie.
And now as he stood before the holographic projection of a trio of teeny-headed, large-bellied men in oversized robes, somewhere in the middle of a large arena filled to capacity with a live crowd of thousands and trillions watching illegal streams on the space-internet, John wondered why he was thinking about the man his father allowed to sleep in their driveway on alternative Tuesday and Thursday nights for the better part of two years.
“Who the Hell do you think you are?” the teeny-headed, large-bellied man on the left gurgled.
“I think there’s been some sort of mistake,” John said.
“You’re damn right,” the teeny-headed, large-bellied man on the right jowled, banging his fist on a table that wasn’t there, yet somehow made a noise anyway. “You’ve interfered with forces beyond your comprehension.”
The third teeny-headed, large-bellied man said nothing and fiddled with something in his hands as the other two looked on, waiting.
“Yeah. Okay,” the left one eventually said. “Look. We appreciate our independent contractors taking the initiative and blah-blah-blah, we simply can’t have someone succeeding on their own merits.”
“What Book’urr means,” the right one interjected, “is that, while we love – while the fans–“
The arena roared to life, then immediately silenced.
“What the Hell?” John asked of no one, but, really, would have loved for anyone to reply with even a guess.
The right one continued as if he hadn’t just been interrupted by thousands of Flimflammians and Goozles eerily precise cheering, “love you – we simply can’t afford to abandon our plans now.”
“Plans?” John asked, this time specifically of the very strange men saying very strange things in this very strange place.
“He knows of the plans!” Book’urr exclaimed, turning to the teeny-headed, large-bellied man on John’s right, but to his left. “Pen-sil, he knows of the plans!”
“Who are you?” Pen-sil demanded.
“Did Phil send you?” Book’urr added, fairly certain it was, in fact, Phil, that sonnovabitch.
“That asshole knows he can’t run shows here.”
“I don’t know who Phil is,” John assured them.
“Well,” Book’urr said, “who the Hell are you then?”
John considered this. “Nobody.”
Pen-cil scoffed. “You dare play games now, Boy?”
“Seriously,” John insisted. “I’m just – just some mediocre nobody who won the World Championship of freakin’ Fountain Valley.”
“Meteo’kar!” Pen-cil bellowed.
“I don’t care if you are your World’s Champion–“
“Of Fountain Valley,” John repeated. “I feel like it’s very important right now that I emphasize that, again, I am world champion of Fountain Valley – a city known for a bowling alley, a park, and existing. In that order.”
Pen-cil continued as if John hadn’t said a word, “insist on unraveling our handwork willy-nilly–“
“I don’t. Really, I don’t,” John interrupted, yet again. “Also, did you just say, ‘willy-nilly’?”
“Enough!” Book’urr drools. “Nobody uses such language with the Promoters of the Universe!”
Pen-Cil turned to the middle teeny-headed, large-bellied man. “What say you, General Manager?”
The middle teeny-headed, large-bellied man looked up from whatever was more important than whatever this is. “For your transgression, you are to compete one-on-one with,” he dramatically paused, “the Overseller!”
The crowd roared. A man squealed with a bit too much delight. And John stood there even more confused than before, and wishing he’d canceled on Pete at the last minute like he had kinda, sorta wanted to.
“Beseech me, Contestant!” General Manager smiled.
To be continued…