A Tale from the Road
Five men usually occupy a table off by themselves at the local watering hole where the wrestlers on the southeast circuit and the fans that follow them religiously congregate after matches. One guy’s really old and walks with the help of two canes and support from the other four. Here’s the most garrulous of the four; possessed of clear mind and memory. Two are old, balding, gnarled and stooped from a life of taking moves and dishing out punishment. You can see the miles they’ve traveled etched on their faces, hardened eyes, grim, sardonic smiles when pestered by fans who don’t fully remember them unless their parents told of their exploits. The last two are middle aged, but their time is past, physiques marked by a southward drift of upper body development that has settled on their waistlines. What little hair they have left is shaved tight to their scalps, and, since it’s summer here, the tank tops they wear reveal the telltale scars of acne on their backs, marks of a time when you could get away with doing whatever it took to get ahead faster. Their eyes are younger, not as darkened, but they flit about like terrified birds.
The bond they share is the beer they drink whenever the crew from LaMissAla Wrestling makes a stop; we rarely see them otherwise. The oldest is a fixture around town, usually being ferried here and there by a rotating one of the four. He’s usually in a wheelchair then, slowly wheeling through the Winn Dixie to pick up junk food, frozen dinners, and beer, or cadging coffee and donuts at Drusilla’s bakery. He’ll talk your ear off, if you let him. It’s tough to get a word out from whoever is the caretaker on these trips. Mostly, they just nod, stare into their coffee, or drop a barely audible “that’s right” at whatever yarn the old guy with the gray goatee, laughing eyes, and the braided ponytail spins.
It’s really too bad that the locals, and the youngsters who work the circuit, don’t give these guys much mind. They aren’t old curios way past their shelf lives. The two youngest are still at an age where they could work, and the two older guys are no more aged than some of their contemporaries who retire and unretire to just get one more match in a blatant effort to grab money. They can tell you all about such people, and the life on the roadway back when. They know how to find the best eats, the cheapest beds, the warmest arms, and the rowdiest bars. They can tell you who to get your money from in advance, what locals like to go into business for themselves in the ring, and how to get heat from a crowd of twenty-five Baptists at a church fundraiser. There’s no end to what they know.
Some of it they all wish they could forget, but it’s etched deeper in their memories than the scars on their bodies. It’s a road story that they’d rather not share, but concern for others, and the business, drives them to bend the ear of anyone willing to listen.
Have a seat, buy a couple rounds, and listen. They can tell it better than I can.
Coming from PsychoToxin Press on 8/1/23.