You Can Never Go

The first time we brought our traveling wrestling show to my hometown, I had visions of showing the boys my old haunts. D’Angelo’s for the best pizza. The Hearth for the best wings. We’d go to Unlucky Ned’s and get drunk in the same spot where I’d poured for the masses. Maybe get a free pitcher or two, the prodigal son returned.

But no one cared. For them, it was another stop and what did they want with twenty-dollar pie, with a fifteen dollar order of wings, when McDonald’s and its value menu were open twenty-four hours. When they needed to make time for the weight room, time to catch a catnap before they got to the arena.

So I went with them.

I stopped in at the doughnut shop on Adams Street. Had to get at least a taste of local flavor. Everyone working was a pimply-faced teenager, but I edged up to the pretties one—the one with the least acne, who wasn’t taking orders, but rather stacking doughnut boxes by the counter. Her white, collared shirt was just a little too small. I imagined her breasts were growing and she was still getting taller. The buttons threatened to burst. She had long hair, someplace between platinum and honey. I asked if she could help me.

The poindexter next to her told me he was taking orders, but I held onto her with a Greco-Roman eyelock. “What’s your favorite, sweetheart?”

She looked from me to four-eyes to the doughnut case, all of those pastries glossy with icing, all powdery sugar, all bulging with cream. “I like the lemon frosted.”

I slapped a hand on the glass counter, harder than I meant to, hard enough that it rattled, mercifully not hard enough to shatter. “I’ll have a dozen of them. And the biggest coffee you’ve got.”

The kid with glasses got them together. I kept my eyes on Goldilocks there. “You like wrestling?”

She had one of the boxes between us, like it was protection. “Not really.”

“Well I’m a wrestler and I think you oughta come out to the Coliseum tonight to see me. I’ll leave you tickets—one for you, one for your boyfriend.”

“I don’t have a boyfriend.”

Jackpot. “Bring a friend then. Someone as pretty as you, and we’ll let you come backstage after the show.”

The kid who was getting my order cleared his throat, standing at the register.

I leaned in close. Had to squint to read her nametag—my eyesight is for shit. “Kendra. I’ll leave two tickets for Kendra.” 

I couldn’t hold tickets, though. What’s the matter, I’ve seen the boys hold tickets all the time. They told me that was for bigger arenas, but with only a thousand seats to fill, they had to try and sell them all.

Just as well. If Kendra and her girl friend showed, it’d be good for them to know they were an afterthought. They could pay to see me and I’d buy them drinks after. They probably weren’t old enough to buy their own.

And it’s not like any of my old buddies ever answered my messages about coming to see me. Not like Ma did either. The hell with them.

There’d be familiar faces in the crowd. Enough people to cheer me.

Except there weren’t. No friendly faces, and I was playing the heel. They booed me—my own people. No sign they remembered who I was. No sign I’d made good. No Kendra, much less a friend. I’d might as well have been fighting anywhere.

I lost the match. Walked back to the curtain holding the back of my neck, selling like I was hurt. And I saw a face I knew. My old boss from my first gig flipping burgers in high school. Fatter than ever, propped up on a cane, so it took an effort to get on his feet. I thought he might want to shake my hand.

You’re a bum. He spit in my face. Not the first time. Incidental spittle of an angry man. A man who’d paid his ten dollars at the door to lose himself in the fantasy of the show. Men engaged in combat. The freedom to yell at the bad guys all he wanted, mean as he wanted, with no one to tell him to take it easy. In his element. At home.

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