Friday, May 20, 2011

Pythons on a Shuttlebus


(Reprinted from Crudbucket 6 on the occasion of Randy "Macho Man" Savage's death. R.I.P. Macho Man.)

The night I began my love affair with WWF wrestling returns with startling clarity. A visit to my mom’s best friend’s house on a Friday night, the best friend whose son happened to be one of the supercoolio boys who made an appearance on every self-respecting 6th grader’s crush list. While Mom chatted it up with her friend, Wes took me to the basement where I watched my first wrestling bout. He jumped on the couch, when Hulk Hogan had his comeback moment, the part of any Hulk bout that made you want to start shrieking his Rick Derringer-penned theme song at the top of your lungs. I’M A REAL AMERICAN/ FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF EVERY MAN.

No matter his opponent Hulk always found himself on the verge of going down, usually due to some illegal folding chair incident. (What good were those referees anyway?) He’d be sprawled on the mat, an equally muscled, oiled many laying across him. The good-for-nothing ref pounded the floor, “1-2-3-“ As he neared 10 that’s when you’d see it, the shaking fist that signaled Hulk wasn’t as out as he seemed. He could gut it through, at least enough to tear his t-shirt. During the Hulk comeback Wes jumped on the couch. “He did it again!” Wes’ younger sister, Brande, curled her lip. “It’s all fake anyway.” Wes jumped off the couch and onto Brande, pinning her to the shag carpet. “Take it back,” he said, rubbing a fresh noogie on her head. We were all laughing. I was almost doubled over. Man, this is great, I thought. Were girls allowed to love wrestling?

I decided my favorite was Randy “Macho Man” Savage for reasons that make me want to kiss the feet of Gloria Steinem for rescuing me from my fucked up gender conditioning. Randy ruled his lovely Elizabeth—always referred to by announcers as Lovely Elizabeth—with an iron fist. Sometimes he actually pushed her to the ground if she got in trouble. She always came back, somehow unable to resist the way he stuck his pinky finger straight in the air and through clenched teeth—how DOES one describe that fucked up gravelly whine? Laryngital?—curse his rivals without raising his voice. He was a bad boy, an abusive bad boy so tough that the name Randy Savage was not sufficient to express his hypermasculinity. He added Macho Man for good measure. I slobbered at the thought that someday I could show him the right way to treat a lady. He hadn’t met anyone who could stand up to him. Pathetic Elizabeth, it was all her fault. Or maybe it was the tight tiger-striped fluorescent pants, the perma-tan, the cowboy hat. That voice.

And then he took off his sunglasses. Shiver. Please don’t ever take off your sunglasses, Mr. Macho Man.

My wrestling love stuck around long enough for Dad to haul my brother and I to two WWF extravaganzas at the Capital Center. I saw the Hulkster, the Junkyard Dog, and the British Bulldogs who I decided were my favorite tag-team wrestlers because I liked the accents, which lent them a modicum of sophistication in a decidedly unsophisticated world. I had a trapper keeper folder emblazoned with the Macho Man; I liked the Slim Jim commercials but then middle school hit and I abandoned my WWF, leaving my brother and Dad to carry the torch.

Fast forward to a few years ago when my husband-to-be and I boarded the Avis shuttle bus, exhausted from our flight to Detroit where we would be visiting his grandma. The bus was packed with other weary travelers, mainly business suit guys, their eyes glazing at the sun-baked pavement beyond the windows.

We were about to depart when the doors shushed open and the widest muscleman I’d ever lay eyes on boarded. Skintight acid-washed jeans strained against his thighs. A white muscle t-shirt hugged the ridges and valleys of his torso. The tell-tale wraparound sunglasses perched atop his bumpy nose. Fake tan was everywhere. He mumbled something about a car to the driver in that laryngital strain. His voice was the sound of shredded vocal chords, a walking cautionary tale to chorus classes everywhere of the importance of singing from the diaphragm. (I understand now, Ms. Watkins.) He loomed over the driver, his hands on the luggage bar behind him.

“Sorry Mr. Savage, they haven’t found your car but you should come along.”

With both hands, he hit the bar with a force that shook the bus. The businessmen were awakened from their daze as we all exchanged nervous glances that wondered if the combined power of the businessmen and me could take out this monster man should he go insane between the Wayne County Airport and the Avis. The driver kept his cool, gripping his glorified walkie-talkie.

“I’ve been doing this all day, man,” Macho Man whined through his strained vocal chords.

“Sorry Mr. Savage.”

Lucky me, my former idol slumped into the seat beside me. I stared at the meatiest paw hands I’d ever seen, marveled at the veins crisscrossing his thigh-circumferenced biceps. The urge to pinch his leg was overwhelming. Could I actually get a fingertip-ful of denim or was it actually as sprayed on as it looked? I squeezed husband-to-be’s hand. He knew of my Macho Man love. No secrets in this relationship.

I weighed the consequences of me blurting out, “You were my favorite wrestler when I was 12.” I tried to soften the obvious jerkitude of that statement, “I used to love you. Whatever happened to Elizabeth? I like your Slim Jim commercials. You were on my English folder.” All left me fearful that after a day of rental car frustration, I would be the final straw to break the Macho Man’s back. Being so close to him I felt like I could touch history. I imagined the excitement of the 12-year-old me running up to tell Wes, “Hey I sat next to Randy Savage on a shuttle bus.” Or rather I will 15 years in the future. Maybe he would have gone with me then.

The bus ride was silent. The nervous glances continued until we reached the Avis. When the doors shushed open, all remained seated as Macho Man, who stands just over 5 feet tall (not Prince short, but shorter than you’d expect), clomped to the front of the bus. “Take it easy, Macho Man,” the driver said. He grunted. We all exhaled. No heroics necessary on this ride. The pythons exited without incident.