Pythons on a Shuttle Bus
My love affair with WWF wrestling started with a visit to my mom’s friend’s house on a Friday night, the friend whose son, Wes, happened to be one of the cool boys who hovered at the top of every self-respecting sixth-grade girl’s crush list. While Mom chatted upstairs with her friend, Wes led me to the basement where announcers barked names of wrestlers in the upcoming bouts: The Junkyard Dog, British Bulldogs, Jake the Snake, the Iron Sheik, Big John Studd, and, of course, Hulk Hogan. Wes left me lingering at the door while he leaped across the brown shag carpet to a sagging couch. He crouched on the threadbare arm of the couch, a frog ready to pounce.
“This one’s gonna be close. The Iron Sheik is fierce.” Wes said, his eyes never leaving the TV.
The Iron Sheik stepped into the ring to a roar of boos. The mustache, the glowering, bulbous mug—I could tell he was bad news. Not to mention the headscarf, which evoked America’s reliance on foreign oil and tickled the right racist bones to turn the Sheik into an instant villain. Wes threw the thumbs-down at the TV screen as if the Sheik could see through the miles of cable to the basement den.
The boos turned to cheers when all-American hero, Hulk Hogan, a blonde halo flapping from his tan bald spot, broke into a run to meet his opponent.
During the match, Wes ping-ponged from couch to floor, tugging at his WWF t-shirt and barking orders at the TV.
“Come on, Hulk! Finish him.”
I got lost in the flashing lights on the screen. I forgot that I had come along with my mom to try and gain some romantic leverage over the throngs of girls who stopped by Wes’ desk in the morning. I forgot the flotillas of girls cuter than me, slipping Wes Banana Now-and-Later candies and sticks of Fruit Stripe gum before the bell. I became absorbed into the drama unfolding on his 27-inch static-fringed TV screen.
Hulk Hogan looked to be down for the count. My face contorted in worry. Wes threw me a serious look. “Don’t worry about Hulk. Hulk always gets up.”
No matter his opponent Hulk always found himself on the verge of losing, usually due to an illegal folding chair incident. (What good were the referees anyway?) He’d be sprawled on the mat, an equally muscled, oiled man spread across his glistening chest. The good-for-nothing ref pounded the floor, yelling “One! Two!”
As the ref neared the three-count, that’s when I saw it, the shaking fist that signaled Hulk wasn’t as down-and-out as he seemed. He could gut it through, at least long enough to rip his t-shirt from his tan, muscled chest. During the Hulk comeback Wes jumped on the couch. “He did it again!”
I felt myself rising from the couch, ready to sing along with the Hulkster’s signature Rick Derringer-penned theme song: I AM A REAL AMERICAN, FIGHT FOR THE RIGHTS OF EVERY MAN.
Wes’ younger sister, who had jammed herself into a corner of the couch during the bout, curled her lip. “What’s the big deal? It’s all fake anyway.”
Wes hopped onto his sister pinning her to the couch cushion. “Take it back,” he said, twisting the skin around her wrist until she gasped and relented.
We burst into laughter. I relished the moment of being on Team Wes. I felt like I would explode out of my skin or throw up if he came any closer to me and threw a ropy arm around my shoulder. Were girls allowed to love wrestling? It was unclear. For me, it was love at first body-slam. I loved the drama, the stories, the societal id on full display as each match unfolded. Good versus evil. Hulk vs. Iron Sheik.
Wrestling felt honest, straightforward in a way my rapidly changing eleven-year-old life did not. At the start of sixth-grade my best friends ditched me. I was too chubby, cried too easily, took too much pride in being smart. I was too much of all the wrong things. I was inept at maneuvering the evolving social hierarchy, at recognizing how my position with my former best-friend had been usurped by the girls warming up for their future lives as teen queen-bees. In wrestling, might made right. The drama was on display, in full blood, sweat, and tears glory. I had been discarded by my friends for my lack of social capital, but I knew that I could take on any of those girls in the ring. In a steel cage match, I would emerge bloodied but victorious, a hank of Sun-In bleached hair clutched in my fist.
After a few weeks of tuning into WWF Friday nights with my brother and dad, 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 twisted 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 displeased him. She always came back to the Macho Man, somehow unable to resist the way he stuck his pinky finger straight in the air and through clenched teeth cursed his rivals with a laryngeal whine. He was a bad boy, an abusive bad boy so tough that the name Randy Savage was not sufficient to express his hyper-masculinity. 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 ensnared me. Or that voice, that indescribable voice.
And then he took off his sunglasses. Shiver. Please don’t ever take off your sunglasses, Mr. Macho Man. His face wasn’t even the most desperate sixth-grade girl’s idea of cute.
My wrestling love endured long enough for Dad to haul my brother and I to two WWF extravaganzas at the Capital Centre. I saw Hulk Hogan, the Junkyard Dog, and the British Bulldogs who I decided were my favorite tag-team wrestlers because I liked their accent, which lent them a modicum of sophistication in a decidedly unsophisticated milieu.
In school, Wes and I found common ground in wrestling, chattering excitedly every Monday morning about the previous Friday’s matches. I didn’t realize it, but I had entered the friend-zone with Wes. Sometimes he tried out wrestling moves on me at recess, and my stomach felt giggly at his touch, but I was just one of the wrestling-loving guys to him. From afar my former friends snickered at us, although I knew they were secretly jealous that Wes paid attention to me.
When middle school hit, I abandoned WWF. Wrestling was childish and ridiculously fake as Wes’ sister had said. WWF was the realm of rednecks, the unwashed masses who I grew to disdain as I continued my (failed) quest to rejoin my former friends in their rarified popular air. I may have lived in the most redneck of the Washington, D.C. suburbs, but I could resist the base charms of hick culture even if it meant tucking away my beloved Macho Man folder.
In 2002, my husband-to-be and I boarded an Avis shuttle bus, exhausted from our flight to Detroit where we were visiting his grandma. The bus was packed with other weary travelers, guys in business suits, their eyes glazed as they stared at the sun-baked pavement beyond the tinted windows. The bus was about to depart from the terminal when the doors shushed open and the widest muscleman I’d ever lay eyes on climbed on board. Skintight acid-washed jeans strained against his thighs. A white muscle t-shirt hugged the ridges and valleys of his torso including a whisper of a paunch above his belt. The telltale wraparound sunglasses perched atop his lumpy nose. Fake tan coated every inch of exposed skin. He mumbled something about a car to the driver in a familiar laryngeal growl buried beneath years of vocal abuse. His voice was the sound of shredded vocal chords, a walking cautionary tale to chorus classes everywhere of the importance of singing—or yelling—from the diaphragm instead of the throat. He loomed over the driver, his bear-paw hands on the luggage bar behind him.
“Sorry Mr. Savage, they haven’t found your car but you can catch a ride.”
With both hands, Macho Man hit the luggage 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, my husband, 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.”
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 python-like biceps. The urge to pinch his leg was overwhelming. Could I actually get a fingertip-ful of denim or were the pants actually as sprayed on as they looked? I squeezed my husband-to-be’s hand. He knew of my Macho Man love. No secrets in this relationship.
I felt a frothiness in my chest, rapid onset nausea: the sudden urge to SAY SOMETHING to mark my place in a celebrity’s memory. I weighed the consequences of me blurting out, “You were my favorite wrestler when I was 12.”
Would he lay a hand on me and squeeze my wrist to breaking while grumbling, “Well, you’re a big girl now.”
Mentally, I tried to soften the obvious “aren’t you old” rudeness of that statement, “I used to love you. Whatever happened to Elizabeth? I like your Slim Jim commercials. You were on my folder.”
All the possibilities left me fearful that, after a day of rental car frustration, I would be the final straw to break the Macho Man’s bowed back. The powder keg who ignited the famous Avis Shuttle Bus Macho Man Meltdown.
Being so close to him I felt like I could touch history. My personal history. I imagined the excitement of the twelve-year-old me pausing by Wes’ desk at school. “Hey I sat next to Randy Savage on a shuttle bus.” Or rather “I had a vision that I will share a shuttle bus bench with Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage fifteen years in the future.” Maybe Wes would have gone with me then. Maybe we could have turned the heads of my former friends-turned-rivals at the sixth-grade dance, laid the groundwork for my return to their world.
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 five-feet tall, clomped to the front of the bus.
“Take it easy, Macho Man,” the driver said. I envied him the smooth rapport with my former idol.
Macho Man grunted. We all exhaled. No heroics would be necessary on this ride. The pythons exited without incident.
About the Author: Katherine Sinback's work has appeared in The Rumpus, daCunha, Clackamas Literary Review, Writers Northwest, and Edging West. She publishes her zine Crudbucket and writes two blogs: the online companion to Crudbucket, and Peabody Project Chronicles 2: Adventures in Pregnancy After Miscarriage. She can be found on Twitter, Crudbucket, and Peabody Project.
Author Photo by Isaac Harrell
Author Photo by Isaac Harrell