All little boys have heroes. Ultimate Warrior was one of mine. He died tonight and I will miss him.
Growing up, traditional sports were never a part of my life. I didn’t inherit my dad’s favorite baseball team or hear stories about grandpa’s glory days as an All-American. For all the first generation immigrant moxie my parents handed down, I missed out on the library of life lessons most kids get by watching sports in this country.
What I did have, however, was wrestling.
Saturday afternoons with the WWF. I’d go to my cousins’ house after church every week and wait for my aunt and uncle to take their post-church naps before turning on the TV (a forbidden activity on Sabbath). We had to keep the volume low and restrain ourselves from getting too riled up, but you can imagine how successful three boys ages 6, 9, and 10 would be at such a thing. We stomped around the living room like Bushwhackers and put on sunglasses like Macho Man. We’d wear white trash bags as shirts and rip them off like Hulk Hogan. We each had our heroes and they were almost always babyfaces (good guys) - we were nice little Christian boys after all. But for me, Ultimate Warrior was it. THE guy.
Warrior was intense. Intense in a way that felt real. Yes, he had a ridiculous body and an unreal poof of hair and bright neon face paint, but he always felt honest to me. There was something in his brand of crazy that passed my eyeball test: this guy means it. I don’t know what “it” is, but he is 100% it. He was a good guy, but not like the other good guys. He didn’t smile all the time like Hulk Hogan or bleed chivalry like Macho Man. Warrior just sprinted down the platform, restored justice in the ring and sprinted back from whence he came. No speech. No pandering. No “Look at me! Love me!” Everyone thought he was crazy and he didn’t care. He didn’t embrace or run from himself. He was always just the Warrior. And I remember wanting to be that.
I know wrestling is fake or pre-determined or fixed or whatever you want to call it. And I get that it’s easy to dismiss as terrible. But just remember: all little boys have heroes. And at six years old, most of us can’t grasp the nuances of “greatness” and “character” exemplified in a person like Peyton Manning or Derek Jeter or whatever “real” athlete Nike is selling on TV. Sometimes the best hero is the guy who looks nothing like anything or anyone you’ve ever seen in real life but uses everything he’s got to sprint towards the ring and do the right thing. That’s what the WWF did for me. It taught me about everyday life with a cast of characters who were bigger than everyday life. In wrestling, the good guy doesn’t always win, but what’s important is that he’s the good guy. And in wrestling, good guys come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and 80’s hairstyles. In wrestling, if you try hard enough, you can body slam Andre the Giant. In wrestling, sometimes your friend will betray you and try to steal your girlfriend, the most beautiful woman in your six year old world, Miss Elizabeth, but then you move on with your head held high and become the “heavyweight champion of the woooorld!” What wrestling taught me, is still real to me dammit. To this day, my first and most lasting image of sportsmanship is Warrior and Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI. Ultimate Warrior, the beast from Parts Unknown, embracing the most known All-American Good Guy ever made. Warrior taught me about tenacity and getting back up even when all your facepaint has rubbed off and you’re dry heaving from exhaustion. “Get up. Please get up,” I’d say. And you know what? He would. Every time. The Warrior was unstoppable and true to himself. I can’t think of a better pair of values to teach a six year old - from a guy in a neon speedo, no less.
So, when I found out Ultimate Warrior died tonight, my inner six year old believed he’d get back up again. He’s the Warrior. Ultimate Warrior always gets back up. I believed that then and maybe a part of me still does now.
He parked the car and lightly grabbed her wrist as she unbuckled the seatbelt.
"Hold on," he said, "this is the best part."
They sat frozen while the last two notes of the song played. He gave her wrist a gentle squeeze then let go.
"So good," she said.
"Ok, now we can go. Time to drink," he said.
They stepped out to fresh snow fluttering about - thick flakes, the ones that lingered in the air and feathered down hanging on to the spaces in-between. They walked silently into the diner and headed for the back corner booth.
"How is this table always open for us?" she asked.
He leaned in and whispered, “Fate.”
"Yeah it is. Three times now," she replied.
She widened her eyes with playful excitement. He returned the look and they laughed.
They settled into opposite sides of the booth as a blonde waitress arrived dressed in white. ”How yall doin? Can I get yall anything to drink? It’s cold out there isn’t it?” she asked.
"I’ll have a vodka tonic," she said.
"A double scotch - neat, for me please. That should warm me up."
"That it? Anything to eat tonight, darlin?" the waitress asked him.
"No, thank you. Just the drinks for now please," he said.
The waitress walked away and the two turned back to watch the snow through the window. He caught her reflection in the glass and could see her eyes were tired. He wanted to be needed. She caught him staring. He lowered his head and winked his eyebrows up and down.
She laughed. “Stupid…!”
She turned to face him and let out a small sigh.
"What am I gonna do when you leave?" she asked.
"You know I’ll still be around." he said
She looked square into his eyes. “Not really. It’ll just be me by myself again. Alone again.”
"It won’t be that bad. It’s not like we’ll stop talking," he said.
"I know. I’m just sick of being alone. It’s the worst." She looked away as the waitress returned with their drinks.
He sipped his scotch and held it, letting it coat his mouth before speaking.
"There are worse things than being alone," he said.
"Like what?" she asked.
"Like being torn between two," he said.
She looked away, back out the window, watching the flight of snowflakes on the night’s canvas.
He lost her eyes, but continued. “There’s nothing worse than two loves. Neither can know the whole truth. Neither can have all of you. Neither are getting what they deserve. You’re in limbo between them. Alone.”
She glanced back at him. “Whatever. You still get to go home to someone.”
"True. But for what?" he asked. "To fantasize about the other? To go half the way with both? It’s beyond loneliness. It’s guilt and regret hanging between two hearts and you face it alone."
He blinked hard twice and averted his eyes back out the window.
"There are worse things than being alone," he said.
They sat and watched the snow. He took another drink - bigger this time.
Hey there, Kid. One day you’re gonna grow up to have a head the size of a watermelon. Sure, you’ll have a good three decades with a nice thick head of hair in a variety of faux-hawk designs before it’s all said and done, but make no mistake: your face will be the size of a fucking deep dish pizza after puberty. Blame your dad. You’ll try try to blame him for other things too, like your lack of direction in choosing a meaningful career or your impulsive desire to quit everything at the earliest sign of any adversity or discomfort, but trust me, you have only yourself to blame for that. Revel in these bowl-coiffed times, child; they are some of your best. You can actually jog 30 feet without sucking air like you’ve just been tossed from a wave. You’re still an overachiever. You won’t believe the obnoxious little piss ant clown you become in seventh grade and you’ll kick yourself when you see that SAT score; let’s just say you barely crack four figures. Spoiler alert.
Yeah, it’s disappointing, I know. Get used to it. That might be the defining word of your adult life. Not because life has let you down. You did. You’ll spend most of your nights wondering what the fuck happened and what might have been had you stuck with it longer, ate fewer carbs, and applied yourself now and again. But hey, tough shit. Oh and did I mention the crippling depression that will come and go? Yeah, brace yourself. Don’t worry, you don’t actually have anything to be depressed about, but you won’t be able to help yourself. And the older you get, the more you’ll think you have a handle on it while being completely confused by it. You’ll call yourself a talentless piece of shit and then stay in bed until the guilt of never having left the bed keeps you there another 12 hours or so. Have fun with that.
In about 20 years, you’ll fancy yourself a shrugging writer with a beautiful wife and dog. You’ll live a modest life with earnest ambitions, but you’re really quite clueless; a wandering underachiever still searching for something worth trying for. You won’t find it. But man, the weather in California is gorgeous. You’re gonna love the burritos too. Just look in the mirror (but not with your shirt off. Never with your shirt off!). Before you know it, it’ll be time for you to have a smiling little bowl-cut pumpkin of your own. And you’ll realize that all of your big dreams are just that. Dreams. You’ve been a lazy son of a bitch who can’t figure out what he’s supposed to do. You wanna do something meaningful with your life? Right. I’m sure selling advertising is the way to do it, asshole.
But hey, it’s not all bad. Actually, it’s mostly great. You’ll have had no real personal tragedies in life. And you’ll laugh a lot more than you do anything else. The video games are pretty sweet as time goes on and wait ‘til you try weed for the first time. Jesus. Speaking of which, don’t worry about all that. It goes away in your late 20s and never comes back. Try harder at other things. Your knowledge of the Gospel of John is surprisingly useless. Trust me.
All bullshit aside, life is good. It’s a weird balance of unspeakably awful tragedy and heart-warming triumphs of humanity, but the scales tend to tip towards the good most of the time. Except on Sundays - the Redskins will ruin your life.
It’s a good life you’ve got coming, kid. Just keep that smile on your face and take comfort knowing the french fries only taste sweeter and sweeter with each passing year. They double fry them (Belgian style) at a few places and it will blow your mind. Spoiler alert.
"Throw your hands in the air! Wave em like you just don’t care! But don’t be careless. Wave them side to side, like this, in time with the music, from left to right, in unison with everyone else around you! I know we originally said, ‘wave em like you just don’t care,’ but it turns out this gesture requires a lot more attention and effort than we had previously lead you to believe! Now clap! And clap! Extend your arms all the way up over your head and lightly crane your neck in rhythm as you smack your hands together on the 2! and 4! And clap! And clap! You, white girl, stop applauding! This is a highly synchronized motion meant to accentuate the down beats of this song! Why are you moving your head like that? While we have your attention, throw up a muthafuckin’ finger! Specifically the muthafuckin’ middle one! And say, ‘Oh Yeah!’ But again, refrain from just doing your own thing; the same rules apply here! Say, ‘Oh Yeah’ only after we say it first and with respect to the time signature! Now somebody SCREAM! But bear in mind, we actually mean everybody scream! We won’t be satisfied with just a smattering of screams here and there! We need everybody to make some noise up in this bitch!”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”—Teddy Roosevelt, April 23, 1910. Fight the fuck on, friends.
Louis C.K. said some wonderful things in his RollingStone interview and I never want to forget them:
"The only way to learn stuff is by failing; all this is learned by having bad times. You have to be willing to have a bad time. People that need to feel like a star and like they’re succeeding every time will not ever get better. But if you are willing to feel bad, do badly, have a stale, boring version of yourself out in front of everybody, you can find this stuff in the muck that’s very useful.”
"When it’s time to write, I have one computer that has no ability to get on the internet. Because the ability to just move your finger less than a millimeter and be looking straight into someone’s pussy or at the new Porsche, or a whole movie… it’s too much. So if you put a couple of moves between you and that, you’ve got a fighting chance. When I hit a stopping moment in what I’m writing, a moment of agitation - that itch always leads to a brand new thing, to inspiration… The worst thing happening to this generation is that they’re taking discomfort away from themselves."
On failure and greatness:
"Yeah, all the tools I have come from those years. There’s nothing elusive or ethereal about it; it’s very practical and directly related. I learned how to avoid a huge amount of pitfalls by walking into them and surviving. Then two things happen as you go along. The first thing that happens is your best gets better, but what really matters is when your worst gets better.”
"It’s understandable for people to want all their favorite things to happen, but the crazy thing is to think that they can avoid all of the hard things. To want everything that you ever dreamed of, to the exclusion of anything hard, that feels common to me now in a way that is hurting people. They’re ignoring how much good there is in being present for the hardest parts of your life."
There’s a certain and particular searching that comes with every tragedy. A search for answers. Culprits and motives. A search for hope and silver linings. It happens every time, and sadly, more often, as history degrades into nothing but a series of explosions and attacks. We send out prayers and thoughts for the affected. We donate blood and shed tears. We imagine ourselves in the shoes of others and get angry, or sad, or just plain tired. Why do we react this way? With empathy and compassion, no matter how self-centered their origin?
Maybe it’s the only thing that keeps us going.
Maybe empathy is our reminder that for every tragedy, there is a legion of good. For every injured, a hundred caregivers. For every death, a nation of mourners. For every threat, an army of defenders. For every act of terror, a thousand calls for justice. For every evil act, a million voices to declare, “No. That’s not okay.”
And that’s the only thing that gets me by on days like today. We outnumber the rotten. We don’t win every round, but we will always have the numbers. Even on days where answers are few and chaos seems to be holding the reins, the good are still winning. Healing, fighting, sleuthing, guarding, weeping, praying, hugging, and holding each other up. We are living, and for as long as that’s true, we will be winning. And that’s the only thing that gets me by on days like today.
to live is to pass time. to be happy is a state of mind that comes with knowing what you want and the games played to attain them. so put your face on. mount up. stretch. run yourself ragged ‘til your legs give out and your mind clears enough to reveal the fog of lies that surrounds you. a smog filled dew of greed and sleaze in the so-called city of angels.
to live is to move on to be happy is to get along friending her, toasting him, and singing on key to a song you hate. better a clown than a malcontent. better a shy chick than a grown ass woman deeply afflicted, wounded and lonely. carry on like the baggage you heel whenever you sleep or wince or smirk or grimace or squint down a path the leads nowhere and further away. to live is to be remembered. remember that. not to outlive or to love or to pander, and especially not to cross a checkered line marked up or down at the gate, but to leave a mark before you get there. to live is to be remembered. remember that.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”—
Kalama Sutta: The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry.