A New Hope

Going back fifteen years, or so, and my obsession was most definitely professional wrestling. I first became a fan in my grandparents’ living room in the early ‘80s, but a sudden ability in the mid-2000s to make decent money and travel embarrassingly great lengths turned my passion into something more.

Before there was the burping and racist sex tape, there was my Real American hero. Hulk Hogan was the living ‘red & yellow’ embodiment of He-Man, and I spent many weekends captivated by his triumphs against the evil bad guys of the World Wrestling Federation (made up primarily of ‘foreigners’, minorities, and the possibly gay). A childhood spent watching every company possible turned into a supposed adult life; one that struggled to cram in enough porn and sex into my daily activities.

At one point in time, I had a physical media collection — spanning promotions, territories, styles, and decades — that would have impressed even the most hardcore of fans, and going to 3-4 shows a month would have felt like I was slacking off. Wrestling was more than just a dream of mine; it was an escape — a safe haven far away from the rather harsh realities of life. Eventually, I put my love and knowledge of the sport to questionably good use by becoming both a pro wrestling critic and podcaster.

As a kid who still had the ability to believe in everything, I cheered for my heroes (who always managed to overcome impossible odds)… but, as a ‘wiser’ adult, I admired the athleticism and theatrics that went into putting together an entertaining show (while cheering for my heroes). But there was one relatively small, but significant portion of the product that I grew to hate:

The fans.

I really don’t know if things have changed much today, but the professional wrestling fanbase of 2003-2009 was every bit of the negative stereotypes that probably just popped up in your head: Just large crowds of young, misogynistic, and drunk men with terrible hygiene, undeserved confidence, and faded Megadeth t-shirts to match. Whether at the local VFW hall, or in a Manhattan ballroom, you would see the same faces at each event; and you knew exactly what to expect. And, for me, that mostly meant “Luis.”

I have absolutely no idea if that’s even his name, or not, but not only was Luis at every show I went to, he ended up sitting damn near right next to me each time (as if we, somehow, purchased all of our tickets together). Luis was known for three things; each more embarrassing than the last:

  1. Luis always brought a replica championship belt with him — but not one of those $400 custom made trophies. He always brought the same handmade cardboard belt (complete with magazine cut-outs and scotch tape) with him to each and every show for, at least, six years.
  2. He, like many in our peer group, spent all day long ‘surfing the net’ for behind-the-scenes info that would make him seem like an insider to anyone dumb enough to pay attention to his rants.
  3. During the shows, he would alternate between acting as a color commentator and his favorite wrestlers’ manager. And, by acting, I mean he put on a full performance.

But, honestly, what was the problem? Luis didn’t mean any harm, of course, and he was just having fun — so, really, who was I to judge? I may not have ever cosplayed at an independent wrestling show, but I sure as hell spent a lot of money on tickets, traveling, DVDs, and assorted merchandise. Did I cringe every time I noticed Luis walking towards me? Fuck yeah… but who was I to look down on someone for enjoying the same silly world I never wanted to escape?

The strange thing, though, is that Luis didn’t seem to actually enjoy professional wrestling. When he wasn’t jumping up and down for Samoa Joe, he was complaining about the “illogical” booking, and the storylines, and how bad that move looked, and the bland attires, and the ring music, and the lack of pyrotechnics, and it was never-ending and obnoxious to no end.

I write all of this because I ran into Luis a few weeks ago. He was noticeably older, less hair and extra wrinkles, but I recognized him as soon as I saw him. And, nearly a full decade later, Luis was still ‘that guy’ — even far removed from any type of wrestling venue. We had a brief exchange, about as long as I could tolerate, and it was kind of sad to see a guy my age loudly rage, promo-style, against Vince McMahon’s incompetence while wearing a brand new hat-jacket-shirt combo that Vince McMahon’s company produced. But, there we were, at the beginning of a lengthy diatribe about the WWE’s eventual death; standing in the middle of King Kullen.

Fandom has its place, and there’s an honesty beauty within the journey from eyes-wide-open discovery of a new joy to that final moment you have with a love that has become a very real part of your life. I’ve experienced it with wrestling, and comedy, and music, and (of course) movies — and I appreciate nearly every part of the paths I’ve chosen. However, at my age, I hope to never (again) lose perspective on what is, and isn’t, important.

Love what you love. The problem isn’t due to the love, itself; it starts when your love for something goes a little too far. When your passion becomes an obsession, and your obsession turns into blogging and tweeting every day about how women have ruined STAR WARS, and how Louie C.K. didn’t really do too much too wrong, and how BLACK PANTHER deserves its nomination, and how Bernie will save us all. I hope I’ll always be able to stay on the right side of that fine line between fan and fanatic.

I also hope to never have to fake diarrhea in a supermarket in order to escape a conversation, again.

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