Substance induced word vomit – possibly a scene in there somewhere

There goes a tumbleweed dancing across the empty street, sending slivers of shadows through the harsh bright circles of the street lights.  I rub my eyes.  “Did yinz just see that?” I ask the others.

“See what,” answers S.

“That fuckin’ tumbleweed that just floated across the street.”

“Your stoned,” M said.  “This isn’t the wild west.  This is a city.”

“Yeah, but if there was any tumbleweed bouncing around in any city, it would be in Dez Moyns,” R said.  He still didn’t know how to properly pronounce Des Moines, and we stopped trying to correct him a long time ago.  “This place is a shithole.”

And it was.  We were searching, desperately searching for something to do.  The munchies had our group, numbering five – four of which were stoned – firmly in its grasp and finding food was of the utmost importance.  We could subside with the liquor in our flasks for now.  But I felt that I was on the verge of starvation.

At long last, we found it, possibly the greatest establishment mankind has the privilege to take credit for.  The holy grail of Americana, appropriately situated in a ghost city in the most Americana section of America, the Midwest.  The very basis of this eatery was crafted from various aspects of American culture: the core of its menu was diner-style hamburgers and shakes, which of course are two of the cornerstones upon which this country was built, complete with restaurant seating as well as a fast-food takeout counter where the obese can order their food to be eaten in the sanctity of their own homes or cars, away from the judging eyes of the shrinking pool of skinny people left in this country; then add on a large bar with one of the largest selections of microbrews on tap that I have ever seen, paying respects to the hard partying principles of our forefathers; and finally pay homage to the already stale pop-culture giant that is the zombie apocalypse.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you, ZOMBIE BURGER + DRINK LAB.  It seems that for the ‘lab’ section, they unfairly lumped Frankenstein’s monster in with the zombies, but hey, the creature has to stay relevant somehow.

We enter Zombie Burger about as appropriate as we could have: bodies hunched over from the cold, eyes red, puffy slits from THC inhalation, voices slurred to the point beyond recognition from the two flasks of whiskey we had and our mouths drooling with the collective excitement of a horde of the walking dead being presented with a brain buffet.

Curious looks are possibly thrown our way as we are led to our table.  One in our number is paranoid.  He thinks that the weed in my pocket is giving off an unbearable stench and that the whole restaurant knows we are high and are staring at us, judging us, and about to alert the authorities.  Only once we purchase drinks do his complaints subside.  But his paranoia does enough to trigger mine, and soon my brain is flooded with visions from D.A.R.E. commercials: cops storm the establishment, tackle me to the ground and cuff me, triumphantly holding up the bag of green with smiles that read: THERE WILL BE NO MARIJUANA HERE, NOT IN MY CITY.  I decided that we immediately had to drink more so that the alcohol would suppress these terrible visions.  Tequila shots for all.

The rednecks in this place seem not to care what age you are to order alcohol, but they do have several signs that read “IF YOU APPEAR INTOXICATED, YOU WILL NOT BE SERVED.”  So we order a second round of tequila shots at the bar.

Eventually, a plump, bespectacled waitress makes her way to our table.  It only took around ten minutes of very loud grumbling for them to notice us; of course they were busy, but we were customers too, goddamn it!  However, in our haste to summon the waitress, nobody at our table had actually decided what they wanted to eat.  Afraid to let the wench out of our sights, possibly submitting us to another ten long, foodless minutes, I tried to stall by engaging her in conversation.  Unfortunately, my brain is significantly slowed and all I manage to say is, “Its cold out.”

Her body, already coiled into order taking stance, relaxes.  She tucks her notepad under her arm, pinches the bridge of her nose, and sighs the deep, condescending sigh of a person who has had a much longer day than you.  Unfortunately for her, we have all had very trying days as well and would like nothing more than to playfully terrorize some poor individual.  “Do you guys actually know what you want to order?” she finally says, her eyes closed.

This show of attitude was enough to snap one in our number out of his trance.

“Whoa,” he growls, his blond hair bristling.  “Easy. We just have some questions,” he announces with the air of an interrogator in some police procedural.

“Go on,” the exasperated waitress says.  She regains some professionalism, but the order notebook remains under her arm and her hip-to-the-side stance reeks of teenage rebellion.

“What.” Dramatic pause.  Unwavering eye contact.  M is really trying to sell this, and I am having a difficult time suppressing giggles at the faux-seriousness of it all.  “Is the burger of the week?”

“We ran out of that.”  Return volley without missing a beat.

“How do you run out of burgers at a burger joint?” he asks.

“Not all burgers, just that one.  It’s been real busy this week, with that tournament and spring break…”

“Spring break?” R cuts in.  “Who the hell goes to Dez Moynes for spring break?”

Waitress faulters.  It was unclear if caused by R jumping in, or his complete butchering of the name of the city she lives in that does the trick, but the crack in the armor was all we needed.  As to who the hell goes to Dez Moynes for spring break, we never found out.

“Well what the shit are all these?” M roars, pointing to the large and confusing microbrew list of which I have never heard of any of the beers.  “These zombie beers or something?”

“What? No, they’re not zombie beers, they’re all local microbreweries.”

“Well what does that mean?  Are they better than other beers?  And then why don’t you have zombie beers then, you have zombie-everything else?”

“Can I substitute a turkey burger for mine, or do yinz only serve the flesh of the recently deceased?” I ask.  She simply stares.  The fear is evident in her eyes.

“Where do all these spring breakers party around here?” R asks.  “We’re trying to fuck shit up after we eat all your zombie burgers and drink all your zombie beer.”

“Does this city suck as much as it seems so far?” S asks.

“Does this city have a large tumbleweed problem?” I ask.  “We passed about ten on our walk over.  They were holding up traffic and everything.  Man, the stagecoach drivers were pissed.”

“You didn’t see any damned tumbleweeds” S says, momentarily lapsing our table into a heated argument over the merits of my tumbleweed delusion.

This was all too much for our dear waitress and she tried to sneak away in the confusion of our argument.  But we weren’t fooled.

“HEY! Where you going?” M screamed.  “We haven’t ordered yet.”

“But none of you know what you want to eat, you’re all just stoned and jabbering.”  Point for the waitress and for the paranoia.  “I’ve had a long day, so if you want to order then order if not – “

“Ten,” I said, cutting her off.

“Ten what?” She sighs again, almost pleadingly this time, but her frustration moves none of us.

“Beers,” I said.  “And be quick about it.”

“What kind of beer would you like me to be quick about?”

“Uh, this one,” I say, plopping my finger randomly onto the microbrew list.

“That’s our most alcoholic beer.”

“Perfect.”

“And you want ten?”

“Certainly.”

“You’re all 21?”

“Of course.”  Two of us were not, but it is my belief that a confident approach to that touchy situation, especially after our tables’ delusional outburst, solves this problem.  I was doing well until my stomach growled.

“Wait,” I yelled as she tried to turn around again.  “We want…french fries!”

A chorus erupted from my table.  Yes! French fries! And cheese, bring cheese! And Heinz ketchup, none of this pussy Hunt’s shit.  Bring us the good stuff! French fries!  Cheese!  Heinz!

We carried on in this manner until our beers were delivered.  Our table’s noise level had drawn the attention of everyone else in the restaurant, but we were left largely in piece.  Aside from this young bimbo and her friends, who sat at a table near ours.  There were five unbelievably young-looking girls and one guy; however, his deep, deep v-neck, rhinestone bejeweled fedora, painted nails and paint legs rolled up to well past capri level made me wonder which gender he chose to identify as.

Anyway, this group decided it was there job to mingle with us.  It was not a pretty sight.  I could say that some terrible things happened, but that wouldn’t be true.  In reality, some really depraved things were said to these young and impressionable souls, before Ron finally asked them just how old they really were.  Their leader, a skinny blond who wore too much makeup and hit the tanning booth far too much, paused and quickly glanced at all of her friends.  This blew a huge hole in their story that they were all 18 and freshman at the local community college, and we immediately laughed them all the way back to their table.

Eventually we got around to ordering and by the time all ten beer glasses were empty and the burgers consumed – their zombie burger proved to be quite good but that didn’t stop us from demanding that the chef – some pimply college drop-out looking sort – come personally reassure us that there was no zombie parts included in the ingredients.  That wouldn’t be FDA approved, he told us.

I wish I could say that we blew that scene triumphantly.  That upon being presented with the check, we all ran out of there, flying into the empty street, dodging phantom tumbleweeds and retreating into the sanctity of the shadows.  But, that scene only happened in my head, which is home to many other delusions and daydreams.  So it came to a great shock whence upon returning with our checks to be signed, she told me I didn’t pay.  She told me that I wasn’t funny.  And she told me I better pay or the police would be called.

Naturally, my initial response was to get angry and accuse the waitress of stealing my money.  I put a fifty in the bill folder, I just knew it, and I wasn’t about to get screwed out of that much cash.  But just as the manager was about to get involved, P informed me that the subject of debate, the missing fifty, was sitting on the floor underneath my chair.  Apparently the damned thing slid out just as I closed the small black folder and handed the newest perceived insult to our waitress.

Set piece

Kyle Dake’s high school resume was great.  Not spectacular, but simply great.  He was a two-time New York state champion and three-time state finalist for Lansing High School.  He was also very accomplished on the high school freestyle circuit, routinely placing – even winning twice – at Freestyle and Greco Nationals, held every summer in Fargo, North Dakota.  Dake’s resume was strong, strong enough for him to be ranked as the ninth best wrestler, regardless of weight, in the country – although he was third at his weight.

A strong student, nobody was surprised when Dake chose Cornell as his college.  An Ivy League school, with a strong wrestling program and close to his home, Cornell was the logical choice.  But even coach Rob Koll, who was very high on Dake from the beginning, could have predicted the animal that he had recruited.

Ivy League schools are not afforded the competition deferral year – commonly known as a “redshirt year” – that other schools, in all sports, take advantage of (They have a tricky process that is referred to as a “greyshirt,” which they use to try an even the playing field, but it does not matter for this context so I will not bother to explain it).  Dake immediately slid into the starting lineup as a true freshman – not to be confused with “redshirt freshman,” who have already had a year of training in a college room – and despite cutting a massive amount of weight to make the 141 pound weight class, continued to defy people’s expectations.   In his very first dual meet he was down 3-2 late in the match to the fourth ranked wrestler in the country, a senior.  With what can now be described as typical Dake moxie, he locked up close to his opponent and threw him to his back and the victory.  It was definitely a sign of things to come.

Dake entered the 2010 National Tournament as the number one seed in his weight class with a 30-2 record, yet was still considered to be an underdog.  Many thought he would fall in the semifinals to Ohio State’s Reece Humphrey, a fifth year senior and returning runner up who had split two matches with Dake earlier that year.  But Dake won that match, an overtime thriller, to advance to the finals, which he won handily over an opponent from Iowa.

Citing weight issues at 141, Dake bumped up to the 149 pound weight class for the next season.  He continued his underrated dominance, but an upset at his conference tournament regulated him to the fourth seed at Nationals and a crash course with Darrion Caldwell in the semis.  Caldwell was an explosive and exciting former champ who had missed the better part of two seasons with a shoulder injury.  That match was to be the highlight of the tournament and many predicted Dake would not repeat.  But Caldwell injury defaulted out of the tournament before he was able to face Dake, and Dake proved that the conference tournament loss was a fluke and he cruised to his second title.  But many decried his post-match interview, where he called his opponent, Penn State’s Frank Molinaro, an idiot for a decision he made during the match.

For the 2011-2012 season, Dake once again moved up a weight class to 157 pounds.  And once again, he won.  This time though, there were no fluke losses.  Just a dominating, 35-0 campaign that saw him record a bonus point victory (a win by 8 or more, or a pin) in 21 of those matches.  After defeating another Iowa wrestler in the finals, Dake once again came off as an arrogant attention-hog in his post-match interview and the Iowa fans in attendance – about 40 percent of the overall arena – booed him so loudly that nobody could hear the second half of the interview.  And after his interview the year before, Dake had now alienated the two largest fan bases in collegiate wrestling.  But by accomplishing this, everybody else adored him.  Iowa and Penn State had combined to win the last five team championships and the only thing they could agree on was their dislike for each other.  The only thing the rest of the country could agree on was their dislike for both.  By calling out both Iowa and Penn State, and beating the best both had to offer, Dake had become the people’s champion.

Talk began that in 2013, Dake would bump up yet another weight class, to 165 pounds, to attempt to become the first wrestler in history to win four titles at four different weights.  There had only been two prior wrestlers, Cael Sanderson and John Smith, who had won four NCAA Division I wrestling championships, and both of them took full advantage of a redshirt year.  All summer, talk about whether Dake would move up another weight class or not filled message boards and bars (if you happen to live in one of those wrestling-first areas).  While Dake had continually rose to the challenge, many still did not consider him the best in the country.  The title of best in the country was currently being held by Penn State Golden Boy David Taylor, the 2012 Hodge Trophy (wrestling’s Heisman equivalent) recipient.  And David Taylor wrestled 165.

Dake beat Taylor in the finals of the Southern Scuffle this season.  But the match was agonizingly close and many still believed Taylor was superior.  Of course, Dake had his many supporters as well, and argument haunted internet message boards and wrestling conversations like the plague.  For example, I typed in Dake-Taylor in the search box on wrestling biggest chat room, themat.com’s forum page, and was told to narrow my search because too many threads popped up.

In anticipation of this match, the NCAA did something completely unprecedented: they changed the order of the finals before the tournament even started.  It was announced when the brackets were revealed that Saturday night’s finals would start with the 174 pound weight class and run in order so that 165 would be last.  The fact that there were 31 other wrestlers in their bracket was forgotten about; nobody, even their opponents, could fathom defeat for either one.

Adderall-fueled vignettes and stuff

NCAA Vignettes

The plane landed in the desolate wastelands of the Midwest.  From 30,000 feet the ground looked like nuclear fallout, with a few the crisscross of roads at perfect right angles cutting through the bleak, snowy flatness.  White, tan, beige and brown.  These are the colors of the landscape surrounding Des Moines, Iowa.  Black and gold, those are the colors of the Iowa Hawkeyes.  That’s the only retinal stimulation that you are privy to while you’re here. There’s not much to do here in wrestling country.

 

A giant billboard sits on the edge of the city.  It shows Iowa senior 125-pounder Matt McDonough, his long, sinewy arms locked in a double flex, a blood-stained headwrap peeking out from underneath his headgear and a look of triumphant rage plastered on his pale face.  Already a three-time National Finalist and two-time National Champion, McDonough’s larger-than-life legend rivals the size of the billboard.  He embodies everything about Hawkeye wrestling and their self-proclaimed “Iowa Style;” Rocky Balboa-like toughness, a cold and calculated silent arrogance and a contempt for losing so great that after he was upset in the Big 10 Finals the week before, McDonough refused to take the podium and threw his second-place medal in the trash.  These characteristics endear him to fan base so intense and fervent that they transcend sporting culture in this country and assume British soccer-hooligan status.  McDonough’s billboard is a welcome as well as a warning: this is Iowa Hawkeye Wrestling Country.  You are entering the lion’s den.

 

Western Pennsylvania is a wrestling hotbed.  The Keystone State produces the most NCAA Tournament qualifiers, All Americans and Olympians of any state in the union, and Pittsburgh’s little corner – the beloved WPIAL – is arguably its most competitive district; in the London Games, two of the seven members of the United States Freestyle Olympic Team hailed from Western Pennsylvania.  But Pittsburgh and its surrounding area is and will always remain a football-first area.  There are no giant billboards of University of Pittsburgh wrestlers (although you may find a few wrestler billboards closer to the unnamed school in the middle of the state.  You know, the one that has a propensity for kiddie touching?  They tend to develop sporting cults up there and their wrestling team is no different).  When these two Keystone State rival schools wrestled at Pitt’s Fitzgerald Field House, a capacity crowd of 3,247 people attended.  When Iowa hosted that other school (alright it’s Penn State), over 15,000 people were there – over 300 more people than the Petersen Events Center’s biggest crowd.

 

Inside the hotel, an unexpectedly nice Embassy Suites, all is in order.  Upon entering, you are greeted by a hotel staff at army-like attention, ready to move your car, take your bag or greet you with a friendly hello.  Their smiles are met with jet-lagged glares from behind the sucked-out masks of the wrestlers.  Banners that read 2013 NCAA Wrestling Championships hang around the indoor courtyard.  The glass elevators in opposite corners are each adorned with a picture of the team trophy.  The bar is stocked.  A copy of the Des Moines Register sits on the rich mahogany table inside the lobby.  The front page reads: We Have Enough Beer! and shows a merry microbrew owner cheersing a pint of his finest to the camera.  But really, the city is ill prepared for what it is about to see.  This may be wrestling country, but it is also a quaint little town (who dares call this place a city) which has never had 20,000 ex-wrestlers and their hombres descend upon it before.  While the wrestlers themselves fight off the anxiety, nerves, pressures and most importantly, their opponents, everyone else around them dissolves into an clusterfuck of booze-soaked debauchery (including many, many impromptu drunk wrestling matches) and hangovers spent sitting in an arena rich with whistles, buzzers and the incoherent rabble of people actually paying attention.  Champions will be crowned this weekend, and the losers, well their depression will cause them to delve into the orgy of madness around them, one by one.

 

“They always do that,” said the middle aged woman to her friend during a mass exodus of an elevator.    The pairs’ respective husbands trailed behind, each other locked in a faux-violent struggle for wrestler hug supremacy.  “Every time ex-wrestlers say hi to each other, they have to get in a wrestling match,” replied Wife#2.  “Doesn’t matter if they’re 25 or 65, they have to touch each other.”  As she said this, her husband, a portly gentleman with a walrus mustache, was getting the better of his lighter friend, securing the head and arm in a friendly headlock before letting go and embracing his friend with a traditional handshake/hug combo.  The fact that during their impromptu wrestling match in the close confines of the elevator created led them to crash into several groups of people around the periphery was lost on them, and thus were oblivious to the dark stares and mutterings of the hotel staff.  This scene would be repeated ad infinitum all weekend, in various stages of inebriation and ferocity.  The ruckus was beginning.  Des Moines was ill-prepared indeed.

 

We have a meeting in the coach’s suite.  There are nine of us scattered around the room – the six eliminated wrestlers, my brother who drove out with my parents, and two of our four coaches.  “I want all of you to be careful tonight,” Coach Stottlemyer says.  “If you’re of age, there’s nothing wrong with having a drink tonight.  But remember, one leads to two and two leads to a lot and a lot leads to trouble.  These Iowa and Okie State fans, they’re a different breed.  You know the saying ‘If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’?’ well to them, its ‘If you ain’t drinkin’, you ain’t a man.’  Stay away from them.  Somebody is going to jail tonight, don’t let it be you.”  I accept your challenge, sir.  Let’s see what Des Moines has to offer.  Stottlemyer’s suite is located right next to the ice machine, which is currently being used by three men my father’s age to fill up a very large cooler.  They close the lid and all three carry it down the hallway to their suite, cackling like lunatics.  All three were decked out in Oklahoma State Cowboys gear.

 

I’m standing at the urinal in the hotel lobby bathroom.  We had just smoked a joint and were preparing to find something to eat in this godforsaken town but I had to make a pit stop before departure.  My urination concentration is broken when a large, beefstick of a man wearing a Nebraska Cornhuskers hat – had it not been for the ears, I would have assumed he played Division I Linebacker – staggers up next to me, posts his right hand on the wall (you have to get the proper lean, after all) and turns his head to look at me.  It occurs to me that we are alone in this bathroom and an unwarranted fear strikes me.  This giant, muscular hillbilly, takes a moment to spit his dip into the urinal, before training his eyes back on me.  I tense up, refusing to meet his gaze and trying to act as normal as possible.  All of the urinals to choose from, why this one?  What does he want with me?  Am I just being paranoid?  He seemed to be struggling to speak.  It could be the booze or something else way more terrifying entirely.  He finally releases an epic, whisky and beer flavored belch before slurring out the words, “Dake.  Taylor,” as little flecks of saliva and tobacco hit my face.  I sigh and immediately resume pissing as the drunken hillbilly continues to sway, with glazed eyes drifting around his eye sockets.  “uh, Dake,” I reply, stuttering, before I move to the sink to wash my hands.  “My money’s on Dake.”

A Scene

Weigh-Ins – SCENE

The metal of the scale was cold against my feet.  156.6, the voice behind the scale called out.  I stepped off and walked across the arena floor, the soft resilite mats squishing underneath my bare feet.  Without getting dressed, I took a big gulp out of my PowerAde water bottle.  Water never tasted so good.  Except for every weekend before this, every weigh in.  Starve yourself, refuse yourself water, punish your knees and shoulders and neck, all in the name of the sport.  It never occurred to me that this would be my last weigh in.  Could I have done anything to make it memorable?  Sometimes the sentimentality of things gets the best of me, even for something this miserable.

Young men, bodies hardened by intensive workouts and leaned by losing weight stand in lines like cattle.  Sick cattle.  The lack of water and nutrients dries out the skin and makes it like elastic stretched over muscle and bone.  Ribs are visible, as are every muscle imaginable.  The skin on the face is taut, creating a hallowed look.  Combined with the rule that states no facial hair, many of these young men look like Holocaust victims.  I look in the mirror and I see someone jacked beyond belief, but if you compare pictures of me now, on weight at 157 pounds side by side with one of me over the summer, tanned and a full 180, and I look like a ghost.

The weigh in is insufferable.  The officials over complicate a system in the name of order, making the starved athletes even more irritated.  They are so close to the promised land of a sandwich and water bottle, but the tournament directors have an OCD complex, where everything needs to be nice and neat.  So everybody gets in line, jostling for position.  Everybody wants to weigh in and eat, and if you have been starving yourself every second matters.  We only have two hours after we step on the scale until the tournament starts and most wrestlers have weigh ins down to a meticulous science.  Scale, 20 ounces of fluid, peanut butter, jelly and honey sandwich and half of a cliff bar.  That’s my routine.

I still wasn’t dressed.  Just sitting on the mat, chugging my PowerAde bottle and twirling my tournament credential card around my fingers.  Weigh ins were on the arena floor; at capacity the place held 19000 people.  But right now only ghost faces looked down at us.  In about an hour the place would begin to fill, everyone looking down on us.  We would be like warriors in the Coliseum.  Everybody came to watch us beat the hell out of each other.  And we were more than happy to oblige, to reach the pinnacle of this sport.  To be a National Champion.

Staring up into the empty seats, I envisioned the crowds’ reaction at my greatest victory.  I was an underdog in this tournament, but I would prove myself this weekend, I just knew it.  I would beat the Penn State guy and laugh in the faces of their arrogant fans.  I would take down the Iowa guy, the hometown favorite, and place one finger in front of my lips and tell the crowd to be quiet.  It would be epic.  These fantasies had gotten me to this point.  This was where I would fuck shit up, prove to everyone that the mediocre past four years had been nothing but a fluke and that I was truly a bad individual.

The problem was, none of it would happen that way.