He had been asking himself the same question for the past ten years: how did I get here?
Mike Landell, often referred to as Shooter Landell in the world of professional wrestling, had been on track for a successful life, yet somehow he ended up in a high school locker room in small town Iowa wearing underwear to entertain morons.
“This… went… south,” Landell mumbled under his breath as the oddities of the wrestling world shuffled around him. He could barely mask his snarl as he surveyed the locker room.
When he had first entered the wrestling business, wrestlers had been wrestlers. They had been real mean that knew the difference between a wrist lock and a wrist watch. For the last several years of his career, however, Landell had noticed a significant decline in the quality of the wrestlers. He had been surrounded by colorful men wearing colorful tights with baby oil lathered to their chests and knee high boots – effeminate male models pretending to be tough guys.
He had never actually intended to even be involved in the wrestling business. Landell had been a truly phenomenal judoka and high school wrestler. So much so, in fact, that he had been offered as a high school senior a full ride scholarship with one of the most prestigious wrestling programs in the country at the University of Iowa. His senior year couldn’t have been much better: he had been an All American, he was set to attend his first choice college and program and he had met and began dating who he thought may be the love of his life in Lauren, a girl who had recently moved from California. Everything was in place for a great life.
Next thing he knew, Lauren’s pregnant. Being a college student, while an admirable endeavor, isn’t going to put food on the table or pay the massive bills that come with a baby. He had done what any man would do: he provided. Landell dropped out of school, found some work that he hated and wasn’t compensated properly for. He took up drinking. Who didn’t see that coming? Fast forward some years and the story gets so cliche it could make a man sick: another kid, a mortgage, a piece of crap Chevy that never runs when it’s needed and, of course, bills. Lots of bills.
He could admit that he didn’t immediately notice his wife’s errands running late. He was a busy man with a job that demanded extensive travel and a drinking habit to tend to, he couldn’t be bothered with the gripes of an unsatisfied wife. After all, is there such a thing as a satisfied wife? A satisfied woman for that matter? He didn’t think so. Looking back, he supposed the signs were obvious. Everyone but him had to have known what was going on. They hadn’t been shy, often spending nights together in public while Landell wrestled all over the country, but he didn’t much care.
She didn’t want to tell him who it was at first. That he remembered clearly. She had come home late, probably after 1 A.M., but he couldn’t be sure. She walked confidently into the living room, where she knew he’d be. Her arms weren’t folded across her chest like they usually were when she talked to him. That, too, he remembered clearly.
“Michael,” she began, speaking a tone similar to that of a reprimanding middle school teacher. “We need to talk.”
She surveyed the coffee table: beer bottles, an ashtray with several pack’s worth of cigarettes stacked and overflowing. His eyes were glossy, but he was sober enough to understand what conversation she wanted to have.
“Who is he”. He had hoped his voice would be clear, but he slurred slightly. Sure, she didn’t ask for a divorce. Didn’t have to. He knew. Lauren didn’t want to respond. “Who is he, Lauren?”
“That’s not important.”
She spoke crisply, business like. He rose from the couch, and the confidence drained from her face. He had never hit her, let that be clear. That’s not to say that there is not something intimidating about a 6’3″ 260 pound man who’s had more than a few drinks making his way toward you. He stumbled slightly, planting a palm on the coffee table to steady himself. He sauntered toward her. She stood her ground, but her knees felt weak.
“Michael, listen, it’s best for both of us. You know that,” she began, her voice quickening as he closed the distance. “It’s the only way.”
He was close then. Two inches from her face. He was breathing heavily, the alcohol burning her eyes. He waited, a dumb alcoholic look on his face. He shook his head slowly. It was too late for the Hollywood forgiveness scene. He wouldn’t be trying to fix his marriage this night.
They had only talked once after that night, the rest of the conversations held between lawyers speaking on their behalf. Between the child support and alimony, he was forced back into the only profession he knew. Years of painstakingly planning retirement and living notoriously frugally on the road had went to waste. Now here he was, back at square one.
He later found out the other guy was a dentist – the family dentist, in fact. He had filled a cavity for Landell… hell, apparently for his wife, too.
Back to the present…
A man in an off-brown suit made his way over to where Landell sits, staring into nothing, remembering the events that led to this unfortunate career. The man has a cigar, unlit, hanging from his mouth, the end chewed horribly. The man reeked of Wal Mart cologne and bourbon. He spoke quickly, thick Midwestern accent. His hands constantly moved, eyes constantly darted. The man couldn’t focus on one thing for more than a second.
“Mikey, my boy,” he fired. “How’s my number one guy?”
“I’m 52, sitting in a high school locker room in Ames,” He took a long swig from the beer on the floor at his feet. “Living the dream, Jens.”
Jens Erichsen. There was a piece of crap like him in every locker room on every indy show in wrestling around the country. He put the boys up the cheapest hotels, paid them half of what they were promised and was constantly blowing smoke up your ass – business as usual in this carny show.
“That’s what I always liked about you, Mikey. You could always make me laugh!” He took the cigar from his mouth, eyed it for a few seconds. “I’m gonna miss it, Mikey. With you leaving us and all.”
That was rich. Leaving “us”. Like this was some big happy family. Landell looked around him, eyeing the land of misfit toys they were calling a roster. A locker room full of people who were convinced that they were going to make it to the big leagues but never would. Skinny young kids with hair too long and acne that defied logic mixed with fat has beens, guys with face paint, guys with glitter, guys with million dollar bodies and 5 watt brains – nobodies.
“Business is business,” Landell responded. “I’m looking to retire… again.”
“You and me both, brother!”
He laughed. Landell didn’t.
“If it’s all the same to you, Jens, I’d like to get out of here.”
“Of course, of course, my boy” Jens rummaged his hand through his pockets. He never could seem to find the payouts. “Ah!” he exclaimed, his hands coming to a stop in the breast pocket of his jacket. “Here we go.”
He handed an envelope with “Shooter” scribbled across it. Jens clapped him on the shoulder, handed him the envelope and walked toward the door. Landell held the envelope up into the air for a moment, dropped his head and sighed.
“Jens.” he called after him. Jens stopped, a frown formed on his lips. Landell hadn’t seen it, but he knew it was there. “You and I both know this is light.”
Jens waits several seconds and speaks with his back to Landell. “I know, brother. The gate wasn’t what I was expecting tonight. You know I’d give you all of it if I had it, brother. That’s the truth!”
Landell contemplated if it was worth the fight. It wasn’t. He knew Jens had the money, but he also knew that Classic Wrestling was going to be paying him far more than what this moron was.
“You’re a piece of work, Jens.”
“And you, sir, are a gentleman.”
Jens laughed once more and made his way out of the locker room. Landell chuckled briefly to himself.