Wrestling with shadows: Rumble trip beautifully illustrates passage of time

You think you know me

I know it’s fake. I know I’m 30.

But standing with my friends in section 110 at Phillips Arena in Atlanta last Sunday, when his music hit and Edge made his surprise return at the Royal Rumble, I couldn’t help myself; I cheered my head off, flossed in my Edge shirt and gave high-fives to little kids.

And that’s the thing I still marvel at. It makes no sense that after all these years, through all the changes in my life, professional wrestling is still something I enjoy. And yet there I was.

You’d think at some point I would have just ditched it. I mean, when it comes down to it, not only is it not a real sport, but as you undoubtedly know, it features prominently a bunch of sweaty dudes rolling around in tights with no shirts on.

But similar to how I feel about The Simpsons, I still enjoy wrestling as I always have – but for completely different reasons. The wrestlers are no longer larger than life for me, but having a deeper understanding of what I’m seeing means I can appreciate it on a higher level than I used to.

When you root for a wrestler, you don’t believe he’s winning a real contest, but you root for him anyway – because he makes you laugh, or because you want him to get more exposure. It’s kind of like a TV show or a movie – you root for the characters on Lost, for example, while keeping the fact that there are actors playing them in the back of your mind.

You learn things about wrestlers’ lives outside of the ring, and about the rigors of their chosen profession. You find that even though they know championships are awarded in writers’ meetings rather than won in the ring, they dream of winning one all the same. And we can all identify with that: Who doesn’t want to be The Man once in a while?

And I’ll be damned if attending a live wrestling event isn’t still just as much fun as it was back when I was 10. Adding to the hysteria was keeping up my reputation of running into random celebrities by rubbing elbows with Mets antihero and Atlanta icon Jeff Francoeur, who turned out to be, as rumored, the nicest guy in the universe (albeit sort of drunk).

Dead man walkingOne criticism of the WWE is that the quality is not the same as it once was. A relative lack of competition leads them not to develop young stars, and to rely on the same standbys we’ve watched for years and years. But there is something comforting about watching the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels – old friends! – still doing their thing after all these years.

And watching Rey Mysterio, it brought me back to the ECW shows in Queens that my parents used to drive me and my friends to. I was still in high school, while Rey was doing crazy stunts in a Boys & Girls Club. Fourteen years later, it’s a trip to see how far each of us have come, in our own way, only to end up in the same position: me watching him perform.

The thing is, isn’t that what we all want once in a while but find so hard to pull off? To feel like a kid again. Michaels and Taker are getting way up there in years – as we age along with them – but to hear that old familiar music, to see them fire up those same signature moves, you can remember watching basically the same routine during a simpler time.

I remember back in fifth grade, when the scrambled images of an unpurchased Wrestlemania 6 miraculously became unscrambled just in time for Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior, and how crushed I was when the Hulkster lost. There was my first Wrestlemania party the following year, when the cops actually came to our house because we were so into it. All those times huddled around an 18-inch TV in my dorm room watching Stone Cold and the Rock. The Raw nights right after college, back when I was human and would eat pizza.

The night we lost Owen Hart.

In Stephen King’s “The Body,” he wrote, “People come in and out of our lives like busboys in a restaurant.” And it’s true; though some of us still get together to watch, I don’t still keep in touch with all the people I shared those memories with. Others I do, but they’re spread all across the country. Some have married and started families, which seems to cut down on one’s Monday Night Raw time.

But after all these years, with all the things that have changed in my life since I first was intrigued by the athleticism of Koko B. Ware, this crazy staged sport with its musclebound maniacs is still there when I need a fix.

And after falling in love with it all over again at the Rumble, I hope – and believe – that it always will be.

Esoteric

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