You know what?! I’m futtin’ done wit’ ya!” Yelled the man who had broken me into professional wrestling.
“Okay.” I said, my poker-face, and matching vocal tone, camouflaging my startled confusion.
That’s how my first ever rasslecoach broke up with me.
Despite the self-certain finality of his tone that was far from the last time that I heard the heavily accented voice of Scotty McKeever, but the last time I did will be the last time I do - in this lifetime at least (insert your belief system, or lack thereof, here).
Time Keeper’s Table
“Okay, I guess Scotty’s done with me, then. That sucks.” I thought as I walked back to the locker room that I had been pulled away from to get broken up with on the streets of Whitesville, West Virginia.
I had broken off another piece of Scotty McKeever’s oft broken heart with my unkind criticism of him talking another wrestler into quitting their day job so they could “get booked in Mexico, together”. Sometimes it hurts to be right, I wish I could say, now, that I had to eat my words, but maybe the reason they hurt Scotty so bad was because he knew there could be some truth to them. Scotty and Brad never did take that road trip down to the Land Of Lucha Libre. Maybe next go ‘round (insert your belief system, or lack thereof here).
“You know what, watchin’ you train, today… I’m futtin’ proud of you, boy. You hear me?” Scotty said after stepping into a workout session in a wrestling training facility in Beckley, WV, that didn’t have any trainees or heat. Most Winter days it was just me doing body control and conditioning drills, by myself, in a hooded sweatshirt (but not sweating), and a winter cap. That particular day my only semi-regular training partner, Billy Lit, was there.
I had seen Scotty at shows here-and-there, off-and-on, for many years since that break-up moment, but it had always been cold and business-like, at best. Gone were the days of random demands to “lock-up with me, kid” and party-fueled impulses to tell me “take your shirt off, we’re gonna practice our chops, again”. Until that random day that Scotty showed up and watched me teach our mutual friend some technical wrestling skills.
“Can you teach me howta do that Okanu Roll?” Asked Billy, who had trained at the WWA4 school in the same class with his childhood friend who is now known to the WWE fans as Heath Slater, and had returned to West Virginia with a great grasp of the basics, but was ever trying to build on that foundation with some fancy decorations.
“What the f*** is an Okanu Roll, B?” I asked.
“You know: waist-lock, run ‘em into the ropes, roll-” Billy started.
“You mean the O’Connor Roll; a move named after and innovated by NWA and AWA World Heavyweight Champion, and one of the greatest technical, and all around, best wrestlers of All-time? How dare you! ‘Okanu Roll’! That’s why you can’t do it you’re tryin’ to do some knock-off sh**! Don’t even know the name of the move and want me to teach it to you!” I said, breaking my friend’s figurative balls.
“Sorry, J! I didn’t know!” Billy lamented.
Scotty, who was standing ringside, in two sweatshirts that I am somewhat certain he had possessed since the 1980s, was laughing like I was Eddie Murphy in the 1980s.
I taught Billy Pat O’Connor’s signature pin and, after a few more break-downs of complicated movements, I looked down at my first wrestling mentor and he was smiling with a glow that reminded me of my parents when I made the honor roll in first grade. He told me how proud he was of me.
“Thank you, Sc-” I started.
“And I’m not jus’ sayin’ that ‘cause I want you to be my retirement plan. When you get signed, I want you to get me a job, I don’ care if it’s sweepin’ the floor. You hear me, boy?” Scotty interrupted with a laugh.
“I hear ya, Scotty. But I thought your retirement plan was to go to prison? Three hots and a cot, and what not?” I asked with a laugh.
“Well, you know: it’s good to have back-up plan, in case the prison plan doesn’t quite work out for me.” Scotty said with a laugh from everyone else, but a kind of sad look away on his part.
“I hear ya.” I said.
Time heals all wounds, even broken hearts. Humor helps a lot, too, though. After that day in the 30 degree room in a should-have-been-condemned building, Scotty and I ended our animosity and were friends and brothers, again, till the end. Before we get to the end, let’s look at some of the never ending series of endings that is life.
I was sitting in the passenger seat of Scotty McKeever’s silver Ford Fiesta, staring out the window, watching a small portion of the World fly by me at forty five miles per hour and the Universe unfold at the speed of light. As images of the Outerworld hit my eyes at about six-hundred and seventy million, six-hundred and sixteen thousand, and six-hundred and twenty nine miles per hour - the speed at which time stops -, a thought hit me at a seemingly comparable speed and my Innerworld seemed to stop suddenly, as well.
“Holy sh**... I have been living on the road - away from home - for months, now. I’ve started off on a journey of following my dream and it’s already taken me further than a lot people expected me to go: further than Southern Regional Jail, that is. It’s carried me out of my comfort zone and forced me to begin crossing the bridge to overcoming my shyness, fear of rejection, and antisocial personality. It has lifted me up to a place of confidence in my ability to take care of myself. I’m...an...adult, now. Holy sh**.” I thought to myself, as I felt something inside me die: a weakness, a demon, a feeling of being helpless, hopeless, and lost in a loop of loner-ness. I belonged in this World that had seemed, for so long, like it had no place for me. I was free to make my own decisions, take the machete of manhood to my own path, and veer down wild roads of whim!
My bid in the Hellrealm of Adolescence had ended!
My first act as a grown man was to fall asleep with my head against the window, like I had many times - during the ending days of my childhood - on the way to Fayetteville Middle School, while Scotty, without a complaint about my lack of proper co-pilot etiquette or demanding a rightfully owed sharing of transportation costs, bussed me to Mannington Middle School where I put on a masked ninja costume and did Karate chops for five dollars, cash.
“I went to the doctor, turns out I got a broken back, so I can’t bump no more, but I can still ‘rassle. If you can get me booked, please do.” Scotty told me after the proud-of-you training session.
“Alright.” I answered, knowing that I wasn’t about to try to get someone with a broken back booked to wrestle, no matter how much I knew they loved being in the wrestling industry.
Scotty did end up wrestling a few more matches with a broken back before he realized his knees were also f***ed and finally walked - with much effort and even more sadness - away from the ring for good.
McKeever’s career had begun on national TV, it ended in local obscurity. No fancy retirement match. No speech. No “thank you, Scotty” chant, that he certainly deserved. No romantic sunset silhouette, just an outlaw cowboy riding off in the middle of the night.
Around the same time Scotty’s career had ended, mine had finally started to pickup. That being said, I lost touch with my original trainer as I spent more and more time with my new trainer: the road. The road taught me even more than Scotty had and the next time I saw him I had been wrestling longer than he had when he had trained me.
My fellow McKeever Grapple College classmate Dan Richards had brought a worse-for-the-wear looking Scotty to an event in Marmet, West Virginia; to a rare smaller local event that I still do, due to the matchmaker being one of my longest friends in wrestling. The name of the promotion had changed, but the same promoter that had hosted the event where Scotty had broken-heartedly broken up with me was now hosting the event where I saw him for the first time, in many years, since our make-up.
“Hey, Scotty! It’s great to see you!” I said before the doors were about to open.
“It’s really great to see you, kid!” Said Scotty and his eyes told me that he meant the “really” in that sentence.
“Doors are opening!” Someone yelled.
“Gotta head to the back, Scotty.” I said.
“Alright, kid. I’m gonna hang out, out here, see if any a’you f***s know howta work!” Scotty said with an ornery grin.
“Fair enough.” I replied as I turned and walked towards the dressing room area.
In the locker room I told Dan, “Scotty hasn’t seen me wrestle a match in probably a decade. I hope he doesn’t bury me too much for doing all my fancy stuff.” With a half-laugh to show that I was only half-joking, I added, “He was pissed at Waylon for teaching me how to do a backflip reversal to a belly-to-back suplex, wait till he sees the sh** I do, now.”
Dan laughed but said in a very sincere tone, “I’m sure he’ll love it.”
I went out and did twenty five minutes of weird-Kincaid-sh**, with a little McKeever-trained classic wrestling and storytelling sprinkled in.
When the match ended, I felt pretty good about it, but in the back of my mind I was replaying Scotty downtalking matches that I loved to watch when I sat in meditation pose on his living room floor, in front of his curve-screened TV, on his VCR, over a decade earlier.
After I dressed back into street clothes, I the no-longer-green walked the green mile to find Scotty and receive my judgement for which I was sure I was going to be ruled guilty of being one of those f***s that “do too futtin’ much”.
“Hey, Scotty, I-” I started to say when I found him.
“Now, I want you to listen here, kid.” Scotty said. “I know I never really amounted to a whole lot in this business, but I just want you to futtin’ know that I know rasslin’...” Scotty added and then paused to stare intensely into my eyes, as if he was examining the individual pieces of my human character, one by one, then he cocked his head sideways and said, “And I’m so futtin’ proud of you!”
“Thank you, Sc-” I started.
“Now, I told you to listen! I ain’t futtin’ done talkin’, yet! Listen, when I first talked to you and you said you knew howta bump… when I first seent you with that damn frizzy hair you use to have and lookin’ like you ain’t never had a decent meal… hell, even when you started comin’ on the road and workin’ with me...I never imagined you’d turn out the worker you have.” Scotty added.
I saw Scotty a handful of times after that. Each time he looked a little worse off than the last. Each time we bulls***ed like the long lost friends we were.
The last words I said to Scotty McKeever were, “I love you, Scotty.”
The last words Scotty McKeever said to me were, “I love you, too, Kid. I mean it!”
The second to last words Scotty McKeever said to me was, “I been followin’ all your stuff on Facebook, signin’ contracts and rasslin’ all over, and sh**, I know you’re probably sick a’hearin’ it, but just so you know: I’m futtin’ proud of you, boy!”
The second to last words I said to Scotty McKeever were, “Thank you, Sc-” He started to interrupt me but I cut him off, saying, “Now listen to me, McKeever! You need to hear this: I am so f***ing grateful to you for getting me started in this business, for teaching me how to turn a wrestling match into a work of art, for how to take care of our brothers and sisters on the road through generosity, for how to take the next generation after you under your wing and help them become better, for showing me how to put others before yourself - both in and out of the ring!” I paused to stare into his ever-pained-by-demons-of-the-past eyes to watch the demons take a bath in swelling joy-tears, then said with a tone that I hoped would at least imitate the intensity of a chant from a full crowd, “Thank. You. Scotty!”
Time heals all wounds, even an oft-broken heart.
You’re whole again, now, Scotty. (Insert...well, you know.) *smiles*
In loving memory of Gary Scott “Scotty” McKeever
September 20, 1967 - Sunday, April 1, 2018