Turn This Up
Boogie won a belt. A middleweight championship. He wasn’t the first choice. He knew the booker. He happened to answer his phone the day the other guy backed out. But they chose him. He got to pose on the second turnbuckle and flash the belt’s face in the spotlight and wash the room in his anthem. I stood tall and whistled. I clapped and whooped. But getting to my feet took a thick second.
A second thick with all the matches I’d let Boogie win. The hits I’d sold. The time I’d spent steadying his weights or holding his feet. We spotted each other. In the weight room. On the trampoline in my backyard. We took turns landing and landing and landing. That long second, I saw all the auditions I’d blown and the auditions I’d skipped. I saw so many backyard wrestling matches ahead of me in front of so few fans, and I saw Boogie. Folding chairs full of people chanting his name. The chorus came in. Boogie danced back to the locker room. But I felt stuck in that second, that pause, waiting for a tune to resume. Even in the parking lot, I felt caught between notes.
In the lot, I listened to the fans relive matches. They handed me their phones to flex with Boogie. To give him bunny ears. To kiss his belt or cheek. Dimples deep in every face. Boogie beamed. Older fans patted him on the back. I stopped calling for “Cheese.” I held the camera buttons down and let the pictures collect.
Once the lines started to dwindle, headlights pasting us on the way to the exit, I tried to talk to Boogie.
“I need to buy you a beer or three.”
“Just let me know when,” he said.
“Right now. We need to celebrate.”
“Right now, I’m grabbing a bite with the heavyweight champ.”
We waited for someone to state the obvious—I wasn’t invited.
“Can I get a picture?” another fan skipped between us.
“Take care,” I said.
“Of course,” Boogie said and draped his arm on her shoulder.
On the ride back to my place, in bed staring at the ceiling, I reasoned with that second: Boogie has worked hard. Luck is part of any success. It’s who you know. But the second spoke another language. It made the next day molasses. Made going back to the mat a chore. It chored my workout. I stretched and lifted and checked the clock. Almost frozen. I skipped a few reps. I ate too much.
I sensed a wall between me and the feeling. A distance. But the distance did not dissipate the feeling. Did not give me a choice about it. Choices: Let Boogie win at our backyard show that weekend. Invite friends to his title defense. Book my own show the same night. Quit wrestling.
Could Boogie sense a distance? We shopped for new boots and he bounded through the shoe store. Made the rep grab him three different designs. He babbled about the champ, the locker room before matches, his upcoming title defense.
“I’ve been working on a new submission hold,” I lied.
“Which of these designs is cooler?” he asked.
I pointed to the gaudier pair.
Boogie didn’t complain about the price of the shoes, but he ignored the rep trying to upsell him on weather proofing. He bought two pairs and wore the shinier ones out, green in some light, black in others.
“How long will you be a champ?” I asked.
“They only book one month ahead.”
“So another month?”
“You should wear it to our show this weekend.”
Months ago, we had planned this show together. We even got BrickFace Brian Montague, the guy who fought with barbed wire on YouTube, to plan a match with Boogie.
He looked at me like this was obvious too, but I made him say it.
“I am not allowed to do any other shows.”
“Who’s going to know?” I asked.
“What if I get hurt?”
“You’re scheduled, man.”
“I can bring the belt, Carl, but I can’t wrestle. In fact—”
The belt curled in his trunk. I held it in the sun. Not as heavy as I expected. The nameplate was still blank. I thumbed the stamped steel. Clasped and unclasped the buttons. But I didn’t dare wear it.
“Pretty cool, right?”
“Why is it your trunk??
“I wore it to the dentist.” Boogie blushed. “Brianna wouldn’t let me sleep in it.”
“Let’s get everybody out tonight. We should share the burden of buying you beer.”
My cousin, his neighbor, and Terrible Tawny, the only woman to wrestle in our Willow’s Bluff Backyard Federation, met us at a bar. Each of them took a picture of themselves with the belt. I reread the happy hour specials.
“They invited me to shows in Wisconsin,” Boogie said. “They told me they had never seen a move like that.”
“Isn’t this great?” Tawny asked me.
“Can you believe it?” my cousin said.
I challenged everyone to darts. They asked for the check
“We can’t stop now,” I said.
“It’s a Thursday,” Tawny said.
“Happy hour is ending,” Boogie said.
“I’ll get us a case,” I said.
My cousin’s basement still had wood paneling and shag carpet. Boogie dragged the coffee table out of the way to demonstrate his finisher on Tawny. My cousin wanted a turn. I opened everyone’s beers before I handed them over. Brought Boogie two. I glugged like it might inspire him.
Jealousy is awful math. Boogie had auditioned for the local federation four times. I had auditioned five. We both had been wrestling in our own league, in my backyard, for nine years. He was the twelve-time champ. Me, nine. We spent at least eight hours in the gym each week. I could bench two-fifty. I’d seen him crack three hundred. My house was bigger. He had a daughter. I couldn’t compare the beauty of our wives. I mean, I could. I finished four beers. Boogie tripled that.
While he swam in my cousin’s couch, I wore the belt. I flexed in front of the microwave’s door, the bathroom mirror, and the windows of my car. I left the party at my cousin’s and drove the belt down to the Old Market. People watched me carry it over my shoulder past the pizza place where we used to work, in front of the record shop where we killed time before we had money.
“Sup, champ?” two college guys said to me. Three goth girls made faces. I bought a pack of cigarettes at the convenience, even though I’d never seriously inhaled, and sat on one of the market’s fat stone planters with the belt in my lap and a smoke between my fingers. I loved the double takes but hoped no one I knew would see me.
I lit a second cigarette in my car and stubbed it out against my trampoline’s frame. I turned the porch light on and bounced in its glow. The belt around my waist, above my head, at my knees. I knelt in front of it and beat my chest with my fists.
When I looked at my phone, I saw Boogie’s twenty missed calls.
The pawn shop in midtown opened at eight the next morning. I waited in my car with the windows open, hoping the early breeze might take some of the cigarette stink. The guy behind the counter stared at the belt.
“Blow jobs. Of course, dollars.”
“You can’t buy this anywhere,” I said. “Only champions get one.”
“The last time someone dropped one of these off,” the pawn guy said. “I had meatheads casing my store for days. At twenty-five, I can probably sell it online by the end of the day.”
I rubbed my finger in the empty nameplate and left a greasy trail.
Most of our show that weekend was high schoolers getting their first few falls. Most of the audience was their parents. They brought their own chairs and blankets. I was supposed to lose to Tawny. Boogie was supposed to lose to BrickFace, but Boogie didn’t show until the first three matches were over. He wore sandals and stood against the fence with his arms crossed.
I huddled Tawny and BrickFace in my garage. “Let’s do a triple threat for this title.” While they examined the belt, I had to choose the winner. I got to choose. Brick was more popular, thousands of views on his videos when mine pined for triple digits. Tawny’s moves had more soar. Brick hit harder—he took harder hits. Tawny helped me clean the yard after shows. I could have chosen myself.
Maybe I wanted to be loyal. Maybe I didn’t think Boogie would get as mad. I chose Tawny. She stood at the edges of the trampoline and flashed the belt’s face and posed to her favorite song crackling out of my speakers. Boogie waited until the crowd cleared out, but I decided to get a few more pictures with Tawny.
“Play it like a guitar,” I said.
“Are you done?” Boogie asked.
“We need a few more shots for the website,” I said.
Tawny held at her waist, above her head, but the smile was fading. I said, “Kiss the face of it,” but she handed the belt back to Boogie and left the two of us standing near the trampoline.
“I called the cops,” he said. “I wasn’t sure it was you. In fact, I was pretty sure you wouldn’t do that. I went back to every damn place we went.”
“She’ll lose it to you next month.”
“No, she won’t.”
“C’mon, man. This is great for our league.”
“What were you thinking?”
“We can make it a bigger show. I can put up extra flyers.”
Boogie checked the belt for scratches.
“So what?” I asked. “This night never happened?”
“No, this night happened, man. I won’t forget that.”
He left me in the porch light. With a dirty trampoline and a littered yard. Another wrestler had told me once that championships don’t mean shit. Maybe you were easy to promote. Maybe timely. Could just be the boss liked you. And who wants to be liked by their boss? But if they don’t mean shit, what makes the work worth it? What saves the years and scars and nights on the couch and overdraft fees and hangovers? I didn’t realize I wanted to ask that question until years later. Until Boogie left me alone in my yard with nothing but a slate lawn and silent mat.
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