The sooner you get comfortable with that concept, the happier you will be.
You're not taught from a young age to accept this idea. You're told to seek things that last, to find permanence; "forever" is the goal. It's even baked into World Wrestling Entertainment's core motto: Then. Now. Forever.
But it's simply not true.
Following my stay with Tony Atlas in Maine, I head south to my home state of Rhode Island, back to the very house that I grew up in, the house where I put my sister in the figure-four leglock and jumped off the couch on to pillows to emulate my heroes.
A green smear of maples, pines, and oaks, annoyed glares of the people next to me in traffic, the traffic rotaries and general sense of congestion envelop me as I navigate home, familiarity mixed with erstwhile naivete. Driving past old landmarks, I remember when life was black and white and my purpose was clear and spelled out for me--grow up, get a job, get married, have a family. Do what we did. I can remember how safe it all felt, how I had the script and all I had to do was memorize the lines. I can remember how permanent that feeling of security seemed.
But in life as in wrestling, there is no script. Backstage before a match, the two wrestlers were told who would win and with what move, and the rest was all improvised. Watch an old match carefully and you will see one wrestler back the other into a corner, lean in to his ear, and whisper something, the instructions for the next move. One spot at a time, they designed a match and told the same story that has underlain mythology for thousands of years.
I pull in to the driveway of my childhood home twenty years after I left in a much boxier and inefficient model of Ford, with a computer monitor and tower hard drive taking up half the backseat space, and a worn atlas dog-eared for California. The house has had many facelifts since--new paint, a new pergola, a new walkway. Inside is the story of a new marriage, a new life, a new era, built orthogonal to the last. In the living room, a single lamp remains from my childhood, buxomy and blue and shiny with a faded manila lampshade. Somehow it's survived the purge and the turnover, likely more by accident than design, a witness to the past. But one day it too will go, and few will know the difference.
Tony Atlas sits in his cluttered apartment, returning home from his match in Pennsylvania, and thinks about how any day could be his last.
Jumping Jim Brunzell reaches for a glass of water and feels a twinge in his replaced shoulder, the one he landed on thousands of times after a spectacular drop kick.
Ken Patera shuffles to the bathroom, past his weightlifting trophies caked with dust piled in a plastic blue garbage bucket.
Later today I will interview Ed Ricciuti, the editor of the WWF magazine during its expansion in the 1980s, who at age 84 still runs a non-profit martial arts dojo.
"Sometimes when I'm in the air getting tossed, I think about those guys," he will tell me.
I am on a nine-week road trip, driving 16,000 miles around the country for my next book, The Six Pack, to be published by Hachette in 2024, about myth vs. reality in pro wrestling and the true identities of 1980s WWF wrestlers.