Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Of Socks and Sapphires: A Love Story


Thirteen years ago, I was speaking with a good friend of mine on my computer about wrestling. We were discussing our favorite performers in the ring. I remember it vividly, for whatever reason. “No, I don’t like him,” my teenage friend Valerie said of someone whose name faded away over time. I asked, “What about Foley?” “Of course, everybody loves Mick,” she replied. “He’s such a nice guy.”

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Val and I love wrestling. No, no… Not the Olympian-style of wrestling, but the kind that used to light the world on fire in the late 1990s. The kind where grown men oil themselves up and roll around with other men in tights and pretend to hurt each other with their fake wrestling moves, so say the non-fan. It’s not an easy thing to admit to enjoying in our society, given the fact that it is an elaborate ruse and people do not like being tricked. To partake and revel in an outright lie means that you’re stupid and you fell for it, right?

I see it in a different light. Wrestling is a form of art, in the same way that dancing or figure skating is a performance art. Nigel McGuinness, a brilliant pro wrestler who was unfortunately forced into retirement due to injury and never once made it on Monday Night television, said that the pinnacle of the art is to suspend disbelief. Bret “The Hitman” Hart, a childhood idol of mine, said that the very best pro wrestlers land blows that look real without leaving the scars to prove it. It’s walking a fine line, where your forearm hits a man in the chest so hard that he flips backwards and lands face-first, yet never harms him. It’s a rugged man’s form of magic, and the trick is to never let them see you fake it.

I was brought up with the stuff, like a lot of wrestling fans. My grandmother regaled me with stories of lining up to see the legendary Lou Thesz take on all comers, including Everett Marshall. I started with Andre the Giant tossing Big John Studd around in the ring. It was more entertaining than it ought to have been, as the two hated one another behind the scenes and it showed in the ring. Unaware of the man behind the curtain, I cheered the good guys against the bad guys. It differed little from my comic books; for a true good guy to exist, an equally impressive villain loomed in the distance.

Like any awkward teenager in the age we live in, I pecked away at a keyboard trying to impress a pretty girl from a state I’d never visited. Little did I know that it actually worked. I’m funny, admittedly so, and I’d make wrestling jokes to make the pretty blonde giggle.

She got my wrestling jokes, which was a miracle in itself, but the fact that she appreciated them and found them amusing was like catching lightning in a bottle.



Fourteen easy years from those conversations, the ring was purchased. Locked away amidst my sports cards collection (baseball cards and wrestling—ladies, try not to be seduced, I’m officially off the market), I conjured up numerous plans that fell through or just didn’t seem right. At the ballpark? It wouldn’t work out. At the sea lion show? Nah, overdone these days. I needed something unique, something personal.

It hit me at 4:42AM on a Friday night when I should have been sleeping, but anxiety got the best of me. I was going to recruit the talents of the one, the only… Mr. Socko.

Mick Foley is “the Hardcore Legend.” He depicted deranged characters such as Cactus Jack and Mankind. He dove off of cages, took steel chairs to the back of the skull, fought in barbed wire death matches, and even lost an ear in a contest. Wrestling never looked faked when Foley was in the ring, because it never was. “Fake matches” became coordinated destruction. The man billed from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico could have suffered far dire consequences over the years with the risks he took. I was never into the blood lust, which became popular in my teenage years within the world of wrestling. I empathized with the talents and knew they had families waiting for them outside of the ring; I did not want to see them so broken down that they could not hold their kids, let alone play with them. Unfortunately, not many others saw my way of thinking.

Thankfully, Foley is a smart man—a New York Times best seller, no less—and saw that he could not keep up with nearly dying on a nightly basis. He was fortunate enough to be born as arguably the most charismatic presence in the history of wrestling. While his “hardcore” personas cut deep in their interview segments, getting the attention of his audience with a proverbial grip to the throat, he was equally entertaining—and more likeable—as a good guy. And by good guy, I mean just that: He played himself, a good man who you wanted to see succeed and wanted to walk out of the ring unharmed.

He used his uncanny sense of humor to create Mr. Socko, a deranged puppet made out of a dingy old sock and a marker. Socko took off, and wound up being a fine piece of merchandise for the then-WWF machine to produce. It successfully helped Mick get over the hump of being the heap of man disfigured on the mat.

He was presented as he should have been all along. Unlike the situations of past, Mick didn’t require a dastardly villain stalking in the background to make people like him, nor did he require sensationalist team mentality that made luminaries such as Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan icons in the past. Mick was a good person. That is why you liked him. He was also a great wrestler. “You always want to give him a big hug,” Val thought aloud about the man whose wrestling catch phrase is “Have a nice day.”

My plan was made: Create an alternate Twitter account from my own so that Val could not witness these interactions; follow Mick Foley; wait until I saw he was tweeting and thus looking at Twitter; try to persuade him into helping me out by offering a $250 donation to RAINN, the charity closest to his heart. I was at the grocery store when it happened. My tweets were sent out as I checked out. My phone vibrated as I walked home. I fumbled for it to find a Twitter alert telling me, “tell me more … sounds like fun.”

That is when I fell down with all of the groceries in my hand. “Splat,” went the frozen yogurt on the sidewalk. Dammit.

Over the course of the night, I spoke with Mick. He said a donation was not required, though I plan to make it with my income tax refund once I receive it. He agreed to make Val a personalized Mr. Socko with a note enclosed asking her to try it on. I would get to the package first, as I usually get the mail, and slip the engagement ring inside of Mr. Socko. I would take her to our romantic spot in St. Louis, the Grand Basin in Forest Park. Upon Socko’s arrival, I sprinted blocks and blocks to find suitable gift wrap. I ran home and threw everything in the basement, wrapping it and storing it in the trunk as she showered.

I presented the idea to her. “We should go for a walk at the Grand Basin after dinner.” “Okay,” she replied, “I’ll put my purse in the trunk.”

Eep!

It all went according to plan, however. I placed her purse in the trunk, “like a gentleman,” and presented her with the gift at the waterfront on a bench. She was taken aback. “You got me a present!?” She feverishly tore into it, revealing the signed 8x10 from Foley.



“Go ahead, try on Mr. Socko,” it read. “You got me a Mr. Socko!? Oh my God!” She slung the Socko—ring enclosed—around as I panicked at the thought of it being flung into the murky water of the Basin and advised her to take his advice in trying it on. She motioned at me with Socko for a moment like a child with a new toy before thinking aloud, “Wait, there’s a ring in here…”

I took a knee—the same injured knee from the fall, mind you—for twenty seconds as she marveled at everything that just happened. She seemingly ignored my purposely-mispronounced question of “Will you be my husband?” She looked back at Socko, and back to the ring.

“You got me the prettiest ring on the planet! And a Mr. Socko! A real Socko!”
“Will you please answer? My knee hurts!”



She said “Yes.” Passersby offered congratulations. The cloudy skies literally went away for a while between an impending storm to give us some sunlight. Happenstance is fun like that.

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We are dorks, which is why we work together. We like the same music, the same movies, the same television shows. We've become adults together. And yeah, we are wrestling fans. If I've learned one thing in life, you shouldn't be ashamed of what you enjoy and you shouldn't surround yourself with people who make you feel ashamed of what you enjoy. We didn't. We're happy.

I think I still impress her occasionally today with my dorky incantations, reciting a match with my own play-by-play and successfully naming most wrestling maneuvers off the top of my head. I suppose it’s a lot like language, in that it’s ingrained seamlessly into your vocabulary at an early age. It’s harder to learn if you weren’t a toddler growing up with it, but that’s okay: We’ve got plenty of years to learn everything from arm bars to Emerald Fusions together.

P.S. Mick, if you’re reading this, you’re sort of extended family now. Sorry buddy.

6 comments:

  1. such a wonderful story i enjoy reading it, my fav part was If I've learned one thing in life, you shouldn't be ashamed of what you enjoy and you shouldn't surround yourself with people who make you feel ashamed of what you enjoy.

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  2. Go Zoop! Show the rest of us how it's done!

    My father loved entertainment wrestling and tried to ingrain a bit of it in me. I know several of my favorites including the stomper move, the elbow chop, and the ever-classic body slam.

    Hope you live happily ever after. A guy like you deserves it.

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  3. That last sentence sounded a lot better before I wrote it. What I mean to say is congratulations, plain and simple.

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  4. What a moving story you make a wonderful couple I'm sure you will be happy for the rest of your lives

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  5. I enjoyed reading "Of Socks and Sapphires". The fact that it is true makes it even more fun. I truly hope you and Val will be as happy as George and myself. This year will be our 19th anniversary!
    I used to watch wrestling with my Grandfather too. This was way back when Chief Wahoo McDaniel and Ricky Steamboat were on. I was always on the edge of my seat. Together we would boo and cheer.
    If you read this Zoop...it's me Cheryl Kidd.

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  6. Great story. So happy for you guys!

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