Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This Is How You Pay Dues, Kid

 “If you're going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don't even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery--isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you'll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you're going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that.”
― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

During the fall and winter of 2000, I lived in a dilapidated house in McKeesport, PA with no running water.  No running water meant that I had nowhere to shower.  Nowhere to go to the bathroom.

    When veteran wrestlers talk about "paying dues", most of them have no idea what they are talking about.  "Paying dues" is another way to say "sacrifice".  Going through training isn't necessarily paying dues.  Being a rookie and getting ribbed by the vets isn't necessarily paying dues.  Jerking the curtain and losing every match isn't paying dues.  Paying dues is going to places and doing things that you might not want to do, but you do so anyway because an opportunity to reach your goals may present itself.  I paid dues by moving to Pittsburgh for a chance to wrestle and train on a regular basis.

    Pittsburgh is not a place I would pick to reside for any other reason.  I moved into a house that was owned by the promoter that I was working for, Jim Miller.  Miller had owned the house for a number of years, but in the few years prior had trouble keeping tenants.  Well, at least tenants that paid rent.  If it was not for Miller essentially paying me $400 a month to live in the rundown Pittsburgh suburb of McKeesport, I surely would have left the Steel City in search of greener pastures.

    I am not naive enough to think that Miller was cutting me some kind of special deal because he knew I was going to be a star that was going to make a lot of money; the guy needed to make payments on that property.  The idea behind my tenancy was that I would maintain and upkeep the house, and get two or three roommates to eventually move in and they would kick in actual rent payments.  The benefit to me was that I could stay in an area where I was starting to pick up bookings, and have an easier time paying my bills. Ironically, at the time I wasn't even wrestling regularly for Miller's promotion.

    Miller had started his company in 1994, when his neighbor approached him about setting up a wrestling ring in the backroom of his candy and sports memorabilia business that he was running out of a virtually abandoned shopping center in an eastern suburb of Pittsburgh.  This neighbor was a young up-and-coming wrestler by the name of "Shocker" Sean Evans, who was doing everything he could to get more ring time himself.  At that time, his family lived in the house that I would eventually move into in 2000. Eventually Miller's promotion was successful enough that he converted his candy shop completely into an arena, and hired some local veteran wrestlers to run a training school there - the Pittsburgh Wrestling Academy.  By 1999 Miller's "Pro Wrestling Express" was a member of the National Wrestling Alliance, running weekly events at the dirt mall, producing local television, and the only reputable independent organization in the area.  Coincidentally, right after I relocated to Pittsburgh after graduation in the fall of 2000, Miller lost his lease at the dirt mall, had two other venues fall through, and had most of his wrestlers defect to an upstart promotion running that was able to secure a regular venue.  Then Miller had a somewhat serious auto accident, and for awhile his promotion was not running any wrestling events.

    I was not getting booked anywhere on a consistent basis, and I assure you that I was not making any money wrestling.  I had to have money, so started l started looking for any kind of crappy day job; A regular "nine-to-five" that I could work around my wrestling commitments.  I started working at a credit bureau, where I was processing credit reports for mortgage loans, and it was every bit as exciting as it sounds.  However, the job fit into my schedule well enough since it wasn't something that conflicted with wrestling, and it I could easily walk away from it if an opportunity presented itself.

    Sadly, the only opportunities that were presenting themselves were small time wrestling cards in the Pittsburgh area and down in West Virginia.  I was trying to get as many bookings as I could, but I was only picking up one or two bookings a month, and those bookings were not very big in the payoff department.  I still had a place to live though. I had enough stability that I was able to develop a routine and really focus on getting my body prepared for the pounding wrestling would give it. 

    I was stopping by the grocery store every day after work and buying a three pound bag of frozen chicken.  Everyday.  I had to develop this routine because I didn't have a refrigerator, and I could only keep food on hand that would not spoil if left overnight in a cooler.  I would cook all of the chicken every morning before work, along with a cup of rice, and that would be my food for the day.  I was also hitting the gym like a fiend.  I knew I needed to put on some size to have a more credible look, and I was convinced that I could become a heavyweight by hitting the gym twice a day.  I would get up early in the morning - around 5am - to fix my food and to pack my gym bag with my work clothes.  I would then hit the gym early and put in about an hour of cardio, before showering, shaving, and then heading off to work.  After work, I was hitting the gym again. After a few hours of pounding the weights, I would hit the shower again, before heading to the grocery store and starting  the routine over.
    Keeping this gym routine was made easier because the gym had running water.  The house I was renting from Miller did not.  You see, when I moved into Miller's flophouse, I discovered that the previous tenant had run up a water bill that was well over $1000, so the county shut off service.  Usually an individual in this situation would be able to set-up a new account in their name, and water service would be turned on within a few days.  However in this situation, the prior tenant had never set-up an account of any kind, and the past due amount had actually been billed to the property owner - which was a phony business that Miller used as a front.  So, the water was off until either myself or Miller paid the bill. With my financial situation, I didn't have over $1000 to hand over to the water works, so I had to do without water until I saved up enough money to pay the debt.  If anyone is asking why Miller didn't pay it... you obviously do not know Jim Miller.

        The house itself would best be described as a shithole.  The carpet was orange-red, and was covered in stains of unknown origin.  The walls were full of holes. Water spots dotted the ceilings both upstairs and down - which meant that the roof leaked and that the pipes did as well.  The previous tenant had left most of their stuff there, so after tossing all of his crap in a spare bedroom for storage, I started slowly fixing up parts of the house so they were habitable. For awhile I confined all my activities to one upstairs bedroom that I was able to clean thoroughly enough to not feel like I was in a crackhouse.

    When you do not have running water in a house, you do not have any way to flush a toilet.  You cannot flush it without filling the tank with water first.  My solution to this problem was a two gallon plastic red bucket, and stocking up on gallon jugs of water and bleach.  And plenty of disinfectant spray. If I had to urinate while I was at home, I would just pee into the bathtub, and then pour some bleach and water down the drain to wash it all away.  It was a totally different story however if I had to take a dump.  I would line my bucket with a plastic bag, squat down over it, and do my business directly into the bucket.  Afterwards I would tie the bag up, and take it outside to the dumpster.  I took a lot of Marine baths with a washcloth and water from a jug. The only place I could shower was the gym.

    I was eating out of a cooler, shitting in a bucket, and working a menial job in a city that I hated, all so that I could be closer to where I was able to get bookings.  That is paying dues.

    By the time summer rolled around I had the water back on again, and I was finally able to shower at home.  I had been able to increase the amount of bookings I was getting down in West Virginia, which allowed me to be more social with some of the other young guys struggling to get a break in the business in that area.  Finally in May of 2001, Miller was able to secure an old warehouse in McKeesport, which with some minimal renovation was to become the "Sportatorium".  While Miller was attempting various improvements to get the building in shape for holding matches, I was able to get a key to the building.  I was able to get the ring set-up for working out and training.  For the next few years, I was within walking distance of a wrestling ring that I had access to any time that I wanted.

    I was 23 years old, I was paying my rent from wrestling, I was able to train anytime I wanted, and I had running water.

    I had never been happier at any point in my life.

1 comment:

  1. Your stories are great and I look forward to reading more of them. Keep them coming!