IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: Well, I Guess It's Just Us Now, Part II
By Al Laiman
Apr 9, 2014 - 12:41:42 PM
credit Tom Jenner
IN LAIMAN'S TERMS Facebook Page
Jaded Hope Facebook Page
Twitter: @AlLaimanLOP, @JadedHope1
Give these pages a like, help a college kid out!
My second short film, featuring everyone's favorite Jackie (The Wolf of Wall St) and Matt (HAM Radio Weekly.)
IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: Well, I Guess It's Just Us Now, Part II
I'm running out of heart to write all these tribute columns. Like April couldn't get any worse, now I have to add one of my ironic all-time favorites to the list.
Just after cutting a cryptic, HAM-winning promo on this Monday's RAW, the same day I said that I didn't know when I'd get another chance to give the Warrior a HAM, he passes away. April 8th. Nearly one year ago, a close friend about whom I wrote passed away with her unborn child. April 12th. Nearly three years ago, a great wrestler and my friend Larry Sweeney passed away. April 11th. I won't get into personal problems, but suffice it to say that's just the icing on the cake for this cursed time of year.
The Ultimate Warrior was controversial in his opinions and his demeanor. Over his career, he pissed off a lot of people, but entertained many as well. He entertained some through naive, childhood charm, and others through Tommy Wiseau-like fashion; so crazy that it's good.
You spend a lot of time feeling like laughing so hard at something means that you don't like it. It was only recently while watching The Room with some friends that I realized how much joy we truly had laughing at it. The Ultimate Warrior was a similar source of joy for me, and imitating him almost became a trademark for this column.
Modifying Hustle's original Lobsterhead joke came a few years ago, while imagining one of his patented Lobsterhead rants in the voice of the Ultimate Warrior. Some liked it, some hated it, some were apathetic. Not unlike the Warrior himself.
Looking back at his cryptic words, it seems that he knew his time was short. I don't think even he imagined it would be this short. What can we take from this? We can be grateful for those who have entertained us, made us smile, laugh, and gave more significant meaning to a part of our lives, no matter how small. Between his insane promos that became an art of imitation for me, his incoherent comic books, one in which it appears an evil version of himself rapes Santa Claus, and his social media rants, it's easy to see why there were mixed feelings everywhere.
But someone with that much charisma doesn't come along everyday. Someone who can make us listen, whether or not we understand what the hell they're saying,has a captivating power that few can match.
In 30 Thoughts this week, I literally and in writing marked out for hearing the Ultimate Warrior's music, hearing the SKRONK, and listening to that familiar voice. I didn't realize just how cryptic the words were, because I was too busy doing a gag by request by translating those words into English. Looking back, I now realize that there is no tribute I could write better than the one he delivered live this Monday.
And I didn't realize how much the Warrior meant to me until my heart dropped when I saw that we'd lost him. Seconds later, I received more devastating news, and let's just say your favorite columnist of HAM is not in the most pleasant of places right now.
I appreciate having a place where I can write about something I love to people who love the same thing. Not every response has been positive, but it would be foolish to expect it to be. This is the Internet, after all. I have my loyal fans and my detractors, but today, none of that matters. Today, we say goodbye to another legend lost too soon, while I will below paste two other tribute columns so that they, like the FORCE OF DESTRUCITY, HOAK HOGAN! will not be forgotten.
MAY THE TERRAIN OF TESTAMENT ONLY CARRY THE GOOD BY WHICH WE AS MERE MORTALS CAN ONLY SLIGHTLY CONJURE THROUGH THE FORCE OF OUR DESTRUCITY WITHIN! LOAD THE SPACESHIP WITH THE ROCKET FUEL, LOAD IT WITH THE MEMORIES, AND NEVER FORGET THE POWER OF ESCAPISM, THE POWER OF CATHARSIS, AND THE POWER OF THE WARRIOR! SKKKKKROOONNK!
POSTED: December 1st, 2013. Lost to us: April 12th, 2013
I saw her eyes in the front row.
It'd been a long day. My friend had driven us the three hours out of the goodness of his heart, and she finally got to come along to a show. I'd been wrestling about six months, and she and I had gotten closer than we'd ever been.
I'd known her for nearly seven years at that point. She sat in the backseat while I rode shotgun, but leaned up between the seats for most of the ride, commenting on the music selection, and being the general optimistic presence she always was. She was a darling to have around, and the strong feelings I had for her were finally being reciprocated.
The promoter was nice enough to reserve them two seats in the front row, right in the corner. It was going to be a hectic match; way out of control, all over the building. There were two or three spots planned, but I had no idea how long it would go. What I did know is that I wanted to impress her. What I did know is that she would be there, watching. What I hoped is that she would be proud.
She was a wrestling fan from the Attitude Era, but a casual one at best. She knew about Austin and the Undertaker, but wasn't what I would call a consistent viewer. It was fun for her to talk about on a general level though. When she found out I was going out to the area where she grew up to wrestle though, she really wanted to come out and see it. She didn't care about the show, she was there for me. That was something I didn't have much of in most of my life.
She was inconsistent, flighty, not what one would call reliable. She was a beautiful soul, but a bit of a space cadet. Several times I'd thought we were finally getting closer, and she would disappear. She would make plans but not return calls. She would say what people wanted to hear in hopes to make everyone happy. She was never sure of her place in this world.
But that night, none of that mattered. Time didn't matter, nor did the past. Everything that had ever stressed me out about her was gone, because she was finally there, with me.
I saw her concerned glances when I took a serious move. I heard her scream when I got in what little offense I did. When I stood tall with my stable at the end, I could hear her voice. "Go Al!" she yelled. That wasn't my character name, but who cares? She was there supporting me, that's what mattered to me.
I sat in the backseat with her the ride home. The driver didn't mind, as long as I stayed awake for conversation. She leaned into my shoulder and fell asleep most of the three hour trip. I didn't mind that either.
I remember that night so fondly, like a few others I shared with her, because it was the last one like that. She started being available less, and then disappeared, me later finding out that she got into some trouble with alcohol and the law. We fell out of touch for the most part, and I only saw her a few times after that. My feelings about her never changed, although I did have some closure when I visited her later and realized it was never going to be what I imagined in my younger days.
Several times, we enjoyed an intimate drive together, where we parked and would listen to instrumental score music. She appreciated it, where most people didn't get why I loved it so much. She'd never seen most of the movies from which the music was, but just liked it because it was pretty. We sat in a public park that was in the middle of nowhere well after dark and just relaxed. No one was going to bother us, and it was before we had our own places.
One time she called me, begging me to come get her. When I got there, she smelled of mace, and her eye was swollen. Her boyfriend at the time had laid one on her, and I took her to my parents' house. I knew I couldn't keep her safe forever. I knew she was in a toxic relationship, but there was only so much I could do. I couldn't keep her; I had to take her back. The boyfriend later thanked me for coming to get her that night. I never figured out why.
These are all things that flooded into my mind when I looked her up today. It had been a while since we'd talked. She found God after her serious troubles, had gotten married, had a daughter, and seemingly turned her life around. She moved out of state, and I didn't hear much from her anymore. When I did though, it was always so upbeat. When she remembered to respond, she had the kind of personality that just made you feel better talking to her, even if she didn't follow through most of the time. She was a doll who screwed up her life, but recovered.
I can't believe she's gone.
Turns out that's the reason I hadn't heard from her. She passed away in April, leaving behind a husband, an infant daughter, and an unborn child. She was 25.
What a thing to find out through a Facebook search. It's the second time it's happened that way this year, where I looked up someone I hadn't talked to in a while, only to find a memorial page for her made four years ago. I feel like a terrible friend when that happens.
Most of what I just typed has slowly entered my mind throughout this day, increasing the difficulty of maintaining normal composure. I can't talk about this to anyone in detail; most of the people we mutually knew are either too far away or didn't know about our off-and-on intimacy. It was a secret when it happened, and we never talked about it.
I knew this girl, or at least a side of her. We shared moments that no one else knows, and now they're only with me. I only have two pictures with her to look back on: One at a concert, and one of me standing in the ring while she watches on.
It's times like these where I need a distraction. The Factory of Sadness has returned in full force, so that didn't do the trick for very long. My car was playing "Gaeta's Lament" from the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, so that didn't help much.
What helped was going through my old collection of wrestling DVDs. I popped in some matches from back in the days where we watched a few shows together. I knew what happened in these matches, but suddenly, that didn't matter anymore. The compelling stories these competitors told through their actions took my mind away from the news I'd found, and replaced it with nostalgia of a time where wrestling was a satisfying distraction from real life.
And that's the magic of professional wrestling when it's done very well, my friends. Wrestling isn't real life, and yet it is. We turn on the television or sit in a chair for a few hours to witness something that we know isn't real, and yet we pretend it is. The stories unfold before us in a choreographed, strictly planned manner, but we watch as if it were really happening. They use names that aren't theirs, and pretend to fight over a girl or a golden belt. Sometimes it gets really personal, and you take sides emotionally. You want so hard to see your favorite wrestler seek his vengeance, to hit that big move and gain that emotional victory that ends his or her quest. The troubles of your life don't matter when wrestling does that.
Wrestling has the power to take all of those who accept the suspension of disbelief and take you to a place where you can watch other people act out solving their problems inside a wrestling ring. You forget that it's fake because you want to, because there's a part of you that wishes you were in there being able to do it yourself. You live vicariously through the character more than the wrestler portraying it, because that storytelling element is as old as theatre itself. Catharsis is what the Ancient Greeks nailed in inventing theatre over 2000 years ago, and it still resides today in universal fashion without a word needing to be spoken.
I can be a bit harsh on the current product, to the point that it frustrates some of my audience. Maybe it's because I have trouble identifying like I used to, or maybe I watch from a different perspective than I once did. If there's a positive message to take out of such a terrible tragedy, it's that we should be grateful we have something that brings us together, even if we disagree about why it does, how good it is, which person we identify with, and how good we think it was. At the end of the day, we love pro wrestling, and it's something that can take us out of the harsh realities of life and make the most important thing we argue about be whether or not Daniel Bryan's push was derailed.
I'm not a religious person, but I hope she found her peace. I'm thankful on this holiday weekend that I not only have a world to which I can escape, but that I have the forum to be able to write to some strangers on the Internet about it. Thank you for taking the time to read what wrestling means to me today in such contrast to my feelings on it lately. I do have hope that they'll once again be able to compel me as they once did when I least expect it, but for now, I'm glad there was a time to which I could come back when I needed it the most.
POSTED and lost to us: April 11th, 2011.
IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: Goodbye, My Friend
Written April 11, 2011
I literally just heard the news a few minutes ago that someone very dear to me, Alex Whybrow, better known to the wrestling world as "Sweet and Sour" Larry Sweeney, has passed away. Wrestling deaths have hit me hard before, but I've never experienced the loss of a wrestler that I not only knew personally, but whom I considered a friend.
One of my best friends, Chris Spiker, was even closer to him, and I can only imagine what he's going through right now. When I saw it as a Facebook status, I thought it was a joke, and I immediately checked LOP. Alas, it is not a joke, and my immediate reaction was to call Chris. Spiker had already heard, and fortunately for him, he heard it from someone who knew the both of them instead of finding out on the internet like I had to. Regardless of how I found out, I knew the first thing I had to do was write about it, as I'm sure he will do the same in the not too distant future.
When Chris and I began traveling out to southwestern Pennsylvania to attend some independent wrestling events, it was a unique atmosphere that we hadn't experienced before. Not only were we seeing top-tier wrestling right before our very eyes, but the wrestlers were accessible. Most of them were downright friendly, and we spent a lot of intermissions and after-show parties hanging out with them. Chris and I both had aspirations of getting into the business, but we saw this experience differently.
Once we got to play on the same softball team as most of the roster. We spent the entire day drinking beer and having fun with the wrestlers, and even conducting interviews with some of them for our internet show. I'll never forget the difference between Chris and me on that day, because I think he had it right. To me, this was an experience of getting to hang out alongside my heroes and be seen as an equal, if only for a few hours. To Chris, they were human, they were friends, and they were guys he respected. Spiker wasn't starstruck, he was just one of the boys; A personality trait I never got down nearly as well as he did.
That day, and every day prior to that one, there was one individual who not only stood out more than most, but treated us as friends. One guy whose undeniable charisma was incredibly fun to watch, but it was the conversations and fun he'd have with us afterward that made it so memorable. One guy who after winning three matches in one night to obtain the Super Indy 6 tournament championship, asked us to be by his side in his post-victory promo.
That man was "Sweet and Sour" Larry Sweeney.
I will readily admit that it was Spiker’s influence that began to turn me into a Sweeney fan. At first I didn't get all the hype, but at the same time, he was in a heel vs. heel match that night. Hitting the DVDs and attending live shows month after month, the man's gift on the microphone began to reach epic heights.
We became attached to the character and were cheering him, even though he was a heel. Surprisingly enough, this seemed to carry some influence over the rest of the crowd, and about seven months after we started making those monthly trips, he made an unannounced appearance with a new entrance song, "Holiday Road", and the crowd went absolutely insane.
Two months later, the eight-man Super Indy tournament took place in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Along with Sweeney, the tournament saw such rising talents as Shiima Xion and Super Hentai mixing it up with established veterans like Jay Lethal, Sonjay Dutt, Ruckus, Brother Runt, and Azrael. Outside of a drunken incident from one of the performers in the opening match, the show itself was incredible. It came down to Shiima Xion and Larry Sweeney, and when Sweeney got the pin, our group along with everyone else rose to our feet in elation! Sweeney had finally gotten the big break he deserved and was the new Super Indy champion.
As I mentioned before, after the show, we were asked as the "Sweeney Diehards" to stand by him as he delivered his victory promo. I wish like hell that I could find the video of that promo, but I'll never forget that moment, nor the time several months later when our friend Davey from England found us on that promo on a DVD he purchased.
Three months passed, and the annual Basebrawl was taking place, as I mentioned before. It was a day-long event that saw street vendors and fire truck parades, as the show was a benefit for the Ellsworth Volunteer Fire Department. One of the activities included a wrestlers vs. firefighters softball game, and they allowed a few fans to participate on Team Wrestlers, the two of us included. When you start serving beer at 10am, shenanigans are sure to be involved.
We documented all the events from that day with a video camera and produced it for a show we did called "The KAF Report." From the game itself to several random moments throughout, perhaps our proudest moment in the episode was when Larry Sweeney himself granted us an interview. Sunburned and hotter than holy hell, we tried to compete volumes with a terrible band playing in the background that drowned out most of the sound on the DVD for the actual wrestling show as well. Sweeney was candid, direct, entertaining, and most of all, he was our friend. Sweeney adamantly opposed me ever wanting to get in the business, and while I didn't end up listening to him, I always respected him for being honest with me about it. My hair is short and I'm about 60 laughable skinny pounds lighter, but who the hell cares at this point… It was our first on-camera interview and one of many moments that Larry Sweeney provided us that we'll never forget. Chris had many more, which I will not share because that's his place.
What I can share is that Sweeney was the guy who would see us at a rest stop and remember our names. Larry Sweeney went out of his way to acknowledge us when he came to the ring, even giving Chris a hug during his entrance at A Call to Arms 2007, a huge anniversary show with attendance higher than normal. Sweeney would get on the phone with someone who wasn't there and go into full promo mode to the person on the other line, making us laugh and mark out in the process. Most of all, he was always accessible, always incredibly friendly, and never failed to make you smile, even if you bought into him as a heel and jeered him, which is what he wanted you to do.
Speculation will likely run amok, but that doesn't matter to me.
This is probably the most disjointed column I've ever written, but it's out of pure emotion. Every single circumstance surrounding this incident notwithstanding, we have lost a good wrestler, a promo god, someone with whom we share a lot of memories, and a friend.
Goodbye, Alex. Rest in peace, my friend.