One of my poor choices of the past found me today and I’m still unsure how to handle it.
I feel like I’ve lived a lot of lives in that I’ve really packed plenty into my 43 years. One of my little adventures that people have found among the most interesting was from 1998-2001, when I was a co-owner, promoter and performer with a professional wrestling company that produced shows throughout New England.
I very rarely ever wrestled. I just didn’t have the interest nor commitment to train. I enjoyed writing the scripts and serving as a bad guy “manager” for those wrestlers who were not good at working the crowd. We can get into the pathology of me actively trying to get crowds to boo me another time, but for a short while, I was considered one of the better talkers in the area when it came to eliciting a negative reaction from the audience. I’ve included one of my headshots and a photo where I was trying to help one of my wrestlers to his feet because, well, they’re funny as hell two decades later. I don’t completely shun that time of my life and it’s important to highlight that.
Anyway, this morning I was watching TV and my son was going through old New England wrestling videos on YouTube. Years ago, I had a DVD that showed some of the things I did in wrestling, so he’d seen me before and wasn’t specifically looking for me on there.
He called my attention to a video he found from 1999. It was called “Josh Shay promo” and was one I have never seen and didn’t realize a tape existed. This misspelling of my name in the title kept it in hiding all of these years.
This particular show was not one I promoted. One of the wrestlers who worked for me pulled together a show as a fundraiser for his father, who was well liked in their Rhode Island town and had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Both he and his father asked me to be on the show because they knew that I could rile the crowd up with some dark references to his cancer early in the show. They also knew I wouldn’t have a problem “getting what came to me” at the end of the show when a 300-pound wrestler would jump on me from the top rope, and then the father would run into the ring and put a foot on me to make the pin. It was illogical because neither the father nor I were wrestling, but would send people home happy.
I got to the show about three hours early because I thought Rhode Island was much further. When I ran into my wrestler friend and his dad, we briefly went over the plan and then he told me I could go downstairs to wait at the American Legion hall, because that’s where the “locker room” was set up.
In reality, it was the bar at the Legion hall, and since it was a Sunday afternoon, the bar was open, serving its regular members. The locker room was really the men’s bathroom and the performers stuck to one side of the basement that had a lot of tables and chairs to wait.
Now, I was 23 at the time, but had been drinking – often heavily – for six years at that point. I knew that I’d never performed under the influence before because I was usually heavily involved in the planning of a show. That day, I was just a performer, and didn’t have anything too athletic to attempt, so I figured it was OK if I got a buzz.
Fast-forward three hours – and around 8 beers a couple shots – later and I was far drunker than I intended on getting. When it came time to go upstairs to do my nasty promo, I may have had a little trouble walking…but I don’t remember.
Later I was told that I gave one of the most venom-filled-approaching-inappropriate speeches most had ever heard. The workers appreciated it for its rawness and the crowd was full of genuine disdain…but I don’t remember.
I faintly remember the end of the show, when I took the big splash from the top rope and the father pinned me.
A few times over the next year or two I was reminded of that promo by some of the people who were there and how I probably crossed real-life lines the audience wasn’t ready for. A wrestling crowd expects a live-action stunt-filled cartoon show that doesn’t challenge their values. I heard enough reports that I crossed that line.
So, this morning, my son finds this promo and asks me if I wanted to watch it with him. I hadn’t thought about this show for years, but the entire situation flooded back into my mind in the blink of an eye.
I told my son the truth. I was drunk, don’t remember what I said, was told it was too much, and that I think I’d be embarrassed. He took his iPad into his room and watched it alone. He told me later, “That was really pushing it, but you did get a good reaction.”
In the eight or nine hours since that’s happened, I have felt tempted to have him play the video for me, but it gives me a real bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. There I am, in the early years of a drinking problem that would turn into full-blown alcoholism trying to pretend to be an asshole, only to legitimately come across as one.
I like seeing a car crash as much as the next guy, but I don’t know what would happen if I watched this. I’m not afraid I’ll return to drinking…in the three days I’ll be 5 years, 2 months sober. I just don’t want it to be a black cloud over my head for a few days. I could say it might serve as a reminder to stay sober, but I don’t really need those reminders anymore.
There are things that I actively avoid, like a large box full of trophies, plaques and certificates I was given in the few years leading up to my downfall when I was a magazine publisher and city councilor. When I clean the garage and see them, it gives me a sick feeling. I still debate tossing them in the garbage, but it seems almost disrespectful to just throw the Key to the City away.
I don’t think seeing this video would be a real trigger for me, other than seeing something I wish had never happened. If it were someone else, maybe it would be entertaining, but I don’t think there’s any bad drunken behavior of mine that I’d laugh at on video, even it’s 20 years old.
Anyway, it’s certainly not life or death. I’m sure I’ll forget about it in a few days. I’m just surprised that it’s stuck with me all day.