Sunday, August 21, 2011

Princeton; 10 years later

[Part 1 of a series of blog entries looking at the first year of my life spent in Princeton, West Virginia, in 2001. I'll look at my home life, school, pop culture, relationships, basically everything going on in my life one decade ago.]

About a month ago, I was driving home from the mall. For those who are familar with the Princeton area, I was on the stretch of US Route 460 in Green Valley, coming up on the Go-Mart.

I was looking for something to listen to on the radio. There was nothing playing that I liked. I had my left hand on the steering wheel and was scanning through the radio stations with my right hand. I'd hit the button. Commercial. Hit the button again. Song I don't like. Hit the button again. Another commercial. Hit the button again...

I know the song. It was one of the few country songs that I know. I didn't like it, but I took my finger off the button as a wave of memories hit me. It was a Tim McGraw song, the one about having a barbeque stain on his t-shirt, and I thought back to why I knew that song.

When my mom and I first moved to Princeton we had this shitty red truck and the radio didn't work in it for some reason, but the cassette player did. And the only cassette in this shitty truck was a shitty Tim McGraw greatest hits collection. We had never listened to country music before, but my mom jumped into it and is now a huge country fan, to the point where I'm embarrassed to hear most of what she likes.

I was driving in my car listening to this Tim McGraw song when I realized that I first heard it in that shitty red truck in the summer of 2001. Currently in the summer of 2011, a decade has passed since I moved to Princeton. Time for some reflection...

In late 2000, my mom met a guy named Mark. It was a long-distance relationship, as he lived in Princeton and we lived in Ravenswood, in Jackson County, WV. My mom went down and brought him to our house for a bit. Then it was time to take him home and I was going with them. It was one of the largest trips I had ever undertaken in my life.

Living in a small town, you're sometimes isolated from how big the world is. In Ripley, the other city in Jackson County, which is where my grandpa lived, there was a sign before you got on the interstate telling you how far certain areas are from you. The first 14 years of my life, I probably saw that sign at least once a week. Charleston was so many miles away, Huntington was so many miles away, etc... The farthest place on that sign was Beckley. It was like over 100 miles away. And apparently Princeton was past Beckley. It just seemed crazy that we were going past the farthest point on that sign.

I don't remember much about the actual trip itself. It's weird the things you do remember, though. I had recently watched Everclear perform the song "AM Radio" on MADtv and thought it was a pretty catchy song. On the trip to Princeton was the first time I heard it on the radio.

I didn't pay much attention to the scenery around me, as I started to zone out during the car ride. Near the end, my mom mentioned that we were in Princeton and almost to Mark's house. I looked up and out the window and I can remember the exact spot in Princeton that I saw.

We dropped him off and were getting ready to leave. "Why don't you go start the car up" I was told. That way they could get me out of the house and have their goodbye moment. I went outside and got to the car and realized that I didn't have the car keys with me. I turned around and went back to the door.

I'll never forget this moment, because it's stuck out to me as being so funny and petty to me. The front door was open but the screen door was closed. As I walked to the door, my mom's back was to me and Mark was facing me. They had their arms around each other. As soon as he saw me, he got this absolute pissed-off look on his face, rolled his eyes and had this weird snarl in his upper lip. He was so mad that I ruined his chance to make out with my mom. I got the car keys and left. My mom came out a minute later and we left.

The summer of 2001 came and the 9th grade ended. Mark had been staying with us for a week or so, I don't really remember. Since I was on summer vacation, my mom brought up the idea of staying in Princeton for a week.

I thought about that for a moment. I took into account some incidents regarding previous relationships in my mom's life and told her the following, "I don't want to move to Princeton." She seemed taken aback by that and told me that wouldn't be the case. Tempers started to flare. I remember saying, "You know what's gonna happen. We're gonna go down there and you're gonna move in with him." We started going back-and-forth. I was throwing a full-blown 14-year-old fit. Mark tried to defuse the situation. He put his hands up and said, "Whoa, whoa. Nobody's moving in anywhere."

The one-week trip to Princeton turned into a two-week trip. We went back to Ravenswood for one day... so we could start moving our stuff to Princeton.

I was a little bitter about that at the time. Now it's something to laugh about.

Mark had gotten into some trouble with the law and had a court date coming up. We didn't talk about it a lot and I got the impression that nothing too big was going to happen as a result. That turned out to not be the case, as Mark was sentenced to something like 15 months in prison.

So, we moved to Princeton to be with Mark. Having lived in Princeton for less than a month, Mark is now out of the picture for over a year. My mom and I are now alone in this city we know nothing about. What are we to do, aside from listen to Tim McGraw?

That seems like a good stopping point for now. I'll be back later with some more stories from Princeton circa 2001.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Book Review: Brock Lesnar's "DeathClutch"

Brock Lesnar burst into WWE in 2002 as their "Next Big Thing," the next top guy who would steamroll over the competition en route to becoming the WWE’s top star of the 2000’s. That was the plan, as Lesnar quickly destroyed and dominated several top WWE stars - Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Rock, The Undertaker, The Big Show, and Kurt Angle. But, as quickly as Lesnar made an impact, he was gone. Without much warning, Lesnar suddenly left WWE in 2004.

The former Division I NCAA wrestling champion yearned for legitimate completion and tried his hand at professional football. That didn't work and Lesnar eventually found his true calling, the world of mixed martial arts.

His autobiography, DeathClutch, was released earlier this year and promised an inside look into the enigmatic Lesnar. Co-written by Paul Heyman, Lesnar's close friend and famous wrestling personality (who himself has an autobiography coming out later this year), the book goes much deeper than Lesnar had ever allowed before. But, he’s still very private and focuses the brunt of the story on his athletic endeavors, while only briefly discussing things like his wife and three kids.

As a professional wrestling fan, I was mostly interested in reading about that portion of Lesnar's life. Knowing that he has a sour taste in his mouth for the wrestling business, I figured that part of his life would be glossed over and it would focus mostly on his time in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The opposite is true. His negative experiences in the WWE really shaped who Lesnar is as a person, and that chapter of his life takes up a majority of the 207 pages.

I knew Brock Lesnar never had a passion for professional wrestling. If he did, he would still likely be there. It did, however, come as a shock to me to find out that Lesnar wasn’t even a casual fan of professional wrestling when he signed his first WWE contract in 2000. His decision to become a professional wrestler (over, say, trying out for the 2000 Olympics, something people expected him to do) was based entirely on money. As he writes, "I hadn't even watched five minutes of pro wrestling in my life. All I knew was that I was a poor kid with student loans, and I was being offered more money that I’d ever seen in my entire life."

One of the best friends Lesnar made in the wrestling business was Curt Henning. I've written before of wrestlers being so good that they don't reach their full potential; that they're used to make lesser wrestlers look better. That’s Curt Henning. He was one of the better technical wrestlers of his generation, in addition to being ridiculously entertaining and charismatic. Lesnar repeats the advice Henning gave him several times throughout the book - "Get in to get out." Make enough money to where you don't have to spend your entire life being a professional wrestler. Don't get caught up in the lifestyle and don't let it overtake your life.

Sadly, the irony here is that Curt Henning didn't listen to his own advice. Perhaps he knew that he couldn't listen to his own advice so he tried to instill the "Get in to get out" mentality on the next generation. A second-generation wrestler, Henning started his wrestling career in the early '80s and kept going until he died of a cocaine overdose in 2003, hours before he was to wrestle a match in Florida.

One of Lesnar's first problems with professional wrestling was what he noted was a fake sense of brotherhood and what he saw as meaningless rituals. "Once I got to the arena, I had to shake everyone's hand," Lesnar writes. "Because that's the unwritten law. As if God himself made it the 11th commandment. I hadn't seen the boys since we all stood around the baggage claim at the airport a few hours before, hoping our bags would come around quickly so we could beat everyone else to the rental car line. But we would always shake hands, and everyone would smile like they were glad to see each other. It was all so insincere and phony it made me sick."

Interestingly enough, I've heard of only one other wrestler who has ever spoken out publicly about his disdain for the handshaking ritual in wrestling. That man was the Ultimate Warrior, somebody whose career kind of went along the same path as Lesnar’s in wrestling, albeit in the early '90s.

Lesnar speaks very highly of several top stars in wrestling, people like Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, but quickly points out that he had no desire whatsoever to turn out like them. All Lesnar was concerned about was working his way to the top of the card, where the top money was. He wanted to make his money, and then leave. Get in to get out.

Eventually the travel and the grind got to him. Lesnar admits to numbing his problems with pain pills and vodka, to the point where he admits that a lot of that time period is a blur to him. That, coupled with the backstage politics that Lesnar was not a fan of, led to Lesnar requesting his release from the WWE in early 2004.

Some interesting "political nuggets" from Lesnar include that he thinks Kurt Angle stooged Vince McMahon off that Lesnar was planning to leave. He also believes that he lost the WWE Championship to Eddie Guerrero because McMahon thought he was going to leave. I haven't heard a lot of negative stories about Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but Lesnar has one, as a house show match against Rock made him lose most of his trust with Vince McMahon and WWE.

The only positive of Lesnar's involvement, he believes, is that he met his wife Rena aka Sable. They have since had two children together. After leaving WWE, Lesnar decided that he would try professional football. A motorcycle accident during his training derailed his plans, but he did make it to the Minnesota Vikings practice squad and was the last person cut.

The UFC is the next chapter in Lesnar's life. The way he got his meeting with UFC President Dana White was incredible; he just walked backstage at a UFC event and started talking to him. As he put it, "I jumped down to the main floor, pushed my way through the crowd, and walked right past security. When I got near the Octagon, I found myself directly behind Dana White, so I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself."

His UFC career began with a loss to Frank Mir. That loss angered Lesnar, as he realized he made a stupid mistake and should have won the match. His rivalry with Mir is legitimate, as Lesnar notes that he does not like Mir and couldn't wait to exact his revenge. "Frank was so arrogant, and it made me just want to punch him in the face so hard that I'd knock his head clean off his shoulders. Even now, just thinking about it makes me want to hand a beating to Frank Mir again. And again. And again."

He did get his revenge. "I did exactly what I planned on doing in that fight. I took Frank down, controlled him, and hit him in the head repeatedly, and with violent intent," Lesnar recalls. "I scrambled his brains before the fight was stopped in the second round. I wish the referee would have let the fight go on a few seconds longer so I could have gotten the satisfaction of punching Frank in the face a few more times."

Lensar became one of the most dominant and - to MMA purists, at least - one of the most hated fighters in recent memory. He was on top of the world and couldn't be stopped by any man. "Life wasn't just good, it was great," Lesnar writes. "This was the greatest time in my life. And then I almost died."

After coming down with a mystery ailment and spending a few weeks in the hospital, Lesnar was eventually diagnosed with diverticulitis, an intestinal problem. He had a hole in his stomach and was slowly dieing. I first heard of diverticulitis from WWE announcer Jim Ross, who was diagnosed in 2005 with the disorder. He had to undergo surgery and had several feet of intestine removed. Lesnar did not have to undergo surgery and made it back to competition, winning his first fight back in inspirational fashion. After the completion of the book, Lesnar had more issues with diverticulitis and ultimately had to undergo surgery. There's no word yet on when or if he will return to the ring.

DeathClutch ends with a teaser for a sequel. Given Lesnar's latest health issues, a second book would be intriguing. DeathClutch is intriguing itself, he just doesn't dig too deep and let readers too far into his personal life. What is presented is informative and entertaining. If you have any interest in Brock Lesnar the athlete, pick it up.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Cult of Personality

I took a Political Science 101 class in the spring semester of 2009 at Concord University. It wasn't something I'm very enthusiastic about, but it was interesting to learn the basics of that stuff. You know, stuff like Machiavelli, something about somebody stealing your apple tree, differences between the House and Senate, the European Union, etc... and so forth.

One day in class she said, "We're going to learn about a Cult of Personality." I thought to myself, "Like the song?" I looked around, waiting for somebody to say that. I waited for the professor to say it. We learned about what a Cult of Personality was without once mentioning the song "Cult of Personality."

Maybe that was a goal of the professor, to see if she could teach it without mentioning the song. If she had mentioned it she wouldn't have had to teach anything, because the song pretty much tells you what it is. In a nutshell, a Cult of Personality is a charismatic person with a huge following, based mostly on their image. The most glaring examples use their followings for evil.

CM Punk used two entrance themes when he was in Ring of Honor - "Miseria Cantare," by AFI and Living Colour's "Cult of Personality." When he got to WWE, he had probably one of the coolest theme songs in quite a while - "This Fire Burns," by Killswitch Engage. An interesting sidenote, that music was originally given to Randy Orton, who used it once in 2006. It didn't quite fit his character, so it was taken away and given to Punk when he debuted later that summer.

To an extent, the song "Cult of Personality" describes CM Punk. He has always had a huge underground following, even when he was a hated villian in WWE. The last few months, that underground following has turned mainstream as he has become one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE. It was very fitting, then, that Punk used "Cult of Personality" as his new WWE theme.

The video above is from July 25. CM Punk made his return to WWE after leaving with the title at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. The crowd was very excited to see Punk, as they demonstrated by cheering louder for him than they did for John Cena.

Since that night, it has been announced that Punk and Cena will meet in the main event of SummerSlam and the winner will be the only WWE Champion. So, the debate is now over - CM Punk is back in WWE. He has since said in an interview that he resigned with WWE on the day of the MITB pay-per-view.

Has this storyline been rushed? Yes, I believe so. CM Punk leaving the company with the WWE Championship is something that could have played out for at least a month or two before he came back. Instead, Punk missed one episode of Monday Night Raw.

I'm going to give this more time to play out before I offer any harsh criticisms of it. I'm going to say right now that I don't like where it is headed. It looks like this is positioning Triple H into being the top star in WWE again, and we don't need that. I enjoyed his WrestleMania program with The Undertaker, for the simple reason that we hadn't seen him for a long time and he was fresh. I really don't want to see Triple H every week on television anymore.

The week after the video above, when Punk cut his first in-ring interview since coming back, I think the audience was confused. It looks like Punk is a face - good guy - and I don't think the audience knew how to react to that, as he's been one of WWE's top heels - bad guys - since 2009. On top of that, Triple H then came out and questioned Punk's motives, further implying that he wasn't really a good guy. And on top of that, Punk is feuding with John Cena, the *ultimate* good guy in WWE.

I think it confused fans that, for two weeks now, Monday Night Raw has ended with CM Punk and John Cena in the ring with each other, smiling at each other and showing no ill will or outward hostility.

We'll see where things go from here. The return of Punk was a very cool moment, although I feel like it would have been cooler if it happened at the end of SummerSlam, as opposed to two weeks ago on Monday Night Raw.

Friday, August 5, 2011


August 18, 2011 is, I guess, a milestone in my life. I will be turning 25-years-old.

Twenty-Five. The first quarter-century of my life is over. I guess the proper thing to do at this juncture is to take an assessment of your life and see what's going on.

The power of having a blog is that we can actually look back and see what I wrote last year about turning 24. That blog was appropriately titled "Fuuuuuuuck" and I wrote about wondering where the last year of my life went. I had dropped out of school the semester before and was preparing to attend again.

I looked back to see if I wrote anything about turning 23. I did not. The most interesting thing that happened around that time was that I cut my hair. Check out the blog post titled "Hair" to see some before & after pictures, and also to see a video of my mom's reaction to seeing me with short hair for the first time.

The archives before 2009 are gone from my blog. Click here to see what happened to my writings from 2006-early 2009. I imagine I wrote about a birthday or two in there.

I'm almost 25. Where am I? I work at Pizza Hut and attend Concord University. Where was I at 18? Working at Pizza Hut and attending Concord University. Where was I at 19? Working at Pizza Hut and attending Concord University. Where was I at 20? Working at Pizza Hut and attending Concord University. 21? Working at Pizza Hut and... you get the idea.

From the looks of things, I haven't done a whole lot with my life since graduating from high school. I'm probably the most popular member of Pizza Hut management, if that's an accomplishment. I don't think it is, though.

I've just sort of been spinning in place for the last few years. I guess that's okay for a while. Sometimes you need that. I've tried to branch out lately. I had two interviews for "real" jobs that didn't require a college degree. I didn't get them. But, that's the way things happen sometimes.

I was at a bar recently and ran into a girl I graduated with. Since graduating in 2004, we've probably seen each other maybe 4 times. But in those 4 meetings, we have gotten to know each other better than in the 3 years I attended Princeton High. We have one of those "We didn't talk in high school, but we should have" relationships, that you find you get with a lot of different people. High school is a weird time in life.

Anyway, the conversation turned to what we're doing in life. She responded, "I'm doing such-and-such, how about you?" If you're reading this, you know what I'm doing. Her response to the Pizza Hut/college combo wasn't the usual, "Oh, that's cool" I typically get from people. She seemed confused and responded with "Reaaalllly?"

I wasn't offended, because it's what everybody thinks but doesn't say. It's what I needed to hear. I am almost 25 and still doing the same thing I was when I was 18.

I try to always look at the glass as half-full. If I didn't, I likely would have blown my brains out years ago [On a sidenote: I like to joke a lot about killing myself. People either really think it's funny or they hate it. I think it's hilarious]. I'm almost 25 and I have a job and don't do drugs. That's better than a lot of people my age living in Princeton. I have my own apartment, my own car, and I make enough money to get by. Again, that's a lot better than a lot of people who live in Princeton.

I'm not where I need to be, but I'm doing a lot better than I could be. I'll take that as a victory.

I have a lot of plans and ideas in my head for the next year of my life. Hopefully when we reconvene here in early August 2012, I'm not still working at Pizza Hut and attending Concord University. We'll see.

I'll leave you with a picture of me from 25 years ago, followed by one from today. Why? Why not.