Madison Square Garden, 1994. I’m an 8-year-old cherub from the suburbs being dragged through 8th Avenue in Manhattan, bumped and jostled while focusing on keeping my dad in sight. The Garden doesn’t look like it fits, like someone had to shoehorn it right into the middle of an already-pressurized city. This was a special treat. Given the traffic, crowds, offensive smells, and general hassle of it all, The Orsini family rarely came into New York City. The arena entrance dwarfed us as my dad checked his fanny pack for our tickets. WWF Live in New York City was actually happening.
I wish I still had the Bret “The Hitman” Hart wraparound sunglasses I bought that day. I’m not sure they would be worth anything, but they’d look good on top of my DVD shelf as a tribute to that first pro-wrestling live event. The first time my dad met my current girlfriend, he told her about that day and how I screamed at the refs for failing to notice outside interference during the championship match. How I lost my voice yelling for The Hitman. That was 20 years and countless live events ago.
I still watch wrestling daily, as in, every single day. I watch old matches, new pay-per-views, and Monday Night Raw every single week. I pay for a subscription to the WWE Network, host WWE Network Nights at my apartment where we curate matches based on theme, and regularly participate in online wrestling forums like /r/squaredcircle. The other day, on my iPad, I bought some issues of Power Slam magazine just for the hell of it. I moderate WWENetworkScreencaps.tumblr.com. The other day, one of my bosses asked me about the CM Punk action figure on my desk. I told him I was a huge wrestling fan. A co-worker heard me talking about it and said, “I don’t get it. People who like wrestling are some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.”
It starts back at Madison Square Garden, that fateful day in ‘94. I was initiated into something bigger than myself. I think people forget that one day, you don’t just wake up a middle-schooler, or a high-schooler, or a college student, or an adult. Sure, numbers and systems are put in place to tell us what we are supposed to be, but the journey of getting there is unique for everyone. Things like pro-wrestling exist to evolve with you in order to become what you need them to be. When I was transitioning into high school, I needed wrestling to be the Attitude-Era edgy escape that I had to sneak into my conservative home. My parents caught wind of the swirling violence and gratuitous sex that had come to pervade the WWF and WCW in the late-90s through the early-2000s. They had strictly banned wrestling in our house. I used to walk to the pharmacy and use my allowance money on blank VHS tapes so I could secretly record Raw and Nitro to be watched in secret.
Years later, the Attitude-Era of TV-MA content long gone, I would come back to wrestling yet again. No one really tells you what it’s like to work every day, to be responsible for yourself, to be responsible for others. The transition comes gradually for some, suddenly for others, but is cushioned for next-to-no-one. It is a hard landing for almost all of us. During college, wrestling was my Midnight Society - just stories about something I used to take part in. Post-graduation, I came back to the WWE in a more astute way. I got together with two of my best friends to watch the now-more-wholesome PG-era of the WWE. We watched pay-per-views at Hooters in Wayne, NJ. We watched and read up on the new episodes of Monday Night Raw. I studied wrestling history and started writing long-form wrestling articles. We were all finding our way in a world that seemingly has no place for a thing regarded as childish, as “fake”, or as juvenile as pro-wrestling. But the thing is, real life isn’t so different from one of those “fake” wrestling matches. We all know how it ends, but it’s the bumps and dings and pain along the way that make it real, that give it character.
Wrestlemania 29 was held on a Sunday at Metlife Stadium, through the Lincoln Tunnel and right down the highway from Madison Square Garden, where this journey began. I ate, drank, and listened to Mr. Perfect’s entrance music on my car speakers. Days before, my dad clipped an article out of The Star Ledger about Wrestlemania coming to New York/New Jersey. He told me he would never forget taking me to see Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and how overpriced those pink wraparound glasses were. I believe in the power of the narrative, the importance of letting what you love help you find your way.