AS I SEE IT 11/8: A Christmas Carol...Stamford style
AS I SEE IT In what has to be the most demoralizing week in history for the performing talent of WWE, 10 talent and one writer were released from contracts:
Pro Wrestling: Between the Sheets
Announced publicly on Monday, November 1: Test, A-Train, Billy Gunn
Announced publicly on Wednesday, November 3: Gail Kim, Chuck Palumbo and Nidia
Announced publicly on Thursday, November 4: Johnny Stamboli, Rodney Mack, Jazz, and Rico Constantino
Announced publicly on Friday, November 5th: Smackdown writer Dan Madigan
Madigan was the writer who created the aborted Hirohito idea and the Mordecai storyline (which I actually liked). On the positive end, he was also behind the idea of the "Eye Scream" movie vehicle for Kane.
Madigan's other faults (apparently including not kissing the ass of the First Family enough) was that he attended his father-in-law's funeral, and GASP...didn't keep in touch with the WWE offices. It seems that family only comes first...only if it's a certain family within WWE.
After reading about these layoffs...and thinking about the fact that we're approaching the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons, I remembered an old PWBTS classic which seems to fit in all too well to this situation.
For those of you who don't know, PWBTS started as a print newsletter back in 1996. In our December 1997 issue, then-writer Dan Moreland wrote a wrestling version of "A Christmas Carol" that was likely the best thing we ever printed in our newsletter.
With the events of the last week...and the timing of the dismissals...this Moreland column seems to fit in better than anything I could possibly write on the matter. So I'm turning over the rest of this week's column to a re-printing of this PWBTS classic...Dan Moreland's "A Christmas Carol".
Before you ask...yes, this is a fable and was written in the pattern and style of the classic Dickens "A Christmas Carol". Readers also have to keep in mind, of course, that certain elements of the "Christmas Carol" are no longer true. However, certain real-life happenings make this fable that Moreland wrote seven years ago even more appropriate even if you remember that fact.
Most importantly, there is no longer a WCW that is competing with Vince McMahon as it was in 1997...and in the fable...so that the actions that the real "Scrooge" is taking leave those within the real-life version of the story with even fewer choices that existed back in 1997.
Here then, from the December 1997 PWBTS newsletter is Dan Moreland's version of "A Christmas Carol".
A Christmas Carol
Once upon a time in a town called Stamford, there was a wrestling promoter who lived in Titan Towers named Vincent Scrooge McMahon.
At one time, Mr. McMahon owned the largest wrestling company in the world. He accomplished this by raiding other promoters territories, stealing their wrestlers and running them out of business. But now, he wasn't the biggest promoter in the world. You see, another man named Billionaire Ted had surpassed him by buying up all of HIS talent.
"I'm the greatest wrestling promoter in the world" chortled McMahon, "I'll just keep doing what I've always done, and people will eventually come back to me. All I have to do is keep giving them slogans and gimmicks, and they will all eventually come back to me".
At this time, Mr. McMahon has a wrestler under his employ by the name of Bob Cratchett. Bob was a very good wrestler, and knew how to give the fans their money's worth when he was in the ring. After all, he had been a wrestler for nearly 10 years.
There was one problem, though. When he went out on the street, no one recognized him. This was because Vince McMahon made him wrestle as Link the Clown. When he came to the ring, it wasn't for his great wrestling ability that people applauded for...all they wanted to see was for him to ride his tricycle, honk his horn, and squirt water on his opponents.
Why did Bob Cratchett lower himself to portray such a character? The answer is simple: he had a wife and sick child named Tim. As long as Bob would ride that tricycle, Mr. McMahon would keep the paychecks coming, and his son Timmy could continue to get the medicine he desperately needed to keep alive.
But Timmy had an even bigger wish. He wanted to see his Daddy wrestle on TV. Not Link the Clown....but just his Daddy...wrestle. Timmy was just four years old, and while he loved to watch Link the Clown...he didn't understand that it was really his father wrestling in that outfit.
Bob was desperate to make Timmy's wish come true...so he felt that, being the Holiday season...if he could just talk to Vince McMahon, he could convince him to let wrestle...just once as Bob Cratchett. So Bob made sure he got to the WWF offices very early that next day. He figured McMahon would be there since he had a special to tape for TV...and he was right.
Bob summoned up his courage and said "Excuse me, Vince. Can I speak with you a moment?" McMahon looked at him for a moment. Cratchett was a preliminary wrestler..and besides, McMahon didn't recognize him out of gimmick."Why yes...it's Rob, isn't it? What can I do for you?"
"Well,, Vince, I had a great idea for my character that I'd like to talk about with you, and I think you'd like...it might really go over." McMahon thought for a moment and said "OK. Can we meet in my office in 20 minutes. I have some phone calls to return....I can make some time to talk with you then". "No problem, Vince...thank you very much" said Bob Cratchett.
So Bob sat outside the office for awhile. He waited...and he waited. First, HHH and his friends showed right up and walked right into McMahon's office without even knocking. As Bob sat in the overstuffed chair, he heard laughter and loud talking in the office. Bob decided to take a walk around the WWF offices to stretch his legs.
20 minutes later, he got back to McMahon's office, but the door was wide open. Bob searched and searched, but no Vince McMahon. Finally he ran into one of McMahon's road agents who told Bob that McMahon had left with HHH to tonight's taping of RAW down in Worcester. Bob Cratchett thought this strange, but got his gear and started the short drive to Worcester for the night's taping of RAW.
Bob stopped by his apartment in New Haven, and told his wife that he'd be home the next evening for Christmas Eve. Timmy came up to him and he told his son that yes, he'd be on TV tonight, so to be sure to watch.
Bob then got to Worcester...pulled into the parking lot...and here was Vince McMahon standing in the parking lot by the satellite truck talking to the technicians. "Vince...sorry I missed you for that meeting we were going to have" said Cratchett. McMahon looked at him and said "Oh...yes... Bob, are you ready for the taping tonight?
Bob said "Yes, Vince...and that's what I wanted to talk to you about. I have a great idea for my character". McMahon stared at him and said "What would that be...oh, I know...didn't you always think Link would be funny if he used that spray foam or whoopee cushion?"
"Well, not exactly, Vince. I had a different idea. I've been a loyal employee for 2 years now. I put over Duke Droese. I had a pie smashed in my face by Jim Neidhart...and I AM grateful for the opportunity you've given me. But what I want to ask is this: I saw a Japanese tape and wanted to try this new spot in my match tonight with Flash Funk...as Bob Cratchett. I don't care about putting over Scorp...er...Flash...but I wanted my boy Timmy to see his daddy wrestle on TV. And who knows...maybe with this new spot, I can help the ratings just a little bit against Ted Turner. I know you said we need everyone to help all they can".
McMahon stared at Cratchett and said..."OK, you're on". Cratchett felt ten feet tall. He called his wife and told her to let Timmy know that Daddy would be on TV tonight.
The day moved on....it soon became 8:30 pm and the RAW Christmas Special taping would soon begin. Bob already had his assignment...he'd be putting over Flash Funk in seven minutes to open the show. Normally, he'd be getting into his Link the Clown gimmick...but not tonight. As he waited for Bruce Pritchard to give him final instructions, most in the locker room were giving him strange looks.
Finally Pritchard arrived and called out Cratchett's name. "I'm right here, Bruce..." beamed the expectant Cratchett. "Cratchett, what in the hell do you think you're doing? It's twenty minutes before we go hot and you're not in your gear!" Bob said "Yes, I am...I talked to Vince and I'm working Flash Funk as Bob Cratchett...not as Link the Clown."
Prichard responded "Oh yeah...I just talked to Vince and you're putting over HHH in 30 seconds". Cratchett said "There has to be a mistake...Vince told me..." Pritchard replied "There's no mistake...get in your clown gimmick and be ready by 9:00 pm. We have a show to tape".
Cratchett responded "Really? Pritchard, you can tell Vince to go to hell. I gave my son my word..." Prichard responded "Uh...huh. Need I remind you of your payoff for tonight?" Cratchett sat there a beaten man, since he had to pay another bill for Timmy's medicine. He slowly walked away and got out his Clown makeup and thought "what will lI tell Timmy"?
That night on RAW....Bob Cratchett did work HHH. But the world...and especially Timmy never got to see him. What the world saw was 30 seconds of Link the Clown putting HHH over in as professional a way as he could. And the world never got to see Cratchett's new spot....wouldn't want to make HHH look bad.
Later that night, Bob got a note with his paycheck to be at Titan Towers on Christmas Eve morning to shoot promos. Cratchett thought that was strange...but realized that wrestling wasn't a 9 to 5 job...and drove to Stamford.
When Bob got to Titan Towers bright and early at 8:00 am, he went to the studios, but no one seemed to be there. he waited for an hour until Blackjack Lanza showed up. "Hey Blackjack..where is everyone? I was told I'm shooting promos today". Lanza responded "No one's here from Production...but I do know that Vince wants to see you in his office'.
Cratchett thought that was strange, but figured that Vince had used that 30 second job as a sort of test...and that he'd rethought Bob's idea. Bob started to feel pretty good.
Bob walked into Vince McMahon's plush office, as McMahon was on the phone for several minutes. Finally McMahon turned around and told Cratchett to sit down. "Bob, as you know, we're in a real war with WCW. As a result, our backs are to the wall. Therefore I regret to inform you that because of budget cuts, your services are no longer required". He then shook Cratchett's hand and walked out the office door.
"No...YOU go to hell, Bob Cratchett" said Vince McMahon as he washed his hands in the executive washroom outside his office.
Bob Cratchett slumped out of the WWF offices and walked to his Yugo a broken man. He didn't go home to his wife and son Timmy that night. Instead...he spent the day driving aimlessly through the streets of Stamford and the adjacent towns. What could he do...he had no job and worse in his mind...had broken his promise to his little son.
Bob Cratchett stopped at a liquor store that was still open and bought some vodka, He then checked himself into a Red Roof Inn and turned on the TV in the room...to find that it was tuned to the RAW Christmas special. He watched Link the Clown do a job for HHH in thirty seconds. Bob popped the somas that he'd used to relax those aching muscles he'd been suffering since that injury he suffered last summer...and washed it down with a glass or two of vodka.
On the other side of Stamford...Vincent Scrooge McMahon went to bed after a long day at the office...even on Christmas. Linda was out of the house, and their daughter Stephanie was out of town visiting a family friend...but he'd expected her home already. Hours passed and Vince couldn't get to sleep. "Maybe it was the Italian food at catering..." he thought.
Time passed...it was 3:00 am. Vince suddenly woke up and saw a bald elderly man in what looked like a ring robe. Vince shook his head...and realized that he was looking at Verne Gagne.
"Verne?" said McMahon...
"I'm the ghost of Christmas past...and you must come with me...".
"Wait a minute", said McMahon, "...you're Verne Gagne...and you aren't dead". The ghost replied "I may as well be after what you did to me. Come with me, Vince...."
McMahon shook his head, convnced he was in a dream and tried to dial the police from his bedside phone...but found that the phone was dead.
Suddenly, McMahon found himself with the ghost outside an Arena. "Here's a program, Vince. let's see what's on the show tonight". McMahon replied "Where am I...is this a dream?" "We're outside the St. Paul Civic Center...1984, Vince. Let's read the program."
McMahon read the program which listed familiar names...Rick Martel, Dino Bravo, a special in-ring interview with Gene Okerlund of AWA Heavyweight challenger Hulk Hogan...who would be taking on Nick Bockwinkle.
The two went out into the Arena and grabbed third row seats...but there was one strange thing. They were the only people in the St. Paul Civic Center's seats. McMahon said "What gives? Where are all the fans?"
"Well, maybe this guy can tell us..." said Gagne. The ring announcer came out and said "Ladies and gentlemen...there are some changes on tonight's wrestling card here at the St. Paul Civic Center".
Vince looked puzzled. "As Gene Okerlund is not here for this evening's show...tonight's special in-ring interview will be done by Eric Bischoff. Further, there has been a change in the AWA superstar being interviewed. We were notified earlier today that Hulk Hogan has signed a contract with Vince McMahon and the WWF, and will no longer be wrestling for you fans here in the AWA."
McMahon shook his head, but the announcer wasn't finished. "There are two other changes in this evening's show. Even thought you saw Dino Bravo and Rick Martel on TV this morning to talk about their matches on tonight's show. We just received word that Rick Martel and Dino Bravo have joined Hulk Hogan and will no longer be wrestling here in the AWA."
McMahon gulped, but there was one last thing to hear "Ladies and gentleman...since we have had these changes in tonight's show, we're going to add a special bonus match that should make up for your disappointment" I present to you...to open tonight's show...the finals of the $1,000,000 Team Challenge with Illustrious Jonnie Stewart against Jake Milliman...".
"Nooooo...." said McMahon, "I'm sorry Verne, how could I have done this to you? Verne, I'm sorry I raided you without letting your talent finish up...Please forgive me...Verne....Verne?"
Suddenly McMahon was back in his house in Stamford waking up in a cold sweat. He said "My GOD...what a nightmare". McMahon laid back down again and heard someone in the house. Maybe Stephanie had finally come home. He wondered where she'd been all these hours.
But it wasn't Stephanie. "Who's there" yelled Vince. He looked in the shadows and saw a sight that made his heart stand still. He could clearly see the wide open eyes staring at him even through the dark cold night.
Then the figure stood up...The figure took off his hood to reveal long wild blonde hair.
It was Brian Pillman.
"Merry F'n Christmas, Vince" screeched Pillman as he held his cane to McMahon's neck. McMahon finally spoke "But...but Brian...you're..."
"Dead...of course I'm dead, you moron. You remember telling everyone right before that PPV, don't you, Vince?" said Pillman, with his eyes almost maniacal.
"Then you even used my wife to jack up your Neilsen ratings against WCW..." Pillman continued. "Now wait a minute..." said Vince, "I gave your wife a chance to speak..."
"SHUT THE HELL UP..." said Pillman. "Maybe if it weren't for promoters like you, I'd be alive, instead of six feet under..." McMahon tried to reply with the cane pushing against his throat, "Now wait one minute, Brian...the coroner said you died of a heart attack from clogged arteries".
"I said SHUT UP, bookerman. Maybe if it weren't for having to use steroids to get gassed up to get the look all of you wanted...or having to work with a broken leg, I would have been in good enough shape to survive a heart attack."
"Now... give me one reason not to take your sorry ass out now..." said Pillman. "Because you're the ghost of Christmas present and you're going to show me somewhere to show me something about my life today" said a gasping McMahon.
"Oh yeah...that's right..." said Pillman "Besides, I was working all along, you know".
The next thing Vince McMahon knew...Brian Pillman was nowhere to be found.
But he could hear a shower running. McMahon tried to find the door of the room...but there was none.
McMahon had no choice but to sit and ponder what he'd seen. "Dammit...is this a dream? Did I die and go to hell. DAMMIT, where am I?"
Then he heard the sounds of someone getting dressed. McMahon called out "Who is it now? Dammit...who's there?" "I'll be right out" said the voice with a very familiar Canadian accent.
Suddenly Vince looked up...and saw a figure in pink tight, a leather jacket and dark wrap-around glasses.
It was Bret Hart.
"Remember, Vince? It wasn't THAT long ago. Remember how you humiliated me in front of all my countrymen and put the title on Shawn Michaels? DO YOU?"
"Now, Bret ...wait a minute...you screwed yourself. I had to do the best thing for business..."
"Oh yeah...I remember that crap on RAW. What a farce. I also remember you saying that you'd like to go one on one with me. So here you go, Vince. Now's your shot...."
Suddenly out of the darkness came a right hand, shattering Vince McMahon's still healing jaw. "Come on, Vince...get up. Fight me a like a man like you told those fans you would". Hart then kicked McMahon in the ribs. He kept on hitting McMahon over and over again.
As his head began to swim...McMahon heard several people cheering Hart on. He started to make out the figures in the darkness that were egging Bret Hart on. It was a room full of the people McMahon has screwed over the last 10 years.
He saw Terry Taylor in his Red Rooster haircut.
He saw Bruno Sammartino, sadly shaking his head.
He saw Tony Atlas in his Saba Simba costume.
He saw face after face, name after name that he'd hurt unnecessarily...that he'd given gimmicks to not for business sake...but for his own amusement... over the years.
Suddenly, here he was...Vince McMahon, the most powerful man in his industry, and he was helpless to defend himself.
Just as suddenly...the beatings stopped. McMahon looked around and found himself in hisbed again. No broken jaw. No injured ribs. McMahon said out loud "DAMMIT...is this only a dream?"
Another voice, only dimly visible... with long blond hair called out "You tell me, brother..."
McMahon said "OK...OK...so I met the Ghost of Christmas Past...and Christmas Present...I suppose you're the Ghost of Christmas yet to be?"
"Nah...brother...you know who I am. I'm the future of wrestling. You said so yourself. Anyway, I got stuck as your tour guide, so let's go." The wrestler took McMahon to a trailer park. They stopped outside a double-wide trailer. The sign on the door said "Vincent Ebenezer McMahon".
"Dude...nice flamingos" the blond wrestler said. McMahon responded, "I'm the biggest promoter in all of wrestling....I do NOT live in a trailer park".
"Guess again...dude" replied the wrestler. "Remember, brother, this is the future. Look...I gotta go. Why don't you take a peak inside..." And with that the blond wrestler disappeared.
Now McMahon would rather not look inside bit somehow he knew he had to. What could be inside? There in front of him was an elderly man with beady eyes watching what looked like a wrestling tape on his TV. The man had a bitter, angry look on his face and was saying to the screen "Dammit...you SOB. I made you what you are today. You'd be nothing without me. How dare you....".
Now...McMahon looked at the TV screen even closer. On the screen was a picture of Hulk Hogan from back in 1986 with his yellow t-shirt playing to the crowd. McMahon looked at the old man again, and realized that he looked very familiar. The old man then turned off his VCR and turned on a cable channel.
On TV this time was a older, thinner Hogan dressed in black. Despite his age, he still had star power. He spoke on the house mike as a beaming Eric Bischoff stood beside him. Hogan started to talk again... "You know, brother, the NWO rules the world. And now, Amigo, that we are part of the only two wrestling organizations on the world...we gotta bring out the newest members of the New World Order. Hit our music".
With that...the NWO's trademark music started playing. As McMahon watched the TV screen, he realized how much he hated that music. The cameras turned toward the entrance ramp...and McMahon's own spine froze as he saw his two top wrestlers...HHH and Shawn Michaels. "Nooooo....." yelled McMahon, "Not you Shawn...and you, Hunter. I had PLANS for you".
"Daddy....daddy...are you in there?" came from the door as a mature looking woman in a business suit came in...it was his own daughter Stephanie. He realized that the figure sitting in the chair in the trailer park...was him in the future. "No, oh my God...nooooo....".
Suddenly, Vince found himself back in his own room at home.
Only hours later... it was Christmas Day.
Vince McMahon came to the office, with Linda, Shane and Stephanie not understanding what was going on... Vince would only tell them that he had something important to do, and that he would be home as soon as he could.
He went nuts for hours on Christmas Day, trying to find the man he'd fired only the day before...Bob Cratchett. McMahon called the Cratchett house himself and found out that Bob had never come home yesterday after their meeting. Cratchett's wife said "Please Vince...find Bob for Timmy's sake. He's brokenhearted...he can't understand why his daddy wouldn't come home for Christmas." McMahon gave his pledge to Cratchett's wife that he would find Bob, no matter what he had to do.
McMahon called Pat Patterson and told him to check every hotel in the State of Connecticut if need be...but they were going to find Bob Cratchett. Finally...at 4:00 pm Christmas Day, Patterson ran into McMahon's office, and told him that there was a Bob Cratchett registered at the Red Roof Inn in nearby Greenwich.
McMahon, Patterson, Gerry Brisco and Bob Remus raced to the hotel and found the room. They broke down the door to find Cratchett in the room with a bottle of vodka and and empty bottle of somas.
Eventually they were able to wake up Cratchett. But Cratchett jumped back when seeing McMahon and said "I don't care what you say...I'm not putting on that damned clown suit again". McMahon laughed...and looking with curious eyes... so eventually did Slaughter, Patterson and Brisco.
"Bob", McMahon said, "how would you like to work for us again. Not Link the Clown. We all knew that gimmick stunk anyhow. How about if we start fresh and have Bob Cratchett...the wrestler that we all knew could make anyone look good...actually get a push of his own?"
With a shocked look on his face...Cratchett accepted.
Now we'd love to say that Vincent Ebenezer McMahon turned his business around and learned the lessons of that Christmas Eve. All we can say is that, at least in our story...Vincent McMahon finally found his soul... and on the Monday after New Year's Day...little Timmy got to see his father wrestle.
As I told you...there are some sad ironies to how real life has passed since this story was written...
Pat Patterson, the person who nearly everyone thought had a lifetime job within WWF/E was involuntary retired, despite a face-saving public ceremony, when he dared to challenge HHH's mega-push to the exclusion of nearly anything else in WWE.
Eric Bischoff did temporarily win the battle over the WWF with WCW, only to see business decline, with the company losing tens of millions of dollars...before it was finally bought out by the WWF itself. Now Vince McMahon can get his real-life revenge by putting Bischoff in embarassing angle after embarassing angle...such as the recent hair match where McMahon laughed in Bischoff's face about the not-so-secret fact that Bischoff had died his hair since his days in the AWA.
Sadly and most recently as this column began...there are at least 10 performers who this time last week were part of WWE...who are now exactly where Bob Cratchett is in our fable.
In one almost perverse irony...four of them got to watch themselves on last night's Heat..in their last matches for the company...just like Bob Cratchett did in our fable above.
The problem is...that there's not likely to be any magical happy ending for them.
Until next time...
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