The following is based very loosely on a true story. It is not my intention to scare or offend anyone. We all have different ways of expressing our grief over the tragedy, and a recent report suggesting that the terrorists were going to attempt to use biological or chemical weapons on the United States brought back to my mind an inspiring story from the Gulf War. I have written the story at the bottom of this article.
It is 7:30 on a humid August evening in the year 2002 and Richard Stern is lacing up his boots at the Nassau Coliseum. The conversations going on around him have been the same since September 11th.
“Anyway, the siren was going off and I ”
“Everyone was going insane! There was this teenage girl without a mask ”
“I think we’re canceling the Middle East tour this year.”
“I would’ve loved to have bought stock in a gas mask company before ”
“I heard they arrested six guys in New York who were trying to blow up ”
“Why can’t we just nuke Afganistan and Iraq?”
“Don’t tell anybody, but I kind of want my son to go to Montreal. We have family ”
“I was in traffic for three hours because of a bomb scare at JFK. Three hours!”
“Guys! Yo, guys! I think we may have gotten Osama!”
It’s now silent in the dressing room. Richard Stern has finished lacing up his boots and looks at Adam Kotkin with sad eyes. The conversations become a conversation as the other wrestlers, fathers, brothers and sons fire questions at Adam Kotkin.
“We got the son of a bitch? We got the son of a bitch! Yes!”
“Where’d you hear this?”
“On the radio.”
“We found him in a cave in Iraq.”
“Did we capture him or did we kill him?”
“I’m not sure. I think he’s dead.”
“Does anybody have a radio? Does anyone have a radio?”
“I’ve got a walkman.”
“Give it to me!”
“Then at least put it on and tell us what’s going on!”
“I was going to do that anyway.”
“Will you stop talking about doing it and just do it?!”
“Shut up! Let me listen.”
It is silent in the dressing room. It is not silent all over America. People are cheering and dancing in their homes, the restaurants they eat at, the baseball games they have gone to see. They are hugging one another as the pronouncement of Osama Bin Laden’s death reaches their ears and enters their brains. They have won. It is over.
“He’s dead! We won!”
The wrestlers begin to cheer. Some give each other high fives. Three of them start a USA chant which is quickly picked up by the most of the locker room. The other wrestlers pester the wrestler with the walkman for more details, and he gives them out as the newscaster gives them to him. The owner comes in and joins in the USA chant. He announces that all wrestlers who wish to can come out to the ring now for the singing of the national anthem, as well as a moment of silence for all of the casualties of Osama Bin Laden. The locker room grows solemn as the wrestlers reflect on the tens of thousands of lives lost in the war against terrorism. Someone begins chanting USA once again and walks out of the locker room, headed towards the ring. The chant is picked up by the owner, the road agents, the referees, the ring crew and all but two wrestlers. The chanting ones exit the locker room, their fists pumping up and down.
The only person who remains silent and seated is Richard Stern. Adam Kotkin did not want to seem unpatriotic in not coming out to the ring for the national anthem, but he’s damned if he’s going to leave his best friend in there all alone. The conversation Richard and Adam have is one they’ve had many times since September 11th, but this one has the new twist of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
“We got him Richard.”
“I heard. How do you want to do the finish tonight?”
“Your brother has been avenged, Richard. We got him.”
“We? Yeah, we got Osama. How do you want to do the finish tonight?”
“We can talk about the finish later.”
“I want to talk about it right now.”
The owner tells the crowd of Osama Bin Laden’s death. The crowd roars. It is so loud that Richard Stern holds his ears. Adam Kotkin relishes the cheers. The crowd sings the national anthem just as loudly and follows that with a deafening USA chant. The USA chant dies down and there is silence. Adam Kotkin pats Richard’s hand.
“They’re being silent for your brother. You know that?”
“Yeah. It’s great. If we’re going to talk it’s going to be about how we finish the match. Okay?”
Adam Kotkin shakes his head yes but his eyes say no. He wants Richard Stern to open up. He wants Richard to finally let his emotions out. Maybe if Richard let his emotions out he’d go back to normal. Adam wants Richard to go back to normal. He misses his friend. He hasn’t seen his friend since September 11th.
“Why don’t we do something special tonight? It’s a special night.”
“It sure is.”
“If you like come out first and dedicate ”
“Shut up! I’m not dedicating anything to anyone! We’re having a match! It’s the same match as we had last night and the night before that! If you want to keep the same ending, that’s fine with me!”
“I’m sorry I brought it up. Listen, why don’t we change that bit where I block the suplex then you block my suplex then I block yours and hit mine?”
“Yeah, the crowd wasn’t really into that last night.”
“How about you have any ideas?”
“How about I hit the suplex and then pin you for the title?”
Adam Kotkin smiles. He sees a glimmer of his old friend still in Richard Stern. A year ago Richard would have laughed at his own joke and followed it up with a rim-shot. Not anymore. His comment was obviously sarcastic but he sits there with a blank look on his face. Adam Kotkin stops smiling.
“That’s one idea. Anything else?”
“I hit the suplex. I go to the second rope and miss the knee drop.”
“Not very creative.”
“Want to just keep the ending the same as last night?”
“Yeah. That’s good.”
Other wrestlers walked into the dressing room still chanting USA.
“Great. I’ll see you in about two hours.”
“Where are you going?”
“I’m going to see if I can find a room with a television.”
“See you later.”
“Richard, cheer up. We did it.”
“See you later Adam.”
Adam Kotkin leaves the room. Richard Stern digs into his bag and took out his Disc Man. He turns on Toxicity by System of a Down and the sound passes through the wires until they exit out of the head phones and enter Richard Stern’s ears, drowning out the USA chant. We’re trying to build a prison. Richard Stern closes his eyes and blocks the visions of the celebrating wrestlers. Richard Stern feels sad and angry and cheated.
The minutes pass. Richard Stern goes through Toxicity and Automatic for the People. He is currently listening to Comfort Eagle. The USA chant dies and most of the wrestlers exit the Coliseum after their matches. This is just a house show. There are still a few huddled around the wrestler with the walkman. All kind of new theories are popping up about how we found Osama and what we plan to do now. There is a small chance of retaliation. Richard Stern feels a tap on his arm every now and then from a random wrestler saying good bye or good luck or congratulations. Congratulations. Your brother is buried but we killed Osama!
Richard Stern actually tries to think positively. He tries so hard to put himself into the shoes of the other wrestlers. He tries to understand why he should be happy about Osama Bin Laden’s death. The man was responsible for some of the worst attacks in the history of the United States of America. It is good that he is dead.
It does not work. Richard Stern buried his brother and he wrestles. Others fight for freedom while he dicks around a ring performing a violent ballet in spandex. He could have enlisted. He could have thanked the owner for everything and left to fight the war. He did not and he now feels sad and angry and cheated. Worse then that, Richard Stern feels useless.
He feels another tap on his arm and opens his eyes. It is Adam Kotkin. It’s time for their match. It is time for the main event.
Richard Stern presses stop, removes the headphones from his ears and places the Disc Man in his bag. He stands up and shakes Adam Kotkin’s hand. The two do not say a word to one another as they exit the locker room. Adam Kotkin wants to tell Richard Stern about how Sadam Hussein is considering surrendering in exchange for his life. The United States has killed the man who could not be killed. The other terrorists are frightened out of their wits. There was so much on the news that Adam Kotkin wants to tell Richard Stern. He does not.
They get to the entrance way as they hear the announcer state that this is the main event for the title. The crowd roars and a weak USA chant pops up again. Richard Stern’s music plays and he pushes the curtain aside and walks to the top of the ramp. The crowd goes nuts. Richard Stern walks halfway down the ramp, does a back flip and his pyro goes off. He feels the heat of the pyro on the back of his neck. He then runs to the ring and slides under the bottom rope. He jumps to the top of closest turnbuckle and does a back flip back into the ring. Part of the crowd is chanting Richie, part of the crowd is chanting USA, and part of the crowd is simply clapping their hands. Richard Stern’s music stops playing and he is talking to the referee as Adam Kotkin’s music and entrance began.
“Any problems tonight?”
“We almost thought so. At the end of Deathmark’s match a fan jumped over the railing and actually got into the ring. The kid was holding a bag and everyone thought it was a bomb or something. Security was charging at him, but they saw the kid reach into his bag and they backed off. It was kind of funny. Security wouldn’t get involved but Deathmark was chasing after him and the kid was running around the ring in a circle while trying to pull something from his bag.”
“What was it?”
“It was a flag. The crowd went nuts. The kid actually brought a pretty big American flag to the show tonight. Deathmark was exhausted from his match and chasing the kid but he waved off security and walked up to the kid. He did that thing where you think he’s going to do the chokeslam and it looked like the kid wet his pants. Not literally. Anyway, he grabs the kid’s hand and raises his arm and the crowd went nuts!”
“Was the kid kicked out afterwards?”
“Of course he was. Don’t worry about it. Nobody told you about this in the back?”
Adam Kotkin enters the ring. His music stops and he hands the title to the referee. The referee walks around the ring with the title, showing it to the crowd. Richard Stern turns to look at the title and Adam Kotkin attacks him from behind with an axe-handle to the back. Richard Stern is knocked into the turnbuckle and the referee orders the bell to be rung.
Adam Kotkin controls the first minute and a half until Richard Stern ducks a clothesline and hits a dropkick. Adam Kotkin immediately gets up and Richard Stern hits a second dropkick. Adam Kotkin immediately gets up again and Richard Stern hits a third dropkick. Adam Kotkin immediately gets up again and gets right into Richard Stern’s face, yelling at the top of his lungs.
“IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO? IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?”
Adam Kotkin then shoves Richard Stern and smiles smugly, raising his arms. He turns his back on Richard Stern and his expression changes dramatically. He now has an expression of great pain on his face and is feeling his nose as though it has been very badly damaged. Richard Stern taps Adam Kotkin on the shoulder, and Adam Kotkin turns around. Richard Stern hits Adam Kotkin with a fourth dropkick, and Adam Kotkin falls down in pain and rolls out of the ring.
The match progresses very nicely. At the six minute mark Adam Kotkin clips Richard Stern’s left leg. The next seven minutes belong to Adam Kotkin as he is mercilessly attacking Richard Stern’s left leg. At the thirteen minute mark Richard Stern tries to kick Adam Kotkin with his right leg, but Adam Kotkin catches it. Predictably, Richard Stern jumps up and kicks Adam in the head with his left leg. The crowd is cheering. Both wrestlers lie in great pain on the mat for about twenty seconds and then slowly get to their feet. They are trading punches and Richard Stern is getting the better of Adam Kotkin. Richard Stern hits Adam Kotkin with a suplex and then climbs up to the second rope. Richard Stern attempts a knee drop but Adam Kotkin rolls out of the way.
Adam Kotkin is working on the left leg some more, this time utilizing a half-boston crab. After five minutes of more punishment to the leg, Adam Kotkin signals to the audience that it’s time for Kinner, which is basically a death drop. Richard Stern is struggling to his feet as Adam Kotkin waits behind him, ready to hit the dreaded move. Adam Kotkin wraps his arm around Richard Stern’s neck, but Richard Stern quickly struggles out Adam Kotkin’s grasp. Richard Stern is supposed to run off the ropes and hit Kotkin with a flying clothesline, which would lead to the final series of near falls and reversals and the end of the match. Richard Stern does not run off the ropes. He is staring at the entranceway.
The owner is running towards the ring screaming something. He is wearing his gas mask.
“GET OUT OF THERE! EVERYONE GET YOUR GAS MASKS ON! THEY SET OFF GAS BOMBS AT BASEBALL GAMES AND WE JUST GOT A THREAT! THEY HIT YANKEE AND SHEA STADIUM! HURRY!”
The siren is now going off and people are shouting and panicking. The ring crew who heard the owner and the security personnel are running to the back to get their gas masks. The referee is running towards the locker room. The ring announcer and the time keeper are headed there as well. Most people in the crowd are removing their gas masks from their bags and putting them on. Parents are putting gas masks on their children. Those who do not have a mask are running for the exits. There are very few people who do not have a gas mask and dare to leave their homes.
Adam Kotkin begins to run when he feels a hand on his arm. Richard Stern is shaking his head no. Adam Kotkin has no idea what is going on. All he knows is that he has to get himself and if possible his friend to their gas masks. Adam Kotkin is screaming over the siren and the confusion.
“Come on! We need to go!”
“We need to get out of here! They’re going to gas us! We need our masks! Let’s go!”
Richard Stern puts a finger to his lips, telling his friend to be quiet. Richard Stern thinks very carefully about his next words. He speaks.
“What are we? We are wrestlers. Let’s finish wrestling.”
The siren is no longer blaring. The Coliseum has lit up a sign telling people to put on their gas masks. There are the sounds of children crying and the sounds of parents promising that everything will be all right. Besides that, there is silence. Adam Kotkin is staring at his friend with a look of disbelief on his face. The disbelief turns to shock as Richard Stern runs off the ring ropes and hits Adam Kotkin with a flying clothesline. Not knowing what else to do, Adam Kotkin sells it. Richard Stern covers Adam Kotkin and counts with his own arm slapping the mat. One. Two. Kick out. Richard Stern is picking up Adam Kotkin and positions him for a pile driver. Adam Kotkin reverses that into a backdrop, but Richard Stern reverses that into a sunset flip. Richard Stern is trying to figure out how to count when he hears a small group of fans.
Adam Kotkin kicks out. Both stand up, and Richard Stern is going for a side suplex. Adam Kotkin blocks it and reverses it into a small package. Again the fans are counting, this time a few more of them.
Richard Stern rolls the small package over. Many fans are counting.
“One! Two! Aww.”
Adam Kotkin has kicked out. He clips Richard Stern’s leg, and Richard Stern is now writhing in pain. Adam Kotkin is slowly climbing to the top turnbuckle as Richard Stern struggles to his feet. Richard Stern dives on the ropes, causing Adam Kotkin to lose his balance and fall to the mat. Limping badly, Richard Stern is making his way over to Adam Kotkin and is now covering him. It seems as though everyone in the Coliseum is counting.
“ONE! TWO! THRAWW!”
Adam Kotkin has kicked out. Richard Stern pounds the mat in frustration. This was the point where he was supposed to argue with the referee, allowing Adam Kotkin to roll him up for the three count. Instead, he pulls Adam Kotkin to his feet and puts him in a headlock. Richard Stern then goes to the corner to attempt a bulldog. They’ve done this spot before. Adam Kotkin waits for Richard Stern to start to run. When he does, Adam Kotkin runs with him. Richard Stern jumps into the air but instead of falling he is caught by Adam Kotkin, who runs Richard Stern onto the top turnbuckle in the opposite corner so that Richard Stern is sitting facing away from the ring. Adam Kotkin is climbing to the second rope and wrapping his arm around Richard Stern’s neck. Adam Kotkin hits the Kinner off the top rope. He drapes an arm over his friend and the fans are counting as loudly as they can with the gas masks on.
“ONE! TWO! THREE!”
The fans are cheering. They are screaming and yelling. More then a few of them are in tears. The siren has caused them to feel fear, but now they feel hope. They are proud to be wrestling fans. They are proud to be Americans.
Adam Kotkin is waiting for the bomb to go off and his lungs to fill with gas. He realizes it’s not going to happen and he’s almost disappointed. Adam Kotkin has never felt prouder then he feels at this moment. He is getting up, getting his belt, posing for the fans at the ramp way and leaving. This is not his moment. This moment belongs to Richard Stern.
Richard Stern has not stopped selling the move. He lays motionless in the ring. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Adam Kotkin pointing to him from the ramp. The fans mange to cheer even louder. The fans begin a muffled chant of Stern Dick, which turns to USA. Richard Stern is not moving. He does not want this feeling to end.
Does he feel proud? Not anymore then he would after a good match.
Does he feel happy? He is still mourning the death of his brother.
He feels useful. For the first time in his career, Richard Stern feels useful. Barely moving his lips, he joins in the chant of the crowd. USA. USA.
Violinist Isaac Stern was playing with the Jerusalem Symphony during the Gulf War. In the middle of the symphony, the alarm signifying a gas missile attack by Iraq went off. Everyone in the audience put on a gas mask and the orchestra left the stage. But Stern continued to play. Afterwards he was asked, “What was that moment like for you?” And he said, “It’s the first time I felt my music was useful.”
Isaac Stern passed away earlier this week. Whether or not you’re a fan of classical music, his bravery at that moment should inspire us all to try to be useful.
In the spirit of tryign to be useful, in a recent Midnight News, Chris Hyatte stated that we 411 writers do not get paid. That is very true, and I would like to take this oppurtunity to ask you, if you truly enjoy reading our work, to donate five dollars to the Red Cross. It does not have to be in our names or the name of the website, and I know that many of you have been asked to give by others. However, given this forum I have the worst thing I could do would be to not at least ask. Thank you for reading.