It was February 27, 2000. I had just turned 21 the month before in as unceremonious a celebration as you can have in college, simply hanging out with my roommate Jeff at the local Bennigan’s on a nondescript icy winter night that felt like all the others, which is what happens when you are in college at the beginning of the spring semester and you are living in the springless confines of Binghamton, N.Y.
Ah, yes, Binghamton. My old stomping ground that redefined the words “cold” and “hard” better than any thesaurus could ever imagine doing. After all, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. You come to this place that has a college campus and not much else; this luckless, perennially gray city that is located between New York City and Buffalo, perhaps stopping at The World Famous Roscoe Diner on Route 17 along the way; you come here and you stick around long enough, and this place can harden you, alter you, reauthor you in ways you couldn’t possibly fathom when thumbing through your college acceptance letters.
And yet, it was here, in Binghamton, N.Y., part of the Triple Cities area that is comically nicknamed The Southern Tier despite it’s unforgiving northerly disposition, where I discovered what it’s like to have the kind of revelation that just forces you to rethink everything, to trade in your airtight perceptions of the world around you in exchange for a simple conclusion that, when realized within you, can make you feel like you can brave the most unforgiving elements, even those of the Binghamton landscape:
There is poetry in losing.
Getting back to that night, February 27th, 2000.
I was on my computer feverishly typing up one of my creative writing assignments that I was transferring from pen and paper to Microsoft Word, or, as I liked to call it back then, the relentlessly passionless bane of my existence as an aspiring poet. Honestly, if a genie ever granted me three wishes in this lifetime, two of them would be too personal to reveal here in this space. The third, however, would be to go back in time and convince Bill Gates that it is not a good idea to have red and green squiggly lines pop up to stifle a poet who is trying to find his own unique voice despite mundane requests for neatly spaced printouts filled with 12-point Times New Roman font because yes, even creative writing professors can become hardwired victims of tedious norms.
At around 8:00 pm, which seems like 1 in the morning on a Sunday night in Binghamton, I decided to take a break from putting my latest compositions through the Microsoft Word filter, an excruciating process that made me feel like my heart was being shredded by a sick and twisted version of the Play-Doh factory.
As a lifelong pro wrestling fan, I figured the perfect escape from another monotonous night would be to watch my favorite wrestler of all-time — fellow Long Island native Mick Foley, who was in Cactus Jack mode at the time — finally take it to Triple H at the WWF No Way Out Pay Per View. After all, this was a Hell In A Cell match â€“- a gimmick match made famous by Mickâ€™s Mankind persona when he fell off the top of the cage against The Undertaker and lived to tell the tale â€“- where Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy was putting his entire career on the line for a shot at Triple Hâ€™s WWF Championship.
And so I ordered the No Way Out PPV online so I could watch it through WWEâ€™s website, a new concept that was starting to emerge at that time. For 10 bucks, I was granted the privilege of sitting at my desk to watch grainy Internet footage that turned the wrestlers I watched on TV every week into barely recognizable Picasso-esque fragments â€“- this was before the YouTube era and watching anything on streaming video wasnâ€™t all that common â€“- but hey, Iâ€™d surely get my moneyâ€™s worth once Cactus Jack and Triple H locked it up in that cage. Trips may have had Stephanie McMahon by his side and the power couple may have been able to squash Mick Foley at every turn, but this was the culminating match in their feud in Mick Foleyâ€™s signature match, and Cactus Jack was going to make sure it ended with a â€œBANG-BANG!â€
On that night in Binghamton, N.Y., after withstanding another drive up Route 17 in a brown, beat-up 1987 Oldsmobile that could barely pass inspection, after enduring another batch of burnt buttermilk pancakes from Roscoeâ€™s shithole diner, after turning 21 by celebrating at a fucking Benniganâ€™s of all places, after all of the creative life was sucked out of me because I was being forced to type instead of write, after squinting my eyes for over two hours trying to escape my personal headaches only for the figurative and literal to converge on my pulsating temples, after withstanding a truly lonely month in a truly cold and hardened town, I felt itâ€¦
There is poetry in losing.
Cactus Jack was supposed to beat Triple H and take away all of the pain I had let manifest in my mind for way too long to the point where I was simply delirious with the notion that Mick Foley held the key to my cure. Cactus Jackâ€™s big win to regain the WWF Championship would be my sign from above that things would be different from now on, that the malaise would be lifted and the surrounding gray that had enveloped me would turn into sunshine.
Well, things obviously didnâ€™t turn out that way. Cactus Jack lost, and while Mick Foleyâ€™s career didnâ€™t actually end that night, Iâ€™m sure even he would tell you that it was never going to be the same again. I would never be the same either.
With my head still spinning from the Internet feed and my heart still pounding following the pin, I managed to see Mick Foley walking away from the ring and back towards the locker room area. He was no longer Cactus Jack, Mankind, or Dude Love, and in that moment, he was no longer a professional wrestler either. He had no direction except forward, there was no way out of this, no way of retreating back to the ring for one more match with Triple H, and no more chapters to be written in their story..
Maybe it was my delirium at the time, but somehow, some way, I swear I was there, with him, in that moment, after the loss.
It was Mick Foley and me, together, surveying the stark blankness that was before us. We couldnâ€™t bear to look back, so instead we pressed forward, slowly, painfully, dejectedly.
And then it happened. And I was back in my swivel chair, as if I was shaken and then reawakened. My eyes popped out back onto the computer screen, and somehow, the picture was the clearest and crispest it had been all night.
It is then I saw Mick Foley â€“ a battered and broken wrestler but never a defeated man â€“ look back at the live audience with purpose and defiance one last time. They cheered. And he exited. And my screen faded to Internet black.
Mick Foley spoke to me that night, just as I was about to snap.
â€œThere is poetry in losing,â€ he said.
The Wikipedia entry for this particular match between Cactus Jack and Triple H reads as follows:
The main event was a Hell in a Cell match for the WWF Championship, in which WWF Champion Triple H defended his championship against Cactus Jack, with the added stipulation that if Jack lost he would have to retire from professional wrestling. The match began inside a structure of metal surrounding the ring and ringside area. Throughout the match, many weapons were employed, such as steel chairs and a 2×4 with barbed wire wrapped around it (the 2×4 was also set on fire later in the match). When the ring steps were repeatedly thrown against the wall of the cell, it tore open and Cactus Jack jumped through it to the outside of the cage. The men fought first on the announcer’s table, and later both men wrestled on the top of the cage. While on top of the cell, Cactus Jack attempted a Piledriver, but the move was reversed and Triple H dropped him on his back. The move broke the cell roof and Cactus Jack fell through to the mat below. After Jack stood up again, Triple H successfully executed his Pedigree finishing maneuver. Triple H then covered Cactus Jack for a pin.
I laugh, and I think Mick Foley â€“ who is far more of an accomplished writer than I could ever be â€“ would laugh too.
The entry is written, mechanically, in Times New Roman.
Mick Foleyâ€™s latest memoir, Countdown to Lockdown: A Hardcore Journal, is available now at bookstores everywhere and also at amazon.com.
Chris Biscuitiâ€™s book of poetry, Half A Lifetime More or Less, is also available through amazon.com.
Tags: Cactus Jack, counterfeit pennies, dude love, foley, impact, lockdown, Mankind, Mick Foley, No Way Out, Pay Per View, PPV, pro wrestling, Raw, Smackdown, TNA, wrestling, WWE, WWF