When I was four years old, my parents took me to a WWF house show. This would have been sometime in early 1986 as the main event saw Hulk Hogan taking on King Kong Bundy, which was also the main event of WrestleMania 2. The match hit all the standard Hogan beats – Hogan beat up Bundy for a while – Bundy’s manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan cheated turning the advantage to Bundy – Bundy beat up Hogan for a while – Hogan looked finished – Hulk up – three punches, body slam to the massive Bundy, big boot, legdrop – posing.

I didn’t quite know that formula yet. I was four. And four year-olds are earnest as all hell. As Bundy beat the tar out of Hogan, I grew very concerned for the health of my hero. I turned to my dad, sitting next to me, and asked very meekly and with genuine fear in my voice, “Dad, is Hulk gonna win?”

My dad considered a moment as he looked toward the ring, looked back at me, and said very flatly, “Yes.” This made me feel better, but the absolute certainty in his voice also gave me pause for the first time in my life. He seemed a little too sure of that answer, I thought. How could he possibly know that?

Sure enough, not more than five minutes later, the Hulkster no-sold Bundy’s “Avalanche” finishing maneuver, wagged his finger in Bundy’s face, dropped the big leg, and posed for the excited Denver crowd.

If I had to trace my career, my two degrees, and the way I view the world back to one moment, I trace it back to that singular response from my dad.

***

“Great job! This was perhaps my most favorite informative speech ever!” – The GTA who taught my public speaking class writing comments on my second speech of the semester.

I got a 96% on that speech despite quoting only two sources out of the assignment’s required 6. How did I do this? I wrote a speech about how Edge & Christian adapted Cain & Abel’s story from the Bible for wrestling audiences and modern sensibilities, compared the indoctrination tactics of the nWo from WCW in the mid-90’s to Hitler’s Third Reich (two theories I lifted blatantly from Scott Keith http://www.rspwfaq.com), and asserted that pro wrestlers were the greatest one take actors in the history of entertainment performing improvisationally on the biggest stage in the world.

I spent time thinking about pro wrestling.

***

After a short time believing my dad knew the outcome of that Hogan match in Denver because he was either God or psychic, as all little kids do provided their dads aren’t like John Bender’s dad from The Breakfast Club, I started to suspect pro wrestling might not be on the level. Hogan’s matches tended to unfold in the same predictable manner.

As I got older, I noticed other sports didn’t follow this pattern. Later that same year, our beloved Denver Broncos won the AFC West, defeated the Patriots in the Divisional Round, then proceeded to make just like Hulk Hogan in the AFC Championship against the hapless Browns. When you’re five, you’re self-centered enough to believe the world spins entirely around you. So I figured since I liked the Broncos, everyone liked the Broncos, and they should win the Super Bowl.  That’s how Hulk Hogan does it. Why shouldn’t the Broncos?

And the game unfolded just like a Hogan match. Denver took the early lead, then the Giants cheated (not really) and scored a safety on Elway, then they proceeded to beat up the Broncos for a while… then some more… then some more… then even more… then… wait, there’s an Elway touchdown to Vance Johnson… then, the game’s over?! What? The Broncos didn’t win. This isn’t like a Hogan match at all! What is this?

The Broncos lost. I couldn’t believe it. How could the Broncos lose? Hulk Hogan doesn’t lose. Wait, why doesn’t Hulk Hogan lose?

***

I watched the shit out of The Karate Kid growing up. For whatever reason (could have something to do with the name), I started identifying with Johnny somewhere after my 25th viewing and I made my friends play along with this goofiness and be the other Cobra Kais. My best friend, amazingly enough, was named Tommy, just like the “Get him a bodybag!” guy from the movie, but I wouldn’t let him be Tommy in this pretend play we were doing. I never thought the audience (whoever that was supposed to be) would believe the actor and the character would have the same first name. That’s absurd for a multitude of reasons.

I told him he was “Bobby” and that my friend David was “Tommy.” I don’t think poor real Tommy ever figured this out and asked me which one of the Cobra Kais was then named David, since, apparently, we were all just trading names now.

His adorable confusion aside, I realized something very important in this fantasy game: It’s always more fun to play the villain.

***

Hulk Hogan was awash in contradiction. He encouraged all his little Hulkamaniacs to train, say their prayers and eat their vitamins. Then when I was 10, my dad showed me an article about the Vince McMahon steroid trial where Hulk Hogan (along with about 30 others, it seemed) admitted to taking steroids. He was cheered as a fighter for virtue and truth. Then he whined and complained whenever he lost fair and square, which was also almost never. Hogan was always a disingenuous me-first narcissist that very few ever even noticed. That’s why his heel turn worked so beautifully in 1996. He finally dropped the good guy façade and let what was always there finally “run wild” unfettered.

Which is to say nothing of how god-awful he was as a wrestler. Once I figured out how my dad knew “Hulk was gonna win” at that house show, I watched pro wrestling differently. I still lost myself in the story and spectacle of it all, but generally I was more interested in the guys who could really move. I loved Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, The Rockers, The Hart Foundation, and Koko B. Ware, all of whom were better than Hulk Hogan at actual wrestling.

By the time 1991 rolled around, I cared not at all for the Hulkster and became the earliest version of a “smart mark” before that term was really even invented and before 99% of people had any idea what the internet was. My fandom had officially taken a turn and would never return to its previous iteration.

***

I mentioned Scott Keith, and it warrants mention that he, along with Rick Scaia, Mike Samuda, and CRZ, helped complete my transformation into full-on “smart mark” when CJS Regular Salwon hooked me into the IWC (Internet Wrestling Community, for those not inclined, and, miraculously, still reading). I wrote my first essays about pro wrestling on his old website more than 12 years ago, which indirectly and with several stops along the way, led to the creation of the website you’re reading right now. It also warrants mention that when I began writing about pro wrestling, I blatantly ripped off his style for about the first three years of my writing career.

Keith still writes about wrestling, and last month this exchange happened underneath his Raw Supershow Rant:

Caliber Winfield’s Biggest Fan: “On a different subject…does anyone have a friend who’s into wrestling, but isn’t a [smart mark]? I thought ALL wrestling fans were like us. I really did. But then I found out one of my friends whom I don’t see that often is actually a wrestling fan. Yet, he doesn’t know what the words ‘sell’ or ‘babyface’ or ‘heel’ mean…  It just blows my mind. This happen to anyone else?”

Ryan Murphy: “Yeah, my best friend is otherwise a reasonable guy but he still chooses to delude himself into playing along pretending it’s real while he’s watching it. Most people say that’s stupid, but really, you wouldn’t go to a play and sit there going ‘This is so fake! He’s not really Spiderman!’ Still, he doesn’t get how I can like heels with actual wrestling talent, since if they lose they must suck. The whole concept of ‘wrestling talent’ is still wrapped up in who wins or loses with him.”

***

In college I recapped Monday Night Raw every week and read about pro wrestling every day. It consumed my thoughts, and my enthusiasm for talking about it was infectious. I sucked roommates into it, girlfriends, neighbors in my apartment building, anyone who would listen to me prattle on about storylines, selling, and payoffs. Some of my friends at the time were really into watching Dragon Ball Z. I gave it a shot but gave up after nothing happened for two whole episodes in a row. I kept waiting for the big blowoff match (wrestling term for the climax of a long building story arc), and when none came, I turned it off and focused my attention elsewhere.

I loved having something to think about in such excruciating detail and pore over with nerds from all over the country via the IWC. My Raw recaps existed at various points on 6 different websites, and I freelanced other wrestling-related columns at a half dozen others. I wrote. A lot. Constantly.

***

In 2003 two things happened. I broke up with my girlfriend, and for some reason, the WWE writers thought the best way to sell pay-per-views was to have one of their characters reveal that another character 10 years previous had fucked a dead woman after drunk driving and crashing their car.

No longer needing an escape from talking to her for at least two hours per week, and growing completely exasperated at the idiocy of that storyline (coupled with overall fatigue in the staleness of the product as a whole), I stopped watching that which had consumed by thoughts almost entirely for the better part of two decades.

I also got drunk a lot and found a major I liked that would allow me to get credit for thinking about everything in the depth in which I thought about professional wrestling. I liked both of those things so much, I signed up for two more years of college and got a master’s degree in speech communication.

***

Two stories, semi-related.

1) I used to work for a public relations agency, and one of my clients asked me to pitch them some ad concepts. This was an investment company that sold primarily gold royalties, a unique niche in the business they had mostly to themselves. They were looking to run ads in a gold trade publication. Since every other ad in that publication would certainly have photos of gold bars, gold coins, or something that otherwise prominently featured the gold itself, our graphic designer and I opted for the reverse direction. We played on the “royalty” part of the business and made one concept that featured a lion, and another with beefeaters outside Tower of London. We made another that was basically just gold bars. When we pitched the two “royalty” concepts, the first words out of the client’s mouth were, “That’s interesting. But where’s the gold?”

2) NBC’s current Thursday night comedy lineup, when “Community” is on the air, is my favorite block of programming around today. They fucked this up when they included “Outsourced,” a painfully unfunny show that should have been re-titled, “Hey, isn’t this accent HILARIOUS?!” A month or so into my current job, the company congregated in our conference center to hear our CEO give his quarterly employee address. While waiting for it to start, I talked to one of my new co-workers and the conversation drifted to TV shows we liked. We both mentioned NBC’s Thursday night comedy block, and I excitedly extolled the virtues of 30 Rock’s whiz-bang jokes-per-minute ratio, Community’s co-opting and re-invention of genre storytelling, and Parks and Rec’s heart and deeply drawn characters. My new friend said, “Yeah, I’m kinda out on those shows. Do you watch Outsourced? That show is funny!”

***

I always knew I wanted to write my thesis about punk rock, I just didn’t know how to find an interesting entry point into the subject. That’s what your advisor is for, and, recognizing my affinity for analyzing real effects as opposed to intent, turned me onto Lawrence Grossberg and Maurice Charland, which gave me my theoretical framework. Their work states that a text (a political speech, a piece of art, or in my case, an album) does not reach an audience that already exists, it creates a brand new one with wholly unique characteristics. An artist may envision a particular audience for his or her work, but once a text is released into the world, the direction it takes is completely unpredictable and totally organic. It doesn’t matter what you intended, results will be whatever they will be because audiences and reactions will be called into being at the moment of impact. I keep this in mind with every project I undertake in my career and it informs every decision I make.

To put it another way, you cannot script outcomes.

***

“Dad, is Hulk gonna win?”

“Yes.”

OK, sometimes you can script outcomes.

But I’ll bet my dad never expected the outcome of his flippant response to an innocent question would be that which set me off on the path to writing meta-commentary on the WWF, a master’s thesis on punk rock, a successful career at a PR agency, and my current role in the ever-changing world of government relations and public policy.

If you think hard enough, you can determine the moment when your life was put into motion just like mine was. I didn’t think about it until I read the comments of Caliber Winfield’s Biggest Fan and Ryan Murphy on Scott Keith’s blog. But then, I never knew reading a simple Raw recap would propel me to write 2,400 words.

You can’t script outcomes.

Where will today lead you?

edagger@crujonessociety.com