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FICTION
Brother
Michael Chin

 Photo by John McKeon

Photo by John McKeon

Mom waited tables every hour she could at Fat Lenny’s, and she’d bring me with her to sit through her shifts. There was a TV behind the counter. Daily soaps. Evening news. Game shows. Sometimes a baseball game.

I lived for Saturday afternoons, when I watched WWF Superstars.

Saturdays belonged to swinging neckbreakers, enzuiguris and figure-four leg locks. And Hulk Hogan. Hulk bodyslamming. Hulk hitting the big boot. Hulk crashing down with a leg drop. Hulk reciting the Four Demandments of Hulkamania: Train, say your prayers, eat your vitamins, and believe in yourself!

I played with my big rubber dolls over the commercial breaks—a rotating cast of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Rick Rude, and a half dozen others to oppose Hulk. Always Hulk. I smacked their bodies into one another, an imitation of the more epic battles in my mind, all piledrivers and spinebusters and somersault splashes from the tops of steel cages.

Sometimes the waitresses brought me slices of apple pie or coffeecake. I’d gobble my treats as fast as I could, but Mom would spot the empty plate, or the crumbs on my shirt, or the smear of frosting on my lip—too many blind spots for me to ever keep track of. She’d stand over me from the opposite side of the counter in her powder blue uniform, with her name spelled wrong over her heart—Traci when it should have been Tracy—and ask if I’d spoiled my dinner again.

I told her no.

“You know you can’t lie to me,” she said. “I can see the devil in your eyes.”

I threw my hands up, over my eyes.

She’d tell me, years later, that she knew I was lonely. That she knew little boys ought to be swinging on playgrounds or building snow forts on Saturday afternoons, not sitting in diners until dark. And she knew I had trouble making friends when I always had something to say about the wrestlers, but would cover my eyes to tell her about the guys from school.

In truth, the kids at school made fun of me when I struggled to read aloud and still had to count on my fingers to add, not to mention that I couldn’t hit a baseball to save my life.

Mom knew that, too, I think. I kept waiting for her to tell me I was an idiot after every parent-teach conference.

The day after one of those conferences, when I was eight years old, Mom sat me down in my bedroom. She seemed nervous, like when she asked her boss for time off to go meet with my teacher, and that seemed weird because I didn’t know why she’d be nervous talking to me.

Then she told me Hulk Hogan was my brother.

I shook my head.

“OK, he’s your half-brother. That’s why you don’t look alike. He takes after his father.”

In the glossy poster that hung from my wall, Hulk’s back muscles spread out like wings beneath his arms, out past his chest. It was weird. My body didn’t do that. “Why don’t I ever get to see him then?”

She told me that Hulk had grown up with his dad out in California, but that Hulk used to come and visit sometimes at Christmas. He got too busy, though, traveling, defending the World Championship. The last time she saw her other son, Mom was in the hospital having me. Hulk surprised her there and he couldn’t stay long, but he hugged Mom and shook my little hand before he was on his way.

“Hulk wishes he could be in your life more,” Mom said. “Maybe he will be someday.”

“Do you think he forgot about me?” I asked.

“Oh no,” she said. “He talks about you all the time.”

I found that hard to believe

“Every time he says, brother, he’s talking to you,” Mom explained. “He makes it sound like he’s talking to the whole world, but he’s only thinking about you.”

He did say it all the time. I’d never noticed.

I fear no man, no beast, or evil, brother.

God created the heavens, he created the earth! He created all The Hulkamaniacs! Then, he created a set of twenty-four-inch pythons, brother!

Whatcha gonna do, brother, when Hulkamania runs wild on you?

“He loves you,” Mom said. “Remember that.”

           

Jamie Nelson was two years older than me, with his own friends. But when he saw me wearing a Hulkamania t-shirt, that first year of high school, he invited me to sit at their lunch table and quizzed me on my favorite wrestler (Hulk Hogan), my favorite tag team (The New Rockers), my favorite match (Hulk Hogan vs. Earthquake at SummerSlam 1990). He told his buddies I was a total mark. I didn’t know what that meant, and thought he might be making fun of me. I got up, but Jamie put a hand on my shoulder.

“I mean it as a compliment, kid. Hang out.”

So I did hang out with them at lunch each day. Jamie was the only one who ever willingly sat down next to me, but that was fine because he was the only one who talked to me anyway. At the end of the school year, he asked me to sign his yearbook and told me to write my phone number. He said he’d have me over sometime to watch wrestling.

He never called. But when Mom and I went to the town fireworks on the Fourth of July, I saw him with a girl who didn’t go to our school. Skinny, blond, wearing his denim jacket. He had his arm over her shoulders.

“You keep looking at them,” Mom said. “Do you know them?

“I was just looking around,” I said. “But he’s my friend from school. Jamie.”

“Do you want to introduce me?” Mom asked.

I crossed my arms tight and looked up at the sky. It was getting darker and the fireworks could have started at any moment.

“You should go talk to him at least,” Mom said.

A minute later, Jamie spotted me and motioned me over. He introduced the girl, but she didn’t even look at me, and I’d never remember her name. He asked how my summer was going. If I were working. I parroted his questions back to him, until finally he invited me to his house for WCW Bash at the Beach that weekend. Even though I tried to play it cool, he must’ve known how much that meant to me. He wrote his address on the back of a Burger King receipt, and told me he would see me on Sunday.

Jamie’s house was a tan one-story with baby-blue shutters and a gravel driveway. There were four cars outside. Jamie had his own truck—a beat-up pea green pickup I’d never seen before but recognized from his descriptions of all the car troubles he’d had. First the radiator, then the timing belt and, even after he’d fixed each of these problems, that winter a neighborhood kid had busted his front passenger side window with a snowball, which led to Jamie hiding, ducked down in the cab of his truck for two nights with a baseball bat in hopes of catching some punk in the act. I never told Mom that part, but I thought it was awesome.

Mom tussled my hair. “If you’re having a bad time, or you get tired, or anything happens, you know you can call me.”

Mom was strange like that. She wanted me to make friends, but anytime I did go out—when she made me go to a dance, or when I went to a birthday party at a bowling alley in the sixth grade—one of the last parties everyone in class was invited to—she was nervous I’d get picked on or that I’d have a meltdown. By Bash at the Beach, I hadn’t had a meltdown in nearly a year. Not since Hulk lost the world title to The Giant.

Hulk wasn’t even scheduled for Bash at the Beach.

Inside, there were open pizza boxes on the coffee table, on TV trays, on the white and orange shag carpet, a pizza per person it looked like and big ones at that. A plain cheese. A sausage and peppers. A Hawaiian-style one like they advertised on a big poster at Tony’s that Mom never wanted to try, all glossy pineapple and strips of pale ham.

“Glad you made it.” It was Alex, a portly, curly-haired kid with glasses, who had a habit of rolling his eyes after I said anything at our lunch table. “Five dollars in the offering plate if you want to eat.” He sat with his back to the coffee table and tilted his head toward a paper plate littered with dollar bills and change.

“Relax.” Jamie emerged from the kitchen and put a hand over my shoulders. “I told you I was covering my bro here.”

I thought to correct him. We weren’t brothers. But we were friends.

“Help yourself to some pizza, man. Grab a soda, too.”

The blond girl from the firework show was sitting on the sofa with a spot next to her. Jamie plopped himself down there, I grabbed a slice of Hawaiian from in front of them. It was stuck to the slice next to it and I didn’t want to look like a pig, but Mom also told me people didn’t want to eat anything anyone else had touched, so I took both of them.

It was a good show, and I marveled at watching it all in crystal-clear picture and in real time. In those days, if you tuned your TV to one of the premium channels or to the pay-per-view events, and you weren’t paying, you could still hear the show and watch a scrambled picture with all wavy lines and jumps and distorted colors. Mom said we couldn’t afford to pay to watch wrestling—even when I offered to forego birthday and Christmas presents if she would—but that I could listen if I promised not to stare at the screen and warp my eyes. But when I couldn’t resist looking anyway, so Mom covered the TV in a blanket to block my view.

Jamie’s girlfriend got on my nerves asking who everyone in the ring was and talking about how Rey Mysterio moved like Spiderman. I supposed she was a good sport for watching the show at all, though. None of the girls at school knew anything about wrestling.

During the Diamond Dallas Page-Jim Duggan match, Alex looked back at me. “Hulk Hogan—he’s your favorite, right?”

I finished chewing my pizza first, then told him he was right.

“I think he’s going to be third man.”

Too many different responses rushed to my lips. The school counselor had told me that when that happened I should close my eyes, take a deep breath, then pick just one to say. Kids at school laughed at me when I did that, and I assumed Jamie’s friends would do the same. I managed, “Hulk would never do that.”

The whole Bash at the Beach was built around the main event—a six-man tag team match that would see Randy Savage, Lex Luger, and Sting defend WCW against a group of invaders. The bad guys were The Outsiders—Diesel and Razor Ramon from the WWF, plus a third man who would round out the team and was sure to be a big star. Whoever it was would be the most hated man in wrestling—a scoundrel to join up with Diesel and Razor who had interrupted perfectly good matches, and beat up announcers and smaller wrestlers for no good reason. He’d be the opposite of The Hulkster, who I was sure WCW was keeping as a last-minute sub if someone got injured.

Alex gave me his best jerk smile and took the last slice of Hawaiian pizza. He wolfed down half of it in the first bite, not even savoring it.

“Who do you think it’s going to be?” Jamie asked me.

I’d thought about it a lot, only to arrive at one answer. A persistent enemy to everyone on the WCW team. Someone who had no problem lying and scheming. “The Dirtiest Player in the Game,” I said. “Ric Flair.”

The team of The Giant and Kevin Sullivan got the best of Arn Anderson and Chris Benoit. Then it was time for the main event.

There was no third man. The Outsiders took on the WCW team three-on-two, and I figured they were fibbing the whole time. Who would team up with them? The trouble was that, even a man down, they were a match for Randy, Lex, and Sting. Then Lex got knocked out outside the ring and it was two-on-two.

It was a back-and-forth battle, but when everyone was down the curtain to the backstage area opened. My brother emerged.

Alex pointed at the TV. “I told you he was the third man!”

“He’s coming out to help!” I yelled back, louder than I meant to. My stomach hurt from all the pizza and it was too hot and I really wasn’t sure what Hulk was doing.

Hulk got in the ring, then bounced off the ropes.

He dropped a leg on Randy Savage.

The referee never counted a pin, and there was never a disqualification. But the match was over. The fans in attendance started throwing beer cans and wadded up nacho containers at the ring. Some bounced off the ropes and hit the people in the front row, but plenty of them made it through, littering the ring in garbage and disgrace.

“No,” I said.

Hulk got on the mic. “All this crap in this ring represents these fans out here.”

“No!” I yelled. “No!” I overturned the table. The pizza was stupid and the table hit Alex in the back and he said what the fuck, dude but I didn’t care because nothing was right and how could this happen? I kicked the bottom of the coffee table. Hard.

Jamie put an arm over my shoulders and led me outside. His girlfriend came, too.

“That sucks, man, I know,” Jamie said.

“How could he do this?” I could feel myself steadying, already more sad than angry. Hulk had given up on everything right. In a world where he could do that, couldn’t Mom do the same? Couldn’t I? My face boiled, tears bubbled over, and snot ran out of my nose. I left my arms dangling at my sides. I imagined everyone from the living room crowded by the window, watching to see what I’d do next. At a time like this, who cared if they saw me?

“You know it’s fake right?” the girl said.

“Fuck you.”

“Easy, easy.” Jamie got in between me and her. “I know you’re upset. I am too.”

“He’s—he’s—“ I knew that no one would believe that Hulk and I were related. I’d always known it. But in that moment, I had to say it. “He’s my brother.”

Jamie hugged me. Right then and there in the driveway. No one but Mom had ever hugged me like that. I kept waiting for Alex or one of the other guys to come out and tell me I was a fag, but it was just me and Jamie. No one else. Even his girlfriend went inside. My throat hurt, but it got easier to breathe again. “You’re all right,” Jamie said. “You’re going to be fine.”

Mom pulled into the driveway again. I felt Jamie lift a hand from me to wave, before he handed me over. She asked me what was wrong, out there and on the drive home and when we got home. I couldn’t speak.

That night, I dumped out a milk crate of all of my wrestling figures. I singled out Hulk’s and put it back in. Then I tore his poster from my wall, crumpled it, and put it in the crate, too. Then my stuffed Wrestling Buddy of the Hulk, and my Hulkamania t-shirt and bandana, the Hulk Rules CD. I meant to haul it out to the curb. The garbage man wouldn’t come until Tuesday, but I didn’t care if it all got rained on or taken in the meantime.

I meant to get rid of it.

But, I couldn’t.

I wedged it all in a dark corner between my dresser and the wall where I wouldn’t have to look at any of it.

I was an only child again.

 

That was a lifetime ago.

I let my crate of Hulk Hogan junk collect dust and then I piled dirty clothes on top of it.

Senior year, I fell in love with a girl name Donna. Asked her to prom and everything. She let me down easy, but told me in no uncertain terms that she was going with Trevor Harrison.

“Trevor Harrison?” I said. “I could take out that kid with one punch.”

She agreed with me but didn’t change her mind and stopped smiling so much. I tried to make it clear I didn’t actually mean to punch him, but none of it came out right, and she left me standing in the middle of the cafeteria.

Jamie and his friends had graduated. I thought I’d been making good with Donna, not to mention her friends, but after she shot me down, and after I started to notice how often Trevor sat next to her at lunch, I didn’t show my face around them anymore. It was spring and warm enough to sit alone on the bleachers overlooking the football field.

I graduated. Mom got me a job waxing the floor at City Hall and driving a plow for the county. I even got to make some overtime dough dressing up as Santa Claus, though I would have done that for free.

As much as I loved playing Santa, I hated my Christmastime boss—a know-it-all who was always riding me for getting in three or four minutes late. His name was Herbert Martin. He insisted we call him Mr. Martin, but the elves and I all called him Herbie behind his back.

 Every dollar I made went to gas or food or straight to Mom. I wanted her to have the money to retire.

While all this was happening, a new hero rose in the WWF. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He beat up his boss, Vince McMahon, on national TV. He drank beer after beer and gave people the middle finger. Gangs went after him, but McMahon was always the kingpin. Not like Andre the Giant or King Kong Bundy—the villains of my childhood. McMahon was like Trevor or Herbie. I didn’t hate them because they could beat me up, but because they had control. The girl, the money, the authority to ruin everything. I shaved my head and grew a scraggly goatee to do my best to look like Stone Cold for a little while.

Years passed and then he was gone, too.

I didn’t think much about Hulk for a long time. Even after he turned good and bad and good again. In between all of those runs, he took time off. Months. Sometimes years. But he never once visited us, and I had my suspicions that, even if saying “brother” started out as a way of remembering me, it had devolved into a vocal tic. There were shades of gray, sure. Like maybe he thought of us sometimes, and maybe he worried it had been too long to reconnect, or else felt like he needed to dedicate himself to his wife and his kids. But did that make it OK to cut us out altogether?

It wasn’t worth lingering on ideas that were too complicated, too conflicted. Mom told me that once, when I’d gotten frustrated wondering why any of the wrestlers were stupid enough to trust Triple H when he was always up to something. I was getting worked up, because I saw it coming when a mystery man beat up Shawn Michaels in a parking lot, and said that someone had to have known it was him and he couldn’t be trusted, and why would they play dumb? Mom said if it made me upset to think about, then I should focus on what gave me happiness and forget the rest. Life’s hard enough without making it harder.

So I let it go.

Then there was a scandal.

Hulk had had his problems before. The steroid trial. The divorce. The sex tape. None of it stuck, until someone released an old tape of him using the n-word over and over again.

The WWF—now WWE—released him from his part-time contract. They scrubbed his name from the Hall of Fame web page. The media tore him apart. His restaurant in Florida went out of business. 

For the first time since 1996, I felt bad for him.

I suppose I never had much. Just Mom. But if I ever lost her, I’d be ruined. When I tried to imagine it, it was too sad and I had to stop myself.

Hulk had it all. World Championships. Fans everywhere. Movies. Two different TV shows. Now all that was gone. When I tried to imagine how he felt, I got sad all over.

I didn’t know how to reach Hulk—I’d given up on Mom for that. Eventually, it came to Twitter. I had to write the message once, delete it, try again, cut out words. Cut out sentences. Get to one-hundred-forty characters. I scrapped it all and tried one more time, simple and to the point: @HulkHogan you are still my brother and I still love you.

An hour later, he replied: Thank you. Only love, brother. HH #forgiveness #peace #love

It was the first time we communicated, man-to-man, no TV screen in between. It was the first time we said that we loved each other.

So, I unpacked the crate. I smoothed out the poster as best I could and blue tacked it back up on my wall. Stood up his action figure on my nightstand. Tried to put on the t-shirt, but it was too small, so I ripped it in two just like my brother would have in the old days. I tied on the bandana.

I forgot I had it on when I got up to brush my teeth and pee before bed. Mom saw me in the hall, smiled, and hugged me. I buried my face in her shoulder and started to cry. I tried to explain about Twitter and what Hulk said. Mom rubbed my back. She was shorter than me. She told me I was a good boy and that she loved me.


Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently lives in Georgia with his wife and son. His hybrid chapbook, The Leo Burke Finish, is available now from Gimmick Press and he has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.