To the sailors in the bleachers, the stain inching from Angelo Poffo’s flanks resembled a pair of dark, sticky wings. The rhythm, the friction, had husked the skin off his lower back. By the third hour, eight fingers laced under his head had fused together. A medic offstage twirled a scalpel in the flame of a Navy-issued Zippo.
Then, ten minutes into the fourth hour, the judge yelled, “Six thousand.”
It was 1945 and Angelo Poffo had shattered the world record for most consecutive sit-ups.
Breath heaving, abdominals searing, Angelo closed his eyes to revel in the swell of applause. A hand lowered to hoist him to his feet. Angelo ignored it. Pumped out thirty-three more: one for each year his Lord and Savior had walked this here earth.
Six thousand and thirty-three sit-ups.
What son could live up to such a legacy—such a man?
Sixty-five years later in Florida’s Morton Plant Hospital, it was March 4th, 2010. Randy took his father Angelo’s hand in his.
“Your father has a heartbeat,” a doctor told a clipboard, “but no pulse.”
There were things Randy perhaps should have remembered, but didn’t: neon Spandex and cascading rainbows of sparks. The animal heat and sirloin smack of another man’s body. The Cadillac’s machete fins. In its backseat, Randy and his brother Lanny kneading post-wrestling match knots, Angelo steering them from one tournament to the next. Not even Angelo’s face after Macho Man Randy Savage leapt from the top turnbuckle and landed their first Flying Elbow into the Dynamite Kid’s sternum. Or Angelo’s pride after Macho Man won their first belt at WrestleMania II in ’86, or when crowned King of the Ring in ’87, or after defying all odds at World War 3 in ’95. The gift Randy had bought with Macho Man’s first Slim Jim paycheck didn’t cross his mind. Not even Elizabeth’s passing—vodka and pills, the galdurn pills and vodka—or the olive oil that had been at his father’s clavicle as Randy sobbed and sobbed and knew he would never be able to stop.
All Randy considered was that limp, meaty hand. How it belonged to a man, one who would never want to live with a heartbeat, but no pulse.
So Randy closed his eyes. “Send him home, Doc.”
Shortly afterward in the Savage Compound’s basement gym, Macho Man punched the walls until there was little left of them and even less of Randy’s knuckles. His second wife, Barbara, cowered upstairs, clamping a pair of sofa cushions over her ears to muffle the crunch of drywall, the smash of glass. Their howls, grunts, wails. She was too scared to save Randy from himself.
Elizabeth. His little Liz. Used to always fall asleep before Randy. Nothing pleased him more than setting his ear to her mouth, listening to the gentle scrape of her breath. It soothed him. Reminded him of a sold-out arena swell, or the tide retreating seaward. Sometimes, when lying belly-up on the mat awaiting the airborne freight train of an opponent to slam into him, Randy would close his eyes. Under the spotlight but nestled in black, Randy would replace the crowd’s wet roar with his little Liz’s dreaming breath.
Panting and bleeding and sprawled among the wreckage of his grief, Randy’s eyes were open, but he didn’t think—he knew. He knew Elizabeth would have saved him. Would have slunk down the basement stairs. Matted his hair. Cooed silly sweet-nothings. And Elizabeth, his little Liz, would never have told a soul.
Randy never apologized after the last fight. The bad one. The one that sent Elizabeth gone for good and moved Macho Man to add an extra six feet to the Compound’s walls. All their bile and pride. Randy knew neither he nor Macho Man deserved her forgiveness, but still.
It was 5:13 a.m. on May 20th, 2011, when just four hours and twelve minutes stood between Randy and nothingness.
Every inch and hinge of him ached. He’d stopped dyeing his beard long ago. Given up tying bandanas over his bald spot. His muscles were lumpy with rot, pressing against a hide that had a strained garbage bag’s translucency, now that he’d given up the tanning bed, too. He’d auctioned off all of Macho Man’s technicolor spandex, fringed leather coats, and razzle-dazzle cowboy hats for local animal shelters and the orphanage. In his basement gym remained the belts, trophies, and magazine clippings, circling, swirling about him—a nauseating carousel of nostalgia. The week after Macho Man had demolished this room and Randy’s fists, Barbara tidied up. Plastered the holes. Swept up the shards. Reframed the memorabilia. Randy, however, had refused to replace the floor-to-ceiling mirror, and now, staring at that bare, bone-matte swath of wall, he was glad.
An icy wave churned in his chest, then rolled through the rest of him. He shuddered. Thumped a saggy pectoral once, twice. Was that her? His little Liz?
He’d never told her he was sorry.
In the Compound’s backyard, Randy had planted a white oak. Reminded him of his childhood in Downer’s Grove, Illinois, with Ma, Angelo, and Lanny. Randy had spread his dog Hercules’ ashes in the tree’s shade ten days prior. With the heel of his palm, Randy had knocked the last chunks and dust of Hercules from a mason jar urn as if it were a bottle of Heinz. There was something so humbly unremarkable, so magnificently unceremonious about this gesture, and that’s when it hit him. Turning to Lanny, Randy told his brother to dump his own ashes in this very spot.
“With a dog?” Lanny said.
“It were good enough for Herc.”
From the kitchen window, Randy now eyed their shady plot. Before he could sort of smile, another slash of ice. He dug scar-pearled knuckles into his chest. He’d never said sorry.
“I don’t feel too good,” he told Barbara.
“Let’s go to Perkins!”
They sat at a corner booth. His egg white veggie omelette went cold as Barbara chirped about weekend plans and guest room renovations. Randy nodded absently, thumbing through the paper. Mean floods in the south, residents fleeing for higher ground. Rebuilding underway, after an April tornado had slain two hundred in Alabama. An executive order signed for sanctions against Syria. Evangelists the world over braced for tomorrow's scheduled rapture. Another frosty lash. A swell. A groan of the tide, or a crowd.
“Excuse me, Macho Man? I mean, Mr. Savage—sir?”
Randy turned and was met by a tall, gaunt stranger, his fingernails crescented by soil or ash. Hopeful eyes sunk into a sallow skull. A black t-shirt imprinted with JOHN 3:16 in block letters ribboned with rattlesnakes. Randy lifted his mug.
“Sure do hate to bother you, sir, here with your lovely—well. We’s hoping, if it weren’t too much to ask, for a quick photo with you, Mr. Savage, sir. I’m just the biggest fan, the maddest Macho Maniac you never did see.”
Randy obliged the pale stranger. He set an arm over shoulders, brittle and clammy. The stranger’s son, just as pallid but obese to the point of wobbling, aimed a camera.
“Junior, put her on record. Video mode,” the stranger said. “Now, how’s about an Oh, yeeeeah, huh, Mr. Savage?”
Randy had insisted on driving. The thermometer read ninety-two degrees, but a tundra hung at his neck. He winced. He fought. He was Macho Man Randy Savage.
The tide hissed then moaned then roared, deafening Randy as he struggled to stretch wide his eyes. A shriek of white kept inching in from the rim of his periphery, until edges smeared, until colors weren’t.
Randy steered their ‘09 Wrangler onto 694, then said:
“I think I’m going to pass out.”
And so were his last words.
It was 9:25 and Randy’s chin folded into his neck. His hands flopped from the wheel to his lap. His right foot sank into the accelerator. The Jeep veered over the median and into oncoming traffic. Barbara shrieked and dove over Randy, yanking the wheel and sending them into the opposite shoulder, over the curb and headfirst into a tree. From behind passed a motorcycle. Then a bus. Neither stopped. Shopping cart wheels scraped asphalt in the Publix Super Market lot. The right turn signal clicked at 76 b.p.m., but Barbara couldn’t keep time in such a moment, crying Randy’s name over and over to a beat very much her own.
Angelo, now young and sturdy, stood with foamy waters lapping at the ankles of his wrestling boots. Randy ignored his father’s extended hand. Instead scoured the beach for Elizabeth. His little Liz—she had to be here, and indeed she was. There, off in the distance with her back to Randy, her wedding dress pluming like hickory smoke in the breeze. He opened his mouth to call her name and tell her so many, many things, but only sand fell from the hole in his face.
It was ninety-three degrees and Macho Man Randy Savage was dead.
Of his many fears, death had always topped the list. Randy had refused to attend funerals, even Angelo’s. Randy had stipulated his own be a quiet affair, none of the pomp and circumstance of motorcades or pyrotechnics. No eulogies or music, theme or otherwise. So only five gathered under the white oak’s shade to scatter his ashes, right there with Hercules’. Among them little was said, which was only fair, for Randy never did get to say all that he’d ached to.
Jakob Guanzon's work has previously been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in Juked, Breakwater Review, Outside In Literary & Travel Magazine, and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Columbia University's School of the Arts and lives in New York City. www.jakobguanzon.com
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Repent, Macho Man Randy Savage