I asked Stephen Osborne onto my blog because the name of his book, Wrestling with Jesus, caught my attention. Well, you know me. Of course I was going to be curious. Despite the fact it must be the middle of the night for him, Stephen very kindly agreed to my 'write me a blog now' request.
Over to you, Stephen.
The initial idea for Wrestling With Jesus came back when I was working for one of the major book store chains. I won't say which one, but it had a B and an N in the name. Anyway, one day a customer asked me to recommend a book to her. She'd read, or so she claimed, EVERYTHING. I asked her what sort of book she liked. Answer: EVERYTHING. She wasn't making it easy. I asked her for favorite titles, favorite authors. "Oh, there are just so many!" I tried Stephen King, John Grisham, and Dean Koontz. "Oh, I don't like them!" Well, I was getting closer. I now knew what she didn't like. I tried other authors. She hated them all. Apparently, the writers I named were not included under the heading of EVERYTHING. Finally she got annoyed with my inability to read her mind and asked me what the number one bestseller was. At the time, it was The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. I showed her the book. She looked at me like I was offering to hand her a serpent. "I've heard about this book," she snarled. "It's blasphemy!"
Um, well, it's fiction. It's not like he's saying it's, pardon the pun, gospel.
The lady stormed out of the store. However, she left me thinking. People get so hung up on religion that any deviation, any hint of frivolous thinking, anything that basically doesn't fit their definition is really, really bad. As I watched her stride angrily away, I thought, "Gee, it's a shame I didn't have a book that claimed Jesus was gay. That would have made her have a stroke or something." The idea swam around in my head a little. What else would annoy her? Ooo...make him a pro wrestler. And really, really dim.
Naturally, the idea went through several changes by the time I actually sat down to write Wrestling With Jesus, but the title was came from that encounter. I wrote it down on the back of a discarded receipt!
Author Bio: Stephen Osborne has been an improvisational comedian, a pizza restaurant manager, and a bookseller. Other than writing, his addictions include British television shows, reading mysteries, and (a recent addition) Broadway musicals. He lives in rural Illinois with Jadzia the One-Eyed Wonder Dog.
Visit him at Facebook: http://facebook.com/stephen.osborne2 and Twitter: http://twitter.com/southbendghosts. You can contact him at leftyIN@yahoo.com.
Bookstore owner Randy Stone is smitten. His new boyfriend, Kyle Temple, is sweet, hot, attentive, and great in bed. But introducing Kyle to his family takes courage, because Randy’s parents can be a little judgmental, and Kyle is ten years younger than Randy, a small-time pro wrestler, and dumber than the proverbial sack of hammers. Needless to say, Randy’s parents aren’t exactly thrilled, and even his best friend is skeptical.
Despite the challenges, Randy is determined to tough it out for Kyle. After all, enduring a few scornful comments from his mother is nothing compared to what Kyle’s going through trying to quit smoking for Randy. When a hypnotherapy session designed to help with Kyle's cravings leaves him quoting Jesus Christ—in Aramaic—Randy’s parents are suddenly the least of their problems. Once word gets out, their privacy is destroyed. News crews follow them everywhere, and everyone who knows Kyle seems determined to make a buck. It’s a mess that could make Kyle’s dreams of wrestling in the UWE come true—but what about his dream of being with Randy?
THE folded chair hit the back of Kyle’s head with a resounding thud that could be heard at the top of the bleachers. Kyle flew forward, hitting the ropes. His opponent, a rather good-looking Hispanic kid who went by the unlikely name of El Toro, swung again and slammed the chair into the center of Kyle’s back. Kyle collapsed to the canvas, seemingly dead to the world, as the crowd cheered.
Randy Stone, sitting far up in the bleachers in an attempt to distance himself from the more rabid wrestling fans in attendance, winced in sympathy. “I don’t care what he says. That’s got to hurt like a son of a bitch.”
Randy’s companion, a raven-haired beauty and card-carrying fag hag named Debbie Jacobs, munched on her popcorn. “I can’t see what attracts you to the guy. If you ask me, he’s got a hot body, but that’s about it. He’s got the brains of a split pea.”
“You haven’t even met him yet,” Randy replied, the tension in his stomach mounting to Huge Fucking Butterfly levels. He’d been worried that Debbie would be skeptical about his blossoming romance with a professional wrestler, but he’d hoped she wouldn’t start off with quite such an openly negative attitude.
“He just got hit by a chair. Twice. And he let the guy do it. Believe me, he’s got the brains of a split pea, and that’s being insulting to split peas. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this Kyle guy is fine for a quick fling, but you’ve been acting like he’s The One, and I just can’t see that.”
“He’s sweet,” Randy replied. “He’s just a really nice guy, and he treats me like I’m Einstein.”
“Compared to him, you are.”
“I admit, at first it was his hot bod that attracted me, but it’s developed beyond that. I’m really falling for the guy.”
“Seems like you might fall quite literally. I’m betting he’ll want to body slam you before sex or something like that. He looks like he’s got that gorilla mentality.” Debbie chewed more popcorn. “How on earth did you ever meet up with this guy? Didn’t you say he was a closet case? You didn’t meet up at a club, then. And I’m pretty sure he isn’t a customer at your bookstore. That guy never progressed beyond Hop on Pop.” She found a kernel that hadn’t popped and spit it back into the bag.
“Would you give him a chance?” Randy pleaded. “I really like this guy, Debbie. I want the two of you to get along.”
An older gentleman near them was staring not at the ring but at Debbie, or more precisely at Debbie’s chest. She caught him and flashed the guy an angry glare. “Hey, Gomer, the action is down there in the ring.” The man flushed and shifted his gaze back to the middle of the gym.
In the ring, the tide of events had turned. Kyle Temple had managed to kick El Toro in the genitals without the referee catching him. After several punches to El Toro’s face that would, in a real fight, have resulted in the Hispanic boy suddenly sporting at the very least a bloody nose but instead simply gave El Toro a stunned look, Kyle leaped up and dropkicked the handsome kid right out of the ring.
“So violent,” Debbie muttered.
“It’s not real,” Randy reminded her.
“Well, duh. That poor little bastard would have been wheeled out of here on a cart minutes ago if these blows were actually landing full force.”
“It’s like playacting,” Randy continued, picking up on Debbie’s condescending attitude toward his new beau’s chosen profession. “They’re enjoying themselves and entertaining the crowd. What’s wrong with that?”
A grimy teen seated in front of Randy turned around, a sneer on his pimpled face. “You can’t fake that shit, dude. Say that any louder and Kyle Temple will come up here and pound the fuck out of you.”
Randy shrugged. “He pounded the fuck out of me pretty good last night, actually.”
Debbie laughed, nearly choking on her popcorn.
The teen frowned in confusion before turning back to watch the action in the ring.
Sweat was making Kyle’s long light-brown hair stick to his face and neck. He took a second to pull some strands out of his eyes before hoisting El Toro over his shoulders for the Torture Rack finisher. El Toro screamed his submission, and the referee quickly called for the bell to ring.
“I don’t suppose he did that last night,” Debbie said as Kyle unceremoniously dumped his opponent’s body onto the canvas.
“Can’t say he did. But then, I wasn’t putting up much of a fight, either.”
The referee held up Kyle’s hand in triumph as the crowd booed loudly. El Toro was lying at Kyle’s feet, curled up in a fetal position. For good measure, Kyle kicked the beaten wrestler in the stomach before climbing out of the ring.
Debbie shook her head. “I don’t get it. He won. Why is everyone booing?”
“Kyle’s the heel. He’s the bad guy. The crowd is supposed to hate him. If they cheered he’d actually be upset, since that would mean he wasn’t presenting his character correctly.”
Narrowing her eyes at Randy, Debbie said, “It worries me that you know all this. This is a side of you I’ve never seen before. You didn’t grow up putting your friends in headlocks and half nelsons, did you?”
Randy helped himself to a small handful of her popcorn. “Kyle’s been explaining it all to me. It’s really quite fascinating. It’s a world unto its own, kind of like a circus in a way. And yes, I grew up putting my friends in headlocks and half nelsons. It was the only way I knew to get some body contact with them.”
The announcer climbed into the ring as Kyle and, more slowly, El Toro made their way out of the gym. With the usual announcer gusto, he introduced the next bout. Two more wrestlers entered the ring, climbing in at their appropriate corners.
“I see what you mean,” Debbie said, staring forward. “About it being like the circus. Oh. My. God. They’re midgets.”
Randy’s cheeks reddened. “Yeah, I guess they are. Although isn’t the current politically correct term vertically challenged individuals?”
“They’re midget wrestlers.”
“I’m sure they—”
“Your new boyfriend works with midgets. Midgets who wrestle. Do you see what I’m saying here?”
“Debbie,” Randy said, giving her his best puppy dog look, “I really want you to like Kyle. I want you guys to get along. It’s important to me.”
Debbie’s glare melted somewhat. “I’ll try,” she promised, “but it’s not going to be easy. I mean, look at the people watching this shit. That kid”—she indicated the dirt-streaked teen in front of Randy—“hasn’t had a bath this century, and the last book he cracked open had things pop back up at him.”
The kid in question turned. “Hey, fuck you, lady. I had a bath last week.”
The look Debbie returned was stony. “I stand corrected.”
Randy grabbed her elbow. “Come on. We don’t have to stick around for the rest of the show. We can go find Kyle and go out and get something to eat.” Randy wasn’t actually eager to get his best friend and his new boyfriend face to face, but he knew Debbie’s penchant for picking fights, and he wanted to get her away from the teenager as quickly as possible.
Debbie stood, brushing popcorn remains off her blouse. “I guess we can get something to eat. This Kyle does eat something other than squirrel, doesn’t he?”
As they passed the teen on their way down the bleachers, he looked at Randy challengingly. “Hey, mister. Were you serious? Is Kyle Temple a fag? Did he really fuck you last night?”
Randy stopped in his tracks. He hadn’t actually paid much attention to what he’d been saying, having spent most of his life blurting out whatever was on his mind regardless of who was present. Remembering Kyle’s closeted status, he looked around to make sure no one but the kid could hear his reply. “Yeah. Yeah he is, and yeah, he did.”
The teen looked thoughtful. “Next time he plows your ass,” he said, “can you ask him for an autograph for me?”
AS THE show was at a high school, the wrestlers were using the boys’ locker room to change. Just being in the vicinity of a high school locker room brought back fourteen-year-old memories to Randy. Having been tall and thin even while attending Thomas Jefferson High School, Randy had been one of the favorite victims of the more athletic set, led by a towering bulk who’d been nicknamed Mongo after the Mel Brooks character. Mongo and his cohorts terrorized several people, some much worse than Randy. Randy mainly remembered gym class as the time one was chosen last for basketball and for games of dodgeball that left nasty red welts on his arms and legs.
Standing in the tiled hall waiting for Kyle to emerge, Randy found himself feeling anxious and not a little uncomfortable. The ghost of Mongo seemed to be hanging around, taunting Randy. Debbie, however, seemed bored. She started to light up a cigarette.
Randy smiled weakly. “I’m pretty sure you can’t smoke in here.”
Debbie took a long drag and exhaled the smoke slowly. “I’m pretty sure I won’t get detention or anything, either. Hell, I smoked in high school ten years ago when I was a student. I’m certainly not going to hold back now.”
The locker room door opened and El Toro came out, dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. He carried a large gym bag. As he passed Randy and Debbie, he gave them a searching look.
“We’re waiting for Kyle Temple,” Randy explained. “We’re friends of his.”
The wrestler smiled. “Oh, he’s still in the shower, I think. He shouldn’t be too much longer, I guess.” He moved down the hall, giving them a cheery wave as he approached the exit.
Debbie eyed him as he disappeared from view. “El Toro’s got a nice butt. Very muscular. You could bounce a quarter off that ass. Maybe he’s single and we can both date wrestlers.”
“It would make for some interesting double dates. Can you blow your smoke the other way? I feel like I’m at a gay bar at closing time with the smoke in my eyes like that.”
Debbie was still gazing after the now-vanished El Toro. “He’s probably gay, though.” She leaned back against the wall and sighed. “I mean, why would a straight guy be interested in professional wrestling? Putting on little shorts and boots and jumping all over some other half-naked guy. You can’t get much gayer than that.”
“I can’t figure it out, either,” Randy replied, “but apparently most of them are straight. Extremely straight, even. Construction worker straight. Stanley Kowalski straight. I think they turn a blind eye to the homoerotic aspect of pro wrestling and just don’t think about it.”
“They hit each other in the crotch. How can they not think about it?”
Randy shrugged. “Honey, if I could figure out straight men, I’d be one happy faggot.”
The locker room door swung open again, revealing a huge black man with a heavily scarred forehead. Randy recognized him from the evening’s opening match. The man had been announced as The Black Death, which had made Debbie snort with laughter.
“No autographs,” he growled as he strode past Randy and Debbie.
When he was out of earshot, Randy asked, “I don’t recall asking for one, do you?”
Debbie blew out more smoke. “I don’t know. I would have like to have gotten one just to see what he’d write. I mean, what can he put? ‘Have a great life. Love, The Black Death’?” She tossed her cigarette down and stomped on it.
Kyle finally emerged. His long hair was still wet from his shower, but that only made him look sexier in Randy’s eyes. The ass-hugging jeans and the tight black T-shirt certainly didn’t hurt. Kyle’s short beard and mustache couldn’t hide his youthful baby face, and the full, red lips were tantalizing. Randy slapped his new boyfriend on the arm. “I thought you did great tonight. You’re not hurt, are you?”
Kyle shook his head and grinned. “Naw. Pete’s boot smacked me right in the nose at one point, but luckily it didn’t break this time. Got a nasty bruise from that chair, though.”
“Pete?” Randy asked.
“Yeah, the guy I was wrestling. You didn’t think El Toro was the name on his birth certificate, did you?”
Debbie discreetly cleared her throat and Randy, taking the hint, quickly made the introductions.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Kyle said warmly, shifting his gym bag out of the way so he could shake her hand. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
If Randy had thought Kyle’s boyish charm would win Debbie over, he had been mistaken. While Debbie smiled as she greeted his new boyfriend, Randy could tell she was still reserving her judgment.
“I’ve heard a lot about you as well,” she replied. “I have to say I was expecting someone bigger, though. What with the wrestling and all. I figured you’d be more the Hulk Hogan size.”
Kyle nodded enthusiastically. “It’s a common mistake. We’re not all big guys anymore, especially in the independent circuits. Even then, we fudge a little. I’m really around 185, but they announce my weight at 210. It sounds more impressive.”
“I can understand that,” Debbie said. “I’m 140, and I usually announce myself at 125.”
DEBBIE wanted to go dancing, but Kyle refused to go to a gay club for fear that he might be recognized. This did nothing to raise the wrestler in Debbie’s eyes, and as soon as Kyle was out of earshot, she hissed at Randy, “As if anyone would recognize him anyway! Christ, he’s acting like he’s a celebrity instead of a grotty little small-time wrestler.”
Desperately, Randy suggested they head to the Witch’s Brew, a downtown Indianapolis coffee house. The Brew wasn’t strictly a gay hangout, but its close proximity to several of the dance clubs made it a natural hangout for Indy’s homos. Randy hoped the presence of dozens of coffee-slurping twinks and club kids would soften Debbie’s mood.
“You don’t understand,” Kyle said as they found a booth near a window. “I can’t possibly come out. You saw the people who go to wrestling shows. I mean, some of them are okay, but there’s always a sort of redneck feel in the air.”
Debbie grudgingly nodded. “True. I would say that they had an IQ of about 70, and that was all of them put together.”
Kyle took the lid off of his hot chai and blew into the cup before taking a tentative sip. “I’m out to my mom, and a couple of my friends know, but that’s really as far as I can go. If anyone else knew, my wrestling career would be over.”
“There are other things to do than wrestle, though,” Debbie said. “You don’t have to work in such a homophobic environment.”
Kyle took another sip and then smoothed out his beard and mustache. “Not for me. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I mean, I always wanted to grow up to be a wrestler. That or an astronaut.”
Randy grinned weakly and tried to change the subject before Debbie could reply to that statement. “My chai tastes kind of weird. Does anyone else’s chai taste kind of weird?”
“Surely you can’t make all that much money at these small promotions, though,” Debbie went on, “and I’m sure it’s hard on your body, getting kicked and hit with chairs. You won’t be able to do this forever. You’ll have to find something to fall back on, like accounting… or ditch-digging.”
“Debbie,” Randy warned through gritted teeth.
Kyle didn’t seem fazed. “I don’t plan on doing small promotions all my life. I’m only twenty-one. Eventually I want to wrestle for the UWE. That’s the Universal Wrestling Extravaganza,” he added by way of explanation.
“Yeah, them I’ve heard of, seeing as how they’re on TV something like three times a week.” Debbie blinked and looked at Randy. “He’s over ten years younger than you.”
“Say it a little louder. I don’t think some of the people at the next table caught that,” Randy said, frowning. “My chai really does taste funny. Does anyone else’s chai taste funny?”
“That’s my dream,” Kyle said, again blowing into his cup to cool off the liquid. “I want to wrestle in the UWE. My dream match would be against Crusher Phillips. I could die a happy man if I could get a match with Crusher.”
“That’s a dream?” Debbie asked, incredulous. “To get a chair crashed over your skull by a guy named Crusher?”
Kyle smiled broadly. “It’d be a privilege to get hit with a chair by Crusher.”
Debbie nodded slowly and then eyed Randy. Very slowly she mouthed the words “Dump him!”
Kyle took another sip. Frowning, he said, “Maybe we should go somewhere else after all. This chai tastes a little off tonight. Anyone else notice that?”