Thursday, December 5, 2013
Just about three months ago, this room hosted an event slightly more staged and infinitely less fun, a debate between the five candidates for governor.
On this Friday night, a crowd of 125 fans is jammed into the small gymnasium at the Fairfield Community Center, and it was in a frenzy long before he stepped out from behind the curtain. Just minutes ago, they were chanting, "Break it! Break it!" while a wrestler named Bobby Ocean bent his opponent's arm in an unnatural direction.
So when the Honky Tonk Man makes his anticipated appearance minutes later, he takes one step into the auditorium, stops and lets the applause shower over him.
"I enjoy it. It's really a fountain of youth for a guy that's my age. I'm pushing 60 now. In a couple of weeks I'll be 58, and I'm surrounded by a bunch of young kids every weekend. It keeps me going, and I love what I do," he says.
A generation ago, the Honky Tonk Man was one of the World Wrestling Federation's biggest stars. While many people his age are planning their retirement, he's bouncing around the country wrestling in tiny gyms.
"I do around 40 or so. I shoot for 30, and anything over 30 is good," he says. "I'm in charge of what I want to do. I book myself. I take off when I want to take off. I do what I want to do when I get to the arena. It's not the controlled situation for me. Mind you, the paychecks aren't as good, either."
He laughs at this pay discrepancy. It's a content laugh that shows he's not here chasing money. Wrestling with a tag team partner named Mass Appeal against a pair of heels called Jimmy Capone and Sonny Roselli, not Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage.
"But I'm happy doing it. I've been doing this for, I don't know, gosh, 16, 17 years. That's quite awhile not to be with the big Federation."
The Honky Tonk Man is not Brett Favre in a sequined jump suit. He hasn't had any major injuries. He's an entertainer using his athletic abilities to put on a show. The only thing really at stake is the smiles of the fans on the edge of their folding chairs around the ring.
"I always knew I was going to be in pro sports or entertainment, and I'm fortunate enough now to have been in both. I knew that at a very young age, and it was something that came easy for me. Now mind you, it's not easy," Honky Tonk Man says. "No major injuries. I won't stop until nobody books me anymore. I guess I'm finished when they don't call me."
This is the Honky Tonk Man's second appearance at the Fairfield Community Center with Independent Wrestling Entertainment. The first was two years ago.
"This is a grassroots. For me it's like starting over and going back where I started," he says. "I started in small venues like this in small town across America and Canada."
Two hours before he went on, the Honky Tonk Man was asked for a preview of his act.
"Gosh, it'll be a little singing, some dancing. I don't know if they'll be any guitar playing," he said, laughing again. "I'll go out, and entertain the fans. No matter how many there is. They paid their money, they deserve to get a good show."
Now that he's in the middle of the ring, singing his signature song ("I'm cool, I'm cocky, I'm bad."), you realize this: The Honky Tonk Man has played Madison Square Garden and the Fairfield Community Center. And the way he's playing to the crowd, he doesn't know the difference.
Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242