I still have nightmares.
Very few people know this but I was actually in Waterloo seven years ago. That was the town that changed my life forever. The town that set me on the path towards global jet setting, beach drinking, a lazziez faire attitude towards pants, and a keen interest in generator maintenance.
Seven years ago, in Waterloo, I signed a contract for my first international teaching job. That night I went out with a bunch of folks and ended up on the wrong side of 2 am singing karaoke at a Serbian Heavy Metal bar with two local women who had taken me under their wing because they thought my briefcase was hot. A few months later I was off to Myanmar, home of awesome fried rice dishes and decidedly less awesome policies regarding free speech.
I have had some amazing times over the years. I have lived in Myanmar, Taiwan, and Congo, and have been lucky enough to travel to, and drink beer in, dozens of places in between. I have met some wonderful people, some less than wonderful people, and the kind of people who make you wish you could take a hot shower forever just to forget. I have seen the kind of sunsets that Dr. Seuss would write a poem about, probably involving "Ponderfree Gatt, the daytime bat, or something almost, but not quite, like that".
Okay, the last one might have been a bit of a stretch.
It was in Waterloo that it all started for me. At the time I was burned out from teaching in the Santa Fe public school district, felt like I was slipping into a terrible rut involving many unpleasant people, things, and home furnishings, and worried that the rest of my life would be like the first twenty minutes of Mr. Holland's Opus, but without the heartwarming bits.
What started off at Waterloo changed all that, for me. Going overseas has made me a better person (I hope), has shown me the beauty and wonder inherent in the world, and has allowed me to try like 45 different kinds of mosquito repellent.
So it was with a nostalgic fervor that I rolled up into Waterloo eight days ago for their annual Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. It's a great few days for wrestling fans with live wrestling, an entire day of fanfest activities, and culminating in the HOF induction ceremony and dinner. What's funny is, seven years ago, I had no idea that the HOF was located in Waterloo and it wasn't until I was literally on my way to the airport to leave that someone told me. If I had the lung capacity I would have done one of those action movie styled "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" screams at the heavens, but instead I let it fester inside of me for years until I found this chance to let it burst forth into a weekend of madness, knife edged chops, and far too many cans of Miller Light.
So anyway, as most weeks tend to end, I found myself Friday night in a hotel room of one of the stars of the show, singing "The Time of My Life" with two other people as a woman tried to bargain her way into being able to wear the championship belt by flashing everybody.
Wait, how did that happen? Okay, lemme back up.
Thursday I was sitting at the hotel bar in Waterloo, which is normally a wretched hive of villainy and all of that, when a large , loud, happy man came up and said he was buying a drink for everyone at the bar. Upon hearing this I knew he had to be a wrestler, because that has been the only time a large man has bought a round of drinks for strangers in front of me. I introduced myself, we got to talking, and I told him where I was from. The where, of course, being Congo.
His reaction was priceless, and anyone who hangs out with wrestlers knows where this is going. He put his arm around me and yelled out: "Congo?! Fucking Congo? Holy shit! Congo?" He then turned to the group of men and women he had left in the corner. "Hey, guys! Come over and meet this motherfucker! He flew in from the fuckin' Congo to be here man!"
I was quickly surrounded by a dozen people who all wanted to meet me, shake my hand and, most importantly, buy me a drink. One rather large man with interesting tattoos came up and said "For the rest of the night, Congo, you don't pay for shit."
So not only did I get free drinks, I got a sweet wrestling nickname which carried me through the whole weekend. The night was a wonderful blur as drinks came and went. They ended up taking me with them bar crawling and we hopped around. Waterloo only has like five bars so it didn't take too long to hit the high spots. At each location I was introduced to the locals as "Congo- he don't pay for shit" and I never did. In one funny moment we went to a club that had a cover charge, of like 4 dollars or so, and the same big dude from before walked up to the bouncer and said "I'm covering everybody, and don't let Congo pay."
Other wrestling people would join us and we were carried forth like a frothy, drunken, suplexing wave. I think the highlight for me was when I was sitting next to one of the female wrestlers who joined up with us later. After seeing four separate people come up, shake my hand, and ask if I needed a drink she leaned forward and said, "who the FUCK are you?". Trying to summon up my best Brad Pitt I replied "Nobody. Just some guy here for a good time." If I had sunglasses I would have removed them to reveal another pair of sunglasses underneath.
This happened all night, with the side effect of the locals figuring I was an important wrestler type, so I had a few make out offers which I rejected, and many offers to buy drinks which I happily acquiesced too. This all ended at 5 am with the scene mentioned towards the top.
The next day was more of the same. Between the constant "Hey, Congo!"s and eating at Subway at the same time as Edge, I was having a great time. I felt loved, sweaty, and filled with testosterone. It was like getting married in the summer on the set of Roadhouse.
So, thank you, Waterloo. The first time I was there you showed me the pleasures of Serbian Heavy Metal Karaoke and led me down the path that I walk now, and will walk right on into Cairo on a few weeks. This time, you set me up to be loved, paid for, and sung to, all by large groups of large men and attractive and somewhat attractive women. So, kind of like the first time I was there, actually. Well done, you bastard.
I hope you enjoyed story time, sweet readers. I am off for Mallorca in a few days and will have some great times in the sun and sand. I will post some photos if I can manage to keep the topless women out of the frame, but you all know how the Spaniards are . . .