I knew this day would come.
I suppose I should preface this by admitting that you're unlikely to find yourself a bigger Hulk Hogan fan.
Sure, you can probably locate one with more official merchandise. Or scour the internet and dig up some off-balanced Hulkamaniac with a collection of red-and-yellow tattoos. I wouldn't doubt that plenty of marks have been to more of his wrasslin' shows than I have.
But emotionally, I defy you to find a more loyal devotee.
That might sound strange coming from a man now long past his 40th birthday. But I've never been one to shy away from my affinity for sports entertainment. What's the worst the naysayers can do? Point and laugh? I'm used to that by now, and have skin so thick, you'd think it was weathered in one of Hulk's own tanning beds.
When Hogan first hit the scene in 1984, as a true "star" and not a well-traveled prospect, I was 11 years old. I lived on a long and desolate road that was nothing but woods on each side. No neighbors, no cul-de-sac, and no street lights.
You think the Wyatts are scary?
They wouldn't have lasted five minutes in my basement, a dank and execrable breeding ground for every creepy crawler known to man (and some that aren't).
In addition, my town had one elementary school and there were only 13 kids in my class. And guess who didn't fit in? Yep, the kid with the emotional problems. The one whose drunken father used him as a punching bag so that he could still feel something, anything.
My sister was a whore, my mom was a pothead, and I was bullied at school.
I know a lot of kids were bullied. I hear them talk about it in hushed tones. "They used to tease me and call me fat." My response? "Fuck you, my bullies held me down and shoved ants in my mouth." Unfortunately, I can't remember if that was before or after my Boy Scout master touched my testicles in between troop meetings.
The world was a bad place.
And as crazy as it sounds, I never wanted to give up. Not because I was tough-as-nails. Just the opposite. actually, I was fragile and afraid of my own shadow. But I knew there was another world outside the boundaries of my sad and pathetic existence. One with virtue, and hope, and light.
I knew that, because I knew Hulk Hogan.
Not personally, of course. On my small and barely-functioning television screen, I would occasionally see him in action. And the more popular he became, the more airtime he received. For a period of four years, life was simply downtime between Hogan appearances.
He was my god.
Saying it out loud in this day and age sounds a little silly. But for a fractured 11 year old, he was a beacon of light. Whatever dastardly deed the "bad guys" did, regardless of how many times he was backstabbed, in spite of how many thugs ganged up on him, he always won in the end.
The message was clear: No matter how bad things get, good will always triumph over evil.
One of the benefits to being a dinosaur is that at the time, I wasn't privy to his real life shenanigans. Backstage politics, rampant steroid abuse, infidelity, all the things that have come to tarnish Hogan's legacy over the years, were safely cloaked in a robe of ignorance.
Kayfabe was not dead.
In that sense, "what you see is what you get" still rang true. When Hogan told me to say my prayers, I said them. When he commanded that I eat my vitamins, I did. Unfortunately, they belonged to my Nana and tasted like shit, but beggars couldn't be choosers.
I trained hard, too, hanging my pillow from my bedroom doorway as a makeshift speed bag.
It was one big charade on the Hulkster's part, but I didn't know it at the time. All I knew was that a sleeveless crusader with a physique like a Greek deity was looking into the camera and talking to me. Sometimes, I would lie awake at night and envision that Hulk was my dad. I would run to him. He would put his arm around me and be proud of me.
Those were good feelings.
In darker days, like the time in fifth grade when my teacher -- a particularly vile pedagogue named Mr. Stuart -- revealed to the class that I had accidentally wet myself (I did), I fantasized that Hogan would show up at my school and kill him with a piledriver.
Take that, PG era!
As most kids do, I grew up and (sort of) got my life under control. My dad eventually sobered up and was promoted, buying a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a sidewalk for me to shovel, along with a lawn for me to mow. I started lifting weights in an effort to emulate my idol.
Not that it stopped me from crying when the Hebner twins screwed him out of the belt.
I wept for a second time when he lost clean to The Ultimate Warrior in 1990, which my high school friends found amusing, but part of becoming a man was understanding that nothing lasts forever. So after that night, I intentionally lost touch with wrestling and spent the next few years pumping gas and driving a roach coach.
Eventually, I found my way into college, and my pal across the hall busted in one night with a VHS cassette.
"You gotta see this."
The tape was labeled WCW and I scoffed, "I'm over that stuff." But he was persistent, so I indulged him, and saw my beloved Hulkster become a villain at Bash at the Beach. At first, I was repulsed. But then I realized, I felt the same way as "Hollywood," about a great many of things. I was tired of playing by the rules.
Fuck the rules.
I was already an angry young man, living in a mite-infested apartment, struggling to get good grades and finding it hard to meet a girl who didn't care that I had no car. So in pro wrestling terminology, I once again looked to Hogan and turned heel.
And it was glorious.
I immediately called my parents and in one epic "promo," unloaded everything I had been storing up for 23 years. I also started blowing off biology class and got an "F" because honestly, who gives a shit about glycosis? Then I got drunk one night in Philly, rode my 10-speed though a busy intersection, and got creamed.
I ended up in the passenger's seat of an oncoming car (thank god no one was sitting in it) and the only reason I didn't die, was because I went backpack first, and my books caved in the windshield.
That kinda ended my run as a heel.
But not my love for Hogan, who eventually returned to WWE when the competition was gobbled up by Vince McMahon. Remember that standing ovation Hulkster got against The Rock? I was at home, also standing and cheering. That was the kind of acclamation Hulk got wherever he went.
Which is why his 2014 return to RAW was so disheartening.
A pro wrestling crowd is always hot at the start of a show, and it's probably the easiest pop to get. But when the music hit and Hogan made his way down to the ring, draped in an oversized boa to hide his deteriorating physique, I didn't hear a thunderous reception.
Not even close.
Instead, it was more like the obligatory applause people give at an elementary school recital, no matter how awful the performance, because well, it would be downright mean to do otherwise. To that end, my venerated Hulkster was the recipient of sympathy pops.
And I couldn't blame that on
purgatory TNA, something I had been doing for several years to avoid facing the reality that Hulk no longer rules.
Monday night's promo was disjointed and sloppy, an accurate representation of what he's become in the public's eye after years of personal turmoil. Most of it is none of our business, as fans, but that's life in the online age.
There are no secrets.
But there are still heroes. When my daughter and I attended last year's fan AXXESS in the days leading up to WrestleMania, I was met with hordes of pro wrestling fans from every generation. The youngest among them were decked out in whatever John Cena threads were being peddled in the various merchandise kiosks.
And the members of the "Cenation" all had that same look.
I recognized that look. It was the exact look I had some 30 years prior. The air of invincibility, knowing that no matter what shit storm was looming on the horizon, eventually, it would fall in the face of righteousness. Why? Because good will always triumph over evil.
If it didn't, then perhaps I wouldn't be here to say so.
Hulk no longer rules, but that's okay, because I -- and I'm sure a lot of other Maniacs -- no longer need him to. My life, in some peculiar way, played out according to his evolution as a pro wrestler. But his work here is done, and when the chips are down, fans like me can still rummage through his digital hope chest on the new WWE network.
Proof that old pythons never die (they just slither away).