Sunday, June 16, 2019

Playing All Alone

I grew up with action figures. I had my He-Man ones and a small collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja dolls. I expect that it comes to the surprise of no one that my favorites were the wrestlers.

The big rubber LJN dolls are the most famous from my childhood era—produced from the mid-to-late 1980s, capturing a wide swath of stars in eight-inch form. As art pieces, there are few figures before or since that really compare to them, but as functional toys they leave something to be desired--more like little statues than pliable things.

I uncharacteristically favored the American Wrestling Association figures of the day, produced by Remco. My parents bought the toy ring and set of what seemed like an army (it was probably about twenty) figures as a lot, presumably at a big discount, as the AWA was going out of style and maybe out of business (they’d officially close their doors in 1991).

I never watched the AWA much, and that, paired with the relatively generic look of the dolls may have been the allure. In my head, I recast each figure in different roles--blond haired Buddy Roberts easy to re-imagine as Sid Vicious or Sting; Scott Irwin as Big Van Vader and Earthquake; in a particularly significant non-sequitur for really looking nothing like him, Steve Keirn as the favorite of my youth, Bret Hart.

I played with these figures faithfully for years and then, after a year or two of having put them aside, I pulled them out again, broaching middle school, quite arguably past the point when it was developmentally appropriate to be playing with dolls. I looked at them with curiosity, at a point when a couple of years meant nearly twenty percent of my entire life experience, and thought of how silly they were. In the same breath, I tried playing with them again, in no small part to see if I still remembered how to lose myself to the dream of them.

I did.

There was an addictive quality to these figures, such that once I started playing, only intending to do so for that one time and for half an hour or so, I began devoting an hour or more most days to them again. In an escalation, for a year long period, I began writing match cards in steno pad, keeping track of make believe television shows and pay per view spectaculars.

Nowadays, my wife and I constantly watch our son for signs of his personality to come--that his fussing might represent an innate stubbornness, that his silly smile on the changing table might suggest he’s going to be a goofball. I don’t know that there was any greater predictor of who I’d be than the way I played for that spell of adolescence--committed to the stories I was telling, prone to compulsive record keeping, and, of course, obsessed with wrestling.

And these aren’t bad qualities--indeed, I’d argue that I’ve come to take pride in all three. And perhaps that, more so than any sense of embarrassment was why I so resented my father poking fun at my play at the time, with a steady prodding that I was too old for it, and increasing insistence on tutoring me in advanced math skills each time I’d go to play (at the time, I read him to have annoyingly bad timing; in retrospect, I read the choice as more purposeful).

I can be hard on my memories of my parents, and when I’m at my best, I remind myself that like me now, they were just doing the best they knew how at the time. Deterring a kid from playing with action figures into his high school years, and getting a jump start on his SAT math training aren’t the most misguided principles, even if they weren’t fun at the time.

And yet, I like to think that if my son still likes to play, whatever the toys, whatever the time in life, I’ll let him. As we all come to learn, we have a lifetime to be adults, busy with work obligations and our projects; maintaining social and family lives to the point that they can feel like a burden to fit into the day as well, always tired and chasing those six or seven hours of sleep to be functional the next day.

In the years to follow my wrestling figure obsession, I came to play basketball a lot. I enjoyed playing with different sets of friends--neighborhood kids, and a crew from high school. But truth be told, I think I came to enjoy playing alone best of all. Some of it was not having to share the ball, or suffer under the pressure of anyone else judging my play. But some of it came back to that same instinct from childhood, imagining myself in game scenarios and shooting contests. Practicing genuinely absurd shots and dribbling formations that would never be practical any actual game.

I wasn’t particularly good, but I had fun.

More than that, I cleared my head, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that those solo basketball sessions tended to transition into writing sessions in the shade of the pavilion next to the neighborhood basketball court I frequented. There, I forewent my anxiety about germs and unfolded the sweaty, folded up sheets of paper I compulsively carried in my pockets, and wrote by dirty hand with a ballpoint pen pages of my first, largely awful stabs at novels and short stories and poems.

And whether I sat beneath that pavilion dirty and sweating, stood on the basketball court minutes earlier, or knelt at my bedside with action figures in the years before that, one truth remained consistent through these different takes on play and make believe.

I was becoming who I am today.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Two Hundred Posts

This is post #201 for this blog and as such seemed like as good a time as any to pause and reflect on the ground covered thus far.

There are plenty of blogs with more than two hundred posts. Heck, I’ve written some between authoring most of The A Cappella Blog, and my weekly column for 411mania.com. But in terms of producing quality, substantive posts on a regular basis (every two weeks), without breaks for nearly seven years and counting, during a period that included three interstate moves, completing two graduate degrees, getting married, and the first year and a half of being a father--well, I feel pretty good about keeping up with this blog.

When I started this blog, I wasn’t entirely sure what it would be. That is, in fact, a part of why I started it and why I’ve kept up with it: because it can be a platform for whatever I want for it to be. The nature of this blog has been largely oriented toward short personal essays or related experiments. As I’ve published more with literary journals, this is, at times, a refreshing place for me to engage with material that’s not necessarily of literary merit, to indulge in writing idiosyncrasies rather than trying to polish them out, and not worrying about serving any audience beyond myself and the folks who both follow me on social media and bother to click on the link to a given post.

For today, I arbitrarily picked ten posts from over the years to highlight. These are ten of my favorites, and ten that may be a good introduction for anyone interested in exploring the archives without weeding through two hundred posts and counting.

Whether this is your first time visiting this blog, you’re a twice-monthly reader, or someplace in between, thanks for spending this time with me, and rest assured this is not the end.

Learning to Read (2014): This is a post about my relationship with reading and how I learned to do it, but more so it’s about my conflicted relationship with my father and how I process it from an adult perspective.

Taking a Swing (2015): This post is a meditation on not being able to hit a baseball, and how it relates to concepts of masculinity and family.

Make the Choice (2016): This post went live the morning of my wedding day, and investigates the story and reasons behind pursuing a life with Heather.

A Chemistry Lesson (2015): This is a relatively experimental post with a fine line between fiction and non-fiction, revisiting a weekend when I was seventeen years old and stayed home from my grandfather’s funeral in favor of preparing for the AP Chemistry exam.

You Were Born (2018): This is the most recent post listed here, and recounts the day when my son was born.

My Italian Family (2013): While the blog often turns to my family life, and particularly my youth, this post centers on my relationship with my other family—my best friend’s nuclear family that I spent about as much time with as my own for a period of years.

Fear of Darkness (2014): This post moves through time from seeing gorillas in shadows as a kid, to interacting with a cat, to becoming the subject of someone else’s fear in the dark.

A New Prayer (2014): I’ve never been a religious person, but that doesn’t necessarily imply an absence of spirituality. This post looks at my personal history with variants of prayer.

Conversations About Angels (2013): My relationship with Heather was still new when we discussed angels we’d encountered in our lives. This post followed.

Minor Key Christmas (2012): Each year I’ve written a post that deals with Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday, though my conception of it has changed a great deal over time. This, the first holiday post for this blog, looks at the sadder side of Christmas through the lens of sadder songs and people lost.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

On Old Friends

I was 19 and finishing my second year of college. Life felt as though it were coming into focus. I’d been elected editor in chief for the college newspaper, and developed a social circle rooted in that paper. Early summer weather was finally moving into western New York that mid-May, and The Matrix Reloaded had just hit theaters.

That last tidbit probably shouldn’t register amongst everything else that was exciting and that was good going on in my life at that moment. However, The Matrix had been a special film for me, in that totally un-ironic way in which a sleek dystopian sci-fi flic can only register with you at a certain time in your life. I was a kid who’d grown up on Star Wars and Star Trek, but felt my attention wane from each as I got toward the latter stages of high school. The Matrix was exactly the sort of mind-bending unfamiliar brand of sci-fi, made just mainstream enough via special effects and a Hollywood cast to fully capture my imagination in that particular stage of life.

That there would be a second Matrix film? That blew my mind.

The release of that second film lining up with the end of the school year was particularly serendipitous and a whole crew of us made our way to the movies for the discounted late night Friday screenings the local theater put on for college students. I went so far as to wear my long dark pea coat and sunglasses to pose like Neo in the lobby—I actually had some strangers taking pictures, while my friends did their best to act they didn’t know me.

The movie was only so-so—I think I liked it better than the film deserved on account of coming in so hyped up, and for the surrounding pleasure of having good friends all around me. After the screening, we made our way a couple doors down to Denny’s for late-night breakfast foods.

At that time, I had never asked a server to arrange any happy birthday hoopla for anyone. Whether it was this feeling of confidence that stems from good friends, the buzz of the film, or simply that I’d broached some invisible barrier between the kinds of people in the sweet spot of adult enough and juvenile to make that ask, I pulled the waiter aside and asked if we could do something special for my friend Kevin, not on his birthday, but a fair enough approximation, a week or two in advance.

Kevin was one of my favorite people--a bit older, a transfer who found himself in the same newspaper office, and in the same dorm where most of my friends lived. He had an appreciation for literature and for the absurd, both qualities that made me like him straightaway. Better yet, the night I inadvertently introduced him to my friend Emily from my freshman dorm would turn out to be the night that began their courtship, which would give way to their wedding a decade or so later.

And on that night, in that Denny’s, our skinny, gawkish teenage waiter returned to our table solo and asked, “Which one of you is Kevin?”

After Kevin had identified himself, the waiter made his way to him and, without accompaniment or back up of any kind, began to sing “Happy Birthday.” It was a such a profoundly awkward moment so as to become the stuff of immediate lore in our friend group.

I write all of this, waxing nostalgic shortly removed from another birthday for Kevin, now over sixteen years removed from that night. At the time, I felt a sense of standing at the beginning of things, and a sense that the way things were in that moment would not change. True to form, Kevin would return to visit with Emily and the rest of us over the next two years; particularly senior year, when she and I shared an apartment, I got to see him at least once a month. More stayed the same than changed those next couple years, and even the year after that, Kevin and Emily stopped in to stay with me for a weekend, and a group of us would return to our old college stomping grounds one alumni weekend.

But time marches on and lives change. I’d move to Baltimore, and Kevin and Emily would live at varying degrees of long distance from one another before settling in the Midwest together. I think I may have seen them a time or two again when we each wound up in Western New York between Christmas and New Year’s.

I know with more certainty that we went a period closer to five years without getting together.

I suppose that’s the nature of growing up, particularly for people who don’t stay put in the same area they grew up in or where they went to school. I was there for their wedding and they were there for mine. On one of my cross-country moves, I parked the U-Haul outside their apartment building for a night, and we got to grab dinner.

I suppose this is all to say the most remarkable truism about friendships—that they may come and go, but the good ones have the tendency to come back around again, for however short a visit after however long a time, often as not without missing a beat.

There are those people who have a tendency to get lost in their own nostalgia, focused on friends they once had and world they once lived in, rather than participating in the communities right at their disposal, right at that moment. I know myself to have been guilty of all of this more than once, particularly in those transitional phases after moves. I recall my childhood now, and feeling confused at my parents not having social lives outside the house to speak of--a way of being in the world that I can now all to readily see myself slipping into. And I think, if not for me, then for my son, of the importance of keeping people in our lives--family and friends who visit for sure, but also people in the here and now.

I also know it’s been too long since I’ve last watched The Matrix.

And that I can’t wait to show it to Riley.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

On Marvel Movies

Author’s Note: This post includes some spoilers related to a number of Marvel films, perhaps most relevantly Avengers: Endgame. Spoilers, particularly for the most recent film, really pick up after the Avengers image midway through this post. Please don’t read past that point if you don’t want anything from Endgame spoiled.

A confession: I have by-and-large not much liked the Marvel movies of the last decade or so.

It’s not that I don’t like super hero movies as a genre--I do. In fact, I suspect some of anti-Marvel sentiment comes from just how much I loved the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman movies. The Dark Knight, in particular, captured my ideals around the super hero film in combining gritty realism with the absurdities of heroes and villains who could, for the most part, exist in our real world. Sure, there are moments that require some suspension of disbelief, but I’d argue they’re relatively few and far between in the latter two-thirds of the Dark Knight trilogy, whereas they come up pretty constantly in most Marvel efforts. Whereas the Nolan films feel as though they have real stakes of life, death, and other forms of loss, I’ve found the Marvel films all too often suffer from contrived circumstances built to suggest threats that no viewer can honestly believe will yield meaningful consequences.

The best of the Marvel films demonstrate more ambition. Namely, Captain America: Winter Soldier turns the franchise mythology on its head in interesting ways, and Black Panther features a primarily black cast and dares to unapologetically remove itself from western culture. Guardians of the Galaxy strikes the right balance of not taking itself too seriously while still delivering a fun space adventure, largely built on Chris Pratt’s broad back.

The other thing I’ve tended to have against Marvel movies, though, is how heavily hyped they tend to be. I’m entrenched enough in nerd culture to have a wide swathe of people in my life who are super invested in the Marvel universe and all too ready to proclaim the greatness of each new release.

I first experienced the disappointment of a Marvel film that I was ready to believe the hype about, only to wind up profoundly disappointed for in the original Avengers film. After all, this was a best-of super hero collection, cultivated by Joss Whedon, whose television writing I held in such reverence at that point, based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse.

And the movie was… OK.

Had I gone in without any expectations, I imagine I might have evaluated the original Avengers at a solid B+ popcorn super hero movie—maybe even a smidge higher for Hulk’s scene-stealing antics—but coming in with all that hype, it felt more like a C+ effort, mired in too-long action sequences that said too little, for a movie woefully short on heart.

Age of Ultron had a lot less hype. I found it to be a bore that lived down to what little I expected of it--maybe less. I was ready for something emotionally powerful to come out of Infinity War, and while I’ll admit to the circumstances in which I saw it limiting how engrossed I could be--already having significant elements of the ending spoiled by a student paper I had to grade before I saw it, and watching on my phone with a screen too small to do justice to the (gratuitous) fight scenes. Nonetheless, in the ending movements, when characters turning to dust seemed as though it was meant to render such emotional devastation, I found the whole thing ringing hollow, not least of all because I had the sense that this tragedy couldn’t be permanent. That’s a big part of my beef with these movies--that the stakes never seem real, and so what losses do come about don’t feel meaningful.

I hate to deny others their joy. Life is too short and the world is too hard not to like what you like, whatever your reasons, and if I claimed to demand artistic perfection from entertainment, my own enduring fanship for pro wrestling would feel awfully hypocritical. Nonetheless, as the hype built for Endgame, I found myself increasingly annoyed. Getting excited for a climactic film in a series is fair. But acting as though this film were an event when its three predecessors had been so middling felt all but wrong to me.

A funny thing happened, though. Endgame dominated my social media feed. It was the it movie, garnering universal and glowing praise. The endorsements, combined with knowing this movie would be best before anything got spoiled for me, and all the more so on the big screen, led me to the theater.

Going to the theater for Endgame was no small thing. Unlike my college self who often went out to the movies once a week, often as not to some objectively bad movies, when I stepped into a theater this time, it was for the first time in over two years, since before the birth of my son and those busy months that preceded his arrival.

But I went, after he was asleep, the night after I had finished teaching for the semester, readied for a rare irresponsibly late night out. I bought popcorn and a Coke, not least of all so the snack and the caffeine would help keep me awake.

Endgame felt immediately different from what I knew of Marvel movies. The quiet opening scene of family vanishing, followed by the time spent on people in mourning--it all felt like a far more real rendering of a world with half its people gone than I had anticipated.

The “time heist” felt a little silly in concept, but reasonably original and fun just the same, besides setting up a tour of past films in the Avengers series--a heavy-handed, if nonetheless nostalgic sense of coming full circle for fans who did appreciate those films more.

By the climactic battle scene in which an army of heroes returned from dust banded together with heroes left standing to battle Thanos and his troops, I felt an unanticipated surge of emotion. Some of it was dramatic character reveals and swells of the score. But some of it, too, was watching a higher level super hero narrative play out. It was unusually difficult to find obvious holes to poke in the set up or in the fight itself, and where so many Marvel big budget battles have left me cold, I found myself uncharacteristically riveted from the moment Black Panther arrived straight through Iron Man snapping his fingers.

The many high points of the battle, to be followed by the quieter revisiting of so many Marvel movie clusters of characters in the funerary scene to follow, achieved the least likely result of all. My cynicism fell by the wayside and I thought I’d really like to see more of these Marvel movies I’d let pass me by to get the full scope of these characters. I though I might even want to re-watch some of those films I’d dismissed before.

Endgame doesn’t touch The Dark Knight in my estimation of great super hero films. However, from my non-comprehensive point of view (as the kids say, don't @ me), it probably does rank number two for its ambition, scope, and ability to make me feel something and to think. Endgame represents the best of what a movie its ilk can do, perhaps most importantly of all standing up for its whole genre to defy those critics who would dismiss a Marvel movie out of hand.

Even me.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

New Music Writing

Author's Note: What follows is a promotional post to draw attention to a creative and business partner, VIBBIDI. I'm writing some music-based content for them, and am using this post to introduce their service.

I have begun collaborating with VIBBIDI. It’s a free web-based music streaming service that’s available on any device that has an Internet connection.

They’re currently in the process of transitioning from a native mobile app to a strictly web-based platform and they’ve given me the opportunity to share a sneak-peak of the features they’ll be releasing this summer.

VIBBIDI is a unique fusion of music streaming services and a social media platform, combining AI technology with User submission to make an experience that is fully-controlled by the User community. They have music videos, singles, albums, remixes, user-made cover videos, lyrics, news and more available on every page so you only need to go to one location to find the content you’re looking for, plus you can even upload missing content to support your favorite artists, allowing you to become a guiding hand in the growth of the music industry. They also have specially-curated collections of music called ‘Themes’ that are perfect selections of Albums based around a mood, genre, time-period & other styles that are guaranteed to pique your attention, in addition to promoting user-created Playlists so that everyone can discover spectacular new music they’ve never seen before.

They have a vast library of content you can enjoy from big-name Artists to obscure acts, but their most prominent feature is a new writing program called “Narratives” that lets users voice their own opinions, write a personal story about connections to a piece of music, or offer an artistic reinterpretation of the album, a divisive think-piece about the quality of an album or really anything you can think of to describe your own feelings. You can find my writing for this project here.

In advance of the official platform-launch this summer, VIBBIDI is running a special promotion where they’ll personally transfer any Music, Playlists & Profile details you create from the mobile App to their new web-platform, giving you a head-start on a thriving new community specially made for music lovers so you can have a say in shaping the future of music-streaming! Your User Profile is where your music personality lives, so why not express yourself in ways no other music service is offering today? Just let me know if you’re interested & I’ll put you in contact so you can be a part of the latest music experience to hit the scene.

VIBBIDI is passionate about becoming your next favorite vice, proudly claiming “We Are Everything For Music.” You can give them a try at https://www.vibbidi.net/.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Good Old Days

In a popular moment from the final episode of The Office Ed Helms’s Andy Bernard recalls spending most of his time feeling nostalgic for his college days in Cornell. At this point in the show, he has returned to work at Cornell, and laments that he looks back fondly at his days as a paper salesman. He arrives at the point: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” The observation is obvious enough to be funny—because of course it’s only in nostalgia that those everyday things take on a rose-colored tinge. Just the same, it’s also a profound and universal enough point to resonate with fans of the show and beyond.

As anyone who reads this blog with any regularity can probably tell, I have a soft spot for nostalgia. I like to think that I look at the past with a critical lens to cultivate lessons from it, isolate formative moments, and explain how my thinking has changed from one time to another. Nonetheless, there’s also an element of celebrating what was inherent in probing years gone by, and I have to acknowledge a tendency to look at the various moments in the past as “the good old days.”

My son is getting older. He still doesn’t have the capacity for language to fully understand my stories or the world view to, I suspect, much care about his old man’s history. But I can see myself slip into the role of older man storyteller, relaying people and places from my past for a laugh or to teach a lesson.

I imagine telling him about the easy comfort my childhood best friend and I found in each other’s company, and how he would work on computer programming while I made my first attempts at writing a novel for countless hours in his room while we played The Breakfast Club in the background.

I imagine telling him about the guys I played basketball with in high school and developing nicknames for what we took for cool plays like thrusting the ball between our legs en route to a layup.

I imagine telling him about my friends from the college newspaper staff and staying up into the wee hours the night before our weekly paper went to press.

I imagine telling him about my friends from summer camp jobs, or riding out a blizzard watching movies with the friends from my office job in Baltimore. I imagine telling him about when his mother and I were still new in our relationship and we had our first kiss calf-deep in the Pacific Ocean, or how we maintained a long distance relationship by eating dinner together over Skype, early for her, late for me to adjust for time zone differences.

And of course there’s the fact that even now, these may well be good old days in the making, while Riley still likes to cuddle and isn’t self-conscious about anything and hands me books to read him to him on the floor and very much likes Daniel Tiger; heck, we even have good old days gone between us that he’ll never remember, like when he used to rest is his forehead against my chest while I carried him in the Babybjorn and fall asleep or when I read the entire catalog of Calvin and Hobbes comics to him to entertain the both of us during his first summer on earth.

Yes, for all of their challenges, for all of my thinking forward and thinking back, these are good days. They're just not old yet.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

The year was 2009. Randy Orton was a still young, but established main event level star for WWE when he was booked for a storyline feud opposite Kofi Kingston.

Kingston had been cast as a care free Jamaican good guy. (The gimmick came complete with a faux-Jamaican accent that he actually worked with a voice coach to perfect. According to Kingston’s account on E and C’s Pod of Awesomeness, the coach went for too specific of a regional accent to the point Kingston's voice came across as laughably worse than if he’d just done a more straightforward, stereotypical take on it.) The character had middle of the card written all over it, and yet in late 2009, WWE took a stab at elevating him opposite Orton and seeing what he could do.

We may never know the full truth, but the general consensus among hardcore fans and pundits, never refuted by anyone in the know, is Kingston blew a key spot in a key match with Orton, and that’s what cost him his upward trajectory. Kingston was to set himself up to take a punt to the head--a signature, super-finisher spot for Orton in those days--but failed to do so, messing up the story of the match. Orton, particularly in his younger days, was never known for level-headed responses. He yelled at Kingston loud enough for cameras to pick it up, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”

The insult went beyond what might have been dismissed as trash talk by the commentary team, breaking the fourth wall to show one performer, frustrated with another for flubbing his part.

Nearly a decade has passed, during which time Kingston resumed the originally expected career direction as a consistent mid-card act. He garnered feathers in his cap like spending more cumulative days than any other individual wrestler as a tag team champion, and a signature spot working creative, athletic escapes from getting eliminated in the Royal Rumble. It was a fine enough niche and, if only for his longevity, Kingston was the kind of wrestler who would be remembered and be assured an eventual spot in the WWE Hall of Fame, at a minimum as part of his longest running and most successful team, The New Day, a three man unit with Xavier Woods and Big E.

Woods commented in more than one shoot interview that the mission of New Day was to eventually position Kingston as a world champion. The objective was admirable, and to be fair, New Day did afford Kingston arguably his longest running high profile role for their entertaining antics and tendency to deliver very good tag team matches. But Kingston as a world champion? That still seemed like quite a reach.

It seemed like a reach--if not the stuff of pure fantasy--until two months ago.

Two months ago, Mustafa Ali got hurt and had to be removed from his spot in a six-man Elimination Chamber Match for the WWE Championship. Kingston took his place, not only as a match participant, but in the specific role of plucky underdog who’d more likely than not jump off of something from a great height.

On the last free TV show before the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, Kingston joined the other match participants in a gauntlet match, and enjoyed an iron man run—lasting over an hour that included pinning the reigning champion. In storyline, the performance established Kingston as an actual threat in the title fight. In reality? Kingston won the hearts of fans who had passed him by a couple dozen flavor-of-the-weeks before, and made him the sudden, surprise sentimental favorite to win the Chamber match.

Kingston didn’t win in the Chamber. He was, however, the last man left standing before Daniel Bryan did win to retain his championship, and further cemented his place as the crowd favorite for his underdog status, his energetic performance, and as something of an informal lifetime achievement award for his eleven underappreciated years on the WWE roster leading up to that moment.

WWE probably expected Kingston to get a positive reaction to these performances, but it’s hard to think that they earnestly anticipated the groundswell of organic crowd support he’d get, to the point of fans chanting “Ko-fi” over live TV broadcasts, and making him trend, individually, on social media for weeks on end.

So it took shape that Kingston seemed destined to at least challenge for, if not actually win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. WWE has played into real life perceptions with a storyline that includes Vince McMahon’s over the top tyrannical character overtly seeking to squelch Kingston’s hopes. Along the way, Kingston participated in a multi-man tag match that included his old rival, Orton.

Nearly a decade after they first collided, Orton has settled into his spot as a guy who has the credibility to be inserted into the main event picture at will, but more often hangs out a rung lower, working mid-card champions or guys on their way up to or down from the top. At this unexpected nexus point, when Kingston and Orton once again felt totally in place in the ring opposite each other, Kingston offered hardcore fans in particular one of the most satisfying callbacks of the year.

After knocking Orton down, Kingston’s yelled at him, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” It didn’t make much sense in the context of the story they were telling in that moment--not unlike Orton’s 2009 outburst--but it did represent something special in Kingston as both a well established veteran and a guy who is more in tune with WWE’s die hard fans than most of his fellow Superstars.

By all indications, Kingston cleared yelling at Orton with at least Orton himself, and potentially some level of WWE officials before it happened. Nonetheless, the combination of seeming randomness and deep-seated purposefulness behind the moment made it nothing short of electric.

The end result? Kingston is anything but stupid. If we accept as true the age old adage that luck is when opportunity meets preparation, Kingston is ready for the limelight in a bigger match than anyone may have ever anticipated for him tonight. Win, lose, or draw, we can bank on him having the time of his life at ‘Mania, and that he’ll take us along for that ride.