1999 was a time of increasing vulgarity. That year brought Eminem, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Marilyn Manson, The South Park Movie, Britney Spears, Sable, and a whole bunch of other material that probably wasn’t appropriate for young eyes, but we ate it up anyway thanks in part to “Total Request Live” on MTV. Couple that with the emergence of the Internet, and, well, it was real easy for a kid to feel ‘mature’ and needlessly angsty beyond their years. It was lost on me. Marilyn Manson scared the fuck out of me, I thought Korn was noise, Limp Bizkit was cool when not screaming, Eminem was brilliant but kind of embarrassed me, and I thought it was abhorrent that Britney Spears had to get breast implants to be ‘popular’.
Perhaps to be ‘popular’ themselves, some kids I grew up with started wearing black clothing, spiking their hair, sporting chains and leather jackets, calling their parents by their first names and referring to them via four letter colorful metaphors. I didn’t think these kids were assholes, or dicks, or ‘populars’, just different and kind of weird. I didn’t feel like an outcast, but I didn’t feel particularly ‘accepted’ either – there weren’t a lot of kids my age I could relate too. I was into Tom Clancy and John Grisham. Anything targeted toward kids, even discreetly, I tended to avoid simply because I figured it would be watered down or inadvertently condescending – So I guess I was rebelling in my own little way. But still, a part of me wondered why I wasn’t into the same culture as my friends. Was there something wrong with me? Was I the immature one? Uncool? Weird? It wasn’t a big deal, but it needled at me.
All the stuff that my friends and peers liked, seemed so…abrasive. I was happy watching Star Trek reruns, Roseanne, playing video-games, discovering the incredible world of PC abandonware, drawing badly, and being nice to my parents because I thought that’s sort of what you’re supposed to do. It didn’t make sense to be ‘angry’ all the time, especially if I wasn’t, so there was a lack of common ground.
The common ground we all seemed to have in common though was wrestling – caught up in the Attitude era like millions of other kids in thousands of other schools, in hundreds of other places. Some bought into Kayfabe, thinking everything but the finish of a match was staged, or saying that the Stone Cold v. Vinny Mac stuff was obviously real. Kids wore DX shirts with the S*ck It covered in black tape, and others were simply obsessed with the Nitro Girls. I was ravenous for insider info on my new-found passion, learned as much about ‘the business’ as I could, Yahoo searching (no Google) everything I could find, reading columns on wrestlezone.com by guys like Tom Zenk, and stumbling across Extreme Warfare 9000 – which is a story for another day, and became a guru as quickly as I could. I introduced terms like “Face” and “Heel” to my friends who didn’t know what they were.
The memories of the wrestling I watched during this time is foggy. Crystal Clear images exist, but their timeline is jumbled up in the nebulous cloud of nostalgia. I remember Lion’s Den matches. I remember Mick Foley winning the World Title. I remember Sting’s habit of being ‘woozy’ then dropping a head-butt to the nads of an opponent in one of the funniest spots I can remember.
But I don’t remember if Mick Foley was my favorite wrestler at the time. I remember that when he won his first World Championship one fateful night in Worcester, all my friends were talking about how cool DX was, while I was joyful that the kind of scruffy, uncool, underdog, was on top of the proverbial heap – even if needed help from a ‘cool’ kid like Stone Cold Steve Austin to do it. From that point forward, I was hooked.
My parents must have seen that hook jutting out of my cheek, and I received Mr. Foley’s book “Have a Nice Day” that Christmas, probably figuring that if I’m going to like this crap, I might as well get a hint of scholastic merit out of the endeavor.
At the risk of sound melodramatic, I was never the same again.
This tome was so up my alley it could balance bowling pins on my nose. It was accessible but smart. Sophomoric but sweet. Honest but humble. Unabashedly dorky, and it was living proof that if you work hard enough, and apply yourself, regardless of what people tell you, or what you tell yourself on nights when you question your place in the world, you can absolutely do anything you set your mind too – and most importantly you can be polite and nice to people while doing it.
I read it fully by the time Christmas Vacation was over – choosing it over the smattering of video games and other toys I received. God, I’ve probably read it more than a dozen times in 15 years since it was given to me, and skimmed through it dozens more, and it holds a place of honor in my bathroom reading rotation to this very day. When I moved to Chicago I refused to take it with me because I couldn’t risk losing it. I’m not a nostalgic guy, but if my house caught on fire I know what I’d save first.
“Have a Nice Day” was inspirational for me at an age where inspiration wasn’t a thing you actively sought out. As I waddled awkwardly into adult hood, every time I’ve thought about blowing up this whole ‘being creative for a living’ thing, I think back to how Mr. Foley slept in his fucking car, and ate peanut butter sandwiches for his dreams. Every time I lament the fact I’m not paid for writing, I think about how Mr. Foley would happily fall on his head over and over and over again for something like 15 dollars a night. Every time I’m rejected by a pretty girl, or told I’m soooo sweet but not their type, or try too hard, I think about how Mr. Foley landed a ‘smoking hot wife’ with his dorky charm, a Neil Diamond song (“Forever in Blue Jeans”), and not much else – which is actually the line from the book if I recall correctly. When something goes wrong for me, I remember Mick Foley broke Johnny Ace’s arm, got an ear chopped off, lost two teeth, and broke bones on his way to wrestling immortality.
It grew with me, too. As I aged, some of the jokes made more sense, more of the themes came out, the struggles of purpose and self-doubt became all the more relevant. The names grew more familiar, too. Johnny Ace, Ric Flair, Dennis Knight, Terry Gordy, Kevin Sullivan, Ole Anderson, and so many other people I barely knew when I was 12, suddenly became people I could seek out, and enjoy, and have reverence for.
But not as much reverence as I had for the book itself, which is seared into my psyche. The story of Mr. Foley and Steve Austin putting cookies in DDP’s bed, or how Mr. Foley found himself a bit lost in the shuffle as audiences started to cheer the ‘cool’ bad guys and boo the guys who were ‘doing the right thing’, how it’s written in this stream-of-consciousness style that was easy to read and hard to forget. How it ends in such a way that the entire dang book is essentially a true-life fairy tale.
Thanks in part to that fairytale inspiration “Have a Nice Day” gave me at a most impressionable age, I’ve been blessed to meet many of the people who have inspired me since: Roger Ebert, who was the first fat guy I ever saw on television being respected for his opinion, was my boss for a while. Ed Ferrara who wrote Raw during the Attitude Era was a teacher. I interviewed Aaron Sorkin, whose words I listened to over and over and over so I could write snappy dialog, and whose West Wing taught me so much about the way our world works. The Barenaked Ladies signed a hat at a free show that I was literally front and center for. Morgan Spurlock, who makes documentaries that are about entertaining and informing, let me make a joke about his iconic facial hair. David Chappelle, who directed some of the best episodes of “The Wire” dropped in on a class I took with his wife.
But “Have A Nice Day” is more important to me than the lot of ’em combined. In a roundabout way it showed me that the man I wanted to be was a viable option. I didn’t need to be angry, or brutal, or handsome, or disrespect people in order to achieve. It showed me “please and thank you” are virtuous even if you’re a guy who hits other guys in the head for a living. It showed me that being tough isn’t about bicep mass and tear away muscle shirts – it comes from the heart, and the only way to bulk up is to keep your given dream alive forever.
It’s not like this book was the ONLY thing that inspired me to follow my dreams, I’ve had wonderful parents and mentors and friends that have encouraged me and let me march to the beat of my own song – even if they didn’t quite hear the rhythm themselves. But that damn book showed me it was possible. If you want to be special, you can be – no matter who you are.
Even now, as I’m as far removed from my past creative glories as I ever have been, I take solace in the fact Foley, too, had this high points in WCW before having to go over to Japan and take barbed wire shots to the back and face to make a living. Hell, he was…31 before he truly hit the big-time in WWE. Being 27 now, it’s comforting to know there is hope yet.
I think for people to have…balance, or purpose, or drive they need to believe in something. Some have religion, have music, some have military service or a dedication to their career, whatever it is, you find your proverbial personal Jesus and you believe in it forever. I’m not saying this book is my Jesus. My Jesus is the pride I take in optimism that this book validates. My optimism, my dedication to believing people are fundamentally well-meaning, and while there are bad apples and bad days and things that piss us off to no end, and cause us to lash out in ways we shouldn’t, I try as hard as I can to see every side of the coin, and push forward in my own shoes completely aware everyone’s pair is different.
Most creatively minded people, as they grow older, become more cynical or weary for the world. Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut are two examples. Mick Foley, of whom I read far more pages than either of those two, is taking videos of his kids doing wrestling moves on trampolines, supporting RAINN, which is a charity NO one wants to talk about at parties, and is pushing to fund a documentary about Santa Claus. I could hope to be so lucky.
I also understand I probably sound like a whack job, and it’s something I kind of think about whenever I skim through ‘Have a Nice Day’ for the umpteenth time, or cite his somewhat anecdotal research into steroids and PEDs, or post blogs singing the guy’s praises like he paid me.
But I’m not obsessed as much as I am enthusiastic. Now that Mr. Foley is doing these nationwide comedy tours, and comes around my area pretty often, I’ve avoided going. First because I’d be going by myself and there’s nothing like buying a single ticket to a wrestling event to ding the old self-confidence, and two, I wouldn’t know what to say. I mean, I could easily say “Hey, thanks,” shake his hand, pay my money, get my battle worn first edition copy of “Have a Nice Day” – juice, coffee, smashed bug stains and all, signed, and bounce, leaving the importance of the artist’s art between the art and myself, and that’s probably the most sane choice, and what I’d most likely do.
How do you articulate how much his words – and life meant to you? So I’d rather wait. Wait for what? I don’t know. Greatness? Job Security? Self fulfillment? An Emmy? I have no clue. With wrestlers you never know how long they’ll be around, and what you’ll get when you meet them. My only other interactions with these guys have been getting a death stare from Spike Dudley when I tripped and almost pulled down a curtain – potentially ruining a show, and saluting Sargent Slaughter at an indie gig.
Still, I think I’ll wait on meeting Mr. Foley, at least a little longer, while reading “Have a Nice Day” every now and then when my soul needs a boost, making the occasional twitter quip, or Facebook comment in the guy’s direction, subtly letting on, but never properly communicating what his book and worldview meant to my development as a mostly well-adjusted human being that’s completely aware he’s maybe just a bit too obsessed with a book about an awkward kid who chased after his dreams and caught them with both hands.