ECW to me growing up wasn't just another wrestling company. It was hope. It was comfort. It was an hour here, two hours there that made my whole little world a better place.
Once upon a time, it was 1994. I was 7 years old and life was a daily nightmare.
As you've read briefly before, my dad moved me all over the East Coast, in pursuit of one piss-ass retail goal after another. Just one measly year earlier, I was a happy Chicago girl, who lived close to family. But my dad was never happy in Chicagoland. Always wanted more.
He worked retail for Lee-Wards, and in 1993, he was offered a choice. Stay in Chicago and be promoted next year, or move to Virginia and be promoted right now.
He chose the latter, promising to move us back in a year. All the while, he refused to let me live down how expensive my brother and I were on him, how our clothes and our food put such a damper on the family budget, and that if we didn't exist, he wouldn't “have to” move the family out to Virginia.
I didn't actually realize how much he was lying about our finances until I was 18, when I learned that a majority of the cost of living was NOT mine or my brother’s fault, but dad’s fault. Apparently he had been “entertaining” a string of other women behind Mama’s back, and had tried to pawn the financial guilt off onto Orion and I. Nice going there, pops!
So I spent almost a year in the heavily military based Virginia Beach. My dad refused to let my mother homeschool me until I was 8, so I went to a school out in Virginia Beach, which was filled with kids that resented me. The children were jealous, because I was the only little girl, whose mother loved her enough to NOT force her into every after-school program in existence, and the only girl who had BOTH parents living with her full time. Everyone else had either one or both parents working on a base somewhere. I was also picked on and teased because I was the only mixed girl in class, and the smartest one.
Not helping were my growth spurts. I was growing much faster than a normal child, and my mom had me tested for gigantism. My tests always came back negative, but I was growing at an alarming rate. (I reached my adult height at age 12. At 5’4 you wouldn’t guess that my nickname at school was “Gulliver”)
So here it was, the early Spring of 1994 (I believe March). I was pulled aside by a teacher from a class I never went to, on my way to lunch. She pulled me into the teacher’s lounge, and poked fun at me, calling me a “freak” because I was a 7 year old, and almost her size.
I cried all the way home. My mom sat me in front of the TV, handed me my favorite snack (Cheese sandwich with Maggi) and we watched wrestling together.
Wrestling has a way of making everything better. Initially that day, I watched WCW, then WWF right after, and I saw other wrestlers like The Undertaker and Giant Gonzalez (El Gigante), dealing with the same criticism I had faced in school. Seeing them cope with being different, made me feel better.
But later that week, I would stumble upon something amazing.
I don’t remember what channel this was, or even what time it was, but on a fuzzy cable channel (which NEVER came in clearly) was an oddball wrestling program called ECW.
Mama and I sat closer to the TV, until we saw the picture clear up some.
There in the ring, stood Tommy Dreamer.
Sort of lanky, with a small build frame, Dreamer looked more like the average business man next door than he did a wrestler. He wore suspenders, had somewhat of a pretty boy image when not in regular clothes, was poked fun at on a weekly basis, and at the time he was involved with a program against Jimmy Snuka ~ whom had rediscovered a love of the Indy scene.
Dreamer had trouble taking out the more experienced Jimmy Snuka, but something about this underdog wrestler held my attention. I was actually upset to see the episode end, because now… I wanted more.
While all two of my classmates who watched wrestling with their uncles were raving about Shawn Michaels’s impending match against Razor Ramon, I couldn't stop wondering what would become of this new wrestler from Yonkers, New York. I equally liked seeing Terry Funk, Sabu and Sandman, wrestlers who really didn't care what society thought of them, nor did they appreciate the rules and standards for wrestling of the day.
I didn't really care that my classmates thought I was speaking another language when I talked about these other wrestlers. By now, I was getting used to being the outsider, and at least I could gloat that I knew where the hell Yonkers is on a map, while the other kids all thought that Yonkers was a brand of popcorn snack.
It had been 9 months since I moved to Virginia by the time I had seen Dreamer. I thought that in just 3 months, I would at last be able to go home to Chicagoland. But life took an unplanned turn.
My dad’s company got swallowed whole by Michael’s, and they opted to NOT honor dad’s previous agreement. So in lieu of the agreement to go home, Michaels gave my dad three options:
A. Move to New Jersey
B. Move to Long Island
C. Move to Buffalo, New York
D. You are fired.
Yeah. Riiiiight. Now at the time, Long Island was a no-go because there was an increase in crime there. I almost moved to Buffalo, but when my mom placed a down payment on a trailer out there, she was sent her money back, because we weren't the “right” people. I’m going to let you guess what that meant. Dad getting fired (again) was clearly not an option, so with heavy reluctance, we ventured to New Jersey.
We made a trip out to Wayne, and from there Mama handed over a first month’s rent to a seedy person in upstate New Jersey. I thought we were moving to a really nice place up there. Gorgeous scenery, cute neighborhood, I didn't feel too bad about the house.
Mama, Papa, Orion and I went back to Virginia to pack everything up. As Orion and I are waiving “bye-bye” to the truck with all my stuff on board, Mama gets a phone call.
The check was being mailed back. Apparently the home owner changed her mind on that “weird Mexican looking lady” and her “odd children” moving into her pristine neighborhood. I didn't get it at first since Mama and I ARE NOT HISPANIC!!
So everything was emergency thrown into storage, and we spent the next four months living in a hotel room.
My dad and I fought over the TV, the better bed and the better blankets constantly. Not helping was his consistent flirting with the pool lady, or the endless stream of real estate agents, who NEVER freaking helped Mama, only sucked up more and more money.
But late at night, dad would pass out, so Mama and I had rule over the remote. I got to watch ECW, and up in Jersey it came in CLEAR. J
This would be the year that I would decide once and for all that ALL wrestlers must be black, because ECW (and a few of the better WWF shows) only came on during black programming blocks. 1 and 2 in the morning, I had my choice between Miss Black USA, ECW and What’s Happening’ Now.
(An UBER militant show, with a dude who wore the biggest Afro I've ever seen.)
I lived vicariously through Tommy Dreamer, who was still very much an underdog. Life just shit all over Dreamer, as he was thrown into fights with Stevie Richards, Hack Meyers and Rockin’ Rebel. But he fought through every obstacle imaginable. Watching Dreamer beat the odds every week, made me feel better.
August came mercifully, as a sweet angel named Bea found us an apartment in Wharton. Almost two weeks after I moved in, came the match heard ‘round the world. August 13, 1994. ECW Hardcore Heaven
Sandman and Tommy Dreamer locked up in a Singapore Cane Match. Sandman would go on to win the fight, but what happened after the match was what would change the world as I knew it. “August 13, 1994--Hardcore Heaven: The Sandman defeated Tommy Dreamer by DQ in a "Singapore Cane" match.” Is how some wrestling sites remember the night. But this was NO brief one liner incident.
The next day, Mama was reading the newspaper. “Outlandish! Grotesque! Dangerous!” Screamed the morning newscaster as I was eating my morning bowl of Malt-O-Meal Cocoa Roos. There were people on every channel discussing the fight on every news station, including CNN. “What about the CHILDREE~EEEN who may have been watching this fight at home? They may fling their grandfather’s canes at each other, this is imitative behavior!!” wailed an out of control analyst as she was waiving papers at a “concerned adult” in a black suit. People were aghast, there was screaming in the streets, schools were closed, busses rode on only half their wheels, riots were organized in front of public places. It was mass chaos everywhere I turned!!
And all the while, my mother sat stone faced, reading the newspaper, when suddenly she leaned over and said “Oh look Princess! Tommy and Sandman’s fight made the paper. And LOOK they got such a nice shot of him, right as Sandman struck him the third time. Awwww. ♥”
A few months passed by, and I was regretting the move to Jersey. Apperantly I was the only little girl in all of Wharton who loved Wrestling, Power Rangers, Cartoons, Anime, reading buuks wifout da purdy pitruez, and generally being good. I was the tallest girl in my class, the only mixed child in class, and I was correcting the teacher constantly ~ which is a lot more embarrassing than it sounds.
Needless to say I got my ass beat every day.
I suffered a concussion, deep spinal bruising, and nearly lost a kidney in one fight. I had a black eye and more bruises than I could count, and I spent more time in the nurse’s office than I did in class.
Making matters worse, everytime I would go shopping with Mama, we would get harassed. There were adults ~ people old enough to know better ~ strangers I didn’t even know, ridiculing Mama because of the “more than size 6” frame she had at the time, and picking on me because of my height. We both got harassed because neither of us had a “Jersey” accent (one lady kept asking me if I was from Canada) and I even dealt with people questioning Orion, who as a baby had blonde curls and blue eyes and thus didn’t look like me. (Mixed kids change colors. FYI.)
No matter where I went, I was treated less like a child and more like a monster. So if there was ever a time that I needed an underdog hero to look to, this would have been it.
Watching ECW during my “medically induced vacations” made the struggle seem less depressing. Raven and Dreamer were working a storyline that really shone a light on my life at the time.
Raven portrayed the anger I had inside. Dressed like a grunge-era rebel, he voiced all of the hurt I had in me. How society was a failure, how he couldn’t find a place in the world, so he had to carve one out. How the mainstream world as we knew it had no love for misfits and outcasts. He dealt with all the same hatred I had, and he acted it all out.
But across the ring was Tommy Dreamer. Even though Dreamer dealt with the exact same crap as Raven, he viewed the struggle as a challenge to overcome, not a reason to bemoan his fate. Every rejection from mainstream society was just one more hurdle to jump, one more reason to keep going. Dreamer’s message through his matches was that you could be a screw up, you could be an outcast, but you could still be somebody. If you were willing to fight for yourself, and anything you stand for, then you can become a champion.
I sat wide-eyed, holding my Power Ranger plushies as they fought. I wasn’t just watching a well booked storyline, I was watching Raven and Dreamer give me something I desperately needed. A voice.
Now somewhere along 94 and 95 came the crossing of the paths. This is where the story takes a surprising turn.
Mama used to order from different pizza places in the tri-state area. One such place (though I can’t remember which) had an interesting pizza boy.
This dude always came to the house EARLY with our food. He was never late and was very humble. Very polite, didn’t ask for a tip, always had his face covered with a baseball cap with the brim tipped down.
Until one night….
Mama had ordered pepperoni and mushroom and I think sausage. She barely had enough time to get the money ready when the guy showed up at the door, hot pizza in hand. So Mama went downstairs to the door, still counting change.
Mama opened the door, got the pizza and handed the man some money. He tipped his hat and started counting. “Will that be all Ma’am?”
Mama looked under the hat. “……….. Tommy? O_O Tommy….. Dreamer???”
“Will that be all ma’am?”
“You’re… Tommy Dreamer. You’re Tommy Dreamer!”
“o///o;; …… *oh shit* Um will that be all ma’am?”
“Didn’t you fight Sandman not too long ago?”
I came downstairs, wondering why it was suddenly freezing, and eager to help Mama bring in the food.
“Hey Mama! Didja need any-OHMAHGOD IT’S TOMMY DREAMER!!!” I stared up in awe as Tommy was trying not to act like this was a big deal.
Orion came downstairs. He was still in diapers and didn’t really talk yet, but wanted to help out too. He grunted through his pacifier. “Mmm Hmm Mmm mmm !!!! *Shock* Mmmm Mmmm Emmm Heemmm????” (Translation: Do you need any-!!!! Tommy Dreamer???)
As Orion and I freaked out, Tommy continued counting. Mama took a deep breath.
“……. DUDE!! Awesome match.”
Tommy smiled. “Thanks.” He soon darted off into the night. I don’t even think he had all of the money with him! (Free Pizza ish good.)
A few years later, Dreamer confirmed that he really was a pizza boy back then on the “Rise and fall of ECW set”. ^_^ Who knew that the first wrestler I would meet came right to my door, and bearing good food on top of that!
Summer of 1995, Mama was finally able to start homeschooling me. The ridicule at school was now over, but at home it was just starting up again. Dad and his branch of the family thought my mom was stupid for homeschooling me, claiming that I was now “guaranteed” to never make friends and to be a social outcast, because after all, school was there to make friends, and little more.REALLY??? :D
I laugh at this memory, every time I think about the day I graduated high school a year ahead of my peers, while I was doing pre-collage work for the hell of it. I also laugh, because my cousins on my dad’s side only have two friends a piece, and can’t even maintain relationships with each other, much less their former schoolmates.
But still, any time my dad’s family picked on me for ONCE AGAIN being the oddball, I took solace in knowing that there were other misfits right in ECW, who thumbed their noses at the “norms” of society.
I would spend the next few years on the East Coast, with ECW being my saving grace. Certainly watching people being bludgeoned with barbed wire baseball bats took the edge off of my oncoming hormones, and it made life more tolerable after hour long arguments with my dad over schooling and chores. In May of 1996, I moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, into a W.A.S.P. infested country club. Oh way to go dad, you sure know how to pick great living areas. NOT!!
I had Neo Nazi’s down the block, and W.A.S.P. elderly living across from me. Oddly enough, the Neo Nazi’s never caused me any trouble. Their worst crime? Rollerblading and skateboarding at 2 in the morning. (Oh scary.) It was their non-Nazi parents I had to worry about.
Their parents would hack into the cable on certain days of the week, because they didn't want ANYONE in their neighborhood watching “those” kinds of programs. So there was no more BET, no more Science channel, and almost nothing wrestling related.
Oh… at this point I was jonesin’ for WCW. Oh yes it DID get this bad.
I’m sorry, I like football, I like hockey, but no other sport cuts it for me than wrestling.
Mama and I used to play different games with the TV set, so we could hack back wrestling. Mama even dug out the bunny ears, just so we could see Dreamer fight Justin Credible.
PPV channels back then, did NOT go to a black screen the way they do now if you couldn't pay for something. Instead, they would let you hear the audio, but the picture would be scrambled. So if you jumped up and down hard enough, then left the remote TOTALLY alone for 20 minutes, you could get the PPV in sorta clear. So I dealt with the purple, green and static white scribbles and the blue and yellow skip patterns because dammit, Guilty as Charged was on, and I was NOT going to miss Tommy Dreamer and Justin Credible in a Stairway to Hell ladder match!
1999 came, and that May I finally moved back to Chicagoland. But by this time, most of the family I had left behind and badly wanted to see again…. Died. At the time, the few relatives I had left who lived in Chicago full time were elderly. Much of them have since passed since I moved back, and they really didn’t remember me that well. The few who are still alive have all moved away, so I came home to an empty town pretty much.
ECW was on TNN at the time, so I no longer had to worry about jumping up and down to get a picture in. But grasping ECW again just wasn't so easy.
Unbeknownst to me, TNN had started screwing around on Paul Heyman’s boys by moving ECW all over the flippin’ place. Most nights I could catch ECW at 1 in the morning, but as 2000 rolled in, the tapings came in sporadically in my area. Soon it was 1:00 am, 1:34, 2:17, even 3:45 in the morning before I could see ECW again. (Me? Sleep? Why should I?)
I really didn't know what was going on. Wrestling sites back then were such a joke, and rarely did they cover anything that wasn't WWF or WCW, and even then the “backstage news” was relegated to whatever storylines were on TV that week. So I didn't realize the problem, until a few ECW alumni started cropping up on Raw and Nitro.
Paul Heyman delivered one of the most startling, and heart wrenching shoots I’d ever heard one night. I sat up straight and paid attention. (YouTube pulled the video. Sorry!!)
I had to resist throwing up. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. It was unconscionable what TNN had done, and I hope Paul yelled “I TOLD YOU SO” at the Spike TV building the day WWE went crawling back to USA.
February 2001 came much too quickly. It had been a few weeks since I’d last seen an ECW taping and now I was beside myself, wondering what had happened. Monday came, the day after No Way Out, and my mom and I just held each other, sobbing as Paul Heyman walked to the announcer’s booth. We both knew that if Paul was here, then ECW was done.
Over the next few months, I saw many of the ECW wrestlers make their way to WWF. “Blue chippers” I heard J.R. call them. “Now it’s their time to play with the big boys!” He said boldly to Paul Heyman, just before the Invasion angle started. I watched McMahon strip down all the greats in bizarre and stupid storylines.
Raven (who used to be able to dress himself) was soon wearing gold man-skirts and tagging along with Terri as they picked on Perry Saturn’s emotions towards the ill-fated Moppy. The Dudley Boyz were now ripping each other apart because someone told them that Spike needs to break away from these bigger people. Lance Storm was barely able to keep a spot in WWF, and in under a year’s time would be seen on camera as a janitor. Justin Credible was deciding whether or not he liked holding hands with X-Pac, Taz was now spelled with two “Z’s” and was reduced to commentary status, Paul was stuck with J.R. behind the booth, and the icing on this cyanide cake was Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley-Levesque parading herself as the new “Princess” of ECW.
Excuse me. I just had to resist the urge to jam ice cold razor blades into all of my finger and toenails at that last thought.
For the next several years, I endured watching WWE make a mockery of the original ECW, and no harder did they try, then with Tommy Dreamer.
Dreamer truly is the heart and soul of ECW. He fights for everything they stood for. Honor, courage, perseverance, determination, he put up with ridiculous storylines that most wrestlers would have quit over. *Ahem* Undertaker and the chewing tobacco. On top of the craptastic storylines and the de-push after de-push after de-push, came the ignorant poo flingers behind the desk. “Oh the underdog Tommy Dreamer just doesn't have the body for the championship.” “Oh Dreamer doesn't have the look, oh Dreamer doesn't have the size we need” what the hell was this, a wrestling-WAIT “Sport’s Entertainment” company, or a gigolo pen? (Right size, right look, HOW does that help a man beat the Undertaker?)
WWE Confidential would show a less than glamorous background, when in one episode, cameras showed Bubba Ray Dudley, Spike and Tommy piling into a rental car too small for the Divas, just to make it to a WWE show on their own dime. The special showed the ECW alumni eating lettuce and carrot sticks backstage, cramming into teensy-tiny hotel rooms together, and trying to survive on LESS THAN $100 a week.
This was not a storyline. This was WWE’s second “reality” show. And the reality I saw looked very painful.
I never stopped watching. Never stopped reading the behind the scenes articles, such as the time Dreamer told a news agent that if Sabu was leaving WWE, that he would soon follow, because WWE’s version of December to
WWE’s new version of ECW lasted an extra 3 years longer than I thought it would. Once it became apparent that Paul as not going to be in charge of the one hour weekly show, I knew the alumni were now easy pickings.
One by one, the ECW originals were wished all the best in their future endeavors, until at last there was only Dreamer.
Dreamer was allowed a short reign as ECW champion, shortly after threatening to quit. The next few months, he just bided his time, until he got tossed into a “win or retire” storyline, with a young, naive Zach Ryder.
What could have been a classy “book this man into retirement” angle, turned into a nightmare for Zach.
Yes, Zach won over Dreamer. Yes, Zach had now retired Dreamer from WWE. But now Zach has to endure wrestling in front of silent, no-pop crowds, until he either gets fired or can somehow overcome this. Zach got screwed by WWE’s booking team, who ignorantly thought that ousting the heart of ECW would prove beneficial to the young Ryder, who was already being punished enough with that silly assed outfit.
Meanwhile, I don’t think Dreamer has ever been so happy.
In the days following his release, Dreamer got himself a Twitter and bookings galore in the Indy world.
January 23rd, I got to see Dreamer live again at DragonGate’s Fearless. I came in early enough to see Dreamer bringing his luggage into the Congress theater, and I even spotted him with Gabe during the early part of the show.
Before I knew it, Jon Moxley was acting a fool in front of Jimmy Jacobs, and Dreamer came out to beat Moxley.
The fight went into the crowd, so naturally I ran over with my camera. Moxley’s body goes “FLADUMP” onto some chairs, just as I’m racing over. I didn't actually see Moxley as I was trying to get a good snapshot of Dreamer.
Then as I go for another shot, Dreamer puts an arm over me and says “Don’t step on the body, okay sweetie?”
So I look down. “Oh hey there IS a body here. Smiles!” So Dreamer returns to whompin’ the crap out of Moxley.
The fight goes right over to my mom and brother. Orion holds up a folding chair, yelling “HIT HIM WITH THIS!!” Dreamer says “OKAY!!”
Moxley does the eyerolly thing.
I don’t know if Dreamer recognized Mama as the lady who couldn't stop raving about his fight with Sandman, and I’m sure he wouldn't remember Orion and I, but it was cool to see him again. No longer is Dreamer the lanky, suspender wearing young boy I saw so many years ago. For now Dreamer is a broad shouldered legend, finally able to follow the wind and wrestle as himself.
So since I’m not sure if I’ll have the chance to say this in person, I’d like to say this here.
Dreamer, if you’re reading this, I want to say thanks.
Thank you, for giving me one hell of a fight, every time you enter a ring.
Thank you for giving my family memories they won’t forget.
And most of all thank you, for giving a little misfit child somebody to believe in.