I’m in eighth grade playing Syphon Filter on Playstation. I’m thirteen years old and it’s 1999. My basement is unfinished …not the way my parents have it now. No new carpet, tables from Homegoods, or a gigantic flat screen for my dad to watch Impractical Jokers. Instead, this basement is uniquely mine — A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie poster framed in dusty glass, a 700-pound tube TV, a Playstation One with games like Jet Moto and Crash Bandicoot, and a VCR with a stack of unlabeled tapes. These tapes, recorded over time and time again, contained countless hours of Monday Night Raw and Monday Nitro. I was in love with middle school in New Jersey …hanging out at Time Warp Comics and talking about Stone Cold Steve Austin spraying beer all over Vince McMahon. I didn’t drink or have a boss to curse out…my parents never drank or spoke ill of anyone, so to watch “The Texas Rattlesnake” flip off his boss and then double-fist explosive cold ones was absolutely the best. Once a month, all my friends would gather, a pool of undiagnosed ADD, to watch wrestling pay-per-views like Summerslam and In Your House and, of course, Wrestlemania.
Thirteen years later, and I’m twenty-six. I’m about to move out of New Jersey for the first time in my life …which sounds like a small deal, but it’s kind of large. All I’ve ever known are suburbs and diners and driving to the same two movie theaters. I am the product of shopping malls and chain restaurants and Target. I used to watch wrestlers and wonder how it could be someone’s job to get beat up …now I’m starting to get it. In the working world, there is a whole mess of beatings to endure.
To say goodbye to NJ, I decided to do something that I’ll probably only get to do once in my life. I went to Wrestlemania 29 at Metlife Stadium along with 82,000 other people. I went as a fan, not only of the sport, but a fan of my home state. I spent six hours tailgating before the event doing exactly what thirteen-year-old me used to do…finding a bunch of like-minded people to talk about the history of championship belts, the origins of Ric Flair, the way Stone Cold beat up Jake the Snake to usher in the Attitude Era. We held an impromptu parking-lot match and started chants and, on more than one occasion, I thought that in terms of feeling young in a world that wants me to feel a thousand years old, Wrestlemania 29 was the fountain of youth.
Now, I’ll just have a nostalgic story to tell my kid one day a million days from now…whenever hypothetical he or she has time to listen to their hipster dad. I know it’s time for me to leave North Jersey, and all the apartments I’ve had in various towns there. I’m not sure when growing up happens …maybe when you get taken off your parents health insurance …maybe when your job lays the smacketh down all over your life …maybe it’s when you move out or move in or move away …or maybe it’s when you finally decide to finish the basement and take down the movie posters …who knows. It might be lame, but I still like feeling that larger-than-life characters are out there, even when I feel ordinary and small. I’ll miss it here …the popcorn smell in Target, the broke-down diner waitresses …Tuesday mornings after Raw and Nitro when I was a kid.