Read an Excerpt
Every story has a beginning. Mine is in Washington, D.C., in 1969.
Washington, D.C., in the sixties, seventies, and eighties was one of the poorest places in the country. Murder was common. Crack cocaine was just getting its start. Life expectancy for kids was worse than in many third world countries. The politicians were corrupt, homelessness was at its peak, and even lawabiding people viewed the police as the enemy.
But to me, it was home.
I won't say I was unaffected by the poverty and crime around me when I grew up. It's not like I lived on a safe cul-de-sac around the corner from the ghetto, either: three people died at different times in my front yard before I was nine. But to me, D.C. wasn't the life-sucking hellhole it was for a lot of people. And the big reason for that was my mom.
I was born January 18, 1969.
For some strange reason, the date is a big controversy in the wrestling world. At some point very early in my career, someone wrote a story somewhere saying that I had been born in 1966. That year seems to have stuck with a lot of people for some reason. There have been other dates published, too. There have been so many, in fact, that when I give the right date, some people think I'm lying about my age.
I swear to God, it's like it's a big deal.
Just last week some guy told my girlfriend I was lying about my age, that I wasn't really thirty-eight, that I was forty-two. Maybe he was trying to pick her up, I don't know.
I don't lie about my birth date -- I try not to lie about anything, but especially not that. It's no secret that I came to the business really late. I was almost thirty when I got into wrestling. That's real old for a wrestler starting out. I never lied about my age then, so it would be really crazy to lie now. And if I was going to lie about my age, I wouldn't say I was thirty-eight. I'd knock at least five more years off.
I have a sister, who was born about a year later than I was. Our parents weren't very original when it came to naming us. I was named after my father, David Michael Bautista. I'm Dave Junior.My sister was named after my mother, Donna Raye Bautista. She's a junior, too. It made it easier for people to remember our names.
(I spell my name Batista for wrestling, but on my birth certificate it has a u after the first a.)
My father was born in Washington,D.C., but his family was from the Philippines, and as a wrestler I've always felt a strong bond with the fans in the Philippines because of that family connection. His father, my granddad, was in the army; he didn't talk much about what he did, but I know he was in World War II and was wounded or hurt in some way. The family legends have him down as a hell-raiser when he was young, but I don't know much more than that.
I always heard that he was a real ladies' man, and that he got into some trouble in San Francisco when he was younger. Supposedly he was running numbers for gangsters and did something for which, for some reason or another, they wanted to kill him.Whatever it was that he did, trouble chased him out of town and he came east.
Those bad days were long gone by the time I came along, and he never told me about them, even though I was his favorite and he wasn't afraid to show it. On the contrary: he used to brag about it.
According to the family stories, my grandfather would never really hold any of my cousins or me when we were babies. He wasn't the nurturing type. But then one day my mom had to run to grab something burning or something like that and she just threw me in my grandfather's arms. His face lit up. By the time she came back to get me, he and I had bonded somehow. From that day, I was his favorite grandchild. I still remember him asking how much I loved him and holding my hands out to say, "This much!"
When he died in 1988, it just broke my heart. He's buried in Arlington Cemetery, an honor reserved for men and women who have served our country.
My grandfather had a bunch of jobs in the Washington, D.C., area, but I only knew him as a barber. He had his own shop in Oxen Hill, Maryland, an old-fashioned place with four chairs in it. He had to be one of the most popular guys in the neighborhood. Everybody knew him. You'd go into a McDonald's with him or just walk down the block and everyone would say hello. He was very friendly and very well liked.
He was also a very generous grandfather. When I was around six or seven, we lived real close to the shop, maybe a few blocks away. I'd go into the shop and sit in his chair, just hanging out. He'd give me lollipops all day. My cousin Anthony, who was a little older than me, would stop by, too. Sometimes, my grandfather would give us a few bucks and we'd go to Toys "R" Us. It was right across the street.
It was funny. For a while we had a regular little scam going, me and my cousin. We'd buy the toys and play with them; then, after we got a little tired of them, we'd break them and take them back.
"This toy's broken," we'd tell them.
So they'd take them back on exchange and we'd get more toys.
Anthony and I were close while we were growing up, very close. He was my only male relative in my generation, and for a while I lived with him, his sister, and their parents. So that made him the closest thing I had to a brother as a kid. He could be a bully sometimes, like any older brother. Nothing too serious: he would tease me until I cried, things like that. But I still loved him. I always looked up to him and wanted to be like him.
Unfortunately, he died a few years ago in a terrible car accident. It really shook up the family. I still miss him.
LESBIAN AND DEMOCRAT
My mom's father, Kenneth Mullins, was in the service, too. He was in the Marines during the Korean War and got both the Purple Heart and Silver Star. Both of my grandfathers were men to look up to and feel proud of, because of their service to our country.
I was never very close to the Greek side of my family, mostly because my mother wasn't. But she still tells the story of how when I was born, all of her Greek relatives came over to visit. They started yelling when they saw me: "He's Greek! He's Greek!"
They were all happy and proud, pointing out this and that facial feature that they said was due to Greek genes.
Of course, the Filipino side of the family was there, and they got pretty upset. They claimed I looked more Filipino than Greek.
My mother calls herself the black sheep of her family. She was always a lot more liberal than her parents: Granddad was a conservative, she was a left-wing Democrat. After she and my father separated, she fell in love with a woman. At some point, her father caught her in bed with another woman, which was how he first found out that she was a lesbian. I think she may regret that a little bit, but she and her dad have gotten closer over the years, and I know there's a lot of love between them now. She still jokes, though, that she did two things that disappointed her father: told him that she was a Democrat, and told him that she was a lesbian.
"Of the two, being a Democrat was far, far worse," she says. "Not even close as far as he was concerned."
My mother's sexual orientation was never an issue for me. She made it clear that she loved my sister and me, and there was never any doubt in my mind about that.
THE GONG SHOW
My father was a different story.
He and my mom had been high school sweethearts and got married right out of school.They were both really young. I don't know exactly what happened, but it seems clear to me that my father wasn't ready to be a father. They did try, on and off, to get together and get back together. Some of those attempts were halfhearted. But I don't really remember them sharing affection, hugging or kissing or anything like that.
I remember us all watching The Gong Show together. That was about the extent of family togetherness for my mom and dad.
In all the years after my parents split up, basically since I was able to walk, I never felt that my father supported us.
My mother says now, "You can't get blood from a stone."
I don't know about that. It seemed to me he was making a pretty good living at the time, and we just lived in a dump.We had nothing. I always felt something was wrong with that.
We recently talked for the first time in, let me see, over ten years. But it was really awkward. I felt as if I'd been forced into talking to him. Things are still hard between us. I don't really think he ever wanted to be a father. He told me recently that he never knew how to be a father. That was fuckin' obvious. But he could have taken a better shot at it.
He said it made him sad that we hadn't talked in a long while and didn't have any contact. I told him that it didn't make me sad. I didn't miss him. The reason I didn't miss him was that I never really felt like I had a father. I knew he was there, I knew he was my father, but I grew up without the feeling of having a father around. My mother played the role of mother and father, and she was what I knew and what I was used to. He was just never there. I really didn't miss him in my life because he was never there.
Knowing what kind of father he was makes me know what kind of father I don't want to be. My own first marriage didn't last that long -- only long enough to have two kids -- and honestly, we only got married because my wife was pregnant. But I never felt like I didn't want to be a dad. I always wanted to be there for my children. I loved them. And still do. It's a hard thing to put into words. It's something you really just have to feel. And I feel it very strongly.
D.C. was -- still is -- pretty rough.
I don't know how much you know about D.C., but basically it's subdivided into four quadrants -- northeast, southeast, southwest, northwest. There are a lot of nice neighborhoods in D.C., and some of the city is being gentrified, but at the time we lived there it was a pretty violent ghetto.We lived in southeast, not that far from the Capitol. The area had a pretty high homicide rate: guns, knives, even fists were used to kill people regularly. The number of violent deaths climbed each year until 1991, when they peaked at 482 across the city. That's one murder for every 1,250 people -- a couple of deaths on each block, each year.
I asked my mother about what it was like back then, and she said that she wouldn't let us out of the house Friday nights. She used to call them "hooker weekends." Even during the week we were not supposed to go out of the yard.
But as a kid, I don't remember ever feeling unsafe. It was ethnically diverse, which was great. There were a lot of different backgrounds there. Black, white, Hispanic -- a little bit of everything. My mom says that we may have been the only white people in some of the places we lived, and I'm pretty sure she was right. The funny thing is, I really wasn't that aware of it. Really wasn't.
I always had such fun living in D.C. I knew then and know now that there was a lot of bad stuff: I remember people getting shot, and a crowd of people beating up one guy right in front of our house. But I had real good friends. And when you're a kid, that's really what's most important.
We had this neighborhood game, nobody's ever heard of it probably outside of D.C., but we called it "hot bread and butter." It was like tag. What we'd do, we'd get a belt, a big belt, and we'd hide it.We'd have a base, just like you have in hide-and-seek. All the kids would look for the belt, and whoever found it would yell "hot bread and butter." Then he or she got to chase around the other kids and beat them with the belt until they got to the base.
We played regular games, too. A lot of touch football on the street. We'd stay out all night in the summertime, just playing and having fun. There were tons of kids, and I don't remember there ever being gang problems or stuff like that. The gang problems started a few years later, fortunately, after I'd grown up.
The first fight I ever got into was in D.C. Some kid stole my skateboard. Well, a bunch of my friends caught him with it; one of them ran up to my house, got me, and said, "Come get your skateboard." I went down there. The kid tried to take my skateboard back and I punched him in the head.
He didn't bother me again, but I'm sure he stole somebody else's skateboard the next day.
My mother tells this story about how one time she was taking a shower -- she must have been getting ready to go to work -- and all of a sudden she heard gunshots.Well, she grabbed a towel and ran to the window to see where we were.We weren't in the yard, so she started to scream, "DJ! DJ! Baby Donna! Baby Donna!"
She and the rest of my family call me DJ, which stands for Dave Junior, and at the time she called my sister Baby Donna, which I guess sounded better than Donna Junior.
Anyway, just as she was probably about to have a heart attack, my sister came flying around the corner, followed by me. There were these two guys right behind us. One was a big fat guy who was the neighborhood drug dealer. When I say he was fat, I mean he was really fat -- obese, actually. And he was being chased by this skinny guy who had a gun and was shooting.
Somehow we got into the house without being hit. My mom can tell the story now and have you rolling on the floor laughing, but it sure wasn't funny to her then.
My mom worked at this place called District Photo that was several towns away in Maryland. They developed film. She worked nights, and without anyone else to take care of us, she had to leave us in the house by ourselves. At one place, the upstairs neighbor, the guy who owned the house, was around if we needed him. But usually we were just there by ourselves, my sister and I.We'd put ourselves to bed.
My mother would take a bus to get there and back. Usually. If the bus didn't come on the way back -- and a lot of times it would just stop running without explanation -- she had to hitchhike home around three in the morning. There were a few times when somebody stopped and she just sensed something was wrong, so she didn't get in the car -- which meant she had to walk home. That was a hell of a lot better than taking a chance, though.
The thing I remember from her working there were the big company picnics. Those were kind of cool. That's where I actually had my first drink of beer, when I was eight or nine. I have a picture of it, too: I have a big cup of beer in my hand and am wearing a KISS belt buckle. Real 1970s.
KISS was a hot rock band at the time. Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, vAce Frehley, and Peter Criss were the band members. They wore face paint, played heavy metal, and were huge at the time. They also had reputations as wild men offstage, Frehley especially.
I don't remember the beer, but I do remember not really caring for it much. I still don't. I'll drink Jack Daniel's over beer any day of the week.
My mother was always trying to brighten things up for us. I remember her waking us up one morning and packing us into the car -- this was one of the few times when we had a car -- and taking us to get donuts and watch the sun come up at the Jefferson Memorial. That was always her favorite memorial in the city.
She had this philosophy that weekends should be different from the rest of the workweek, and she tried to make them special for us even though she didn't have a lot of money to work with. She invented what she called "happy weekends." We'd go on a little trip or she would make us these little sundae snacks in special cups she bought someplace. Cool stuff like that is what I remember when I think about being young and living in D.C.
We didn't have a typical household where you come home and eat dinner together; none of that. In fact, there were a lot of times when we didn't eat at all. My mom would stock up during sales, buy things like beans and cereal. That's what we'd eat. One day my mom was broke but had bought these beans with I guess some vegetables. She was making us a big pot of navy bean soup that was supposed to last us all week. It was all we had to eat.
But she burnt the soup. Burnt the shit out of it. But because that was all we had, that was what we ate. The whole week. Burnt bean soup.
Everybody around us was struggling to make do.We weren't the only hungry kids around by any means.
One time my sister was at a friend's house across the street. They had a father and a mother, but they also had five kids, and they didn't have anything to eat that night. So the mother called over to our house and said, "I talked to your daughter and I know you're having tough times, too. I'll be honest, we don't have much to give our kids to eat tonight. But I can make two sheets of biscuits, if you have something to go with it."
"I have butter and jelly and apple butter," my mom told her.
We went over and we pigged out. It was like a picnic. The adults told us we were having dessert for dinner, Kool-Aid and biscuits and jelly. We thought it was fun.
Sometime around then, President Reagan said on television that no one went hungry in America. That kind of set my mother off. She started yelling at the TV, "Why don't you walk out your fuckin' door? Why don't you walk down here?"
The White House was literally just up the street. It wouldn't have been hard for anyone in D.C. to realize that, hell yes, people were hungry in America. All you had to do was take a walk. Whether you were the president or anyone else, it wouldn't have been hard to see hunger anywhere in D.C.
WITHOUT TEARS FOR THE DEAD
I had a lot of fun growing up in D.C., and as I said, to me it didn't seem any more dangerous than anywhere else. We couldn't afford toys, we didn't have video games or computers -- so we spent all our time outside. We'd make up games and run around all night in the summertime, until one or two in the morning. It was all the neighborhood kids. I never felt unsafe doing it. I knew I was different, because I was white and my friends were black, but I never felt different. I fit in. And it always seemed like there were ten or twenty kids around, whether it was playing football in the street or just hanging out. God, we'd walk for miles to go to a public swimming pool.
Again, I'd be the only white kid there. But it was one of those things where no one ever really bothered me. And if they did, it was no big deal. Nobody was getting shot or stabbed or anything; you were just handling things with your fists.
But my mom remembers the city a lot differently than I do. She came from there, and I know she loved it. Probably still does. But her perspective at the time was as a mom with kids, and she wanted to protect them. She didn't think much of anything in the city was fun.
A couple of things convinced her she wouldn't be able to stay in D.C. One time a guy was trying to shoot someone on the block nearby and, instead of hitting the person he had the beef with, he hit an innocent girl. People in the neighborhood grabbed him and were taking him to the highway overpass nearby to throw him off. My mother called the police and managed to convince them to get there just in time to stop the mob from killing the guy.
This was around 1976. My mother went out to San Francisco to get settled, find a job and a place to live. My sister and I stayed with my father's parents. That sucked ass. My grandmother was mean, nasty, and abusive. I remember her slapping me across the face more than anything else; that's my memory of her. One time, she got pissed at me because I said something nasty to my sister, so she took a big key ring full of keys and threw it at me and hit me in the face with it. Oh yeah, she was a real bitch.
Luckily, I only stayed with her for just a few months. First my sister and then I went out to join my mother. The new place was nice, especially compared to where we had lived, but we weren't there very long -- less than a year -- before my father came out for a visit.
He and my mom tried to patch things up. Not only that, but he actually convinced her that we should all move back east and live with him in Maryland, close to D.C. but not quite in it.
We moved back, but it didn't last long: my mother says three weeks. Anyway, my parents split again and my mom, who not only was broke but without a job, moved us back to D.C.
Things had actually gotten worse in the year or so that we'd been gone. Once, someone was found dead in our front yard, and another was found very close by. But it was the third guy that really set her off. This stranger's death made her decide we had to move out of there. She was worried, really worried, that one of us might end up being next. There was so much going on she couldn't protect us from it all. And she was even more worried about what the place was doing to us.
The murder happened on a Friday night. She came out of the house and found this man with a bullet hole in his head. She ran back in and called the police and an ambulance. Forty-five minutes later, neither the police nor the ambulance was there.
In the meantime, all the kids from the neighborhood had heard that something was going on and came around to see. I was there, and I believe my sister was, too. We were all standing around looking at this poor guy who was dying. I think some of us were even telling jokes. My mother got real upset and pulled us aside.
"The day you can stand over a man who is dying in the street and you don't feel compassion and you don't have a tear in your eye," she told us, "it's time for us to go."
We moved back to San Francisco right after that.
For a while when I was little, my mother didn't have a job and I remember her being on welfare. She hated being on welfare. Hated it. But she had two kids and had to do something to keep them from starving. She got a job, though it wasn't well paying, and earned extra money cleaning people's houses, anything to keep us going and not take welfare. The jobs started getting a little better -- we weren't really that well off, but we had nowhere to go but up. She started working for a courier service, and then eventually DHL. DHL came with union benefits. She called it a "godsend" when she got it. In fact, she still works for them, though while I'm writing this she's on an unpaid family leave of absence. To this day, she's a very proud member of Teamster Local 85 in San Francisco. She's just really very thankful for everything they've done for her.
We lived on Fourteenth Street near Divisadero Street and Castro. School was down the block, and there were two parks -- Buena Vista and Duboce -- close by.Our home, like most of the apartments there, was a big flat. At least it seemed huge to us at the time, maybe because we didn't have any furniture.
My mom found a mattress that my sister and I shared for a while. We had milk crates to sit on in the kitchen, and industrial-size wire spools for a kitchen table. We had that for years. Somebody told me recently that those spools are real chic now.We were cool before our time.
Mom used to go to the thrift store and get clothes for us. I remember one pair of shoes I had worn through on the bottom, and I had to tape cardboard inside of them so my feet didn't get wet.
MY MOM GOT US THROUGH
I think my mom was really strong, as strong as you can imagine. And loving, too; just real loving. But she was stern when she had to be.
You can't get away with this anymore, but I'll tell you, she'd not only beat us if we were bad, she'd whip the shit out of us. She'd put us over her lap and spank the shit out of us. Her children knew right from wrong. And we weren't supposed to talk back. That was one of her big rules.
I remember one time in San Francisco, I was in trouble for something, I don't know what it was. She was just yelling at me. Anyway, I thought she left and I was alone in the apartment. So I started cussing, "I hate that fucking bitch!" And I turned around and there she was.
Oh man, she laid into me. She beat the shit out of me. She knocked me on the ground. It's funny now, but I think I may still have the bruises.
But she was also very loving and affectionate. She was never afraid to tell us that she loved us or to hug us. I think that's a real important thing for parents. They have to show their kids they love them.
I watched a bit of pro wrestling as a kid. I think my favorite wrestler was The Warlord. Sometimes I get teased about that. Most people don't know who The Warlord was. If you ask them who their favorite was when they were a kid, they'll always say Hulk Hogan or Macho Man, Ric Flair, or maybe Dusty Rhodes.
I say The Warlord and people say, "Who?"
Terry Szopinski was The Warlord. He started in World Championship Wrestling in 1986, where he was managed by Baby Doll and then Paul Jones. This was back before Ted Turner bought the wrestling franchise and created the WCW that was so popular as a rival to World Wrestling Federation in the 1990s. Terry wrestled there for a few years, and then went to World Wrestling Federation.
During his career, he teamed with Barbarian as The Powers of Pain, and some of his most memorable matches involved feuds with The Hart Foundation -- Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart -- and the Road Warriors. In real life, the Road Warriors -- Hawk and the original Animal -- were friends and had encouraged Terry to get into wrestling. At points during his career he was known for wearing a reverse Mohawk haircut and face paint; his signature moves included the Warlord Lariat -- a clothesline he administered from a dive -- and the Warlord Lock, which was a variation on the full nelson. Like most wrestlers, he worked as both a babyface and a heel, though it was probably as a heel that he earned his greatest recognition.
I think I admired him because he was the most massive human being I had ever seen. I always looked up to the big guys. I thought they were just incredible.
A THING FOR HEELS
When you're a kid, sometimes the wrestlers who make the biggest impact are the heels. You remember them because they're your mortal enemy. You want to squish 'em like a bug when you grow up.
You know one wrestler I really hated when I was a little kid? Mr. Fuji. I despised Mr. Fuji. I don't know why. I just despised him. And guys like Rick Rude. I always hated Rick Rude. He was a great heel. He was so arrogant; he was just perfect.
Speaking of perfect: I hated Mr. Perfect, too. I hated him. Arrogant prick.
Mr. Fuji is probably another wrestler today's generation doesn't know. His real name was Harry Fujiwara, and he began his career as a wrestler, though at some point he became popular as a manager. His peak as a wrestler, a bit before my time, came as a tag team partner in World Wrestling Federation, where his partners included Professor Toru Tanaka and Mr. Saito. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2007.
I think Rick Rude is still pretty well known to older fans, especially if you give them the full name, "Ravishing" Rick Rude. He was a big-time heel, so overconfident and arrogant that you couldn't help but hope he would slip on a banana peel or something on his way to the ring. He was a star in both WCW and World Wrestling Federation in the late eighties and nineties. Tragically, he died in 1999 from heart failure. He was only forty.
Mr. Perfect -- well, the name says it all. Curt Hennig, of course, wrestled as Mr. Perfect for a portion of his career when he was with World Wrestling Federation. He was the son of Larry "The Ax" Hennig. He's a Minneapolis boy who wrestled for a long time with the old AWA before joining WWE. He held the Intercontinental title in 1990 and in 1991, losing it in a memorable match to Bret Hart. Unfortunately for those of us who admired his wrestling style even while hating his heel character, injuries cut short his ring career with WWE in the 1990s. He continued not only as a commentator but occasionally appeared with regional franchises. A hall of famer, he passed away in 2003.
When I think about those guys now and remember how much I hated them, I realize just how good they really were.
We didn't get a chance to go to many live wrestling events when I was little. Money was tight, and there were other priorities, like food. My mom still talks about taking us to see a cable telecast of one of the WrestleManias in San Francisco when I was little. I believe I saw the Wild Samoans there, and maybe Hulk Hogan, but I don't remember it all that well.
Which kind of disappoints my mom, since it cost ten dollars to take us -- huge money for us at the time.
School in San Francisco was a lot different than D.C. For one thing, we weren't the only white kids in class anymore. The school was only a block away from our house and was really new and more modern. It was a nice place, as far as the building went.
But I never really liked school, in D.C. or in San Francisco. The first time I ever skipped school -- we called it ditching -- I must have been in first or second grade. The older I got, the more I'd ditch.
Not that it was a good thing to do, or that it made any sense. One time, a couple of friends and I ditched school the day the class was going on a field trip to the zoo. So what did we do? We went to the zoo.We followed them around, watching them. They were there, we were there; it wasn't like we were getting out of schoolwork. So tell me how that made sense. But I guess it seemed like fun at the time.
The schools I was in tried to catch up to me, but usually they didn't do all that good a job. One time, I think it was sixth grade, the principal called the house looking for my mom. I answered the phone and tried to convince him that I was her. I don't think it worked, but I did skip just about that entire year.
Cutting class meant we had a lot of extra free time. I can't say that we spent it all that wisely. We spent a lot of hours riding around, on the bus and the cable cars. When I was a kid, you could ride the bus all day long for a nickel, and get bus transfers to the cable cars. Sometimes if the conductor or bus driver asked for the fare and you didn't have it, you'd just jump off.
After Fourteenth Street, we moved to a much rougher neighborhood, and I began getting into trouble more. It was about then, sixth grade I think, when I realized that a lot of the kids were hanging out with their own cliques, according to either race or ethnic background. Mexican kids were hanging out with Mexican kids, the blacks were with the blacks, the whites were with the whites. I didn't fit in anywhere exactly. I was white, but I'd grown up with black and Hispanic kids and they were my closest friends. I started hanging out with all the blacks and Mexicans. I kind of blended in there best.
We were living across the street from some projects, or what is now called government-subsidized housing. They were more than a little bit rough. This was the first time I started realizing anything about gangs. They weren't doing drive-bys or stuff like that back then, but there was a lot of stealing, a lot of fighting, stuff like that. I started doing it, too. We'd take whatever we could get our hands on. Food, bikes, money, whatever.
I remember once we stole a motorcycle when we were ten or eleven. I snuck out of the house. It must have been about three or four in the morning. We broke into this garage of another house and stole the bike. There were three of us, and because we didn't want to start it up in the garage, we carried it out. Then my friend Carl took off on the bike and left me and the other kid running behind him.
Most of what we did, though, wasn't that bad.We'd hang around, or go onto rooftops and try to look into people's apartments. I remember a couple of times watching people have sex. That was the sort of thing we did to pass the time.
Every once in a while, the other kids would tease me about being Filipino. They'd call me a Flip. So I'd have to come back with, "Fuck you, fucking beaner." We could spend quite a bit of time teasing one another. It seems funny -- goofy -- now.
Another thing we'd do for fun was go to the Tenderloin district, where all the hookers were.We'd stay out till three or four in the morning, teasing hookers and watching them take johns back to the alley. We'd try to get the women mad at us, then take off. It was just funny, teasing the hookers. None of us were interested in them in a sexual way. They didn't show us the facts of life or anything like that. In fact, I was kind of a late bloomer, especially compared to the kids I knew.
Most of the kids I hung out with were a little older than me. I was a little bigger than kids my age, taller, so it didn't seem strange.We fought with our fists, no weapons, no knives, and nobody ever had a gun. There were some fights, but the worst that ever happened was a black eye here and there.
In those days, especially growing up there, I think everybody got into fights. It was part of being a kid. It wasn't like it is now. You never worried about someone coming back and blowing your head off. You had a fight and that was it. It was over. At worst, you might have two or three fights with the same guy, but that would usually settle things.
JOURNEY TO THE 'BURBS
By the time I was thirteen, I started getting in a lot more trouble for skipping school. I also got arrested for petty stuff. I'd get detention or juvenile hall, but the punishment wasn't severe; I never spent more than a day in jail.
I wasn't stealing or breaking the law to get back at anyone or because I was mad or anything like that. I was stealing because all my friends were doing it. It was no big deal. It just wasn't out of the norm. It was what you did. Good, bad, angry, sad -- nothing like that entered into it.
My mother, of course, hated it. She had to be the disciplinarian, and I think she worried that she would become like her own mother, who was abusive. But I also know that she was worried about what might happen to me. She worried I might end up dead.
There was one time when some kids came to the house looking to beat me up for something stupid -- I forget what it was -- but she stepped in and kicked them out before anything happened. Something like that has to scare you as a parent.
One night, a bunch of friends and I stole some bikes and rode over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. Cops picked us up and they called my mom to come get me. She flipped. She'd finally had enough. She called up my father and told him I was going to end up dead or in prison. So I went to live with him in Arlington, Virginia.
Which was really fucking weird.
I went from being kind of a street thug to living in suburbia. It was culture shock. Actually Arlington is very nice, but at the time I didn't know how to live there. The town was quiet by nine o'clock. It drove me nuts.
When I moved there, I was in seventh grade and I think I was thirteen at the time. The school was Thomas Jefferson Middle School, and I did so poorly they sent me to a special program at another school. Basically, I did the same thing in school in Arlington that I had done in San Francisco: I ditched class all the time. My grades were terrible. But now I wasn't riding streetcars or hanging out with wannabe gang members. I discovered girls.
My house became the party house, mostly because my dad was never home. He'd give me like twenty bucks for the weekend and just take off. I'd be on my own. I'd have my friends over and it would be one big party.
I had a best friend named Nelson. We hit it off right away; he was kind of an oddball, like me. He had his ear pierced in seventh grade. Now that's pretty common, but back then it was considered daring if you were a boy. So of course I got my ear pierced when I saw his. We thought we were so cool.We were seventh-grade players.
The schools tried to get me in line. I was suspended for skipping, but it didn't have all that much effect. Nothing really did. I continued to hate class, and more times than not I just ditched it.
I remember the first time I got suspended, my dad beat the shit out of me with his weight-lifting belt. He was really pissed at me. My father wasn't as tall as I am today, but he was still a pretty good size, about six foot and two hundred pounds. He was lifting weights and working out, so when he hit me with the weight belt, it had some heft to it.
But I took it. I always felt like I had to stand up to him.The next time I got in trouble, I knew I was in for it. So before he came home, I went and took the belt out and threw it on his bed and waited.Why? Fuck him, that's why.
He didn't really know how to deal with me. But maybe nobody would have. It wasn't that I was stealing cars or doing dope or anything really, really bad. But I was definitely a thug, and everyone was afraid of where I was headed.
I did have some positive things happening for me, some good influences in my life. One was my girlfriend, Susan Nah, whom I started dating in seventh grade. She was a year ahead of me, and by the time I got to Washington-Lee High School, my life just about revolved around her.
She was a very good student, in a lot of ways your typical girl next door. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her. You would, too, if you saw her. She was five feet tall and never grew taller than that, so we were a real odd couple. She wasn't your typical knockout, but adorably cute. And really smart.
Her dad worked for the government and her mom was a teacher. They tried to be really positive influences in my life. Later on, I had her mother as my teacher in history class. I can't say whether I ever skipped or not, but I did think she was a very good teacher and I did respect her a lot.
I wasn't a rebel or anything. I just never felt like I fit in at high school. I always felt like an oddball, different. People would be doing one thing and I would want to do another. Like sports and dancing: when everybody I knew wanted to try out for football or play baseball, I wanted to be a break-dancer.
Break dancing was a 1980s street thing where a dancer would show off his or her moves. You'd touch the ground with your head or hands in a real high-energy dance to rap and hip-hop, which were pretty new at the time. I met a bunch of kids doing it and just got into it.We used to go into D.C. and that's what we'd do all night. It was cool back then. Big revues and just a bunch of kids hanging out.
Someone recently pointed out that some of the moves I now make in my entrance with WWE can be traced back to break dancing. I'm not conscious of it. They used to have me come out real simple, no personality, you're-a-killer-just-go-to-the-ring kind of thing.When Vince McMahon had me open up a bit, put more personality into my character, it kind of came in. It was just a part of me.
A lot of the music I remember from back when I was a kid are songs by the Fat Boys and Grandmaster Flash, which is all old-school rap now. As a matter of fact, I still like their music. I've always had very eclectic tastes; I can go from listening to heavy metal to hard rap. And I have a real appreciation for opera, especially Pavarotti. I have some of his stuff on my iPod.
My first year in high school I played football, though only because I felt like that was what I was supposed to do. That's what all the other cool kids were doing. I gave it a try. I was just terrible at it. I played tight end and I was just rotten. I had no idea what I was doing. I played defensive end my junior year and I wasn't that much better.
In my freshman year of high school, I started getting into a lot of fights. One was over my girlfriend, because this kid was hitting on her, but mostly I was just hotheaded. I was charged with assault because of one of these fights. One thing led to another, and in the end I was sent to a group home. It was punishment, I guess, but the idea was supposed to be positive; this place was supposed to straighten kids out.
It wasn't that bad, actually.Maybe ten or twelve guys lived there, with counselors. They tried to get you to live a structured life. You didn't have much freedom, and you had to follow the rules. I didn't necessarily like it, but I didn't hate it either.
My counselor when I was there was a young man named Arthur MacNeil. We used to call him Mac. He was a really positive influence on my life. He was one of those guys who really made an impact -- I still remember him all these years later. He was a very positive person, very helpful. We bonded and I considered him a lot more than just a counselor. He was a friend. Every so often he will pop into my head and I wonder how he's doing these days. Well, I hope.
By the time I left the group home, I was pretty straightened out. I was on a good path. I didn't stay on it, but I was moving in the right direction. I went back to living with my dad.
Before I went home for good, I was allowed to go to my father's for a weekend. It was my sixteenth birthday, I think, so I threw myself a birthday party. It was one of the best parties of my life. I invited maybe twenty people and two hundred showed up. It was one of those crazy nights. I got into a fistfight with one of my best friends, that's how wasted I was. We had this huge Ping-Pong table and it got trashed. By the end of the weekend the Ping-Pong table was in so many pieces, we just got rid of it. The house was a complete wreck. There were holes in the walls, and mirrors were broken. I spent one whole day with my friends trying to make repairs.
Then I had to go back to the group home.
My father got back to the house sometime after me.When he did, the door was wide open. He had jewelry missing and, of course, the place was still pretty trashed. But what really upset him was the fact that the Ping-Pong table was missing. "Where's the fucking Ping-Pong table?!" he said.
LEARNING TO WRESTLE
About the time I was going into my junior year at high school, we moved and I was switched to Wakefield High School. That's where I discovered amateur wrestling. Richard Salas and some other friends of mine were on the wrestling team and they encouraged me to come out because I was pretty big by this time, about six two, 185 pounds. I did okay. I believe I won our junior varsity tournament that year and even finished fifth in the district championships. That wasn't great, of course, but it wasn't horrible either, especially considering that I'd never wrestled before in my life.
Wrestling is an individual sport, but for me it was a real team thing. I forged great friendships. Some of my friends from back then are still my friends today.When you're working out so many hours with guys and just working your asses off together, you just bond. You encourage each other, and it makes you closer.
That's similar to what we have now in the locker room at SmackDown! and WWE. We're all busting our asses on the road every week. We keep each other going.
One of the things I had to deal with as a wrestler was my asthma.
I've been asthmatic since I was born. I'm not a doctor, obviously, but to give you a little bit of background, asthma attacks your airways by irritating the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. When you have an attack, the airways get inflamed and they narrow. That means less oxygen can get into your lungs and you start having trouble breathing. At this point, no one has found a cure for asthma, but there are different ways of controlling it. Asthma attacks vary from person to person. They're generally caused or made worse by allergies. That's the cause in my case. I have a bunch of common allergies to animals, pollen, and cigarette smoke, things like that. Most of us who have asthma have learned how to control it.
While I'd had asthma in D.C., when we first moved to San Francisco it was so bad I spent a lot of time in the emergency room -- up to two or three times a week. In fact, we were there so much that someone from social services came and checked up on us, just to make sure something bad wasn't going down. My mother would wash the floors, make sure that we used only foam pillows, all those sorts of things.
Asthma runs in the family. It has hindered me a little bit from time to time, but it never stopped me from wanting to compete, or getting out there and being active.While a lot of times I've been given a bad rap for not being in good cardiovascular shape, the truth is I don't have good wind because I'm asthmatic. It can catch up to me in the ring, but I just have to deal with it as best I can.
To this day, I always have an inhaler close by. I take a drug to help keep it under control. I've had episodes where it's been pretty bad, but I've never had an attack where I was in serious jeopardy. It's something I'm used to. It's just part of my life.
Back in high school, we had this great wrestling coach: Coach McIntyre. I don't remember his first name -- it was always "Coach Mac" as far as I was concerned. He wasn't the kind of guy that would scream or anything, but he could really motivate you. He'd just talk to you, man to man, and you'd want to do your best.
I remember one time, we had a meet and my opponent had forfeited. I went out with my head gear unstrapped and in shorts and a T-shirt. When I got back, he didn't rip me apart about it. He just took me aside.
"When I was a kid, whether I had a forfeit or not, I went out on the mat and I was prepared," he told me. "I was ready to wrestle. You should have a little more respect for the team. I'd appreciate it if you'd do that."
That was really a strong way of teaching. It seems simple, but it really got the point across, and I always made sure I was dressed properly from then on. I respected him. He treated me like someone who deserved respect and should show it in return. It's a powerful thing, respect.
I think more than anything, what I remember about wrestling in high school was how important the work ethic was. How hard you had to work to be good. It's a lesson that I took with me, and that I still believe in.
In my senior year, I was really looking forward to wrestling again. But my grades were so bad that I ended up not being academically eligible. That was a real bad year in general.
Things at home got real rough when my father decided to remarry around my freshman year. It was a shock to everybody, even my mother. They had never actually gotten divorced. He called her up one day and asked if she would sign some papers. She went along with it; I don't think she thought she had much choice.
Then just about right away, my father and his new wife were expecting a baby. They decided there wasn't room for me in the house.
My dad wanted me to go out and live with my mom. She didn't want me to come out there. I don't think she could really afford to have me go back out there, and she didn't have the room for me at the time. She might also have been worried that I would slip back into my old problems. So I ended up moving in with a friend of mine and his family in the Arlington area, boarding with them while still going to Wakefield High. I think my dad gave them a hundred bucks a month or something like that.
My father turned my room at his house into a nursery. It sucked big-time. My dad had never really been there for me, so it wasn't a complete shocker. But you know, here I was going into my last year of high school, and it was more the idea of the thing, just how low it all seemed.
In the meantime, my girlfriend, who was a year older than me, went off to college. I started fucking up again, even worse than before. I ditched school pretty regularly.
STAY IN SCHOOL
The truth is, I never finished my senior year in high school.
It's painful and embarrassing as hell for me to admit it, but I never graduated.
I've regretted it my whole life since. I wish I had taken my education more seriously. I always felt I could have done well if I applied myself. But I just didn't care. Education meant absolutely nothing to me. It's one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
I tell both of my daughters, I make a living with my body because I have to. If I get injured, God forbid, I have nothing to fall back on. I'll end up as a bouncer in a nightclub again. I will always regret not taking my education seriously. I really believe I could have done something better with myself.
These days, kids always ask, "How can I become a professional wrestler?" I tell them to go to school first. Because the odds that you're going to make it are very, very slight. And even if you do, it's a hard-knock life. If you have no education, you're screwed.Which is the case with a lot of athletes. Often, they're pushed through or given degrees they haven't earned, which isn't much better than not getting a diploma at all.
The worst part about it is, I could have finished high school. I was in twelfth grade. When I felt like it, I could get good grades. Teachers let me make up assignments when I missed something. I wasn't stupid, except when it came to making good decisions about my life. I was just a fuck-up and decided to do whatever I wanted. I didn't apply myself, and to this day I regret it.
If you're reading this book and you're in high school or you know someone in high school, take my advice: Stay in school. Learn as much as you possibly can.
Instead of going to school, I hung out. And I went to work -- after a fashion.
I started out with a real good friend named Ben. He'd been a friend of mine for six years. I haven't seen him in a long time, but he's one of those people who I swear if I ran into we'd talk to each other just as if we had seen each other yesterday. That's how close we were. He was definitely no angel, but he never let me down. He was, is, a great friend.
I would help him out here and there, making sure he was okay and he was getting paid. In a way, I was like a bodyguard. I was big and people tended not to bother him when I was around.
In January 1989, I was arrested for shooting a firearm into an occupied dwelling. Someone unloaded a shotgun at a house belonging to some kids who had robbed Ben, and naturally I was suspected. The cops came over and arrested me. But they didn't have any proof, not even the gun. The people in the house hadn't seen who'd done it. Really, it took balls for them to call the cops in the first place.
I went to jail for about a week before the charges were finally dropped and I was let go.
It didn't take long for me to figure out jail wasn't where I wanted to be. I was always a 49ers buff, and I watched the 49ers-Bengals Super Bowl from jail. It just broke my heart. But it wasn't quite enough to get me straight, not at that point.
Not too long after that -- in fact, I believe I was out on bail -- I was with Ben in a car when we were pulled over. There were drugs in the car, and the cops arrested us both. The quantity was just enough to charge us with distribution, which is a pretty serious crime. If they'd gone really hard on me, I could have been looking at a jail sentence of several years.
But I didn't have a criminal record, and my friend vouched for me, saying the drugs weren't mine. They put me in a drug program and gave me a year probation, and said if I did okay they would go back to court and reduce the charge to possession of drug paraphernalia. So that's what I did.
It's funny now, I guess, but when I was arrested on that drug charge, I made bail right away. But as I was being bailed out, the first bail bondsman revoked his bail. He thought I was too high risk, so he took his bond back. I came down, thinking I was going to be released, only to find out I wasn't getting out at all. As you can guess, I was pretty upset. Eventually, I did make bail and was let out.
Today, if you look at my rap sheet, you'll see I was convicted for possessing drug paraphernalia, which is a misdemeanor. I'm not making light of it -- those were terrible, stupid things to do, and no one should ever, ever follow my example.
DRUGS AND PARANOIA
People hear about a drug conviction and they automatically think, Oh, that person did a lot of drugs. But in my case, I never really did a lot of drugs. I've just never really been into that.
Smoking weed or marijuana always made me paranoid. I really hate that feeling. One time Ben asked me to hold some stuff for him.
I was home by myself and bored as hell, so I smoked some weed. Then I got paranoid. I was looking out the window every ten minutes, I was so afraid someone was watching me. I moved Ben's stuff about fifty times, going through the house all night. That's what I did, in between eating a gallon of ice cream and a pot of chili.
And while there have certainly been a good number of exceptions, for the most part I'm not even much of a drinker.To this day, I drink here and there when I go out, but not all that much. At home, I rarely drink at all. I've just never enjoyed it all that much.
ASSAULT CASE DROPPED
I was charged with assault one other time, but those charges were also dropped.
It was another instance involving a friend of mine named Chris. We were at a shopping mall, and Chris wanted to get his ear pierced, but he didn't have any money. So we went up to this kid who was the younger brother of this girl we knew, and started picking on him a little. We told him to give Chris some money so he could get his ear pierced. The kid was kind of scared. He said he didn't have any money, but that he had some at home.
Chris didn't want him riding in the car, so we stuffed him in the trunk of his car. It seemed funny at the time, but it was awful. Chris was really hitting this kid a lot. He threw steak knives at his feet, then stole some jewelry from the kid's house.
The police investigated and arrested both of us. I didn't know Chris stole the jewelry at the time -- he didn't tell me until later on. He ended up giving all the jewelry back and they dropped the charges.
It seemed funny at the time, but as I'm writing this I realize it sounds horrible: stuffing a kid in the trunk of a car, beating him up, and stealing his mom's jewelry.
Jesus Christ, what was I thinking?
Copyright © 2007 by World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.