Goodbye, Dream

I’ve probably just concluded a record amount of backspacing and deleting in a single document as far as my writing career goes. It was brought up that I was more than welcomed, and in fact encouraged, to write up a few or as many words as I wanted on the subject of the passing of “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Yes, this is an article that involves a professional wrestler, and if that fact has caused you to scoff, roll your eyes, or do that annoying heavy sniff that people do, then I offer my sincere apologies. It’s very unfortunate that an accident or birth defect caused your head to be firmly planted so deeply into your ass. This is a write-up about a pro “wrassler,” but it’s also about a legend, a hero, and by all accounts an all-around good man.

Now I said I had a lot typed up that I deleted, and that’s true. I purposefully waited a bit after the news broke to write anything on this subject, as I wanted to let it all sink in and approach the writing process with a calm head and at least my usual half-assed sort of organization. There have been a lot of matter-of-fact, respectful-yet-emotionless pieces written on Big Dust, and the more I read my “calm, cool-headed” draft, the more I realized I was writing just another fluff piece. While not disparaging in any way, it failed to express my true feelings over this legend and over our tremendous loss. So whatever follows after this sentence is simply one man spewing forth whatever comes to his mind as rapidly as it can possibly be expressed, without a care for whether or not it really makes any sense at all. In other words this is in a fashion befitting Dusty, a man who never experienced a moment of second guessing if something he said made any earthly sense.

Illustration of Dusty Rhodes wearing a black leotard with yellow dots, sits upon a heavenly cloud, strumming a little angelic harp. He also has wings and a halo.

I guess the best thing I can do is talk about my early childhood and just how Dusty Rhodes found his way into it and influenced me in many different ways. Growing up in southern Virginia during the 80’s, I was right in the heart of NWA (later WCW) country. I lived just a short distance from Greensboro, NC, Charlotte, NC, and Roanoke, VA, all of which were hot-spots for the organization that employed the likes of Ric Flair (WOOOOOOOO), Magnum TA, the Road Warriors, and of course “Da Bulla Da Woods” Dusty Rhodes himself. Countless childhood nights were spent at these live events, and even more were spent glued in front of my television on weekends waiting for 6:05 PM to roll around so I could see those same guys get into whatever hijinks were planned. Yes, even at a young age I did know it was planned out, but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment. I had a pretty good idea my Saturday morning cartoons weren’t quite on the up and up either, but I still plopped down to watch those while I consumed what may as well have been sugar cubes in milk.

Dusty stood out for a lot of reasons. His biggest asset (not a weight joke) was his speaking ability. Nobody was or ever will be quite as good on the microphone. Even if you knew wrestling’s big secret, Dusty still made you believe. He commanded your attention. If he was angry and out for blood, you feared for his opponent. If he was hurtin’ and low, you were right there in the dumps with him. He conveyed emotions, the full spectrum, and the ride he took you on was one that you were more than happy to join. You believed in his cause, and if you didn’t at first, he would surely convince you before that 2 minute promo was over. Dusty Rhodes could talk a priest into NOT molesting a child.

Another standout was his style of dress. After typing that sentence I don’t know if “style” was a word I should have used. He at least had a “unique” sense of fashion, including but not limited to:

  • Frizzed out perm-ish hair with a too-small suit
  • A top hat with a CHICKEN CLAW accessory
  • A jean jacket over a polo shirt
  • The shirts of hundreds of different gyms that Dusty probably never set foot in
  • Sleeveless shirt, neck bandanna, cowboy boots with goddamn jeans tucked in to them
  • His polka dots
Illustration of Dusty Rhodes wearing a floppy cowboy hat and a denim jacket, another blue jacket under it, and a bold red tee under that. He's yelling, with spittle flying. Words surround him saying Fashion Icon.

Then of course the main thing anyone who has seen a picture of Big Dust chuckled about: his physique — or lack thereof. Even though it was just roughly the beginning of the steroid-aided muscle man era, most wrestlers were in decent-to-excellent athletic shape. Dusty was not. I think this is when most folks writing about him try to be funny and do that stupid hinting-but-never-directly-saying thing, but I’ll skip all that. Dusty was fat. He was fat, and not only a few pounds out. He was WAY out there. But you know what? So was I. I was a big kid growing up (“husky,” as the old folks say), and I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel a little better about myself to see a big guy making it happen in the ring and wrestling 30-60 minute matches without being reduced to a heart attack victim.

I could say more, but just speaking on Dusty’s size has once again caused me to re-plan what’s to follow in this piece. I could list a lot more things about Dusty, give you some facts on how he helped forever change the wrestling world, and offer some of my favorite moments of his. But instead, I think I’m just going to conclude this by offering a childhood story.

As I said, Dusty was a big guy and I was sure enough a big kid. To be honest, I weighed about as much from 8 – 12 as I do now as an adult. My friends and I would always play “Wrestling,” with each of us choosing which guy from the television we were, planning out our matches, and then considering it a fun time if it didn’t end with the same old weenie-assed kids crying. All of my friends weren’t just slimmer than me; they were in relatively good boyhood shape. They would of course snatch up characters like Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Sting, and the other in-shape, muscled-up guys. On the few times I tried to choose such a character to play, criticism and shouts of wrong-doing would ring out. Apparently we had to choose guys who we “looked the part” for. I don’t know why I never called any of my friends out on choosing muscle guys when brooms were being made with bigger sticks than their arms. But then again, I held back anger often and found it more efficient to save it all up and flip out over minor things like the Back To The Future 2 ending.

With all of these top names off the plate for me, I was normally reserved to picking from some of the lesser, bad guy wrestlers. This meant of course I’d hardly ever “win” any of our contests, and for the most part aside from some cheap shots we planned for me to get in, I just played the part of punching bag. Dusty was never on our “main roster” of talent we picked from. I’m not sure why, either. So it came as a great shock to my friends when, after looking over the lackluster remains on our list of names, I pretty much said, “Fuck it, I’m Dusty Rhodes.” I can’t recall if I said “fuck it” or not, but I was at the age where I thought it was really cool to curse even though I didn’t know how to do so properly, so it was probably more of a “Fuckin’ ass hell shit yeah, I’m Dusty Rhodes!”

I got laughed at, hard. It didn’t bother me so much at this point, as I had hit that wall that all fat kids eventually hit. The wall which the insults and jabs of your peers smash against. You probably know someone who has launched into a “Fat Kid Rage” at some point in time. It’s the point in time where an overweight kid has reached the height of the abuse they are willing to take, and it usually results in at least two or three skinny kids going to the hospital and an empty carton of ice cream later in the day. Nobody went to the hospital that day, but they paid. They paid with all the bionic elbows (a little harder than agreed upon), punches, and dancin’ I could throw at them. During my interview segment I didn’t let up, mixing in the very stuff I had heard Dusty say on television with my own take on Dusty-isms thrown in. For the first time in a long while I felt good about myself, and I walked amongst my friends with my head held high.

This illustration is meant to be of a boy aged twelve or so, in an off-white tank top and sweatbands on his wrists. He is also wearing a big cardboard championship belt that says "wrasslin'" on it. On the side is written "portrait of the author as a young fat boy."

I told them I was going to play Dusty every time from then on out, and they all agreed that was an awesome idea… if I just didn’t hit them so hard next time. I had earned a little respect from them that day thanks to the Dream. Not that it mattered, because those kids were a bunch of morons for the most part (three out of four have served time at one point in their life so far). What mattered was I had respect for myself, and recognized that even if I was a little larger, I could still contribute and not just be the butt of the joke. Mind you, this isn’t one of those pieces telling you that it’s OKAY to stay 75 pounds overweight. Drop that shit as soon as you can.

The biggest compliment was after announcing my permanent role as Dusty. One of my friends told me, “You got to. You’re totally Dusty!” Since this guy was hooked on smack by high school, this may in fact be the only time in his life he was right. I was Dusty, and when I looked on that television every weekend, Dusty was me. Dusty was you. Dusty was every severely-average guy or gal who didn’t LOOK like they would ever amount to anything but did. He was every person who ever said, “Go fuck ya’self, if you weeel,” to everyone who told them they couldn’t do something. He called himself “The Common Man,” and he was the finest representative the common man could ever ask for. I sure did love Dusty Rhodes, and though he’s gone physically, I’ve got a good feeling that The Dream will live on for quite some time. A sincere thank you to Dusty, for helping a lard of a kid feel a little better about himself, laugh more than cry, and understand the proper technique for piledriving another kid onto a bag of dog food.

See you at Da Pay Windah, Dream.

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