The Bull

Has-been pro-wrestler in the limelight again


For more than twenty-five years, wrestling has been life for Cliff “The Bull” Bates. His passion for the lights, the display, for the jeers and gasps and the roar of the crowd, has driven him for so long he doesn’t know what a life without it might be like. He used to be on top: television and groupies, action figures and video games with his likeness. After some scandal, a divorce, and a series of arrests, his life devolved into a series of stints in rehab punctuated by heroin binges and whichever wrestling matches he can worm his way into. These days the crowd is younger, and they don’t remember who he used to be. Who he still is at heart. They don’t appreciate the craft the way they used to. The performance, the melodrama, and the technique have all been pushed out of the way to make way for young toughs more eager to bash someone’s face in than to put on a good show.

Life’s been rough for some time. Kicked out of the WWF by Vince MacMahon for what Bates’s manager at the time referred to as “drug-related lapses in performance,” Cliff first turned to boxing as a way to seek the public approval he craved. Promoted by his old wrestling agent, Ammar Hassal, he toured the amateur boxing circuit for almost three years in the mid 90s. His return to wrestling went unnoticed by the public, but felt like coming home. How he had survived without the crowd he couldn’t say. The people had changed and the sport had changed with it, but he could still rile a crowd up. He could still get them to feel something, to cheer him or to laugh, to hate him when he wanted it.

He’s muscular, but saying he’s in good shape for his age would be misleading. Wrestling is hard on the body, and he’s been doing it for a quarter of a century. Heroin’s hard on the body too, and he’s been doing that for a decade. Things are starting to break down, parts that can’t be easily replaced. The Bull can take a lot of punishment, but he’s been taking it for a long, long time. If you asked him about it, and got him drunk or high enough to elicit some honesty, he’d tell you he expects to die a wrestler, and pretty soon at that.

He was married for nine years to an angel named Charlise. She wised up after yet another failed attempt at rehab and divorced Cliff, reclaimed her maiden name Hemphill, and took their daughter with her when she left. Charlise is a lawyer these days, having passed the New York bar shortly after leaving her narcotic-ravaged ex behind her. She’s never given up on Cliff. She knows he’s a decent man underneath the posturing and his sickness. And she knows he could lead a decent life if he turned his skills toward something that wasn’t slowly killing him physically. Their daughter Laurie, for her part, wants nothing to do with the man that says he’s her father. He gave her nothing, and wasn’t really there even during the brief time he was physically present.

Cliff was paying a visit in New York City, where Laurie attends NYU and where Charlise practices law, when he caught a live television broadcast of a man floating up into the air to prevent the destruction of the World Trade Center by, apparently, stopping two planes in mid-air and bringing them mostly unharmed to the ground. One impact couldn’t quite be prevented, and the toppled tower was brought to precarious rest, propped between two smaller buildings.

After first calling Charlise to make sure she would take care of Laurie, Cliff ran out to get a look at the scene, and maybe to help out. He had to help out. Surely there was something he could do. If he showed up and proved himself a hero, they’d have to put him on the news, wouldn’t they?

The Bull

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