Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Independent Bookstore Day in Tampa Bay

 Here is my trip to various independent bookstores in Tampa Bay on Independent Bookstore Day 2024.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

One Last Drive to Minneola

I’ve been putting off writing this for a few reasons. One, I wanted to attend all that needed to be attended, and two, I wanted to give time and space to others to express their views before I express mine. I don’t mind bringing up the rear, and in their world, they go first.

Fifteen years ago, there was very little development northbound on State Road 27 between I-4 and Minneola City Hall. Once you got off the interstate and past the truck stops, there were a few lights in Clermont and a whole lot of nothing before arriving at Minneola’s one traffic light. The nothingness was so expansive that in February 2009, the first time I drove up SR 27 to Minneola, I thought I was lost. After a few minutes of nothingness, I turned around and drove back to Tampa.

True story.

Once I figured out where I was going, Minneola City Hall became a regular drive. Although many times I took a friend or two, and even once took a legendary pro wrestling manager, I often made the journey solo.

While friends were always nice company, the reason I drove to Minneola City Hall was to see World Xtreme Wrestling, the famous federation run by Afa Anoa’i and his family.

In the beginning, my reason for driving to Minneola was simple, to support my brother, Bryan Maddox. If Bryan was in a show, I drove to see him. Prior to wXw, following his career led me to matches all over Florida. I saw matches in roller skating rinks, VFWs, bars, television studios, and the occasional civic center. Once he settled on wXw, I settled on wXw.

As the commercial says, wXw is better than the rest.

Over the years, I became a wXw regular. I was the heckler with the afro wig. A cheerleader, one with a three-foot afro wig instead of pom-poms. A tradition that started with the Afro-Squad at Florida Championship Wrestling travelled to Minneola and found a new home. Whereas I was part of a crew at FCW, at wXw I was the only afro-clad super fan. In wXw, the afro wig got bigger and I got louder. I developed a reputation as the guy who jeered the bad guys and started chants for the good guys.

“Perfect Loser!” – to Richard “Perfect Creation” Criato. Still one of my favorite chants.

“No one likes you!” – to any and all bad guys. Especially the arrogant type.

“Get up! I have money on you!” – always funny when a good guy is getting pummeled.

“You got him right where you want him!” – when a good guy wrestler is getting beaten by a bigger bad guy.

“WXW! WXW!” – when wXw was invaded by FCW and years later, Battlefield Wrestling.

And so many more. Whenever I brought a friend, I would warn them of my reputation and antics. Sometimes they joined the trash talking. Sometimes they got caught in the heckling crossfire. But it was always good fun and always clean.

Being a wXw regular and Bryan Maddox’s brother introduced me to so many great people at wXw. First and foremost, the Anoa’i Family. From Pops to Momma Lynn to Vale to other family members who occasionally visited, the entire family treated me like family. Whether it was giving me a warm welcome when I returned from Afghanistan, allowing me to visit their home after a show, sending me emails when I was in Qatar, asking about my brother during his times away from the ring, coming to my book signing, or being at my Dad’s Celebration of Life, I am forever thankful for their kindness and support.

Before I discuss the regular roster, I want to mention that because of wXw, I have some amazing Haku stories. Haku is a legend of the ring. A former king and one of the toughest men in pro wrestling history. But I never approached him as an awestruck fan. His daughter, Vika, was at FSU the same time I was. Her college roommate was friends with my college roommate. When I first approached Haku, I asked about his family. We talked about life in Orlando versus Tampa. He paid my tab at Buffalo Wild Wings one night after I complained about lack of service. He sent me a birthday video last year. He gave me a hug and chop to the chest at the last wXw show. Haku is the man. Getting to know him wouldn’t have been possible without wXw.

Because of wXw, I also broke bread and drank beer with Jey Uso in a Tampa sports bar. When I explained to Jey that his family has treated my family like family for many years, he asked me who. When I told him I knew his Uncle Afa, Aunt Lynn, Cousin Vale, etc, he invited me to hang out with him and also paid my tab. We closed down a few bars when WWE was holding temporary residency at Tropicana Field. That never would have happened without wXw.

Other people I crossed paths with because of wXw include Harry Smith at the same sports bar I met Jey, Tamina Snuka at a Qdoba in Tampa, and two women on a nature trail in Hawaii who commented on my “Anoa’i Strong” t-shirt and told me about their own Samoan lineage.

Now to the wXw roster. I have a lot of respect for the wrestlers of wXw. I have only been in a wrestling ring twice in my life. It is not my place. My place is outside the ring with a big afro wig on my head. But to those who put their bodies on the line at wXw, thank you. To my brother, Bryan Maddox, to his longtime tag partner, Ethan Essex, to his former manager, Rico Moon, to Nick Nero and Ace Radic (aka Justin Bieber), Maluta to Mandrake, Vertigo to Deathrow, Hound Dogg to Hudson, Gus Money to Gariston Spears, Mercedes to Sarona, Sugaa to Shawn Spears, TNT to Tony Ice, D-Ramos to E.R.A. to Alex G to the Big O, and many, many others, thank you for years of dedication and entertainment. I hope to see you at other shows soon.

In my 15 years of wXw fandom, one of my favorite moments happened in Summer 2023 when Battlefield Pro Wrestling “invaded” wXw. I arrived at Minneola City Hall wearing my afro and a wXw t-shirt. Before I could make my way to a seat, the wXw wrestlers sitting ringside chanted “One of us” to me. I was representing wXw and they wanted me to sit with them. Of course, I didn’t attack Battlefield wrestlers when they did, but I did join them in booing and jeering the invading roster. For them to acknowledge me as “one of them”, even in the crowd, was super cool.

Now to the fellow fans. Through wXw, I became family with many other regularly attending fans. We would always chat and catch up every month. From the Clacks to Santa Claus to everyone who bought my book to the kids who thought my afro was real to the kids who swore it wasn’t, thank you for making wXw more enjoyable. I can’t count how many new fans at wXw asked me if I was part of the show or told me that I added to their enjoyment. Thank you to the fans who laughed at my heckling and thank you to the fans who joined my chants. I also hope to see all y’all at other shows soon.

wXw provided me with 15 years of entertainment and introduced me to so many good people, but the best thing wXw did was make me that much prouder of my brother. I saw Bryan win titles, lose titles, get cheered, get booed, get a stinkface from Rikishi, meet his idols, and eventually make the wXw Hall of Fame. I’ll admit I cried a little when he received his well-deserved Hall of Fame plaque.

Weeks ago, when I started writing this essay, I thought I was making my last drive to Minneola. Afa the Wild Samoan announced April 13 was the last wXw show. Twenty-seven years, to include fifteen in Florida, was coming to an end. I was ready to tear up. During the show, however, Afa Junior took the mic and announced he was going to continue hosting wrestling shows in Minneola. We don’t know when, we don’t know who, and we don’t know how. But we are going to hold Junior to his word.

Instead of saying good-bye to Minneola, the wXw Grand Finale was instead the closing of a great chapter. It was end of the shows hosted by Afa, his wife Lynn, and their daughter Vale, the central nervous system of wXw. They have to circle the wagons and take care of Pops, who has been battling health issues lately. The Grand Finale was their finale.

These days, countless condos and complexes line State Road 27 from I-4 to Minneola City Hall. The nothingness is gone. The area is growing and more things are happening. City Hall itself is getting a massive upgrade. But after April 13th one thing will be missing.

World Xtreme Wrestling.

Thank you, Afa, for putting on such great shows for 15 years. Thank you, Mom and Vale, for all you did. Thank you to the wrestlers and the fans. I love you all and I will see you soon.

P.S. After the second-to-last show, someone asked me if the afro wig will be retired if wXw closed. I don’t think it will be. The Afro-Squad started in FCW and has been at many different organizations statewide. I also don’t think my WXW or Anoa’i Strong shirts will be retired either. As a matter of fact, they will probably be my regular attire to all wrestling shows from here on out. Although I will be at whatever show in wherever, Florida, my heart will always be at wXw.

P.P.S. I still can’t believe I missed The Rock.

Friday, April 19, 2024

Signing Books at the Ale and the Witch - Sunday April 21 2024


I am very happy to announce another book signing! 

On Sunday, April 21, 2024, I will be at The Ale and the Witch beer garden in beautiful St Petersburg, Florida from 5pm to 8pm.

This will be my first signing at The Ale and the Witch and I am excited. They do a Blues Jam on selected Sundays and I am signing while the band is playing, which is always great synergy.

Come on out and say hi!

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Not so Serious Movie Review: Damn Yankees


I finally watched the movie Damn Yankees. In March of 2023, I read the novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop, the book from which Damn Yankees is based. The movie and the musical took the novel to another level as most people now associate the story with the Damn Yankees title and not the book's original title.

Several of the reviews for Curveball at the Crossroads have mentioned Damn Yankees, inspiring me to find the movie and the book. There are some similarities, although my novel is based more on blues music and southern folklore. Damn Yankees is a more generic Faustian tale.

What I liked:

  • As far as I remember, the movie stuck pretty true to the novel. 
  • It's light, quick, and fun - an easy watch. 
  • The Yankees lose. Which is always a good thing.

Being a musical and made in the 1950s, the movie doesn't get too deep into the dark side of a deal with the Devil. Ray Walston keeps the Devil humorous and mischievous. He is evil, but with a quick wit. After working with the Devil in my novel, I like seeing how the Devil is portrayed in other works.

My biggest critique of the movie has to be why "Who's Got the Pain" was part of the production. While impressive for its dancing, it doesn't advance the story at all.

If it wasn't a musical, the movie could have dove deeper into the characters. I thought Lola was especially overrated. She is a side character at best and definitely doesn't deserve to be the focus of the poster. But Gwen Verdon is an amazing dancer and steals the show in her dancing scenes, and that's the focus of musicals, hence she is the biggest face on the poster. 

On a related note, no offense to Gwen Verdon, but she doesn't come off as a temptress very well. The fake accent scene didn't make sense and not until the end does the viewer get the idea that Joe Hardy might even like Lola. She is more concept than character. The novel version of Lola is a bit more tempting. Neither are as seductive as Kim Bassinger in The Natural, however.

Overall, Damn Yankees is recommended. Especially if you have read Curveball at the Crossroads. I also recommend reading The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, which I like to think is Curveball at the Crossroads's spiritual predecessor.

Side note: I realized after watching Damn Yankees that the song "Heart" is from the musical. I have seen the video of the 1969 Mets on the Ed Sullivan Show performing the song many times but never knew where it was from. Mystery solved.

By the way, could someone look less excited than Nolan Ryan being forced to sing on late night television?