Monday, August 29, 2011

Sad days for 'Nature Boy' Ric Flair

So here's my Ric Flair story. Back in 2004, when his autobiography came out, I wrote a column about it. (I've pasted it to the end of this post.) The column described a lot of the wild parties Flair wrote about in the book. The next morning, my phone rang, and it was Ric Flair. He was very nice. Our conversation went something like this:

"So, Tommy, I've got a little problem with your column. You put a lot about my partying in there."

"Well, Ric, you wrote a lot about it in your book. I took all that from the book."

"Yeah, I understand... but I'm in a little bit of hot water with my wife about it."

"OK... but I'm not sure why she should be mad. Everything I wrote about is in the book."

"Well... I didn't actually show her the book before we published it."

They got divorced not long after.

Aside from family, Ric Flair was one of the most important people in my life growing up -- if you had made me create a personal Mount Rushmore when I was 13, it would've been Flair, Hank Aaron, Sherlock Holmes and Peter Frampton. (Yeah, I didn't get too far with girls.) The Ric Flair I saw on Mid-Atlantic Wrestling was always the coolest guy in the room -- a playboy who talked trash but could always back it up.

But of course that's just TV.

Shane Ryan of wrote a devastating piece last week that details (mostly through courthouse records) Flair's personal and financial decline. We'd written most of it in the paper, one story at a time over the years, but seeing all of it together, it hit like a hammer. I had a hard time reading it.

Flair "retired" three years ago after one last great match with Shawn Michaels. But now he's on TNA wrestling, with a bunch of other used-to-bes and wish-they-weres. He's 62. He might miss the action. He probably needs the money.

Today the news is that he's making noise about suing Grantland... for information that the writer got from Flair's book.

Even with all that, I wish the guy the best. I've never met him, but he's brought me a lot of joy over the years. I hope he finds some of his own.

Here's my column from 2004:

I've just read Ric Flair's new book, "To Be the Man." It's now clear that North Carolina needs some new historical markers.
Here lies the spot where Ric Flair fell down drunk on his kitchen floor while fellow wrestler Terry Funk crawled around the back yard naked, trying to start a fight with a pit bull.
Or: At this hotel bar, Ric Flair wooed a woman by boasting that he had just posed for Playgirl. He hadn't. She married him anyway.
Or: This is the traffic court where Ric Flair discovered that he had committed 82 moving violations in four years.
The problem with most people who write books about themselves is that they haven't done enough to write about.
Ric Flair does not have this problem.
"To Be the Man" came out Tuesday and spent the day in the top 75 at It's written mostly for wrestling geeks (like me).
But there's another layer if you read the book as a Charlottean.
Ric Flair moved here in 1974, spending his first night in an $8 hotel. In the 30 years since, he made it big and so did our town.
Read the book and you realize that Flair's life is the perfect comeback to the gripes people have about Charlotte.
Charlotte, not a party town? You should've been with Flair the night Andre the Giant drank 106 beers.
Charlotte, strait-laced and bland? Our most famous resident has spent the last three decades wearing custom-made robes and slashing his own forehead with a razor blade.
Charlotte, careful with its money? Our guy has personally kept half the IRS in business, racking up $1 million in fines on his taxes.
If you've lived here long, you'll love the local color - Flair runs up a tab at Valentino's, buys his first fancy car at Arnold Palmer Cadillac, hires Bill Diehl as his lawyer.
(His current wife, Beth, gets off one of the best lines, describing their first meeting in Raleigh: "I thought Ric was a pimp. There were about seven women with him, and he didn't look like a normal person.")
He also takes steroids, chugs kamikazes like they're Gatorade, fools around until his first wife leaves him, sells shares in himself to pay off bills, and invites every woman in Baltimore between 18 and 28 to a party at his penthouse.
Dozens show up.
He spends a good portion of the book apologizing for all this - mainly to his wives and four kids. (He doesn't get into his most recent trouble - a lawsuit filed in March by two flight attendants. They say Flair and other wrestlers sexually assaulted and harassed them on a charter flight two years ago.)
But you get the feeling that even though he's sorry that he hurt people, he's not sorry enough to give up all those wild nights.
If you haven't followed wrestling for a while, it's the most real it has ever been.
Yes, the wrestlers still know who's going to win before they get in the ring. But wrestling has lifted its own curtain - everybody admits it's a show, fans know performers' real names, the inner workings of the business are laid out on the table.
Flair (real name: Richard Fliehr) puts a good bit of that in his book. If you want to know what he thinks about why World Championship Wrestling went down, it's here. If you want to know the wrestlers he respects and the ones he can't stand, it's here.
But whether Flair intended it or not, his book is about psychology - and not the kind that makes the fans boo or cheer.
It's about how a guy can do all the wrong things and somehow make you like him. It's about how a performer can get so deep into a character that even he can't tell the difference anymore.
And it's about how you can't sum up any person - much less any city - with a few quick words.
Yep, in many ways this is a pinstriped, tight-collared, Old Testament town.
But sometimes the pinstripes come off. The sequined robe comes on. And our inner Flair comes out.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

REM in CLT in 1981

Canadian music guy Eric Alper posted this on Twitter (he's @ThatEricAlper) today. It's a poster from an R.E.M. show in Charlotte 30 years ago today.

I love that R.E.M. was considered sort of a disco band with an "irresistible dance beat."

Two questions: Does anybody out there remember this show? And is Scorpio still around? I remember hearing about it when I got to town, but it's been years since I've heard anybody mention the place.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Say something nice

From the brilliant folks at Improv Everywhere. I think we should put one of these on every street corner in Charlotte.

Here's the backstory and some more details.

And here's a similar idea we did on this blog a year ago.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Waaaaaaaay overdue

I took a book back to the library this week. My wife had read it for her book group and thought I might like it. "Love Walked In" by Marisa de los Santos -- "exquisite and stylish," blurbed Sarah Jessica Parker. "I read a few pages and put it aside," says me. We got a robo-call from the library saying it was overdue; I listened to it and promptly forgot.

The book sat on our coffee table for a while, and then on the end table. We stacked other books and magazines on top of it. Every so often I'd see a corner peeking out of the pile and say man, we've had that a long time, we should take it back soon.

Charlotte libraries don't stamp the due date in books anymore -- you get it on the receipt, and that was long gone.

"So when was it due?" I asked the librarian.

She smiled.


Some days inertia feels like the most powerful force in the world, stronger than gravity or anger or love.

How many of our problems would vanish if we just quit doing the same stupid things we do every day? Or started doing the things we keep putting off?

I read "The Family Circus" every morning on the comics page. A lot of people love "The Family Circus" -- we find that out at the paper every time we try to get rid of it. In all the years I've read it, I don't think it's ever given me an honest laugh. But it just takes three seconds. Maybe this time Jeffy will be funny. OK, maybe next time.

Routines become habits, and habits become ruts that run so deep it's hard to see out. When inertia kicks in, your mind clicks over to autopilot. You could live your life blindfolded. You know exactly where to go.

That's why one of the best ways to get out of a funk is to change your routine. It can be as simple as driving a different route to work, or turning left instead of right on your morning walk, or sitting on the couch instead of in the easy chair. Those little changes alert your brain that something new is going on. It makes you more aware. You see the world instead of just passing through.

I teach that idea in workshops. But sometimes you forget your own lessons.

The other night I was on the phone with a friend I hadn't heard from in months, and he apologized -- he said he'd been in "hermit mode." Hermit mode can be a comforting place, especially in times like these. If you're not trying to find a job, you're trying to keep one. And if you're not worried about keeping your job, you're worried that whatever you have won't turn out to be enough.

Sometimes all that worry drags you into a dark place. Other times it just picks at the edges of your life. You let a few things slide. You wander around the upper reaches of your TV channels. You make a list of the stuff you need to do. Wow, that's a long list. Maybe tomorrow.

Inertia is a hand on your back, pushing gently. Sometimes it feels good. But you'll never grow unless you push back.

The book went into the car and the car went to the library. I stopped at the ATM on the way, just in case.

The charge was 10 bucks. Our contribution to the library fund. I tried to explain what happened. The librarian just laughed.

"Happens all the time," she said. "We're all a little overdue these days."