Thank you all for coming. I know you guys want to know something about me and my background, so here goes:
When I was a lot younger, I was a jobber — and one of the best. Actually, I began my career as a regular professional wrestler and it was only later that I was given what we used to call a job — that’s when they hire you to lose a match. When I began, I was a real wrestler but I lost as many matches as I won. My boss, Mr. Max Presser, who called himself “The King of Pro Wrestling,” didn’t like me as a hero in the ring, but he loved the way I looked when I was defeated, so he hired me to do more and more jobs and have more and more losses. Eventually, he decided I should lose all the time, and that was how audiences came to know me and what they expected of me.
Having established my identity in the ring, Presser felt I should change my name. My real name was George Jefferson, which my boss didn’t think was catchy enough. For a while, he toyed with the idea of Pretty Boy Jefferson, but then he felt — and I agreed — that no one was going to call me “Pretty Boy” because I have such an unpleasant and pock-marked face that most people didn’t notice me or didn’t want to notice me. So one day Presser came up with this whole new idea and decided to name me “Kid America” because, he said, I was supposed to represent America and every American’s hopes and dreams when I got in the ring.
I’ve got to admit the idea frightened me a little: I was going to represent America but I was always going to lose. Wasn’t there something not right about that? But my boss told me that this was what he called “an irony,” and that it would make the audiences find me particularly disgusting. And he said that any PR is always good PR and that I would become a celebrity that audiences loved to hate but would always come to see. So Kid America it was.
In my first match I was pitted against Armando, the Puerto Rican Stallion, who was such a poor wrestler that even I could have beaten him. But I took my first job as Kid America very seriously, and I pretended to be destroyed every time he punched me or put a wrestling hold on me. That was really hard work — pretending to be beaten by an opponent who was so lousy — but I did it anyway, and eventually he managed to pin me to the mat and paraded around the ring, crowing like a cock, even though I had more to do with his victory than he did.
But Presser saw how phony it all looked, and he decided that from then on I had to fight some real pro wrestlers. Not that all pro wrestling isn’t phony, you understand, but the best wrestlers are pretty fit and they can throw each other around the ring in a way that looks real and sometimes even leads to bruises, concussions, or early death. And the thing was: I was signed on to be a jobber, which meant that I couldn’t protect myself and I had to let the other wrestlers do anything to me that they wanted. Maybe I should have known better, but, let’s face it, I wasn’t fit to do anything else and I needed the bread.
My first big-ticket match was against a Russian, Ivan the Abominable, and from the beginning I could see that the fact I represented America made him really ferocious and determined to do me in. After throwing me around the ring and suplexing me — twice — he hurled me into a turnbuckle and then charged into me, crushing my body with his full 320 pounds. As soon as he removed himself, I collapsed onto the canvas and would have been happy just to lie there. But Ivan picked me up by the hair, started cursing at me in Russian, and then threw me over his back, wedging his arm across my gut in a move we call “The Back-Breaker.” I kept screaming in pain until finally, when he was sure he had won, he dropped me on the canvas like a sack of potatoes and stomped his boot on my chest while the referee counted me out.
You might think this would have driven me out of wrestling, but my boss loved the way that defeat looked and said that from then on my matches would be even more realistic. So my next major opponent was Jimmy Chin, known in the wrestling world as “The Great Wall of China.” Jimmy specialized in the martial arts, and he enjoyed softening up his opponent with karate kicks to the stomach and even to the kidneys, followed by a violent karate chop to the neck. Jimmy was especially brutal with me, so even when he threw me on the canvas so hard that I was nearly unconscious, he would still pick me up and karate-chop me again and again till I was half-dead. Then he paraded around the ring waving the Communist Chinese flag.
But the opponent I really hated was “The Iranian Butcher,” Ahmed Akbar, who started each match by telling the audience he was going to kill every American he met. Ahmed never even tried to wrestle me: he would simply punch me, kick me, pick me up, hold me upside down, and then slam my head onto the canvas, nearly breaking my neck with that horrible move we call a Pile-Driver. Then he would look down at me and scream obscenities at me in Farsi. Audiences went wild seeing us fight this way, and I guess out of patriotism because of all the wars in the Middle East I was forced to fight this guy again and again. After our third bout, I had to be taken to the hospital on a stretcher, and a local paper, maybe remembering my matches with the Russian, Chinese, and Iranian wrestlers, ran the headline: “Beating the Crap Out of America.”
When I finally got out of intensive care, I told Presser that I couldn’t take it anymore, and he said that I’d only have to do my jobs with less ferocious opponents. So I agreed to take on Frankie Williamson, known to our audiences as the heroic “Black Knight” — but the end was pretty much the same. Frankie liked to climb up onto the turnbuckle, beat his chest like Tarzan, and then throw himself down on me, feet first, rattling every bone in my body and making me wish I was in another line of work. Frankie loved to make these grand statements like “You’re dead, America!” and he made sure to step on my chest violently before he left the ring.
When I complained that even that was too much, Presser set up a match between me and Mad Beulah, the Women’s Intercontinental Champion. Here was a battle that I thought I might actually win, but you’ve got to remember that I was hired to do a job, so once again I suffered a humiliating defeat as Beulah kicked me in the groin, smashed me in the mouth multiple times, and then sat on top of me filing her nails while they counted me out. The local paper described this mess as “America Loses Again.”
At this point I was beginning to wish that maybe, just once, I could be permitted to win, but Presser said that my fans loved to see me lose and that the only battle I might win is if he let me wrestle a girl scout. So I continued to struggle on, never complaining, and I fought and lost to Pedro, the Mexican Jumping Bean; Thunder Cloud, the Navajo with the Mojo; and even Percy Snub-Bottle, the totally gay wrestler, who would spray perfume on me before throwing me down on the mat and turning me into a fashionable but blood-stained carpet. I lost to so many wrestlers and I was smashed onto the canvas so many times that I can’t keep track of them all. And every time I lost, my boss swore that it was my defeats that kept the audiences coming. “You represent the USA,” he would say, “and they’re all cheering for you.” Sometimes, if I wasn’t unconscious, I could even hear their cheers.
But my career was starting to destroy my personal life. I never made a lot of money, and what I made was usually eaten up by my managers and my doctors’ bills. My two sons kept getting ridiculed at school and they’d come home crying and saying that they hated me because of my work. My older son, the teenager, started playing with drugs and was picked up by the police. Finally my wife couldn’t take it anymore and she left me. She said it was “for the kids’ sake,” but I know she was as disgusted with my life as I was. By the time I was 40, I was all alone, and with my bruises and cuts and my reputation as a loser, I had just about zero chance of ever finding another wife.
So, despite Presser’s urgings and his threats to sue me, I told him I was quitting the sport because I needed a fresh start. At that point, he was really compassionate and he said: “Who would want a washed-up wreck like you?” But I knew that if I worked hard enough, I would find the dream job, one that would fit me and my talents perfectly. After all, I am Kid America.
At first I thought of becoming a priest, seeing as how I had struggled my whole life and people in the parish would surely identify with me. Then I thought of becoming a used car salesman, because everything I had done was so phony. But one day I had a brainstorm, and from then on I knew what my future would be: I would run for president of the United States.
After all, to run for president, you have to be willing to fight for everybody — and fight as dirty as possible. You have to be willing to sell out all your friends and have no shame about it. You’ve got to be willing to stand in front of an audience and pretend to do stuff you can’t do and know stuff you don’t know. In short, you have to be as phony as a $13 bill, just like a pro wrestler.
My campaign manager says that my platform is a definite winner. I promise to get the government to spend at least three times as much money as it takes in. I promise to start 12 new wars that we can’t win and don’t even want to win. And most important, if through some miracle I meet a truly honest politician, I promise to pile-driver the guy and put him out of his misery.
So, folks, this is my first press conference, and my manager tells me that I’m already way ahead in the polls. We’ve got a long, ugly fight ahead of us but, believe me, I’m ready for it.
See you in November when we count the votes!
Cheiten, a Princeton-based writer and playwright, has had his works produced by Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell and Princeton Summer Theater, among others.