Do they know its Christmas?
« on: December 26, 2017, 11:58:21 PM »
The Bobby Franchise Center.

Zack read those words over and over again, until they meant nothing.

The Bobby Franchise Center.

Sitting inside the loft in that very structure, Zack hoped reading those words aloud would desensitize him to the anxiety of stripping them off the wall.

The Bobby Franchise Center.
The Bobby Franchise Center.

That moment never came though, and soon he found his eyes wandering, finding more things to occupy his mind - the wrestling ring in the center of the building, the toppled balance beams adjacent to it, the portrait of Jesus Christ hung high on the wall. No new trophy hung next to it after his championship bout with Natalie King at Melee 3, not like the portrait of Christ he’d purchased at the Jesus Freak Camp gift shop as a memento for his victory over Carlos Cruz. The blank spot on the wall was all that caught his eye now.

As he pulled a pad of paper to jot down something on, he looked to the left of said blank spot to the portrait of Bobby Franchise and felt the eyes of old man staring daggers into him.

It should’ve been easy to distance himself from Franchise after all of his legal issues came to light, but despite the PR headache, Fantana still felt beholden to the old man for all of the support he’d given him over the years. After all, it was during the darkest stretch of his career that Fantana had confided in Bobby the most.

Before he could put pen to paper, Zack folded his arms and leaned back into his chair.

“Thought this place was all about the kids.”

Zack nearly jumped out of his chair until he realized that the portrait wasn’t speaking to him. No, it was the genuine article. Bobby Franchise had just stepped into the room.

“Uh, sure, I think we got one in there.”

Zack leaned forward in his chair and peered through the glass window in front of him and into the boardroom where some sort of meeting looked to be going down, confirming his own suspicion.

“I’m saying you’ve now dedicated a quarter of your square footage to a boardroom.”

Franchise made no effort to mask his contempt for the idea.

“And all I’m saying is, I am a very influential man with a ton of social capital, so why am I spending it all in one place?”

“I don’t really know, kid. You’re mixing your metaphors.”

“Listen. Why should I limit my scope to a singular generation, when I can inspire every demographic? What if I can turn this place into a…”

Zack paused momentarily before his eureka moment came with a finger snap.

“Fantanasy factory.”

As Fantana scribbled that idea down on paper, Bobby narrowed his gaze onto the pad.

“They’re pushing you to rename the facility because of the subpoenas--”


Before Bobby had even finished coughing out the word ‘subpoenas’, Zack had responded with an affirmative nod of the head. Contrary to what his fashion sense might tell you, Bobby Franchise could usually read a room pretty well and Zack didn’t make a habit of lying to him.

“But worry not. I’ve got this under control, my man.”

Zack tapped a button on the table and leaned back into his chair. The speakers on the table whined before the audio leveled out and any sort of discernible conversation from the within the boardroom could be heard.

“Okay, that appears to be the consensus.”

Franchise approached the glass to take a look for himself.

Inside, Zack’s public relations representative, Kelly Brandt, sat on one side of the table, a projector shining onto the wall over her left shoulder. Encircling the rest of the table were a half-dozen others, a medley of characters who’d do any college brochure proud. Whatever they were voting for, it appeared to be a clean sweep for Angelica Vaughn, with each of them holding up a dry erase board spelling out her name.

“By all accounts, you find the woman on the left to be real, thoughtful, polite, and genuine, while you tend to believe the man on the right is corporate, phony, and…”

Kelly referenced a notepad quickly.

“In Kyle’s words, a ‘doo-doo head’. Is that correct?”

Kelly turned her attention to the small child at the table. He nodded his head.

“Alright. No surprises there. You may put your whiteboards down and we’ll move on to the next slide.”

As Kelly tallied the votes on her notepad, the six-person focus group cleared their boards with a dry eraser. Brandt clicked her mouse and a new image popped up on the projector. This time Adam Wolfe appeared amidst a slew of his puppets, while Zack Fantana, dressed in his Sunday best, remained on the right side.

“Same question as before, ladies and gentlemen.”

Kelly looked around the room, studying the expressions of each and every voter before they wrote down their answers. Some barely required any time to formulate a response while others took a beat before deciding. One man with a patchy beard and disheveled hair crunched into his marker with his teeth, bending to the pressure of it all. Kelly noticed his unease and placed her hand atop his own trembling hand.

“Allow me to remind me that there is no right or wrong answer here, Ron. Just be honest. Based on the footage you’ve seen today, who on this screen do you find the most genuine?”

Squeezing Ron’s hand, Kelly smiled warmly.


Ron’s eyes darted back and forth from left to right, and soon enough, he was smiling, too, though he had considerably less teeth to show for it.


Ron scribbled down his answer as the others waited patiently.

“Okay, it’s time to reveal your votes.”

As everyone lifted up their whiteboards one-by-one, Kelly scanned the room, taking in the results.

“Huh, I’m seeing... one, two, three, four votes for Adam Wolfe. Would anyone like to explain their decision?”

A middle aged woman in a purple cardigan raised her hand.

“Yes, Bernice?”

“He just seems more family friendly.”

“His latest mental health evaluation doesn’t concern you?”

“He’s funny,” Kyle giggled, as if anyone asked for his opinion.

“You know what? He is funny,” a familiar looking man in a pair of blue jeans in and a purple polo said, erasing his vote for Fantana off of the board and replacing it with a vote for Adam Wolfe.

“Um, Pat, you really shouldn’t allow the others to sway your vote, sir.”

Kelly turned to the end of the table.

“Ron, I noticed that you picked The Franchinger. Might I ask… why?”

“Oooh noo,” Ron exclaimed, his nasal whine assaulting the eardrums of everyone in the room. “I did it again,” he muttered, swaying in his chair, before burying his head in his hands and tugging at the hair on his head.

“No, no, Ron. It’s fine. I, um…”

Kelly spun in her chair, squinting at the projected image on the wall, and sure enough, The Franchinger was in the background of the image, photobombing Adam Wolfe.

“I did not intend for the, um, Franchinger to be eligible in this vote, but that was my oversight. Tell me more about why you selected The Franchinger.”

Ron peaked through his fingers upon Kelly’s reassurance, dropping a few small clumps of hair on the table. He looked around at the others staring at him repulsed with hesitation, but Kelly prodded him.

“Please, Ron. Please. The Franchinger?”

Ron dropped his hands to the table and looked back up at the projection on the wall, all the while continuing to sway.

“I guess… I guess I just find him more relatable?”

Intrigued, Kelly clicked her pen.

“And you do understand that The Franchinger is a finger puppet, sir?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do, I do. But that’s just it, ma’am. He’s grounded. He doesn’t try to be anything he’s not.”

A high pitched howl resembling the words “It’s a FUCKING PUPPET.” traveled through the wall, with each of the last four syllables coinciding with a resounding thud on the mirror. She winced, removing the earpiece from her ear and then abruptly flipped her notebook closed.

“And I believe that completes our study.”

With a disarming smile, Kelly slid her chair back and promptly stood up, gesturing towards the door. All the while, the mirror steadily reverberated over her right shoulder.

“Again, I want to thank you all for taking part in this focus group.”

After Kelly showed the members of the focus group the door, she stepped into the observing room where Bobby and Zack still remained.

“What the hell was that, Kelly?” [/color]Zack asked as he collected a upturned chair off the floor next to the one-way mirror.

“I’m merely there to collect the data.”

“These people don’t know anything about wrestling. Pat? I know him, for God’s sake. He’s biased. Ron seems unwell to say the least. And Kyle… Don’t even get me started on Kyle. He can’t even spell Starlight.”

“Well, he’s six years old.”

“Exactly. So why are we pretending as if he’s got his finger on the pulse?”

“You wanted a range of demographics and I gave you that.”

“What you’ve given me are the dregs of society.

The people you brought me are not ‘woke’. They’re garbage people - cockroaches that can only survive in the deepest, darkest corners of the earth, like a halfway house or Walmart after midnight.”

Fantana paused.

“Is that where you shop for these people?”

Kelly rolled her eyes.

“They don’t know the real me. Look at what I’ve done for F2W. ‘Last One Standing’ match. That’s because of me. I dragged that company into the future.”

Zack clenched his fist and closed his eyes, whispering.

“A future with gender-neutral pronouns.”

Zack opened his eyes again and continued, having missed Bob’s exaggerated eye rolling.

“Brennan Devlin would have that future erased, and they--”

Zack pointed at the glass as the focus group finished filing out of the room.

“These idiots -- some of them believe him to be more genuine because he’s quote ‘#unfiltered’ and ‘doesn’t sugarcoat anything’. They’re charmed by him because he’s got a million fancy nicknames and a beautiful, golden mane of hair.”

Zack paused.

“And I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Kelly. I do. But all you’ve been telling me since I hired you is to stop doing everything that got me this far in this business.

‘Stop associating with Bobby Franchise.’

‘Stop taking the kids around bars.’

‘Stop saying Vag Crushin’ Overlord out loud.’”

Kelly raised her index finger, objecting.

“If I may, that’s more of a personal gripe.”

“Well, Kelly, I’m tired of being picked apart. I’m tired of being told I’m not good enough. I’m tired of being micro-managed.

I cannot be defined by a film reel, but I could win any of those people over if they saw me in person. Any of them.”

“Fine. Do it your way.”

Zack and Bobby locked eyes.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“I want no part of th--”

“That’s right. We’re going to save Christmas.”

Snowflakes fluttered from the sky in droves as Zack Fantana and Bobby Franchise approached the front doors of the Inspirit Church. Through the perilous snowfall, Zack and Bobby both had to do a double take as they passed the manger scene on the front lawn of the church. It was nondenominational, thus Zack didn’t really know what they taught here; heckl, maybe baby Jesus did dab after receiving his gifts from the Three Wise Men, but the wayfarer shades on the donkey still seemed a bit out of period.

Either way, the two men trudged forward, kicking their boots on the mat at the door before stepping inside, taking in the interior. Modern in design, it certainly mirrored Pastor Pat’s style.

Zack moved toward the worship area while Bobby lingered behind. With the way he was squinting at the stained glass windows, Zack presumed he’d not seen the inside of a church since Pope Paul VI was elected to the papacy.

“Zack? This is a surprise.”

Having spotted Zack almost instantly, Pastor Pat sauntered down the aisle in his blue jeans and purple polo that read “If you don’t believe, you don’t receive”. A children’s choir remained on the pulpit behind him, each donning robes with fun little nametags. The turnout was substantially larger than any class Zack had held at the Bobby Franchise Center.

“How may I help you?”

As Zack was just about to present Pat with his reel, the pastor interrupted.

“Hey, I think we might have found our Santa, kids.”

With a wry smile, Pastor Pat nodded at Bobby, who remained dressed to the nines in a red madras suit.

“Well, let’s not typecast him.”

“Ho Ho Ho!”

As Bobby walked closer, he dropped his jacket on a pew, revealing some fluffy white fringe around the edges of his vest. It was almost as if he was inviting the comparison Santa, though he played coy.

That son of a bitch was sandbagging him.

“Look at him. He’s a dead ringer,” Pastor Pat laughed.

Bobby winked at Zack as he passed him, whispering “I was born for this. I carry a large sack around 365 days a year, kid.”

Bobby nudged Zack with his shoulder with a self-satisfied smirk drawn on his face, as if he hadn’t been telling that same tired joke every Christmas since Zack had known him. Zack knew to expect nothing less, so he entertained Franchise with a smirk, even though he wanted to strangle him.

That was just how the old man operated though. Bobby had come up in the business when wrestling programs didn’t have national syndication, so he could get away with telling the same stories for years, and his sense of humor reflected that.

“Come on, Patrick. He’s a human being, not a prop.”

“Well, it’s better than being reduced to a finger puppet.”

Bobby was, of course, alluding to Adam Wolfe’s Franchinger, an entity perhaps more notorious than he was these days. Born in 2016 when Bobby was still an active competitor, his likeness would easily surpass him in celebrity now. He’d made appearances on television on no fewer than three wrestling promotions this year while Bobby was languishing in the obscurity brought on by a forced retirement. While he maintained local celebrity status back in Saskatchewan, he was growing more and more obscure around the world.

Suddenly, his willingness to play Santa in a children’s production made all the sense in the world.

“What place does Santa have here anyway? Don’t tell me this is a secular production.”

Zack looked at the kids.

“Aren’t you all a little too old for Santa anyway? I mean, you know he’s not real, right?”

A few members of the choir gasped and covered the ears of the younger talent.

“Come on… Open your eyes, Clevon. Santa Claus is nothing but a fraud propagated by the holiday greeting card companies. Don’t be such a mark. Everybody knows that Jesus is the reason for the season.”

“Zack, look, it’s not like that. This is for the kids.”

“You want to help the kids? Don’t lie to them. Give them something real to believe in.”

Fantana stepped up onto the pulpit.

“What do you say, kids? Forget Santa Claus. Let’s celebrate Fanta Claus.”

The kids remained silent.

“Okay, you may not believe in Fanta Claus, but he believes in you. I’m in.”

“Zack, this is a children's production.”

“Don’t you think we should be preparing these kids for the real world? I mean, yeah, affirmative action’s great if you’re into that kind of thing, but it’s not always going to be there for you, children. If there’s someone out there that’s more talented than you, then yeah, I’m sorry Latisha, but you’re going to lose your spot at first alto. That’s just how the world works, kids.”

The children simply stood in bewilderment, while Fantana set some time aside to peruse the clothing rack behind them, which still had a few robes to spare.

“Shall we begin?”

Fantana plucked one of the spare robes off the rack and and squeezed himself into it. Given that it was fitted for a child, it hugged his shoulders snugly, but he didn’t seem to mind.

He insisted that the girls in the front row “scooch over” to make room for him, implying that he did indeed have designs on taking over Latisha’s chair, despite having no formal training and the extent of his choir knowledge coming from the DVD commentary of Sister Act and Sister Act 2.

“Here we go, kids.”

Zack walked over to the piano on the pulpit and began to play “Deck the Halls”.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly
Fa-la-la-la-la, Fan-tan-an-a

'Tis the season to be jolly
Fa-la-la-la-la, Fan-tan-an-a