The Hall Stars just got their asses kicked.
They hold each other up as they take the long walk across the middle-school gymnasium, back to the cheap curtain in the corner.
In the bathroom, they’re wincing and checking to see if the hits they took are going to bruise. James got knocked in the gut, just below his ribcage. Ross is rolling his left shoulder and feeling his Adam’s apple – he got elbowed.
Their makeup is running. Their glitter is everywhere. Even more noticeably, their torsos are covered in lobster-red handprints.
Ten minutes ago, the Hall Stars came out from behind the curtain, running up to the ring with hair-metal playing over a cheap PA system in the background. They taunted the crowd, they trash-talked their opponents, they showed off their gold record (an old disco vinyl, spray-painted gold), and then they got their asses kicked by the duo of Chatch and Krotch – a homeless luchador and a goth, respectively.
But now they’re pacing around a middle-school restroom, diving headfirst into a discussion of the match. They need to figure out what worked and what didn’t. Maybe their intro – which involved James strumming Ross’s leg like a guitar – was too much. Maybe the pacing was off.
“See me trip Krotch?” James asks.
“Yeah.” Ross says.
“He was going after you and I was like…”
Out of the corner of his eye, Ross sees a kid enter the bathroom. He’s wearing a World Wrestling Entertainment shirt, probably one of the dozen or so kids that lined the steel gate around the ring during the match.
Ross shoots James a look and they leap back into character.
No more wincing, no more concern about how the match was paced or how certain moves may have looked to the audience.
Now they’re saying how it’s all the ref’s fault. And maybe if Vanguard Championship Wrestling had hooked them up with some real opponents, they would have won. All swagger and ego.
The Hall brothers may have limped into the bathroom, but now the Hall Stars are storming out.
Maybe the kid didn’t notice, but it was a hell of a performance. Even if it was in a middle school restroom.
James Hall is a professional wrestler.
During the week, he works in the produce section of Fresh Market in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s not the best job in the world, but it pays the bills while he pursues his dream, to wrestle for a big-time promotion in sold-out arenas.
He doesn’t look like the wrestlers you see on TV. He’s not some grizzled, post-roidal freak like Mickey Rourke – although his life bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Rourke’s character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson from this year’s “The Wrestler.”
After his matches, he gets told by promoters that the gate wasn’t what they expected, and that they’re not going to be able to pay him as much as they thought they would. They give him enough to get some dinner and throw some gas in the tank, but that’s it.
He drives a Ford Explorer that’s seen better days. On his way to his match in Suffolk he has to check under the hood for smoke while he flips the ignition.
But he loves it. So does his tag-team partner and twin brother, Ross.
Before they were The Hall Stars, they were just two boys who had just lost their mother to cancer.
“I was 11 years old when my mom passed away,” James says. “Since then I’ve had a different outlook on life.”
He later elaborates in an e-mail.
“Maybe she died so we could pursue this, maybe if she was alive right now there would have been events that would have never allowed us to ever get into wrestling. That’s a very motivating thought for me. If this is the master plan then I don’t want her to have died for no reason.”
After her death, wrestling was a way to escape their early confrontation with mortality. Maybe if they made it as wrestlers, they wouldn’t have to spend their lives working a nine-to-five.
They created an alternative reality in their backyard. Like Terabithia with bodyslams, they built a ring out of a trampoline, ropes and some two-by-fours for posts.
A lot of boys go through a wrestling stage, but as the Halls got older, their playing around became more elaborate. They began to develop back stories for characters like “James the H 13” and “The Heartbreaker.”
“My brother, he was on a Pat Benatar kick,” James remembers. “He thought ‘Heartbreaker’ would be the best intro music.”
He even had a move called the One Night Stand.
Like their ring, everything in their backyard arena was homemade and improvised. A karaoke machine was set up as a PA system. Their TV cameraman was their younger brother, Ryan. Collegiate wrestling singlets, little league baseball jerseys and shin pads were costumes.
They kept at it through high school, putting on WrestleMania-esque performances for their friends in their mini Madison Square Garden.
After graduating, they decided to make the grueling transformation, converting their backyard enthusiasm into bankable talent. They were taught the secrets of professional wrestling at a training facility in Newport News and honed their skills at venues up and down the east coast, performing in everything from hotel ballrooms to sketchy barnyards.
They were picked up by Vanguard Championship Wrestling in July 2003, a small, independent promotion based in Virginia, and they’ve been The Hall Stars ever since.
It’s been six years since their backyard days. Now they’re getting dressed up for TV. Their matches air at one a.m. on Tuesdays on Fox 43 in Hampton Roads.
It’s one of those sticky mid-Atlantic evenings in May where the heat doesn’t go away when the sun goes down.
The Halls are riding in James’s car to Suffolk. They’re playing the role of the heels, the bad guys, in tonight’s opening match.
“The opening match’s job is to get the crowd going,” James explains. “The more they boo, the better I feel.”
It’s easier to inspire the audience to hate than to love. They’re here to watch people get beaten up. If the person taking the beating is someone they hate, they’ll be more into it – and more likely to cheer for the good guy.
The Halls are getting themselves pumped up in the car with a soundtrack of throwback hair-metal, Dragonforce and Lonely Island.
It’s the perfect music for their characters. Glammed out versions of themselves, The Hall Stars are rock n’ roll obsessed superegos. Equal parts Van Halen, 1980’s World Wrestling Federation superstar and “Dumb and Dumber.”
The Halls are practicing a move that’s going to make them look like idiots.
They’re not the only ones in the ring. It’s about an hour before the doors open to the audience and a group of wrestlers are preparing their moves and planning their matches with their opponents.
After jumping off the corner post, Ross “accidentally” headlocks James instead of his opponent. In the confusion, Chatch jumps from the same post and clotheslines both of The Hall Stars at the same time.
Ross grabs his left trapezoid and grimaces. Chatch’s clothesline tweaked his neck. Everyone stops for a minute to take a rest.
The matches are planned. James and Ross admit that readily. But to accuse their moves of being “fake” questions their abilities as performers.
“Choreographed and fake are the two worst things anyone can say to me,” James says. “[When someone says that to me] it’s like I want to grab the guy and show him how not fake it is. I hit my opponents at 100 percent at 100 miles-per-hour. I just do it in the right places.”
Wrestlers, at least the good ones, are extensively trained on how to do moves without seriously hurting themselves or their opponents.
So “fake” is a mischaracterization. However, the amount of pain wrestlers inflict on each other in the ring is still fictionalized to a certain extent. The Halls didn’t limp out of the ring in Suffolk so much as their characters did.
But that doesn’t mean the Halls didn’t take a beating.
“Luckily I’ve never broken anything, got any concussions,” James says. “Eventually it just hurts, you have to take a break.”
A lot of wrestlers never take a break though. At the end of their careers, many rely on a brutal combination of painkillers and steroids to keep their bodies in shape.
There’s only so much abuse your body can take before it starts to shut down. Thanks to their age, The Halls have avoided prescription pain medications and steroids. Their bodies can still recover from the blows they take in the ring.
But James hasn’t ruled out using steroids in the future. Maybe one five-week cycle once it gets to a point where his body plateaus.
As far as side effects are concerned, he’s more worried about possible hair loss than anything else.
His personal appearance matters. Styled black hair, clear-eyes and a baby face are an important part of his gimmick. He can’t play a cocky pretty-boy if he isn’t pretty.
Wrestling is his life. Ask James what he does for a living and he’ll tell you he’s a professional wrestler. It doesn’t matter that it only pays him a fraction of what he makes stocking produce.
If you talk to him, wrestling will come up.
You should see the smiles on his and Ross’s faces when they’re practicing their new intro. When they’re wrestling, they’re happy.
It has to be addicting. The cheers, or boos in their case, shower him when he walks into the ring. For a few minutes, he doesn’t have to worry about the smoke coming out of the alternator or what his hours are next week at Fresh Market.
All he has to do is put on a show and entertain.
The fans jeer The Hall Stars as the brothers walk out to the center of the gym. They strut like peacocks around the 18-by-18 foot ring. The ring is jet black, supported by a solid steel frame and wrapped in a dark blue skirt. The ropes are actually steel cables, wrapped with blue padding to match the skirt.
It is surrounded by steel gates. Little kids get as close as they can while the wrestlers circle the ring, running around while their introductory music plays in the background. The Faces like to high-five the crowd as they approach the ring.
The kids taunt The Hall Stars mercilessly when they run out, but they don’t seem to care.
The brothers antagonize the crowd, inflating their reputations as pompous asses.
A group of overweight men in t-shirts are sitting in folding chairs on the opposite side of the ring. They’re diehards. They know the characters, they know the storylines.
“Who sucks now?” The Hall Stars yell at the crowd, standing on the corner posts.
“You!” the crowd yells back.
The event is over. The headline three-way heavyweight VCW title match was underwhelming, kind of like the turnout.
From the looks of the crowd, there were more wrestlers, VCW personnel and their families in attendance than actual ticket-holders.
Some of the crew is loading the ring into the back of a moving van. James Hall is sitting on the rear bumper of his car, waiting for his brother.
Ross’s girlfriend, Colleen, wants to go to IHOP as soon as the brothers get paid. They hope to get about $40 each.
They get $30.
“The gate wasn’t what we expected,” Ross says when he walks out. “Enough for some pancakes at least.”
“You see that movie ‘The Wrestler?’” James asks. “That’s our life. Without Marissa Tomei.”
They’re still wearing their glitter when they get to IHOP.