Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hesher's Delight -the Austin 3:16 Tee

To commemorate 3/16/16 (and by extension, the entire month of March 2016 being 3/16) here's a memory from 1997. The era is 5th grade, the place is Hardin County Kentucky. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

D***** was cool. Not "cool for 5th Grade" or "Cool in hindsight." Just cool. Effortless. He exuded that shit upon us, and we simpletons lapped it up, slack-jawed and barely cognizant. He put product in his hair before anyone I knew. He carried a harmonica in his back pocket. He said "fuck" with liquid panache, like a GD soldier, while we clambered around garden-variety vulgarity like idiot children. 

It wasn't just his presence at school either. He lived a life we all kinda wanted at that age. His folks were cool with graphic rock tees and stocked a fridge full of Stewart's soda. His brother worked a gig as a prison guard and could get us windbreakers from the detention center. His bedroom was a colorful emporium of kitsch and ephemera, hard rock, horror movies, pro wrestling. Nowadays we'd call him a little Hesher.

Now, as cool as D***** was (still is), 1997 was the dude's peak and my heart always goes a big mealy one for all things associated with it. The Marlins first World Series (my brother and I liked Gary Sheffield). The Montreal Screwjob. WCW's biggest (to that point) Starrcade. Hell, wrestling being right on the cusp of white hot levels of popularity. Perhaps no T-shirt better encapsulates that era than the Austin 3:16 tee.

Now, other scholars and pundits and idiots have examined the cultural impacts of said shirt/catchphrase/era so I won't bore you with how the infamous promo foreshadowed a new aesthetic and cultural direction in TV, skewered religious iconography and created a good 6-7 years of profitable wrestling storylines (look what I did lol!). What I know is D***** was my first friend to own the Austin 3:16 shirt and I'll forever associate it with him.

King of the Ring 1996: Doc Hendrix + the Rattlesnake
Like Steve Austin was to many ham n' eggers across the trailer courts, Danny was our folk hero. He talked back to teachers and crotch-chopped playground bullies. He wasn't a tough guy, but he wasn't scared of anyone either, be they figures of authority or simpleton classmates. Matt Dempster, the troglodyte who'd been held back twice and with bitter resentment and the body odor to match, was taking his third crack at state-mandated elementary school, tested D***** once though.

"That shirt is fake. Ain't no real Austin shirt," said Dempster one day at lunch, heehawing and pointing his fat finger at D*****'s chest. White lettering on black cotton. Attitude era. D***** yawns. "I ain't kiddin ya damn goob. That's fake. Ain't no WWF onnit that skull's not the right one." Picking through his appalachian gibberish, I took it to mean that D*****'s 3:16 shirt was in fact a bootleg copy, procured not from WWF official "shopzone" but likely one of the local county fairs. For normies, one can generally tell a bootleg of the era by the "quality" of the skull on the back of the shirt, official ones bearing a blue-tinged "icy" skull and bootleg's being plain white.

100% Pure

"Yeah it's bootleg," said D****, staring into Dempster's eyes. "I got it at the Heartland Festival." 

The news delighted Dempster, who went in to roast but was promptly cut off by D***** who'd thrown up his unopened can of yoo-hoo and yelled: "Aww hell son, I asked yer Mama what she thought of my damn T-shirt and she thought I looked sexy as all hell in this bootleg. WHAT?"

Matt stood still for a moment, kinda grinning but also kinda not. He fidgeted and then shook his head, pained by the words and doing his damndest to shake them off. "My parents split up you jackass. You can't talk about my Mom!" He shakes some more and collapses in a blubbering heap. He continues wailing. His voice a roiling panic, bears the unmistakable weight of tears. The roastee has been roasted. The Austin era has begun. 

There's no gloating though. D**** has already left. He knows the code and the unwritten score. 

Arrive. Raise Hell. Leave.

Happy 3/16 everyone!

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