Hillbilly Jim went through a few incarnations on his path to becoming Hillbilly. Long before he met the Earthquake, he was simply Jim Morris, a large kid from a small town in Kentucky. Then he started wrestling in Tennessee, Canada, working small-time gigs as “Harley Davidson,” an enormous, leather-clad biker. Things got big for Hillbilly when he met with WWF representatives who figured it had been a long enough stretch since a country-boy character had gone national (Haystack Calhoun and the Scufflin’ Hillbillies had retired years before).
They gave him a shot: put him in overalls, wrote him a theme song, threw him into a story line that included getting trained by the most popular wrestler of all time, Hulk Hogan.
And now the fans love him. Fourteen-year-old me loves him, too. He is action figured. He wrestles in front of 94,000 people, one of the largest indoor crowds ever assembled, and everyone screams his name.
I’m getting a little experience with crowds myself. I’ve been broadcasting between Fox’s morning and afternoon cartoons for a while now, building up a following of kids who send in their jokes and artwork, hoping I might highlight them on TV. It is Josh’s Jokes, Josh’s Gallery, Josh popping up right after Animaniacs, sixty seconds at a time, talking about composting while Nashville’s children gobble up their after-school cereal. But not just kids. I’ve become a household name for everyone between the ages of five and twenty-five, and all the parents know me, too, because they are the ones who have to drive their kids to our events, to the wave pool or the zoo or the Nashville Knights hockey games.
The hockey games are the scariest. Ten thousand drunk fans who just want to see blood. The TV people put me in ice skates. I’m asked to waddle out into the rink before the game starts, right before the national anthem is sung by a local country western star, and I’m supposed to invite everyone to come to our Fox Kids Club booth after the first period for an autograph. I don’t slip, but as I thank everyone for their attention and wave good-bye, the “fuck you!”’s and “suck on it!”‘s drown out my loud-speakered voice.
I go back to our Kids Club booth and wait for all those same hecklers to actually line up for autographs during the break, and know I will have to smile nicely as they ask me to sign my name on the glossy eight-by-eleven head shots of my face.
And here comes high school. I slipped through junior high in a kind of pseudo home schooling, which allowed me to hide out comfortably in the living room most days, but Mom and Dad are tired of me spending all my time watching cable instead of tackling pre-algebra. Public high school is supposed to teach me some discipline and make sure I’m caught up with other kids my age.
“You’re anointed,” they say. “You’ll be a light. You’ll be fine.”
If I had Hillbilly Jim’s stature it might be different. He’s huge. Everyone loves him. But I am skinny and overwhelmingly conspicuous as the Kids Club guy who pops up between cartoons to talk all about how hydroelectricity works.
I begin my freshman year failing math but successfully doing the daily calculations that will get me home without getting my ass kicked: be cool to everybody, loan $20 to the baseball player who forgot his lunch money, start smoking pot with the long-haired kids who hang out in the parking lot after school.
I like the pot. I smoke so much the first time that I eat four Wendy’s cheeseburgers and throw up in the back of my friend’s parents’ minivan. But it doesn’t matter. I like it enough that I try it again, and all the kids in my English class think it’s cool that I’m so normal, so down to earth. Just like them.
I smoke and I’m normal. I smoke and it’s like unwinding after a strenuous, shitty day. My parents ask questions when I come home from school with bloodshot eyes, and I tell them I’m just tired.
“Drugs are gateways for the devil,” they remind me. “Portals.”
But the portals are exactly why I love them so much. Especially when a friend gives me a small piece of paper soaked in LSD. I suck on the paper, and within an hour I’m stepping into a TV-like world, a surge of senses, everything throbbing, a gorgeous escape from all things real into a kind of fantasyland. I start eating acid as if it were aspirin and try to live in the fantasyland forever.
I’ve got connections now. Lots of local dealers think it’s cool that the Fox Kids Club guy buys their stuff, and no one gives me any trouble. Everyone promises to keep things discreet, to not go spreading rumors.
And yet rumors abound. An anonymous concerned parent writes into the TV station:
I just thought you should know, my daughter’s best friend said she knows someone who sold Josh some drugs, and she also said Josh sells drugs, too, especially to younger children. If this is true, you should remove him from the air, as he is supposed to be a role model for our kids. This is very serious, and I think it should be investigated immediately.
I’M SUPPOSED to interview Chuck Norris tomorrow morning at the studio. He’s got a new movie out, something about ninjas. I look in the mirror. I am sixteen now. My hair has been the same neatly parted, well-trimmed style for three years. My eyes are bloodshot. I smile and the reflection looks like the me on television. I let my face relax and I look tired, slightly stoned. I can stand in front of ten thousand people, wave my hands, speak into a microphone without crumpling. But the real me is terrified of all of them, all ten thousand, all those high schoolers and their anonymous parents and stupid fucking Chuck Norris. I’m scared of Jesus, that he knows all my secrets and that he may have given up on living in my heart, yanked out the Holy Spirit for all my chemical sins.
I’m scared of the producers who asked if the rumors were true, told me I’m on thin ice, and that if more letters come in I could lose my job.
I drink a beer from a can. I drink seven more. I sleep in fits and forget to wake up to interview Chuck Norris.
Tomorrow: “The Day I Met Hillbilly Jim.” Josh MacIvor-Andersen lives in an old house in Wilmington, North Carolina, with his wife, a cat named Baby Kitty, and a second-trimester child named, for now, Baby Human, forthcoming in May.