Monthly Archives: June 2017

Crazy Is My Superpower – the story of professional wrestler A.J. Lee

Crazy Is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks is the autobiography of one of the most popular female professional wrestlers of all times. April Jeanette Mendez performed under the stage name “A.J. Lee”, and in 2012 was voted “the most influential female athlete on Twitter, beating out Serena Williams.”  At five feet two inches tall and a little over 100 pounds, she does not fit the stereotypical mold of a professional wrestler.

Crazy is My Superpower is the fascinating story of how this intelligent but  desperately poor Puerto Rican  girl from New Jersey ended up making her living entertaining millions of fans by playing the “crazy chick” and “vengeful ex-girlfriend” inside a wrestling ring.

A.J. Lee's signature "crazy girl" look

A.J. Lee’s signature “crazy girl” look

Lots of people look down on professional wrestling, calling it a stupid joke that is not a real sport. People who say that are missing the point. Of course it is not a real sport. It is a form of escapist entertainment performed by superb athletes that have to be a combination of stunt-people and actors. And unlike stunt-people in movies, professional wrestlers perform live with very little safety equipment and no chance for a second take.

A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

As a kid, April Jeanette Mendez used to watch professional wrestling on T.V. as a way to escape from her real life. Her family was very poor and constantly moved to avoid creditors.  A.J. kept all her clothing in a backpack just in case the family had to leave in the middle of the night at a moments notice. This happened so often that A.J. considered it a normal part of childhood.

Crazy Is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

Crazy Is My Superpower by A.J. Mendez Brooks, better known as wrestler A.J. Lee

April Jeanette’s parents were heavy drinkers and frequent drug users. There was never enough food in the apartment, but there was always beer in the refrigerator. Despite all of this dysfunctional behavior, the Mendez family was actually very loving. A.J. was very close to her brother and sister, and her parents really did try to care for the children. It turns out that A.J.’s mother was suffering un-diagnosed bipolar disorder for many years.

Despite all of this, April Jeanette was an excellent student and got into NYU. In addition to working hard in school, A.J. had worked part-time jobs to save money to go to college. Then it came time to give NYU the $500 initial payment.  A.J. went to the drawer in her desk where she kept her savings, only to discover it empty. A.J.’s mother had stolen all the money and used it for alcohol, drugs and “household expenses”.

A heartbroken A.J. told her high school guidance councilor, Mr. Donnelly, the story and that she would now not be able to attend college. There was only a short time left to get the $500 to NYU on time. A few days later, A.J. received happy news.  Mr. Donnelly and all the kids in the school had collected money, and gave A.J. the $500 she needed.

April Jeanette loved NYU. She loved working on her creative writing, but felt the extreme tension of being on her own and out of her depth. As the pressure mounted A.J. sought help from the psychiatric services NYU provided to students. It was there that A.J. discovered the frighting fact that mental illness is an inherited trait and that she was showing some of the same patterns as her mother. But there was good news. There was treatment for her disorders.

A.J.’s life was on track. She was getting her college education and the medical treatment she needed. Perhaps she could finally get the type of life that other more fortunate people so easily took for granted. Then A.J. got a call from her sister Erica.

“You need to come home. Ma overdosed.”

That was the end of A.J.’s college career. She had to quit school and take a full time job in a Pathmark supermarket so that she could help take care of and support her mother. A.J. reached a low point in her life. Everything  she had worked so hard for her entire life was suddenly taken away. When she was forced to leave NYU, A.J. also lost the psychiatric support at the exact time her life entered a period of maximum stress. Psychiatric services were for students only.

Though she tired her best, A.L. eventually cracked under the pressure. She began taking antidepressant pills she had received from an NYU psychiatrist more than a year earlier. She also took pain killers. Unfortunately, A.J. had been misdiagnosed. She was not suffering from depression, she was in fact bipolar. People who have a bipolar disorder have extreme highs and lows.  Usually they only seek help when they are at the low point, which mimics depression. It can be extremely dangerous for a bipolar person to take antidepressant medication. Bringing pain killers into the mix only makes things worse.

A.J. almost died, and ended up in a New Jersey hospital. This was the turning point in April Jeanette’s life. She decided to make a change. In most pictures of A.J. you will notice that she is wearing three thin black bracelets in her right wrist. These represent her new found freedom. In her own words, A.J. describes what these bracelets mean:

“The day I got home from the hospital, I cut the plastic hospital band off my wrist and replaced it with three thin black bracelets. One representing the life I had lived and the mistakes I had made, one representing the death I had escaped, and the last representing my second chance at life-my rebirth. I have worn them every day since.”

Thus began the new  life of the person who would become known to the world as “A.J. Lee” the professional wrestler whose specialty was playing the “crazy chick” or the “psyco ex-girlfriend.” She went from being a college dropout working in Shoprite to a wrestling superstar loved by millions of fans. The road from the hospital to the wrestling ring was not an easy one.

AJ Lee jokes around with John Cena, who thought of her as a little sister he needed to protect

AJ Lee jokes around with John Cena, who thought of her as a little sister he needed to protect

A.J. Mendez  decided to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a professional wrestler. It was a ridiculous idea. She was too small, too poor and let’s face it, too crazy to attempt such a challenge. But attempt it she did. She trained in gymnasiums with men three times her weight, and eventually the other wrestlers began to see her as a miniature dynamo.

Through hard work and a lot of luck, A.J. got into FSC (Florida Championship Wrestling) which is sort of the minor leagues for professional wrestling.  That was when she discovered the sexist realities of the business. A.J. was very much a tomboy with great athletic skills. But that was not what Management wanted. Management wanted sexpot beauty queens who would stand around the ring in skimpy outfits and longingly watch the male athletes perform.  That was not A.J.’s style. She was not  going to change who she was. In fact, A.J did not even own a pair of high heels.

However, A.J. Mendez finally got to perform (under the state name A.J. Lee.) Management may not have liked A.J. Lee, but the crowds loved her. Fans, especially women, loved seeing a real girl they could relate to. Here was a girl who played video games, wore sneakers and shorts and who actually knew how to wrestle.

A.J. Lee’s big break came when she started playing the “crazy chick.” For those of you unfamiliar with the WWE, suffice it to say that professional wrestling is a show rather than a sport. The wrestlers play various roles in ongoing story lines.  How long the story lines last depends on how well the fans respond.

C.M. Punk and A.J. Lee share what was supposed to be a stage kiss. However the passion turned real. They are now married.

C.M. Punk and A.J. Lee share what was supposed to be a stage kiss. However the passion turned real. They are now married.

A.J. Lee played that crazy vengeful ex-girlfriend that may suddenly show up out of the blue and do anything. A.J. was perfect at it. Crowds went  wild for her performances. She was a ground-breaker  in the WWE, proving to Management that a woman could bring in the big audiences and the big money if given the right opportunity.

Crazy Is my Superpower is a terrific book. A.J. Mendez Brooks is a gifted writer, who is willing to bare her soul and show the readers her  most intimate feelings no mater how painful they are. This is no fluff piece autobiography. It is the story of a young woman facing adversities and accepting who she is. In A.J.’s own words,

Everything I was told should be my greatest insecurities, my biggest roadblocks – everything I’ve been labeled: SHORT, NERDY, SKINNY, WEAK, IMPULSIVE, UGLY, TOMBOY, POOR, REBEL, LOUD, FREAK, CRAZY – turned out to be my greatest strengths. I didn’t become successful in spite of them. I became successful because of them. I am not afraid to be called crazy. Crazy is my superpower.”

In real life, A.J had very little time to be anybody’s girlfriend. Between her family stress, mental health issues and physical training, A.J. had almost never dated. She surprised herself when she and star wrestler C.M. Punk (real name Phil Brooks) fell in love. In one show they were to have a stage kiss, which to their own shock turned into a passionate real life kiss on national T.V. When they were off stage and back in the locker room A.J. was immediately surrounded by the other performers who wanted to know, “what the Hell was that?” “A.J. Lee” and “C.M. Punk” married not long after that first kiss.  They have both since retired from professional wrestling.

A.J. Mendez Brooks and her husband Phil (better known as C.M. Punk)

A.J. Mendez Brooks and her husband Phil (better known as C.M. Punk)

Now that A.J. Mendez Brooks has left wrestling she is not sure what will be next. We at East Coast Stories are sure she will be a success at anything she puts her mind to. Crazy Is My Superpower is proof that she has the skills to pursue a career in writing. Whatever she chooses, we wish her the best.

 

 

 

I’m Dying Up Here – where all comedy comes from pain

Showtime’s fantastic new series I’m Dying Up Here, is based on the old adage that “all comedy comes from pain.” Many comedians use jokes as a bizarre sort of therapy  to try to purge the demons from their souls. From the first slapstick comic who ever slipped on a banana peel, to modern-day jokers  who tell stories about their miserable childhoods, comedians invite audiences to laugh at the comedians’ suffering. Executive producer Jim Carrey drew from his own personal experiences to create I’m Dying Up Here.

Jim Carrey, executive producer of I'M Dying Up Here

Jim Carrey, executive producer of I’M Dying Up Here

I’m Dying Up Here is about a group of young comedians in Hollywood in the 1970’s trying to reach the ultimate pinnacle of success – an appearance on The Johnny Carson Show. Getting noticed in the 1970s was a much different process than it is today.  There was no YouTube or Facebook you could use to promote yourself. The gatekeepers to comedic fame and fortune were the owners of sleazy comedy clubs. If you were a comedian  just starting out, a comedy club owner might let you go on stage to tell jokes to a bunch of drunks at 2:30am.

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I'M DYING UP HERE

Melissa Leo as Goldie in I’M DYING UP HERE

The cast of I’m Dying Up Here is terrific. Melissa Leo is Goldie, the tough as nails owner of Goldie’s Comedy Club in Hollywood. She has connections with all the top T.V. producers including those at Johnny Carson. One word from Goldie can make or break a comedian’s career.

Ari Graynor as Cassie and Andrew Santino as Bill in I'M DYING UP HERE

Ari Graynor as Cassie and Andrew Santino as Bill in I’M DYING UP HERE

Ari Graynor is a Cassie, a young Jewish comic from rural Texas. Because of her unusual background, audiences have a hard time relating to her. She is not the stereotype that audiences expect from a female comedian. She is very attractive, in a world where female comedians are “supposed” to be ugly and base their acts on  making fun of their physical failings. Instead, Cassie has a more sophisticated sense of humor that requires audiences to think. One of her jokes is “There are not very many Jews in my home town. Let’s just say that there are more Jews at a Walt Disney dinner party than in my home town.”

Andrew Santino is Cassie’s boyfriend Bill. All the other comedians hate Bill since his career is starting to be successful. He has developed his act to be in that perfect “middle ground”. Sharp enough to play in the comedy clubs, yet “safe” enough to appear on television. Bill feels the full hatred from the other comics, when he gets tapped to appear on the Midnight Special.

RJ Cyler is Adam, a would-be comedian on I'm Dying Up Here.

RJ Cyler is Adam, a would-be comedian on I’m Dying Up Here.

RJ Cyler is Adam, an African-American comic, who is too young to be taken seriously by the other comedians. Just to make ends meet, he takes a job as a handyman at Goldie’s house, where he discovers she is much more complex and sensitive than most people believe.

Ari Graynor & Jim Carrey 'I'm Dying Up Here' TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles,

Ari Graynor & Jim Carrey
‘I’m Dying Up Here’ TV show premiere, After Party, Los Angeles, USA – 31 May 2017

I’m Dying Up Here is great. It has complex plots and character development, and gives a real feel for the 1970s. A lot of shows about the 1970’s overdo the cliches about afros, bell-bottom trousers and drugs. I’m Dying Up Here gives a much more realistic picture, and remembers that there was a lot of hatred in the country in the 1970s. Divisions over The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and Richard Nixon were pulling at the fabric of the country. It was a perfect time for the relief of comedy.

 

 

When Mr. Potato Head Was A Real Potato

Does anyone remember when Mr. Potato Head was made with a real potato? Today’s Mr. Potato Head is a large, clean plastic potato replica into which you stick plastic ears, eyes noses and lips.  But when I was a kid, Mr. Potato Head was a lot more crude. The Mr. Potato Head toy first came out in 1952, and  was just a little box with all the accessories and nothing else. You had to go out and find a real potato into which you would stick the eyes, ears, nose and anything else you could dig up. Maybe you even gave it hair made from some old lint ball found under the couch.

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

The original Mr. Potato Head from the 1950s

Kids loved the toy and it was an instant hit. Parents liked it too. It was inexpensive, kept kids busy for hours while stimulating kids’ imaginations. Of course using a real potato did have its drawbacks.

Today's modern Mr. Potato Head

Today’s modern Mr. Potato Head

Many a child would let out a terrified scream after finding a forgotten Mr. Potato Head in the back of a closet. After a few months alone, the Mr. Potato Head would be growing new appendages and sprouts and be covered in a fine lumpy mold.  This is probably why you don’t see any toys made from real food anymore.

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

Rest in Peace Mr. Potato Head

The modern Mr. Potato Head is still a lot of fun. Of course unlike the original toy you can’t eat it when you are done playing.

Baywatch – raunchy and silly and we loved it

The new Baywatch movie is a raunchy, silly comedy based on a cheesy old T.V. show, and we loved it. Come on, don’t be such a snob. When you go to see Baywatch, you know you aren’t going to be seeing Hamlet. Baywatch has action, comedy, an easy-to-follow plot, and beautiful women and men running around  in skimpy bathing suits on a gorgeous beach. Who could ask for more?

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Alexandra Daddario & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

In other words, Baywatch is pure mindless escapism. With all the troubles and bad news in the world today, that is exactly what audiences need once and a while. Escapist movies have a long cinematic tradition. During The Great Depression, audiences flocked to see musicals about super wealthy people with yachts and mansions. During World War II, comedies were very popular. Winston Churchill would periodically block out the war by locking himself away for a few hours to watch a Marx Brothers film.

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

Kelly Rohrbach who plays C.J. In Baywatch

With the current news filled with nothing but terrorism, wars and bickering politicians, people need mindless entertainment more than ever. Baywatch fits that bill perfectly. Of course, be warned that Baywatch is not a kids’ movie. There are a lot of sexual jokes and extensive male nudity. That’s right, we said male nudity.  Female nudity has been on screen in main-stream movies even since Tarzan And His Mate in 1934. However, the penis has been taboo, except in hard core X-Rated films. Baywatch, on the other hand uses the male appendage as a comic tool (pun intended). Baywatch  has a hilarious scene in a morgue in which a corpse’s private parts play a prominent role.

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Jon Bass & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

The cast of Baywatch does a fantastic job with the script. It is obvious that the actors really had fun making the movie, and enjoyed each other’s company. Be sure to stay for the extra scenes after the closing credits, to see the out-takes and on-set jokes.

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson and Pamela Anderson in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson stars as  Mitch Buchannon, the head lifeguard who is not content with just saving people from drowning. He and his team of incredibly   gorgeous fellow lifeguards decide to go undercover to discover who is selling drugs that are so prevalent, bags of crack are washing up on the beach.  Dwayne Johnson, who at one time was the professional wrestler “The Rock”, has become well known as a respected comic actor. He also has the reputation of being one of the nicest guys in Hollywood.

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

Dwayne Johnson ans David Hasselhoff in Baywatch

Alexandra Daddario is Summer Quinn,and Kelly Rohrbach is C.J. These two lifeguards  perform heroic rescues, fight bad guys, and solve crimes all while looking stunningly beautiful in every situation.

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Zac Efron & Dwayne Johnson in Baywatch

Zac Efron is Matt Brody, an ex-Olympic gold medal swimmer who thinks he is way too good to be just a lifeguard.  It is obvious that his character is based on Ryan Lochte, the American swimmer who made a fool of himself at the Rio Olympics. Ryan Lochte, was the idiot who got drunk, vandalized a Rio gas station, and then claimed he had been robbed when he was forced to pay for the damages. Despite winning swimming medals, Ryan Lochte ended up being hated and ridiculed by his fellow Olympians. Zac Efron plays the part perfectly.

Ryan Lochte was the inspiration for Zac Efron's character in Baywatch

Ryan Lochte was the inspiration for Zac Efron’s character in Baywatch

Jon Bass is Ronnie, the only lifeguard who has what might be considered a “normal” body. He got on the lifeguard team, because he always  gives 100%, even though his body is no match for the Supermen and Superwomen physiques of the people around him.  This, of course, makes him one of the most likable characters in Baywatch. Ronnie is hopelessly in love with C.J. who is obviously completely out of his league. However, there is more to C.J. than meets the eye and she is also in love with Ronnie. This is an old and corny sub-plot, but it still works.

Of course, no Baywatch movie would be complete without cameo appearances from David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. They both still look great. Apparently all that swimming really does keep a body  in shape.

So stop feeling guilty and go to see Baywatch. Let your mind take a break for a few hours.