Phew, what a weekend!

Imagine cramming in city high school football finals, hanging out with two women’s wrestling legends and a film director, brunch with a retired Australian wrestler, and a Q&A session with a former Toronto Blue Jays manager.

Sitting back late on a Monday, the rental car returned, I am reflecting on it all and wondering how I stayed sane.

But it is very much the life of a freelancer as well, selling books along the way.

Friday was a beautiful day with a disappointing finish, as my son’s high school football days came to an end, with a loss in the Toronto city finals at Varsity Stadium. The kid loves football, but like his Old Man, maybe isn’t the most blessed athletically. Then our beloved Toronto Argos stunk up the joint the next day, but neither of us got to the CFL Eastern Final in person.

On Saturday, after taking in some of the Remembrance Day ceremonies streaming online, I picked up Ry Levey, who directed the wonderful Out in the Ring documentary, which gets its world broadcast premiere on Wednesday, November 15th, at 9:00 P.M. Eastern on Fuse TV and its streaming platform Fuse Plus.

Our destination was Oshawa, Ontario, which given unpredictable Toronto traffic, could mean 45 minutes, or two hours. Fortunately, it was smooth sailing as Ry recounted me with many tales of getting Out in the Ring onto Fuse TV, and an ongoing battle with haters who have knocked down the IMDB rating for the movie in the last few days. After you check it out on Wednesday, be sure to add your own review to IMDB. (Fair warning, I was interviewed for Out in the Ring. During our drive, Ry noted that, due to time constraints not many non-LGBTQIA+ people made the cut, but I did as a historian, able to put things into perspective.)

Out in Oshawa, Dave Wyldstar was promoting two Great Canadian Wrestling shows at the Harmony Community Centre, one in the afternoon and another in the evening.

The normal, straight-laced Madusa and Lisa Marie Varon with Greg Oliver. Photo by Ry Levey

The normal, straight-laced Madusa and Lisa Marie Varon with Greg Oliver. Photo by Ry Levey

Before each show, though, was a special meet and greet with Madusa Miceli — with whom I wrote The Woman Who Would Be King — and Lisa Marie Varon, who wrestled as Victoria and Tara. They were the reason for the trek to the ‘Shwa.

The two powerful women never actually worked together in the ring or in a company at the same time, but have become friends over the years via fan fests and interacting online. They truly had a wonderful bond and played off each other like old pals, laughing, teasing, and posing for many photos together.

It was fascinating to watch how each made fans feel at home. This wasn’t a big-money comic con environment, but local indy wrestling, so the audience perhaps took a little more convincing to buy a photo or a book. But there were others who came to the shows just wanting to meet these former champions.

The second show was an all-women’s show, and featured a special guest.

This past Thursday on, I wrote a story about Helen Peebles, who had a modest career, wrestling for a few years in the 1970s, in small-town Ontario. She had recently dipped her toe back into the local wrestling scene — hence the story — and was out to see the all-women’s show with her husband and son.

Both Victoria and Madusa fawned over a name who preceded them, fully aware that the path to fame that they ended up on was built on the bumps of others. Helen was shy but truly got a kick out of it.

As did I, getting to meet her in person. The piece — The brief, hyper-local career of Helen Peebles — was a truly tag team effort. Photographer Michael Drukarsh and Wyldstar had gone out to meet Helen and Richard at their home, after I’d done the initial interview. So they’d met her and I hadn’t. Michael’s photos made the story, and it was our first time meeting in Oshawa too, so I was able to thank them both for their help in making it the best story it could be.

Dadpool and Madusa in August 2023. Photo by Greg Oliver

Dadpool and Madusa in August 2023. Photo by Greg Oliver

There wasn’t a lot of live wrestling though for us, as Ry and I headed out to Bollocks Pub & Kitchen, one of his old haunts (since he grew up in Oshawa), with Victoria and Madusa, who were driven in the tricked out SUV, the Poolmobile, owned by Toronto Dadpool. We ate, we had a couple of drinks, we had a lot of laughs, and way more greasy food than I’m used to. What you expect is what we got — both Victoria and Madusa are true livewires, the opposite of shrinking violets. I knew that about Deb/Deuce already, but this was my first time hanging out with Lisa Marie, and hopefully not my last. At one point, I wasn’t sure Ry and I would ever get out of there, but we did, finally, and I was in bed not long after getting home, knowing that Sunday had its own challenges.

Dazzler Dunlop and Greg Oliver trade books.

Dazzler Dunlop and Greg Oliver trade books.

Mid-week, I’d been contacted by “Dazzler” Ken Dunlop, who let me know that he would be in Toronto and wanted to meet up. Given that he and his husband, Joey, had traveled from Australia, I did my best to make it work — complicated by a busy weekend that could have actually been crazier had a couple of things worked out. Finally, we settled on brunch on Sunday, at The Three Speed, at Dufferin and Bloor, which was near where I needed to be next.

It was a lovely brunch, chatting about wrestling a bit, sure, but mainly about traveling, about life, and more basketball than I would have thought going in. I’m one of those people who has zero issue trying to meet up with people that I know (however well) when I travel, so it was nice to have it reciprocated (though a trip for me to Australia is highly unlikely). It makes me proud how much they loved Toronto and Canada as a vacation destination, and I wish them safe travels as the journey continues to Niagara Falls, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, and even Edmonton (where they had never been previously) before heading home.

Dave Bidini, John Gibbons and Steve Sladkowski. Photo by Greg Oliver

Dave Bidini, John Gibbons and Steve Sladkowski. Photo by Greg Oliver

I didn’t get to head home after brunch, but instead went to a Q&A session with John Gibbons, with whom I wrote the bestselling Gibby: Tales of a Baseball Lifer. It was hosted at the West End Phoenix event space for roughly 40 people, so about as intimate as you get. I helped a few friends get the tickets, but there a lot of music people there too, since the WEP is owned by rocker/writer Dave Bidini and the Q&A was hosted by the baseball-loving Steve Sladkowski, the guitarist for Canadian punk band Pup. I loved how much research Steve had done, and any author gets off on hearing, “You write in the book …” as a preface to a question. Naturally, there was some bookselling and chitchat too. (Gibby had been at the Canadian Sports Card Expo on Saturday and told me that he got to meet Ric Flair; see Mat Matters: Gibby’s wrestling love for more on his appreciation for the sport.)

You’d think I was done by that point, but no, football called, and it was off to Shox at Dundas and Keele, which is the home to the Toronto Browns Backers club. Talk about the perfect ending to a crazy couple of days, with the Cleveland Browns for once snatching victory from the jaws of defeat instead of the usual other way around, defeating the hated Ratbirds as time ran out.

Next weekend looks a lot quieter, fortunately, but I know how fortunate I am too having a great weekend like that one.

TOP PHOTO: Madusa, Michael Drukarsh, Helen Peebles, Lisa Marie Varon and a flexing Greg Oliver on Saturday, November 11, 2023. in Oshawa, Ontario. Photo by Michael Drukarsh