Hamming it up in the stacks at the Cross Lanes Public Library, security guard Bill Bitner slips into the role of Death Falcon Zero, the name he uses as a professional wrestler.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At the Cross Lanes Public Library, co-workers and patrons know him as the security guard, an imposing figure in a white shirt with a shiny gold badge.
In the wrestling ring, fans know him as menacing Death Falcon Zero, the villain, the "heel" as they call it in professional wrestling circles.
Bill Bitner, 55, holds still another identity as a published science fiction and horror story writer, a passion rooted in his boyhood fascination with comic books.
On a more serious note, he spent years in social work before recognizing his true calling in the fantasy worlds of writing and wrestling.
No, he hasn't led a settled, ordinary life. No, he didn't make it as a rock star, never got to live high on the hog in St. Tropez. So what? Sometimes experience can be its own reward.
"From the first time I stepped through those ropes, ...
... I thought, I am home. ...
... I loved it."
In 1979, Bill Bitner graduated from Fairmont State College with a degree in English. He was playing in a rock 'n' roll band.
A picture depicts Charleston wrestlers Danny Boyd and Bill Bitner in their tag team roles as the Grapes of Wrath.
In this wrestling promo poster, Bill Bitner shows off the AWA northern and southern division belts he won in his villainous role as Death Falcon Zero. "Nobody had ever won both of those before," he said.
"I grew up in Camp Springs, Md., where Andrews Air Force Base is. When I was 12, my father was transferred here with AT&T. I graduated from Nitro High School in 1974.
"I wanted to be a writer, going back to when I first started reading. I could read at 3. I made up stories. I was somewhat of a plagiarist. For an essay on what I did on summer vacation, I rewrote 'King Kong' with myself as Kong. My teacher made me stay in for recess and rewrite it.
"So I wrote another story about this kid who could turn into a Komodo dragon lizard. He ate his teacher for making him stay in for recess.
"I sold my first science fiction story at 16 in 1973 to Space and Time magazine. I sold 24 short stories between '73 and '83. They were horror stories, mysteries with a twist at the end. Science fiction and horror is pretty much what I write.
"I loved comics. That's part of why I got into wrestling. To me, pro wrestling is almost like living comic books. You have the good guys and bad guys and each guy has his own outfit and his own power.
"I went to Marshall for two years and majored in drinking and running around and left with an abysmal grade point average. My father said he wasn't wasting any more of his money. So I took a year off to earn money to go back to college.
"The girl I was dating was going to Fairmont State, so I went there with her and got the rest of my credits in two years. I majored in English.
"I married the girl in Fairmont in the summer of '79. I made a big mistake, something she held against me until the day we divorced in 2002. Prof. Grattan at Fairmont got me a total scholarship to the very prestigious writers workshop at Ohio University. I said no.
"I had gotten into rock 'n' roll, playing guitar in a band. I told Dr. Grattan I appreciated it but I was going to be a rock star. I truly believed that in my heart. I did have stage presence. In those days, I was pretty charismatic. I had a lot of hair and I was very muscular. I thought knocking them dead in Fairmont would translate into worldwide fame.
"When we got married, my ex-wife gave me five years to find my dream. If I didn't make it in five years, I would have to get a real job and we would buy a house and start a family. That didn't work out.
"I've never been a 9-to-5 office person. I get bored and restless. It's hard for me to sit still. Someone suggested law school. All these people tried to help me, and I refused. I struggled, writing and playing music, until about 1984.
"That spring, I took the civil service exam. I took a job as a CPS (Child Protective Services) worker. It was brutal. You got no respect from anyone. In court, lawyers talk like you're not there. Families hate you. I had my life threatened more than once.
"In January of '89, I was transferred to youth services. We dealt with children in state custody through their own actions -- truancy, running away, committing a crime.
"I did that until the spring of '91. Lee Miller had been head of juvenile probation and moved to a facility for juvenile criminals called Abraxas. I was court liaison. I did face-to-face interviews with every kid referred. When the money was cut back, the program suffered. It shut down March of '96.
"In the fall of '96, I got a job with the Coordinating Council for Independent Living monitoring in-home services received through Medicaid. It was a boring job and very tightly regulated. Paperwork. Paperwork. Paperwork.
"I resigned in September 2002. I had divorced that January. Our two young daughters lived with me. One thing about losing everything in a divorce is you have no debt. So I had about a year to play with.
"I started working out. I got huge. I got a flier about Bobby Blaze, a retired professional wrestler based in Ashland, Ky. It said to contact him if you wanted to be a professional wrestler.
"He said I was in good shape. But I was 46 and he said wrestling wasn't easy. I worked out with him for about an hour. It was really strenuous, but I held my own. I could hardly move the next day, but from the first time I stepped through those ropes, I thought, I am home. I loved it.
"The performing thing is kind of innate. You can either do it or not. Some guys are incredibly proficient in the ring but can't get people to care.
"I've had over 600 matches and 99 percent have been as the heel, Death Falcon Zero. Sometimes I've had heel versus heel matches, and the crowd actually cheers for the other guy. If you are going to be bad, be the worst.
"Danny Boyd and I can come to a town that's never heard of us and 30 seconds after we walk through the curtain, everybody wants to see us get our ass kicked. We can just turn that on.
"Danny's father and my father grew up together in Martinsburg. I go in the training room, and there's Danny, and we ended up being a tag team. We won Apex belts as the Grapes of Wrath.
"In 2007, I had 132 matches. In 2008, I had 128. That's wrestling every weekend in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, sometimes in Maryland, Pennsylvania and other fringe states.
"There's no money in it on this level. If I pay for my gas and get a meal and buy some beer for the ride home, I break even. I just like to do it.
"I wrestled in Mexico twice. That's as close to being a rock star as I will ever be. We were on TV and radio. People go crazy. They believe it. You don't wrestle into the crowd there, or you could be dead.
"I was honored in Mexico because they let me beat the local hero, Aztec. He knew the crowd would go crazy and come back.
"The best part about being a bad guy is you always lose in the end, but up to then, you have the most fun, because you get to do those dastardly things.
"It's fixed, but it is not fake. You know who's going to win. They give you so much time, like, 'Guys, give me 15, and you are over.' How you get there is between you and the other guy.
"Just because I tell you I'm going to pick you up and throw you on the floor doesn't mean you aren't getting thrown down on the floor. There is no trick to it. It hurts. Sometimes it doesn't hurt as bad as they are acting, but it hurts.
"I came to work here last February. I work security here four days a week after school. "I've always been a voracious reader, so this is a wonderful job for me.
"When school lets out, it's a madhouse. This is a library. You've got to keep the noise level down, and there are certain things you can't be looking at on the computer, and you've got to keep your hands off each other and conduct yourself like you are in a library.
"I'm writing again. Danny and I wrote a screenplay, and we're going to work on a movie. We shot some stuff in Prague and Tanzania and realized we weren't going to be able to finish the film, so we adapted it as an illustrated novel called 'Death Falcon Zero Versus the Zombie Slug Lords.' It sold very well.
"Now we are working on his first movie, 'Chillers,' that was picked up by Tranfusion Comics as a graphic horror anthology series. I have two stories in the first issue and will have two more in the second one.
"The short stories I wrote back in the day are out in three volumes now and are available through the library or Amazon. The titles are 'M is for Monster,' 'T is for Thing' and 'N is for Nightmare.'
"I'm happy in my life. I'm getting married this month. She's a librarian at the main library. I worked there for my training.
"I've had a lot of fun. It may not have been the most productive life financially or materially, because I don't have a lot, but I am good with that. I am very rich in experience."Reach Sandy Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5173.