11th Wonder

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap] was watching Judge Judy on the TV or at least pretending to watch. Out of the corner of my eye, from the couch and through the fake wooden door, Bradford was standing in front of the mirror, trying to think up jokes. I could tell that he was doing it because he always had a serene and violent look in his eyes when he tried to think up jokes. He would practice his jokes for hours and they were never funny. I had never seen Bradford do anything remotely funny except for the time he fell down the staircase naked in front of Miss Vatas, in the summer of ’96. That summer was hot and Bradford was waiting for a package from his Mother, from Vermont. She would always send Bradford a birthday package that would contain jams and sweet breads and a lot of different kinds of breads.

We were smoking cigarettes and watching the funny tape, a collection of strange moments that we recorded off of cable. There was a segment dedicated to Mean Jean Burger, where the famous wrestling announcer would travel to small towns and open burger joints and hold burger eating competitions. Bradford had a very large penis and would sometimes get completely naked and dance around the tiny one bedroom apartment we shared, waving the thing around, for the neighbours and such. Miss Vatas always hated seeing Bradford’s penis and would always complain if she saw it too many times in a month. That day, UPS guy couldn’t get ahold of Bradford, but we both went to high school with him, so he knew us, but we didn’t know him. Sometimes that’s how high school works. The guy yelled up from the street, “Braddy, get the hell down here and get your package, I gotta go!” Bradford, who was already naked, gave me a wink and took off out the door and down the hallway, leaping over some old bum who was passed out. I remember seeing his hairy, ape ass bouncing around and I was laughing hard. Bradford got down to the bottom of the first flight as Miss Vatas was carrying up a load of laundry. She never used the dryer because it interfered with her fabrics so me or Bradford would usually help her up the stairs. She was struggling pretty hard and I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t shout, it wasn’t like I wanted to see anyone get hurt, it was just the whole magic comedy of life unfolding before my eyes.

Bradford skipped to the right, but so did Miss Vatas, her hair pulled back in a religious bun and they hit each other, not square on, but just a bit to the side. Miss Vatas lost her load. Though she remained safe, Bradford slipped on a silky, pink negligee, the kind that the women wore in the ’40s, the real sexy ones and he went ass-over-teakettle down the last flight and out into the road and was knocked unconscious and everyone on the street gathered around and looked at Bradford, at his huge penis and his monkey legs twitching and he was moaning about jams and jellies and discounted cheeses and the breath finally escaped him and I thought I could see a little bit of his life move up, towards the sky, parting the clouds and continuing on farther to a place where dead people go.

I threw the sexy negligee over top of Bradford, I’d been holding it for some reason and the neighborhood all thought he was some kind of pervert or fruitcake and he was in the hospital, in traction for 4 weeks and he just got insurance. He met his first real girlfriend at Marymount, Garfield Heights. Her name was Tammy and she was really into Bad Religion and NoFx and those other punky bands. They dated for the entire time he was being treated and he never took her out once. That was the kind of guy Bradford was. He was all bad luck, but with just enough good luck mixed in that you loved him and wanted to be around him. He doesn’t dance around naked anymore due to his foot problem, but he still gets by.

Bradford was pacing around the room and mumbling like a caveman and I could make out a few words in between the bellows and panting and I could tell he was feeling a bit nervous about his set the next day. Since we got laid off from Hagen he got really into wanting to be a stand-up comedian and his girlfriend Lorna, she got really sick of him always talking about it so she bet him that he wouldn’t give it a try, mostly because she was a bitch but maybe there was some goodness in there. She gave him one month and that was 29 days ago and she gave him a copy of all the open mics and comedy jams from downtown and their times and locations, and everything. Lorna was really mean occasionally, but sometimes she was an angel. I don’t think all women are like that. I don’t try and fit them into little perfect boxes. I used to but I stopped. Nothing ever worked out for me with women. If Bradford didn’t get up on stage and try out his material, then he’d have to pay her rent for the next month and vice versa for her if he got up there. The problem was that Bradford had no jokes. And also no money. So I sat around, collecting my cash from the Feds and he spent his time in front of the mirror, giving himself breathing problems and acne.

Ever since high school, whenever something bad would happen, Bradford would get these huge breakouts of zits across his forehead and sometimes, during class, he’d pick at them and people would stare. That’s the reason why he didn’t lose his virginity until he was 24. For some people, the horrors of high school will just fade off into the distance. All the terror you inflicted on gentle souls, all the things you stole from house parties or people you kicked while they were down, all that can be erased. All you have to do is move away for a few years. That’s what I did. I left and then I came back and was a new person, to my family, my friends and that was cleansing, but Bradford stayed and no one ever forgets if you are always around. Bradford became progressively quieter, which was disturbing so I went into his room to check up on him and he had the blankets all torn off and his fan was stuck, making a noise like a dying robot and he was begging for a cigarette, but not with words. I handed him a puff of mine and he carefully took the smoke from my yellow hands and he began massaging his feet, where his eleventh toe was coming in.

“It’s sore today.” Bradford said.

“It looks very red.”

“It’s gonna happen soon man.” Bradford said and he started to shake all over, so I went to him and put my arms around him and held him and smelt his scent and felt the filth from my body transfer to him and I rejoiced. Bradford fell asleep, exhausted and I slid out from underneath him and moved to the couch and watched a little more TV.

It was a Thursday and also the 30th, so I was on edge because I didn’t like too many things starting with the same letter. Just like when it was the 20th on a Tuesday, a few months ago. I hate that so I knew instantly that something bad was going to happen, yet I didn’t go back to bed, I got up and went about my daily things. I always thought that was an odd trait in people, that even though all of their instincts say that today is going to be bad, they still get up and face the day. Maybe that’s why humans don’t really have many instincts left anymore, because we all learned how to ignore them. I mean we still fuck and eat and sleep and cry and go get coffee and ride a bike through Perk Plaza.

I was riding my bike through Ralph J. Perk Plaza and I stopped to enjoy my coffee, it was spilling all over my hands and making my t-shirt brown. I needed to get out of the apartment and away from Bradford for a few hours. He knew that tomorrow was just a day away and that he had no jokes and he was constantly swearing and talking to his eleventh toe, which was forming quite nicely now, developing a toe nail and little hairs and all. I was smoking a cigarette when I noticed an old junkie, Boobs, walking in my direction. A few years ago I tried my hand at being a bootlegger. I got a big check from the Feds because I paid too much tax so I spent it all on cheap booze. I thought that I knew enough people that liked cocaine and alcohol, so I was figuring that I could sell the booze to them after hours, at a heightened rate, maybe 20 percent over market value. I used to be kind of tough too so I thought everyone would pay, but no one did. Boobs in particular owed me at least a hundred bucks. He sat down beside me and his hair was starting to dread in the back and he had a Bart Simpson “I Didn’t Do It” t-shirt on and I was glad he was alive nonetheless. “Boobs.”

“Chrissy, long time.” He said and he handed me a ticket to a roller derby match.

“So?”

“Wanna go?” He said.

“What you drinking?” He reacted like I’d just busted open his face and he pulled out a bottle of Hermits and we walked over to the parking garage down the street and got smashed and I watched him smoke crack and saw how he changed and became the person he had always wanted to be and I felt good for him.

We got to the arena late and the place was going crazy and I tried to get Boobs to smoke some crack with me but he said he was out and that if I gave him money, he’d grab some and I laughed and we took our seats. The announcer was also the DJ and he kept playing old NWA tracks and everyone, even the old timers would cheer when “Fuck Tha Police” came on and it was all very exciting. I went to buy a few pints of beers for me and Boobs and quickly snuck into the good seats and watched until I got kicked out. On the way back I saw into the dressing rooms and there were weak girls acting tough and beautiful women acting ugly and it was a nice. I got back to the seats and Boobs was gone, along with my jacket, so I stretched my legs out and drank the giant Buds and waited for the next match to begin. It was all women, dressed up like different characters. It was futuristic and silly.

The women would occasionally collide with each other the crowd would cheer or boo depending on who they supported. I hate seeing woman subjected to violence and that’s always been one of my finest qualities. As the two groups of women went around and around the track, they gained more speed and a girl with strawberry blonde hair got flung to the front of the pack. When I knew her, her name was Elizabeth, but the announcer called her Messy Bessy. I thought back to the night when I was a teenager and I took Elizabeth out to the Pizza Hut, when Pizza Huts were sit down restaurants, special occasion places and I gave her a rose and told her I loved her and she was only fourteen, but still knew enough that she didn’t love me and I cried when my Mother picked me up. Its funny how my Mother knew something was wrong, like she knew me better than she knew herself and it only took her asking “What’s wrong” for me to break down, but she didn’t tell my Father. Messy Bessy collided with a black woman named Princess Kalish. She was dressed like an African Queen and had barely any clothes on and wore a cheetah print cape and the crowd really seemed to dislike her. Both women were flailing on the ground, but Messy Bessy got up first and extended her hand to the African Queen. Princess Kalish grabbed Messy Bessy’s hand and she helped the villain up from the track, but then Kalish slapped Bessy across the face and it made me think of Montreal.

When I was seventeen I hitchhiked up to Canada, to Montreal. I met an old, gay, truck driver who liked the look of me and he gave me a lift from a gas station and a few days later, he dropped me off at the Cote Vertu Metro station. The snow was really coming down and

I had an Aunt that lived on the outskirts of town and she came and picked me up. I had no money and I couldn’t speak French, so her family was getting kinda sick of me. I went out and found a job at a dusty hamster cage factory. Everyone would always be smoking really strong French cigarettes and listening to loud French pop music on the radio, so it was strange and fragrant. My job was to trim the ends off the wires that were left over after the soldering had taken place. There were two sharp jaws slamming shut twenty times a minute and I had to feed the cages through and pile them neatly onto a palette. The French guys got all the good jobs there, but I got to sit down for 8 hours a day and the pay was fine. I still kept in touch with Elizabeth, even though my Mother begged me not too. She would send me regular

letters and I’d send her back love letters and everything was fleeting. After a few months, Elizabeth said she was gonna come up and visit me, so I sent her some cash and she took the greyhound bus to Montreal. I was still living with my Aunt, but was paying rent, so things were a little better. Still, we lived far away from downtown. Elizabeth had to take a rail train out to meet me, so I met her at the station and we hugged and laughed and everything was fine and I thought that this was my chance and that everything was gonna be normal for me and that she’d fall in love with the person I was when she was around. That’s one thing I always think about, is how I’d change when I was around her. I’d become the best man that ever lived. I’d pay for everything and make her laugh and I would be sweet and caring and give money to the homeless and be positive and light and I wouldn’t smoke so much. It wasn’t like I was putting on a show or anything, it was like I altered myself just enough to be lovable. It was April and we were sitting under a tree by the train station and she was gonna stay with me for a few days, then stay with her friends back in the city.

“You look different” she said.

“I am” I lied. I remember she was wearing these tiny white denim shorts and had her hair down, straight and long and her freckles were just starting to sprout. I had a few bottles of cheap wine that I picked up from the depanneur, Sur du Lac or something sweet and strong and we were drinking it under the tree. My friend Mike went by on his skateboard and stopped to talk about some vampire card game that he was really into, where you collected bloods or something, for points. He asked me if Elizabeth was my girlfriend and I said yes and things got cold so he took off to go roll dice somewhere. Everything got quiet after that. The traffic stopped making sounds and the rail cars passed without any interference and Elizabeth got up and started walking towards the station, carrying a bottle of wine and her book bag.

“Where are you going?”

“Back to Cote Vertu” she said without turning around. I followed her closely and could see the wet patch from the grass on her ass and it turned me on.

“Wait” I said but she kept on walking so I sped up, but so did she and this continued on for a few minutes, until I got sick of it, of everything, of wondering who she was with and what she was doing, if she’d been fucking anyone and if her room was still messy and I came up behind her and grabbed her by the wrist and spun her around too roughly and she dropped her bag and started running for the station and I started running after her and she was crying so I stopped and stood there, holding her bag while she ran. I went back over to the tree and waited for the train to take her back downtown and drank the wine and watched, hours later as the Cote Vertu train ambled out of the station and down the tracks and I hugged her bag and went through it, smelling her clothes and underwear until all the scent was inside of me. Years later, I found out that Cote Vertu means odd virtue in English, so I sent her book bag to her parents’ home address. Her Father died and her Mom remarried some car salesman, I’d heard. Princess Kalish and Messy Bessie were screaming in each other’s faces so I got up and left and took a cab back to my bike and my seat was missing so I rode it standing up, letting the wind mess up my hair. When I got back to the apartment, Bradford was heating up knives on the stove top, but they weren’t our blade knives.

“What?”

“I’ve gotta get him out.”

“How do you know it’s a he?” I asked and he looked at me with ruddy eyes and he spat on the floor.

“Don’t.” he said and he grabbed the red hot steak knives off the burner with one hand and tossed me a rag with another.

“Get some ice” he said and I did and watched him lower two knives into his flesh, where the new toe was peeking out from the side of his foot and as the metal touched his flesh, there was a scream, but it didn’t come from Bradford or me and he dropped the knives to the carpet and they smouldered on the plastic fibres and the room filled with poisonous smoke so I opened a window and held the cold rag against his eleventh toe and felt it squirm and flex underneath my hand, like a newborn baby girl and for a while there was a muffled sound of crying and speaking and when I pulled away the wet rag away from Bradford’s foot, I looked down at the eleventh toe and it looked back at me and it told us something, as if bartering for its life and we laughed and laughed.

Hilarities on East 4th was filled to the brim and I had a table up front with Lorna. We sipped strong drinks and were running up quite a tab because it was looking like Bradford would be rent free for a month and we both were happy. It was open mike night and a lot of bad spirited people would come and heckle the new comers or just watch the failure. The lights went down and we endured lots of terrible comics getting destroyed and our anxiety grew until the guy on the PA announced for Bradford to come onto stage. He had his hair all greased back and was limping around, trying to prop up the microphone stand because he was too tall and had a “Property of the Cincinnati Bengals” T-shirt on, which the crowd booed as he stood in silence.

“I watched a movie the other day.” Bradford said.

“I love watching movies. I watch movies all the time” He continued and his voice was shaky and the crowd prepared themselves for blood.

“I just watched that movie, you know, the Never Ending Story?” Bradford said as he waited for just the right moment.

“Waaaaaaay too long.” he said and the crowd sat silently as Bradford took a swig from his drink.

“I’m sorry. My eleventh toe told me that joke last night.” he said and the crowd went wild and me and Lorna stood up and cheered on Bradford, a man more brave than anyone I’d ever known.