Unicycler This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

April 14, 2010
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People always ask me why you do it. I don’t really think there is any one part answer to that. I do it because I love to. Yes it may have started as a way to show off but unicycling effortlessly is as close to flying as I will ever get. You aren’t tied down to handle bars and you can decide in an instant where to head and that is why I ride…to fly.

One day I used my unicycle to fly away from my shattered father. He had never been the same since my mother’s death. My battered old unicycle wasn’t very fast but I knew that no one would be following me. I rode through the gates of the dismal Sunny View Trailer Park, leaving behind the poverty that hung in the air like a stench. I rode through the trailer parks counterpart, a neighborhood of identical houses and manicured lawns that probably got more attention than my scraggily long hair. While riding past the 87th Xeroxed home, a group of boys about my age stopped playing basketball to taunt at me.
“Can I try?”
“Come here.”
And the classic “Do a wheelie.”
I rode on wondering what force had put them so ahead in the world that they lived in those huge houses and got stuff like cars for their sixteenth birthday, while my own father stole from me for drinking money. But that was all over. I was going to ride until the past was behind me. I may be riding for awhile, but it will be worth it.
Ten miles along the highway I was picked up by a man in a red pickup. I had never hitch hiked before but you know how when you see someone and you know that you can trust them? Well that was the feeling I had when I looked at the man with the cleanly cropped beard and green eyes longing for something more, I threw my unicycle into the back of the truck and climbed into the cab that smelt of old cigarettes and pepper mint. On the hundred mile ride I learned that Mr. Brud, as he introduced himself, was on a cross country tour to run from his smoking habit. (I wondered how the gas money compared to the cost of cigarettes). He constantly sucked on pepper mint claiming, “It calms the nerves and the desire.” He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself more than anybody else. Based on his constant twitching I didn’t believe him.
He didn’t ask me any questions, but, when I climbed out, he thrust a fancy mint wrapper into my hand with these words “Take care of yourself, you hear? If you ever need a ride some place…like home, call that number.”
I received a real shock with the next person that picked me up. You know how every town has a cat lady well it turns out highway eighty seven has one too. She calls herself Feline Savior and she drives the litter box on wheels, a huge mobile home filled to the brim with cats - brown cats, white cats, cats that used to be white, one-eyed cats, a three legged cat, fat cats, skinny-as-a-toothpick cats, you get the idea. And it smelt terrible despite the dozen or so Frebreeze automatic air fresheners. Ms. Rindrich (a.k.a. Cat Lady) had spent her portion of her inheritance (a very sizable portion) to buy this RV so that she could rescue cats and kittens around the country. The RV was so state of the art she could perform any sort of surgery and the one she preformed most often insured that she wouldn’t find any more little cats. I learned Ms. Rindrich’s life story as she nearly talked my ear off. When I finally escaped the litter box, I couldn’t figure out what was more relieved, my nose or my ears. I wasn’t too happy though because I think one of the cats peed on my unicycle.
The next three people that picked me up weren’t half as interesting, a man with an over grown moustache, another man in a Prius, (my unicycle barely fit into his car). Lastly was a little old lady in a over sized truck who wanted to help but was afraid so I rode in the bed of her truck, and, as the wind whipped through my long red hair, I realized that I would need to get it cut and maybe even dyed. The truck stopped in front of a ‘welcome to Phoenix’ sign, it said welcome but the heat was all but welcoming.
My first stop was at one of those cheap hair salons the ones that come and go leaving behind nothing but FOR RENT signs. I walked in to the ironically Cheap Cuts Salon and walked out with short brown hair. I had left my red curls and fifteen dollars inside the store.
I rode past the Fiesta Mall and longed to walk into the air conditioned building and act like any other kid but I had to make sure that my unicycle wasn’t stolen. I bike shop and five dollars fixed that problem and soon I was in the mall with my unicycle chained outside. I wandered around until the mall closed. I rode around until I dropped from exhaustion I didn’t sleep inside a box but I did sleep on top of several.
Pain is the fastest alarm clock in the world. I woke up to a brutal kick in the ribs.
“This is the cobra’s turf punk,” said a tough guy voice. I woke up startled to find five teenagers surrounding me on all sides. The oldest who I gathered from the way he ran his mouth was the leader. He wore a faded varsity jacket. His teeth were crooked and the cheap avatar glasses perched on his nose added to his shabby appearance. Three of the gang were solidly built Latinos in muscle shirt the fifth guy was the runt and was skinnier than me was which says a lot.
I stood up and slunk off picking up my unicycle in the process.
“Ohh, he’s a little circus monkey,” Varsity jacket said, “do a trick for us monkey”. I had a total of zero other options. They had filled the space at the end of the alley with no escape in sight, so I did a bunny hop. Then I rode on one pedal. I bounced my seat against the ground, anything for the two-bit entertainment they were asking for.
“Do a back flip,” said one of the three muscleteers.
“Do it now,” said another drawing a switch blade with a loud click.
My eye caught the pile of pallets that formed part of the wall that boxed me in. Now it might help me get out. I hopped up the pallets until I was nearly four feet of the ground then I turned and dropped of the other end, farther than I had ever done before. Impact hurt but I rode away quickly. I was a block away before any of the gangsters realized that their prey had gotten away.

The next few days past in a blur of try to eat while avoiding the block heads that I had given the slip. I had been reduced to sitting on my unicycle to avoid the hot side walk and holding a thirst buster cup out in front of me. I saw Charlie before he saw me. He was black and looked to be about thirteen. He wore a white panama hat that may have been expensive at some point in its existence but was now frayed and shabby, but, what I noticed about him the most was that he was a street kid. I could recognize a street kid from a block away it was important because, although some were nice, others would mug you for a dime.
“You any good at that thing,” he asked pointing at my unicycle.
“Sure,” I said.
“Then what you doing sitting on it, you could be a street performer.”
I figured I would give it a try. The mammoth grumbling of my stomach gave me no choice. I mounted the old cycle and jumped over the thirst buster cup and a grinning business man dropped a quarter into the cup. There is no greater sound than the ring of a quarter.
“Step right up,” started Charlie, “come and see the amazing…psst what’s your name kid.”
Charlie sure could make riding with one pedal sound amazing.
“Twenty-five, fifty, sixty, sixty-five, ninety, ninety-five, one o-five, plus the other fourteen that makes fifteen o-five” said Charlie. “What’s my cut?”
“I don’t know,” I hadn’t thought about sharing, but he had worked too, almost yelling himself horse.
“Sixty/forty,” he suggested.
“Sounds fair,” I said.
“That makes 9.03 for me and 6.02 for you.”
“Wait a minute I thought you meant the other way around.”
We argued for a while and finally settled for a fifty fifty split. After a street vendor dinner Charlie asked me “where are you staying?”
“Where ever I can.”
“It will cost you but I know a safe place for you to stay.”
Before we reached our destination Charlie stopped an ice cream truck to buy one of those weird sherbet pops in the shape of a power puff girl. He ignored my funny look and I noticed that he hadn’t eaten one of his hot dogs. We stopped in front of a huge warehouse with a teenager that matched its bulk. It cost me and Charlie a dollar each to buy Tom’s protection for the night. The warehouse was empty besides a pile of assorted sleepwear in one corner but Charlie was smart he lived in what was once a security office. He pulled a key out of his pocket and turned the latch. I soon found out the reason for the sherbet pop.
“CHARLIE!!” shouted a little girl who I instantly recognized as Charlie’s little sister. She ran at him her small frame nearly knocking Charlie over.
“I got something for you.”
His sister’s eyes went as wide as dinner plates upon the sighting of the sherbet pop.
“Here you go Pepper.”
Never had I seen such a small person eat so fast the Popsicle was gone before I could comprehend what happened, she was chewing on the gum balls that made its eyes which is just a little morbid upon further thought. I peered around the room noticing the coloring books and stuffed animals first some of which were more power puff girls. There was an assortment of bedding a desk with three legs and a few chairs showing of their stuffing innards.
Charlie tossed me a thin blanket, at the same time saying “I took you here because I trust, you if you touch Pepper I’ll…I’ll…,”
“Don’t worry I would never think of hurt your sister.”
His breathing slowed as he lay down to sleep, and I did the same realizing just as my eyes closed that everything would change after this. The next morning came early as I woke up to the overly enthused Charlie barking orders.
“Come on Patrick, this is the city that never sleeps.”
“That’s New York you idiot,” I said throwing pillow at him, “and just because the city doesn’t sleep it doesn’t mean I don’t.”
We ended up on a street corner. I rode and Charlie used his announcer style voice to draw the attention of pedestrians. The next few weeks passed in a blur, I was kept busy between riding for money, dodging the cops, and the Cobra’s as the gang called themselves.
The day was coming to a halt. We hadn’t made a lot but it would be enough to eat. As we turned the corner, I ran straight into varsity jacket. He wore a disturbing grin and said “It is time for the circus monkey to pay his taxes”. He grabbed the cup of change from me.
“Give it back you coward.”
Click, Click, Click (I will give you three guesses to what kind of knife they had and the first two don’t count.)
“No one talks to Romo that way,” said a muscleteer. Romo grinned saying “Hey Charlie, how’s that sweet little sister of yours does she still remember me?”
Charlie went berserk. He leapt at Romo’s face, biting and clawing. It took all three muscleteers to drag him off. Luckily they didn’t use their switch blades. I jumped on the back of a muscleteer only to be thrown to the ground…then the kicking began, quick rapping kicks from every direction, starbursts of pain from my shoulders, my sides, my neck, and my head. All that could be done was curl into fetal position and wait for the pain to stop. A passing cop saved our lives. When the Cobra’s spotted him, they ran. Charlie was much worse than me. He had welts on every inch of his body. He could not speak or move. I dragged Charlie into an alley as the searching headlights of the cop car consumed and spat out the night next to us.
With Toms help, I got Charlie back to the Warehouse. Tom didn’t ask for admission tonight. When he set Charlie on the desk, I saw the big goose eggs forming on his head. His face was just a mass of blue and red welts. I thought for a moment that he was dead but the shallow breaths told me otherwise. Charlie and I had been saving up for a stereo to spice up our act but now the money went toward bandages and food for the next week. Charlie’s face slowly deflated to normal size but the fight had left his nose crooked and a scar over his eye.

During recuperation I heard a sad tale about Pepper in passing tidbits of information. Pepper used to sing and Charlie acted as her manager. “We earned a lot of money that way,” he said with the same gleam in his eyes as when he had tried to claim sixty percent of our earning. The Cobra’s had cornered them on their way home and despite Charlie’s efforts they had taken Pepper. All night Charlie wandered the streets in search of her. Pepper came back to him crying the next day. Her experience at the hands of the Cobra’s had redefined hell forever. After that Charlie hadn’t let Pepper out except for the little yard behind the warehouse.

After two weeks we were forced back to work from insufficient funds. Our stereo money was gone but at least we were alive. It had been a slow day for street performing. It had been three weeks since we paid taxes to the cobras. Charlie and I were exhausted as we dragged ourselves to the warehouse. We were panting after running from an investigator of some sort that started asking too many questions when we saw the smoke half a block away rising above the city like some dark beast.
Despite our exhaustion we broke into a sprint running towards the smoke, dread building in our gut like a stomachache. We were close enough to smell the smoke now, as it raised bile in my throats. We cut through an alley and saw the warehouse, a corner of it already consumed in flames.
“And where do you think you are going,” I recognized it instantly as the Romo. I turned to see a tell-tale gas canister in his hand. I took a step toward him when two of his muscleteers stepped out in front of me (why did they always have to have switch blades). I picked up my unicycle and swung it like an oversized bat. The unicycle connected with the first guy with a jarring impact that hurt my elbow. With blood already seeping from his forehead, he slammed into the guy next to him. But I was already past them raising my fist and bringing it forward with all of my anger. With it I probably broke the leader’s nose or a knuckle, if I had stopped then I would have seen him on the ground crying over his broken nose but I was past him in an instant. Scanning the faces of the street kids pouring out of the now half consumed building I realized that someone was missing. Pepper…
I sprinted into the building I heard sirens screaming in the distant. The smoke inside the building stung my eyes and shoved its way up my nose making me cough as I staggered forward. I dodged a falling rafter that singed my face and clothing. I found my way through the building by pure habit. I had crossed this floor many a time in pitch blackness. The blackness was now replaced by thick choking smoke. I started crawling along the floor suddenly remembering Fireman Dan’s warning “go beneath the smoke so you don’t choke.” I was way past the choking and on the verge of passing out but elementary fire day was bright in my mind. I crawled until I reached the office door where we slept.
“Pepper, chough chough, PEPPER,” I croaked….no answer. I stood and kicked down the door. Usually I would have been extremely impressed with myself but there wasn’t time. Pepper was lying on the floor I thought she was dead until I saw the slow rasping breaths that made her chest rise and fall. I scooped her up in my arms and stumbled out of the room. Coughing and slipping over bedding, coloring books and crayons, I stumbled out of the room. I was no longer concerned with my own life my entire being was devoted to getting Pepper out of here. I was so close to the door when a huge chunk of roof fell in front of me sending embers flying everywhere and burning any revealed skin. I summed the last bit of strength from the deepest recesses of my being and made a flying leap at the door. I landed in open air into the waiting arms of a fireman right as the entire building collapsed behind me.
I woke up in a clean white hospital that made me feel dirty until I realized to my embarrassment that I had been stripped, bathed and put into one of those coveralls that are typical to hospital patients. Saw the burns on my arms and cringed, turning I saw Pepper happily coloring and Charlie was right beside her. He smiled when he saw me.
I sat upright as a man burst into the room crying out “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, so sorry. I have a job. I’ve changed. I am so sorry.” It took me several heart beats to see through the tears to recognize the man I knew before my mother’s death.

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