The Kayfabe – William Bardot
May 3, 2018
Baldo Babikov broke Vicky Paine’s heart. Now her brother and me are going to give Baldo the smackdown for it. Randy would do anything for his sister. He’s my best friend, but he’d kill me in a heartbeat if Vicky asked him to. He’s outlined the inequalities of our friendship in perfect detail. It goes: Vicky > Pamela Anderson > Me. At least I come before his parents, but it’s non-fixed. Transitively: If Randy’s parents asked him to kill me, he’d say no. If I asked Randy to kill his parents, he’d probably have to think about it. If Pamela asked Randy to kill Vicky, he’d have to kill Pamela, or at least warn Vicky. If Randy ever gets Pamela Anderson, I’ll be sad.
It’s weird for both of us. For him, it’s borderline incestuous and creepy. For me, it’s sensory. When Randy steals Vicky’s underwear and we smell it—for reasons unrelated to Vicky and more for the thrill of vaginal scent—I can’t tell which one I’m smelling: Vicky or Randy. They have that matching sibling smell. So what happens if I’m smelling Randy on Vicky’s fuchsia colored thong even though I’m make-believing it’s Vicky—because it really is Vicky—but the ultimate truth is I’m fine with it being fake-Randy-smelling because I’m secretly in love with him? I don’t know. It’s all sort of vague and complex and will probably get sorted out in the medulla oblongata, or else—if you want to get down to the nitty gritty—when I turn thirteen and hit puberty, but one thing is certain: Baldo’s going down at The Bayside Arcade tonight.
We’re in Randy’s room, after the typical Paine-family-style dinner of Mac & Cheese with sliced Vienna Sausages (okay with ketchup), getting ready for the smackdown. I’m doing sacrificial push-ups to the spirit of André the Giant and Randy’s hyping himself up, calling the TV a cuntsucker. It’s not really the TV he’s screaming at. It’s partly the mini-boss that just killed his Megaman on the final level, but also the hole that possibly caused his death. (There’s a hole in the center of the screen from the time Randy tried to reprogram the VCR but the VCR froze up and ate his Blockbuster video and since the VCR costs more than the TV, and he couldn’t kick the VCR with the Blockbuster video still trapped inside, should it be destroyed or garbled up forever—thus incurring wicked Lost Tape fees—and something needed kicking, the TV got the full bore of Randy’s left Reebok.) I say possibly cause Randy sucks at video games and probably would’ve killed his Megaman anyways.
Randy knows all this. So when he calls the TV a cuntsucker, the thing that really bothers him, the thing that really sucks cunt, is not the TV or its hole or garbled tapes or the untimely death of his Megaman, but what the TV represents to Randy: his inadequacy at technology in general. And it empowers you to call that which makes you feel inadequate a nasty name. (I call my older brother a fuckface, right to his face, and, for a second, right before he Atomic Legdrops me or sends me into a Lullaby Sleeper Hold, I am empowered.)
Then I’m in the hallway bathroom to pee and find Vicky like a ballerina on stilts, in baby blue boyshorts and a Panther’s jersey, sitting on the tub rim painting her toe nails purple. It’s a total mash-up of color, cause Randy and Vicky are redheads with sickly albino-white skin.
I say, “I have to pee.”
Vicky says, “So pee. Not like I haven’t seen your schlong before.”
We hear Randy judo-chop the TV power button. I know this because the Megaman Game Over music shuts off and he says, “Fuck.” It’s true Vicky’s seen me naked. I’ve seen her naked too, but that was when we were kids. We used to all get naked in the pool and wail on each other with noodles. Randy was the Noodle Master. Vicky was the Noodle Princess. I was even The Blah back then.
I tell her to close her eyes. She fake closes ‘em. It’s good enough. I unzip and think about Randy to help the pee. Vicky crosses those giraffe legs, twice. She blows on her feet and I feel it on my parts. It’s nice. In my mind, Randy blows on my penis in bed and I ask him why and then the pee comes freely. While I’m peeing, Vicky gives up faking it and opens her eyes. My pee freaks out, like it’s confused, but then it settles and goes back to steady. Vicky whistles and then says, “You boys going to beat up Baldo?”
I try whistling back. It comes out weak. I say, “Yeah.”
Vicky gets up. I finish. Zip up.
“Fine,” she says. “But don’t disfigure him. He’s too cute for that.”
“Tell it to Randy,” I say, but she doesn’t hear me. Something breaks in Randy’s room and then there’s Indian war chants, the kind with the hand over the mouth. The breaking may have been the Nintendo. That would suck. Vicky waddles away, for her toes. I close the door and finish my pre-fight ceremony. I get my knees on the bathmat and pray to André the Giant. André was probably the most famous acromegalic. Acromegaly is a disorder I was born with. My pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone. My face is a little funny, too much bone on the brow, too much jaw where superheroes have jaw. My voice is baritone. Also, I’m already six feet tall and my hands can palm regulation-sized basketballs, easy. In my closet at home I have a shrine to André the Giant, a Guadalupe gas-station candle underneath a poster. It’s black and white and he’s smiling big, holding up four beautiful women, two on his shoulders, and two in his arms. The panel underneath says: The Eighth Wonder of the World!
Randy prays to nothing, which doesn’t make me better than him. It just means his dad isn’t a recovering alcoholic that used to beat him with a field hockey stick. Now my dad’s a sober sweetheart, but back when our fridge was all rotting hotdogs and beer cans, he’d like to wake me up with field hockey lovetaps, cursing me for looking funny and scaring mom back to Canada. The beatings stopped when my brother turned sixteen and set my father on fire. (This was monumental for my brother and signified his independence and emerging career as The Arsonist.) Now dad’s been sober four years and he loves Jesus and us. But at first Jesus was a doorknob, cause dad’s sponsor, Biker John, told him he had to pray to something, even if it was a doorknob. So dad prayed to our doorknob and asked the doorknob to keep him sober and change his wickedness to awesomeness and love his sons rather than beat us up and maybe give him more money so he could pay off the debt and keep the house and also a jet ski would be nice. And it worked. He got all that stuff and then found Jesus two years into recovery and things are still smooth. I figure if a doorknob could give my father a jet ski, and Jesus kept things smooth, then maybe praying to André the Giant might help get me Randy.
Randy kicks open the bathroom door. He’s got on the white spandex shorts, the sleeveless t-shirt with his face drawn on it, and the American Flag bandana. It’s the Randy Pain costume. I’m in costume too. The Blah wears what I, Mark Bernstein wear, and I wear jean shorts and a black t-shirt. It’s complicated.
Randy says, “Who’s ready skeddy for some Randy Pain?”
We climb out the window and hi-ho-silver-away on our BMX bikes, out to the Bayside Arcade, to destroy Baldo Babikov. But then we run into my older brother and his arsenal of fireworks and must destroy him first.
My brother is in the middle of the street, fully costumed, holding a lighter and aiming an illegal firework at us. We brake our bikes. There’s no way around him. It’s one of those black powder skyrockets that willow down trails of amber. He painted the launcher black and sharpied on ‘The Flamer’. He could nail us from a hundred yards in any direction.
Donny hits his chest with it and clears his throat into a pretend microphone, which is really the lighter. “Well if it isn’t my latest burn victims: Randy Pain and his little butt buddy The Blah. Come back for more, eh? Haven’t you fairies been fried enough?”
Randy says, “Dude, we’re just going to the arcade.”
Donny drops his nasally character voice. “It’s a school night, Marky.”
I say, “Just for a little bit. Come on, Donny.”
Donny says, “Who’s Donny?” and lights The Flamer’s theatrically long fuse.
Randy drops his bike and charges him, kicks the launcher tube out the way. They hit the asphalt and do protective-rolls. The firework detonates and pings a palm tree. It ricochets into our front yard, explodes the flower garden. I flip my kickstand and turn on the hose, extinguish the blaze. Randy and Donny fight. Randy’s grunting girly, Donny’s whooping him, but it’s fair, so I sit in the grass, wait till Donny taps me in.
Life is harder than it should be when your older brother Donny, aka The Arsonist, is Miami’s most infamous backyard wrestler. He’s training for the indie circuit, and everyone’s sure he’ll make it to the WWF by the time he’s of legal age. He’s undefeated and even started our league, the Amateur Miami Wrestling Federation. (This pulls serious weight among neighborhood kids who like to play dress-up and fantasize about school-shootings and eat their elbow scabs.) There’s about ten of us who meet in our homemade backyard-ring every Friday Fight Night. But the problem with being the little brother of The Arsonist is The Arsonist likes to incorporate fire into all his wrestling moves and The Arsonist needs a sparring partner everyday or The Arsonist gets psychopathic and starts staring at you from the hallway with a blowtorch in his hands while you eat Corn Flakes and just want to watch some fucking Saturday morning cartoons.
We all have wrestling names, except Randy. His name, Randy Paine, is already cool. He takes out the E when he fights. Technically, according to our self-imposed AMWF mandates, our sobriquets must be given to us by our inductor and then voted upon by a live audience right before our first match. But sometimes we don’t have an audience, so everyone just makes up their own or gives up trying to get called something they like and settles for what we’ve bestowed them. Frankie Powell is The Black Kid. Sam Davidson is Mr. Hopkins. François Jean-Pierre is Haitian Bob. Billy Morgan is Bill the Dick. Delano Douglas is Dr. Death. Pablo Martinez is The Cuban Terror. Baldo Babikov is Boris. I never got an official one. I wanted Mark the Shark, but everyone just calls me The Blah.
Randy taps out, crawls away from Donny. He hits the grass, lays face down, and taps me in. Donny’s got the sparklers going. He’s twirling them in beckoning gestures that look painful. I hate the sparklers. I consider running away. I also consider just finally knocking my brother the fuck out. I could if I wanted, no problem, but wrestling means more to my brother than me. He loves it the way I love Randy. It’s how he shows passion, through his character. He may be just a gimmicky heel, but The Arsonist has moral depth and weight. His family burned down in what the papers called ‘a generator accident’ but it was really the mysterious Fire Angel. He’s spent his life mastering the art of pyrotechnics so that when he finally finds his arch-nemesis, he can burn him to a crisp. Plus, he’s my brother. So I walk out into the street, say, “I am The Blah,” and let The Arsonist pummel me with burning love.
Just before he finishes me off with what’s shaping up to be a brutal looking spine bomb, out comes my little sister, banshee-screaming through the screen door and down the yard. She tells us to stop fighting or she’ll tattle-tell. I forgot to mention her. She’s a little hippie and smells. Donny picks me up.
He says, “Did you do your homework?”
I say, “Yeah.”
Randy hops on his bike and hand-pounds me.
Donny says, “Not too late. In bed by 11 or I wake you up with the bottle rockets.”
I mount and nod.
My little sister says, “What the shit happened to my flowers?”
Randy’s front tire starts to sag so we pull into the Quick Stop to refill the air. While he’s at the air pump I buy a pack of chewing gum from Omar, the real kind, not the stuff for your breath, and when I come back out, Delano’s standing in front of Randy with a baby alligator and a bone saw.
Delano’s our league’s youngest wrestler. He’s not in full costume but he’s got the skull and crossbones surgical mask on. He doesn’t need to wear anything tonight, but, like most of us, he’s grown attached to his character. Dr. Death was a mad scientist’s creation: a cross between a wolf, a serial killer, and the mad scientist’s son, a brilliant doctor that disappointed the mad scientist. He woke up from being reborn, killed his creator, and now searches for understanding and love in a world that hates him. It’s a cheesy Frankenstein rip-off but Delano’s still figuring out the Kayfabe.
Really, Delano’s dad runs Miami Cosmetic Plastic Surgery and he likes sneaking into the operating room while his dad does the 2-4-1 Boob Jobs on Saturdays. He’s a rich kid, but we like him cause he’s got tenacity and determination and also shows us his dad’s Before-and-After pictures. So far we’ve seen two middle school teachers, our hot neighbor Miss Cleo, and lots of strippers. We’ve seen so many photos though, that it starts to mess with your head. Like you’ll be walking around the Bayside Mall and see a woman with big ones and wonder: Have I seen her naked and bloody?
Now Delano’s got a baby alligator on a short dog leash. It’s alive and squirming and trying to bite Randy’s foot, but it’s small, like ten inches long, and its little jaws can’t fit around the soles. Plus the teeth are still nubby and smooth.
Delano says, “I found it in my backyard. Look.”
Delano lifts the leash and makes the gator dance. Randy does break-beats, but I don’t like the way the gator’s face looks dancing. I pick it up and look into its eyes. It chomps air. I ask what he’s going to name it.
“That depends,” says Delano.
“What’s it depending on?”
“Two things,” says Delano. “One, I’m not sure if it’s a boy or a girl. How can you tell? Do alligators got dicks? Do they have pussies? Who knows these things?”
I know. I’m not sure how, maybe biology class, maybe that Everglades fieldtrip. I lift up the gator and hold it belly up to the streetlight. I flick the vent. It’s a boy, but I say it’s a girl. For a girl name.
Randy says, “Sometimes your Blahness really freaks me out.”
I say to Delano, “What’s the second dependent factor in nomenclature?”
Delano holds up the bone saw.
No way am I letting him kill the baby gator. But then I think: No one would kill a
baby alligator. And that’s when I realize that Delano is confusing the Kayfabe for reality. That Delano Douglas would never kill a baby gator, but Dr. Death would kill anything.
Randy says, “Sweet. Can I have the head?”
He wouldn’t kill a gator either, but he’s probably game for watching it happen. I’m not game. I take the leash away from Delano and say, “I’m keeping the alligator.”
Delano says, “No.”
I say, “Yes.”
Delano holds up the bone saw. I flex my neck and put the gator down behind me.
Randy lifts his bicycle over his head. Delano reconsiders, tells us we suck ass, and goes sawing a palm tree on the corner. Omar catches him and runs out with a metal baseball bat. Dr. Death runs away from the world that doesn’t understand him.
The Kayfabe is the most crucial aspect of professional wrestling. It’s the fictional reality that makes it unique. It’s storylines and characters, feuds, relationships. When a wrestler enters the Kayfabe he’s entering a fictional world, for the sake of the audience, the suspension of disbelief. It’d be easy to compare it to method acting, except method actors aren’t taking razor blades to each other’s faces for authenticity. The truth is you can’t compare Kayfabe easily to anything, because, one, half the time we don’t have any audience (So who exactly we performing for?) and, two, The Kayfabe exists everywhere. When you exit the ring, you’re still in the Kayfabe until you break character. What the appropriate times are for breaking character are up to the individual.
The only rule: Never break Kayfabe in the ring.
And if it weren’t for Kayfabe, I wouldn’t be a wrestler. One of the problems I face with being an acromegalic, growing up around wrestling fanatics, is it’s too easy for me. I’m too big, too dominating when I want to. My solution was to become The Blah. (Actually, I’ve been The Blah since I was a little kid. I don’t know if my brain grows at the size rate as my body, or what, but I’ve always been in gifted classes and Donny donned me The Blah cause whenever I said something smart, he would say, ‘Blah Blah Blah.’) The Blah is the first wrestling character in the history of professional wrestling to intentionally suck. That’s part of his character: the inability to win. The other part is The Blah is Mark Bernstein and Mark Bernstein is The Blah.
It’s sort of lame. Like when you’re at school on Halloween and you forgot to wear a costume. You get defensive when someone asks you ‘Where’s your costume?’ and you say, ‘I’m myself.’ But The Blah is not myself. The Blah is Mark Bernstein without strength and the sole exception of Kayfabe.
Essentially—unless I’m winning—I’m always The Blah.
Randy finishes pumping his tire and gets on his bike. I pop the baby gator in my t-shirt, let his head hang out below my neck.
Randy says, “So what you going to name it?”
I say, “Cindy.”
And we ride.
The Babikov family owns the Bayside Arcade. Baldo’s mom is Cuban and his dad is Russian. They met in Miami, but moved around from Cuba to Russia before having Baldo and settling back down here. As a result, Baldo’s English is bad and he refers to himself in the third person, to make identifiers easier for him. He’s a tough kid and I like him and his character Boris a lot. Boris is an ex-Hero of the Soviet Union who now fights for no country. Boris fights for his own pleasure. But tonight we’re going to hurt Boris for breaking Vicky’s heart.
We park our bikes around the side of the building and pass our way through the video games, past the pool tables and pinball machines. I spot an open air-hockey table, but Randy doesn’t look like he’s in the mood. We see Baldo Babikov fixing a skee ball machine. Randy starts twitching up. This happens. Randy acts tough, but that dude gets winded with fear when non-Kayfabe shit goes down. He’s scared of real confrontation.
Like last year, we were riding the school bus to school and Randy was getting chatty with Jimmy Herrera’s girl, Gabby. I was sitting in the back of the bus, where I like to sit by myself and watch everyone. Randy was just talking, but Gabby was flirting. Randy doesn’t know the difference. He didn’t even know that it was pretend flirting and that Gabby was just trying to make Jimmy notice her more. Sometimes Randy’s slow on the social-uptake. So when the bus picked up Jimmy, on 8th and LeJeune, and he saw Gabby whispering something in Randy’s ear, Jimmy shoved him out his seat. He didn’t even fall, but that’s it all took. Randy went breathing heavy and froze up with fear.
Jimmy said, “What’s wrong Randy Retard? Little Randy can’t breathe?”
Jimmy’s a big guy, studies some fancy martial arts and knows how to wrestle a grown man down to tears, but he’s not like me. Nobody is. I’m The Blah.
I set Randy down in another seat and tapped Jimmy’s shoulder.
He said, “What?” and when he turned around I slammed his skull through the laminated-glass window. It was nothing, seven little stitches, the guy probably shows them off as battle scars, and I felt bad for Gabby going unnoticed while Jimmy was in the hospital. But now I can’t ride the school bus anymore. I ride my bike instead. Randy can still ride the bus, but he rides his bike with me. He says it’s for solidarity, but I know it’s really cause he’s scared shitless of Jimmy. I don’t let him know I know. For his pride. Randy might be the one who wanted to smackdown Baldo, but I’m the one who made us go.
Baldo sees us and says, “My friends of Baldo: The Blah and Randy Pain. Baldo is very happy to see you. Please come play skee ball with Baldo and tell Baldo good merry things and perhaps drink Pepsi with Baldo and arm wrestle Baldo for quarters.”
I take Baldo’s shoulders and powerslam. It topples him and we’re on the black turf carpet, his face purpling between my ankle and elbow. He tries an escape. It doesn’t take, just makes it worse. I watch him squirm down there, struggling for air. But I can’t win, because I am The Blah. So I let him out and he springs at me, straddles my chest, locks my arms behind me, and leans his elbows on my neck for the sleeper. Randy throws him off me and I get up, pick up Baldo one-handed by the collar of his work shirt.
I put Cindy next to Baldo’s face and wait for him to chomp. Cindy doesn’t.
I say, “Bite Cindy.”
Baldo says, “No bite Cindy.”
Randy says, “This is what happens when you hurt my sister!”
Baldo says, “But Vicky hurt Baldo.”
I take Cindy away from Baldo. “Wait,” I say. “Didn’t you break up with Vicky?”
“No,” says Baldo sadly. “Vicky broke up with Baldo. Baldo is sad.”
We didn’t see this swerve coming. Randy and I have made a mistake. We never
asked Vicky about the break up. She just told us Baldo and her were through and went to her room. We assumed Baldo hurt Vicky because she slammed the door, but now that I’m thinking about it, Vicky always slams the door. And Vicky probably didn’t care that we were going to beat up Baldo because Vicky is sort-of an evil bitch. I feel bad for Baldo. I let him down and fix his collar. He sighs relief.
“My friend of Baldo: The Blah,” says Baldo. “Baldo is very happy you did not murder Baldo for this misunderstanding. You are very big wrestler and also: Baldo is very scared of Cindy the monster dog.”
Randy looks hurt and sad. I don’t like it. In a roundabout way, Baldo has hurt Randy by being such a sweetheart and thus not allowing Randy to hurt Baldo. It doesn’t matter now that Baldo was the one who got dumped. Now he is to blame for a separate offense, the offense of hurting Randy. The problem is it’s not a big enough offense for a beating. But then I think: I can create a new offense that supplements the first wrong offense and add that to the new offense and create a sum total of offenses that equal justification for a new beating.
I say to him: “Baldo, why did Vicky break up with you?”
“Vicky says Baldo is bad kisser.”
“And why did Baldo kiss Vicky bad?”
“Baldo don’t know,” says Baldo. “Baldo think Baldo’s tongue may be funny.”
“And why is Baldo’s tongue funny?”
Baldo sticks his hand in his mouth, feels around. Randy looks confused, but hopeful. Baldo says, “Maybe Baldo’s tongue funny because Baldo is Russian.”
I pick Baldo back up and stick Cindy in his face. “So you kiss Vicky bad because of your stupid Russian tongue and this hurt Vicky and now you expect Randy and me and Cindy to sit back let you treat our American sisters that way?”
“Baldo is confused,” says Baldo.
Randy says, “Nobody kisses my sister bad, you stupid commie bastard!”
I hand Baldo to Randy and Randy puts Baldo in pain. It’s not as satisfying as a truly justified beatdown, but Randy is happy again, doing a Piledriver on Baldo at the Bayside Arcade for reasons that are unclear, but somehow relate to the tense international political climate and family loyalty. It’s complex, but I’m happy too, holding Cindy in my arms while we watch Randy beat up Baldo for something vaguely American.
When we leave the Arcade, someone has stolen our bikes. We walk home. Randy kicks everything breakable along the way. When we get to the first canal bridge, we say goodbye to Cindy and plop him in the water. He bobs up and doesn’t move.
“Shit,” I say. “I think I killed Cindy.”
Randy throws a rock next to Cindy and Cindy swims.
I immediately miss him. “I should have kept him,” I say.
“I thought Cindy was a girl,” says Randy.
“No, I just like girl names better.”
“That’s a pretty Blah thing,” says Randy.
But I’m not sure what he means by that. Is it The Blah’s typical Blahness, or a pretty Blahness? Is Randy telling me he thinks of some of my Blah things as pretty things? If a Blah thing can be pretty, then can a Blah thing be ugly? What is an ugly Blah thing? If a pretty Blah thing is liking girl’s names rather than boy’s names, then does this apply to Mark Bernstein as well? By that I mean is the Kayfabe a factor in my prettiness? Or am I not pretty without The Blah? If I’m pretty to Randy without The Blah, then does this mean Andre the Giant has finally comes through and is telling me something? If so, what exactly is Andre the Giant telling me?
Randy puts his arms around me and we watch Cindy swim away. I think about kissing him but then Cindy stops again. I feel like it’d better if Cindy kept swimming, completely out of sight, like it’d give us a solid reason to stay here a little while longer like this. As if he feels the same way, Randy picks up another rock and throws it at Cindy. The rock hits him this time, but Cindy scurries away through the moonlit canal just the same. It gives us ten more seconds together.