The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Gotham’s Crown Point Currency Exchange is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  That is why Julian Gregory Day is there.

“I don’t sleep much anymore,” he explains to the man in line behind him, an army-coated Croatian with a bandage on his ear through which fresh blood can be seen.  The next time the Croatian sleeps, he will not wake up.  An elderly Latino woman at the front of the line is buying fifteen lottery tickets, each one with a different set of numbers based on an arcane calculus derived from the ages of all of her grandchildren.

“Hey,” Julian Gregory Day says to the bleeding Croatian, who seems to be struggling to remain upright.  “Do you know what’s worse than having parents who really love puns?”

Moja glava boli,” the Croatian responds.  “Želim sve bi prestati kretati.”

“It’s having academic parents who really love puns that nobody gets,” says Julian Gregory Day, answering a question he has asked himself since high school.  It is cold in Gotham tonight, so his cape, a patchwork agglomeration of numbers and names in perfect squares, is wrapped tightly around him.  He tells himself that it reinforces his brand identity.  It also covers up the mustard stains on his belt.

Julian Gregory Day is next and steps up to the bullet-proofed window.  He rustles around in the pocket of his bright red shorts, which many years ago started getting too tight for him to wear; the visual effect is unedifying.  “I would like one stamp,” he tells the clerk.

“One book of stamps, nine dollars,” the clerk replies, sliding a small packet of adhesive stamps bearing the likeness of the American flag out of her cash drawer.

“No, just one stamp,” corrects Julian Gregory Day.

“You want just one stamp?” the clerk, a beleaguered mother of six, asks.

“And a free calendar.  It says ‘free calendar with purchase’,” remarks Julian Gregory Day, pointing at a notice on the moist and tobacco-stained walls of  the Crown Point Currency Exchange.  The clerk reluctantly tears a single stamp from an ancient and dusty roll, and Julian Gregory Day pays for it, leaving him with two dollars and seventeen cents left in his pocket and to his name.  He didn’t really need the stamp — for in all of this world, who is demanding or expecting a letter from Julian Gregory Day? — but he greedily snatches up the dull-looking 2012 calendar, with its advertisements for local businesses and patriotic banalities in three-color process print.

He pores greedily over the calendar, hoping that Congress has passed a new holiday in the last year, and that it occurs hopefully sometime in early January.  Julian Gregory Day needs to pull a new caper immediately; its success will mean wealth and comfort, and its failure will at least net him three hots and a cot at Blackgate.  On his way out, he claps the Croatian on the shoulder, and says “Keep the faith, buddy.”  The Croatian falls heavily to the cheap tile floor.

***

Julian Gregory Day sits on the front stoop of an abandoned row house in one of Crown Point’s worst areas.  He pores over the free calendar, his eyes attempting to focus despite hunger pangs, exhaustion, and the constant pressure he feels on the sides of his head.  He can’t remember much about his super-villainous career, but he is well aware that most of the other crooks don’t take him very seriously.  The last time he was in Arkham, he got yelled at by a guy whose gimmick was that he wore a bunch of different types of hats.  That’s how low Julian Gregory Day is on the Gotham criminal totem pole.  But the funny thing about this city is, even if he doesn’t take you seriously, Batman still beats you up.  Julian Gregory Day vows that someday he will save enough for a bus ticket to Metropolis, but he has made that vow before.

“Hey,” comes an unexpected voice.  It is coming from near an alley that Julian Gregory Day has been contemplating sleeping in.  The voice belongs to a heavy-set African-American kid, maybe seven years old, in a comically overlarge parka.  “You Santa Claus?”

“No,” responds Julian Gregory Day.  “Beat it, kid, I’m planning a heist.”

“Bullshit,” insists the kid in the parka.  “Fat white dude in a red suit with white trim, this time of year?  You Santa.  I seen TV.  Lemme sit on your lap, man.”

Julian Gregory Day looks around nervously.  He was low in the prison hierarchy, but not that low.  If a cop sees this he is done for.  “What…why do you wanna do that for?”, he asks the kid, with twitching, wet eyes.  He considers trying to bribe the kid to go away, but he needs that two dollars to take the bus to see his parole officer, and besides, he isn’t sure two dollars is enough to bribe anyone, even in this neighborhood.

“So I can tell you what I want for Christmas and you can bring it to me,” the kid informs him, clambering onto his lap.  Julian Gregory Day desperately wants to run, but he seems rooted to the spot, like the time Batman threw those little metal darts dipped in curare into his neck.

The kid sinks weightily onto his lap, exhaling a gout of frosty breath.  Julian Gregory Day can feel the chill of the concrete steps through his thin costume.  The kid looks blankly into his eyes.  Julian Gregory Day has never been more terrified.  He struggles to speak, but his throat is clutching and constricting and robbing him of breath, like the time Batman kicked him off of a two-story building and he’d landed on his back.  Eventually he chokes out the words:  “What, what’s your name, little boy?”

“Ashante,” the kid answers.

“And what is…what do you want for Christmas this year, Ashante?”, Julian Gregory Day asked.

“I want a Nintendo 3DS, and a new pair of Tims, and, uh, the new Young Jeezy album,” says Ashante.  After a moment’s thought, he adds, “And I want the Wildcats to win the Super Bowl, and for me to get a hoodie that says how the Wildcats won the Super Bowl.”

“And have you been a good little boy this year?”, inquires Julian Gregory Day, who seems to recall this as part of the process.

“Huh?  The fuck that got to do with it?”, asks Ashante, clambering down from his lap and waddling off into the crystal-cold darkness.

***

Julian Gregory Day walks the streets of Gotham for hours.  Late night turns into early morning as he walks.  Maybe it was fate; maybe it was God.  Maybe it was just low blood sugar, since the last thing he’d eaten was a discarded Sugar Daddy he’d found in an ashtray at the plasma donation center on Tuesday.  But he feels alert, taut, energized.  He feels more alive than at any time since he’d run away from Batman before he could run him over with the Batmobile.  Ashante represented a second chance, a great hope.  If he can just bring joy to the life of one impoverished inner-city kid, instead of plotting one more ridiculous, doomed heist based on the days of the week, maybe he can turn his life around.  Maybe he can stop being a laughing-stock and become a real human being again.  Maybe he can put an end to that desperate, neurotic fantasy called “Calendar Man”, and go back to what he was all those years ago, what he always calls himself in his mind:  a man named Julian Gregory Day.

He spends the two dollars in his pocket on bus fare, and two transfers later, he finds himself before the grand glass doors of the biggest toy store in Gotham.  Inside is a warm, inviting wonderland of toys and games, the stuff of golden childhood memories:  he knows he could find a way to convince them to help him give Ashante a merry Christmas.  He fumbles around in his tight pockets, not quite sure how to proceed, when he hears the booming and confident voice from above.

“Hello!  Whoop!  Hello, here!” shouts the voice, coming from what might be Heaven itself through a crackly electrical ether.  “What’s today?”

“Eh?” returns Julian Gregory Day, with all his might and wonder.

“What’s today, you crazy freak?” asks the voice from the divine.

“Today?” replies Julian Gregory Day, thumbing flakes of dried mustard off of his belt to reveal the names and numbers beneath.  They unveil themselves as if lit by the fires of prophecy.  “Why, it’s Christmas day!”

“And we’re closed,” comes the response.  “Don’t move, genius, I just called the cops.”

Julian Gregory Day does as the voice commands, and does not move, like the time that Batman hit him so hard in the face that his head couldn’t turn for three days.  He does not even hear the police cars as they arrive; he is too busy remembering how they serve the turkey at the Gotham city jail.

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