Notes: This is an early draft for the first chapter for a new/revived project I’m working on. It’s fast-paced, comic and a lot of fun to write. I’ll post more about this project and how you can read more soon. Lots of exciting things ahead! – Erik
1. En Medias Humerus
Our hero, Nathan Singer, Nate to his friends, Commander November Sierra to his Executive Order Omega squadmates, kid brother of the groom, replacement best man and king of all slackers, burst into the industrial kitchen of the Hotel California wearing neon green roller skates, the top half of a tuxedo, powder blue boxer shorts and an eye patch. He had a dull fork stabbed half an inch deep in his left shoulder and a pair of gold custom engraved wedding bands clutched in his hand. He flailed urgently and screamed in Spanglish immediately gaining the attention of a half dozen prep cooks and dish washers.
“Salida! Salida God Damn It! Cuidado caliente – FUCK!” Nate shouted and then, unable to control his momentum, he barreled into a heavily tattooed cook named Ernesto and Ernesto’s hotel pan full of freshly defrosted calamari. Trying to keep moving but lacking the grace to do so without further calamity, our uncoordinated protagonist hit the unwitting cook and then continued, covered now in raw squid, to bounce off of a trash bin and then into Carl, the dishwasher, who, disgruntled from being a dishwasher in the Hotel California and sexually frustrated and insecure since his old lady went on a camping trip outside of Bakersfield with her sisters in sobriety, gladly punched Nate in the stomach. Hard. If only Nate had angled his trajectory ever so slightly to the right and headed for Oscar, the other dishwasher, who had recently been given a medical marijuana card and had been born again into the light and love of the Lord. Oscar probably would have caught Nate. He may have even given him a hug and asked Nate how he could help him find his pants again. Alas, fate and physics are frequently allied against our hero and Carl got his very satisfying gut punch.
After the punch that stopped his manic flight through the hotel, three things happened in what seemed, in Nate’s television corrupted mind, to be dramatic slow motion. The first thing was Nate screaming NO!!!!!!!!!!!! in anticipation and response to the second and third thing. It was a big open mouthed NO that may have been heard and disregarded throughout LA County as the excited utterance of a homeless mad man continuing his perpetual debate with no one in particular. It was certainly deserving of multiple exclamation points and capital letters. The second thing was Nate’s right fist opening like a blossom against his will, his fingers simply forgetting their current task and returning to a more relaxed and irresponsible state, much like Nate himself often did, and in that regard not terribly surprising. And of course, the third thing was the wedding rings, his and hers, imbued with personal, sentimental and societal significance flying from Nate’s sweaty grip into the steamy kitchen air. After those three things happened, precisely when the sensation of time being slow would have been most helpful in keeping his eyes locked on the rebel wedding bands, time resumed its usual flow and Nate was once again foiled by the rules of physics that remained as arcane and confusing to him as the math that often surrounded and helped define them. Unsurprisingly, Nate had no idea where those rings landed.
His dramatic moment over, Nate skidded in his skates and fell appropriately on his ass. He tried to breathe but found the task harder than expected. He hadn’t had the wind knocked out of him since high school roughly 5 seconds after he’d told Enid Costello that she had an impressive mustache. It was not an experience he hoped to repeat.
“Here,” Ernesto said and offered Nate his hand.
Nate looked up at the tattooed Latino with calamari on his head and took the cook’s strong hand. Ernesto pulled Nate to his feet.
“Don’t roller skate in a kitchen,” Ernesto told Nate. “You’ll get yourself killed next time. We’ve got knives in here, cabron.”
“Rings,” Nate said when he was able. He looked down at two pieces of squid in his hand where the wedding bands were supposed to be and then scanned around the kitchen identifying a dozen places immediately that could conceal one or both of the rings: a sink full of water and dishes, a stock pot full of veal bones bubbling up a layer of fat to the surface, a big gray bin full of salad greens, mashed potatoes, prep cook Salva’s dreadlocks, a tub of ranch dressing bigger than Nate’s head, a half-full industrial blender, the slightly dented garbage bin or scattered across the prep counter and/or floor mixed with squid pieces. The possibilities for disaster were numerous and horrifically time consuming.
“Balls,” Nate cursed.
“This yours?” Carl asked and plucked the fork from our main character’s shoulder leading to a single spurt of blood, the sight of which immediately caused Nate’s body and brain to go weak. Our heroic but less than brave protagonist had been vulnerable to fainting spells at the mere sight of blood, especially his own, since his father had accidentally severed Nate’s pinkie toe with a hatchet during a family camping trip when he was seven (lazy and irresponsible fingers appear to be a genetic predisposition). After the loss of his toe and the accompanying loss of consciousness, Nate never wore sandals or flip flops or any kind of open toed footwear again. He avoided swimming in public pools, wore socks to bed and went out like a light when he saw blood, an affliction that proved to be particularly embarrassing when he first encountered the wonder of menstruation with his first girlfriend, Enid.
With his time in the waking world slipping quickly away and his body collapsing to a heap on the kitchen floor, everything once more slowed down in Nate’s brain. Our hero remembered the events of the last 30 hours that had led to his assault by cutlery in a narratively expository montage: from Burrito Betty’s to the gangland shoot-out at the Baby GAP, the accidental arson of the most beautiful place on Earth, his loss of pants and the roller-skated duel that preceded his current disaster. He remembered Bailey and her cute girl glasses, measuring his inseam while his tongue and lips turned numb and useless at her light, professional touch. He remembered Z-Dilly and the fog of the finest cannabis smoke in California, Marcus’s crying doll, the unbelievable stature and temper of Number 47, the groping, nimble hands of Mrs. Stroud and the lingering sickly sweet odor of her old horny woman perfume. He remembered Uncle Jack’s explosive car wreck, being kickboxed in and around his tender parts by the worst maid of honor in the history off maids of honor, his mother’s barely concealed doubt and his father’s defeated nonchalance about Nate’s inevitable failure. Before he hit the tiled floor our hero remembered Chrissy, the bride, crying and vomiting and telling him how important it was that everything be beautiful and perfect because she’d been planning the perfect wedding in her heart since she was a little girl eating dandelions and riding horses on a farm outside of Santa Rosa. Most of all he remembered Jason looking as serious as he ever had and saying, “this is important, Nate. This is the most important thing ever and I need you come through for me just this once.” Jason, the soon to be very disappointed groom. Jason, the best big brother the king of all slackers could ever ask for.
In that final moment before his cheek touched tile, Nate imagined the bride and groom standing without a best man, without rings, maybe Chrissy still had a bucket half full of her breakfast and maybe Conrad was waiting in the wings with his Best Man Handbook, ready to be the hero even if he could barely walk. Nate imagined Jason just barely shaking his head. He imagined Jason thinking only to himself because he was too decent a big brother to ever say it out loud; I knew it.
Nate’s face hit the floor. Carl dropped the fork and shrugged. Our hero blinked his eyes one last time before succumbing to the abyss. Before his lids closed, in a sliver of a moment, Nate saw a pair of familiar orthotic slip resistant black shoes approaching. The shoulder stabber. The wedding super villain. The antagonist of our story.
“He’s here,” Nate managed to say as our villain closed in on him and we all fade to black.