He’s Going Off Script
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Bouquet"
Originally featured on 02-05-2010
As part of our series "Senses of Togetherness"

!!!Win a date with Haxcomb Lewis!!! I typed on the computer so the phrase swam onto the screen in an assault of orange and purple glitter. I gestured toward Frank with my chin to indicate that it was a question.

Frank deleted it. “That’s misleading. There is no date with Haxcomb Lewis.”

“Why not?”

“Because Haxcomb Lewis is not a piece of merchandise.”

“Wait, is this a raffle or an auction?”

Frank grabbed the keyboard from my hands. “Doesn’t matter. Only one thing concerns you, and that is, Haxcomb Lewis is not a trophy, Haxcomb Lewis is not on any date, Haxcomb Lewis is not in or anywhere near the picture. Got that? So when you’re out with her, wherever you take her, if at any moment you open your mouth and the words that come out are Haxcomb Lewis speaking, just shut your lip. If you and the lady are in a hot-tub or on a couch somewhere and you start feeling comfortable and the wine or champagne starts to blur your thinking and thoughts start creeping into your head that are thoughts Haxcomb Lewis would be thinking, just stop. I don’t know how I can make this any clearer. This is what the promo will look like. This is what she will see, this is what she will get, and if this expectation is not met, she could technically file a lawsuit.”

!!!Win a date with Lucky Crabhorn!!! Frank typed.

“Wait, you mean I’m supposed to stay in character throughout the whole date?”

Frank nodded.

“But wait a second. What if, um, I mean, what if she and, um, Lucky Crabhorn really hit it off, I mean, if it goes really well and things, I mean, Lucky’s never really been intimate with anyone on the show — closest thing was probably the episode where I went to the carnival and challenged the seven-foot-tall woman to an arm-wrestle and she bit me—I mean, how far would Lucky-”

“I knew this was a bad idea.” Frank shook his head over his lap. “Forget it. I’m canceling the fundraiser.”

“No, wait, wait. I’m a professional. I can- It’ll be fun, and it will give me an opportunity to explore the character deeper off camera, and, like an acting challenge, like, I mean, it will be an exercise in self-control- I didn’t mean to say that, that’s not what I meant, I mean-”

“Shut up.” Frank said it louder than I’ve heard him speak before. I think I might actually be the cause of his headaches over the three years he’s been my manager.

Still I could not make myself stop talking, so I asked, “But what if say we’re having a moment and she specifically tells me she wants to cut the bullshit and talk to me as a human being, to Haxcomb Lewis, the man behind the goofy shenanigans, and I play it off like, What? Who the hell is Haxcomb Lewis and what kind of name is that? And she looks me dead in the eye and insists that I abandon the act and we talk as real people-”

Frank put out his hand in a stop gesture. “First of all, I need to correct you; this will most certainly be on camera.”

“What?”

“You said off camera.”

“When did I say that? What was the context?”

“It was about ten seconds ago, you were rambling and you justified the stunt to yourself as a chance to explore the character off camera—those were your words. Hax-”

“Call me Harry. Jesus, Frank, you’ve known me for-”

“Harry, we’re not communicating. For the last time, this is not a date. You. Are not. On. A. Date. This is a performance. We’re not selling the chance to win a date with Lucky Crabhorn, or with Haxcomb Lewis, or with any living entity possessing this face.” Frank pinched my cheek till I felt blood rush into it. “What we’re selling is the chance to be on television, to be featured in a network sitcom that hundreds of thousands of people will see. No script. All improv. We’ll film the date and edit it down to twenty minutes and air it as an episode. If you do break character, we can edit around it, but you won’t break character. You’re Lucky Crabhorn and you’re on a date with a character, except instead of another actress, her character will be played by a fan who happened to win this contest, and paid money to enter it. It will make your interchange fresh and original.”

I smiled. If I had the ability to refrain from smiling, I would have smiled less.

 

Her name is Salina Plume and she wears a brown leather jacket and Yin-Yang earrings. She looks at me like I’m an intelligent person. I wish she wouldn’t. Lucky Crabhorn is most recognizable as the character in the intro sequence playing a banjo while riding a skateboard wearing a neon headband and hollering at women.

This is something Lucky Crabhorn has been thinking about, but never expounded upon out loud (the wit of the show’s scriptwriters have not caught up with the ingenuity of Lucky’s private thoughts). I swear this is Lucky’s thought, not mine. It’s sort of, like, a premise for a sci-fi movie. I mean the movie would suck, because it’s stupid idea, but it’s funny that Lucky would think of it, because it’s the sort of thing a character like Lucky would think of, so I tell it to Salina Plume with animated hand gestures over tacos.

“Future society, I’m talking—Instead of seven days a week, there’s no such thing as a week. Every day is unique. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the first seven days, and will never exist again. The eighth day was called Mulkday. The ninth day was called Choladay. No name can ever be repeated. The human tongue knows thirty-two consonant sounds: bah, sah, dah, fah, jah, gah, hah, kah, lah, mah, nah, pah, qah, quah, rah, tah, vah, wah, xah, yah, zah, sha, cha, bra, sla, pla, gla, fla, fra, stra, cla and sta. There are nine vowel sounds: ah, eh, uh, ih, oh, ee, ay, oo and aiee. That’s thirty-two times nine times thirty-two possible distinct syllables—less, really. That gives you a maximum of nine-thousand, two-hundred and sixteen. The name of a day can have up to four syllables, including the day. So the maximum would be that number to the third power plus that number squared plus the number itself, which computes to seven point eighty-three times ten to the eleventh power. But of course linguistically only twenty percent of those would make sense phonetically, so you’ve got a calendar with 1.57 x ten to the eleventh days, that’s four-hundred, twenty-eight million, nine-hundred, fifty-four thousand, nine-hundred and twenty-three years. Which is the amount of time humans have left on the planet.”

Salina has finished her tacos. She’s tracing lazy circles on the plate with her fork and yawning. I think she’s disappointed. She shouldn’t be.

I make a horrified over-reactionary face, because that’s what Lucky does; he goes off on tangents and then reels himself in, realizes he’s either bored or offended someone and frantically apologizes, and the hyperbole with which he sympathizes with his listener launches him excitedly into another tangent. It’s funny. Lucky Crabhorn makes people laugh. I pat Salina on the shoulder, practically knocking her chair over to get to her. “Aw, man that was a downer, I totally didn’t mean to be a downer. End of the world, that’s like-” I pack a snowball with the air and try and catch every flake of it through my fingers as it crumbles and then nervously clasp my palms together. “-that’s all depressing. Want to get dessert? They have this almond torte with…”

She’s not laughing. She’s not yawning. I can’t keep talking. I never choke in the middle of a rant. I always keep going. Salina’s fork lies still on the table. She says,

 

“Want to go for a walk?” I think I remember her saying. I’m not sure. The camera man and the sound guy are following us down the boardwalk, trying to be unobtrusive. Salina takes my hand. She’s looking at the waves. The sun sinks into them. She says,

 

Nothing. I can’t talk because I’m not allowed to break character. She doesn’t want to talk because she has nothing to say to me. To Lucky. To the camera. To the purple flicker on the surf. We sit in the sand. I write in the sand with my finger,

What are we doing?

She looks at me. Moving closer to me, she wipes the sand with her palm, erasing it.

I hear the footsteps of Chuck the cameraman moving in for a close-up on our kiss.

Salina grips my hair tighter. She whispers, “You’re doing this all wrong.”

 

!!!Salina Plume—the woman with the Yin-Yang earrings—loves me!!! I will type in my daily affirmations file on my desktop before I go to sleep.

“Why did you kiss me on the sand?”

Salina will turn and look over her shoulder. “Are we alone?”

“Did you do it because the cameras were rolling?” I will say.

She will draw a lazy circle on my lower back with her thumb and say with a warlike smile, “You mean, was I acting?”

I will find nothing to say.

“Why did you tell me that stupid shit about days of the week and the apocalypse?”

I will shrug. “Why did you enter a contest to win a date with Lucky Crabhorn?”

She won’t know. Maybe she will know and just won’t say. I’ll suspect she’s disappointed that Lucky Crabhorn did not bring her a bouquet of flowers. Lucky Crabhorn never thought of it. I would have thought to bring her flowers, but I wasn’t thinking. Wasn’t allowed to be thinking, according to contract. I hate Lucky Crabhorn. I don’t hate Lucky, I can’t hate Lucky, I don’t know. I love Salina. I’ll tell her so.

Before I tell her anything or convince myself around in more circles, she will say, “Come on, think about it. Are you really that gullible, that full of yourself? What makes you think there actually ever was a contest?”

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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