tagRomanceThe Fall

The Fall


A short story about being stood up at the altar told from the man's point-of-view.

Comedy turns something sad into a tragedy with an unexpected twist. What could possibly be funny about a fish swimming to a wall? When the fish thinks, "Dam."

As Mr. Gregory T. Johnson, seeing the hotel marquee welcoming Mr. & Mrs. Johnson felt like a sad reminder of my recent tragedy. Wait, did getting stood up at the altar count as a tragedy? I frowned. Given my mood, frowning came easy and it like an empty, meaningless expression. I had every right to feel sad. Broken hearts do that to a person.

My soul as empty as the first class seat next to mine on the plane or as empty as the limo ride from the airport. Did "as empty as the heart-shaped hot tub" work as an analogy? I suck at coming up with similes, metaphors, or an analogy. I popped the top of the champagne bottle and began turning it into my next analogy. Before this evening was over, I would be able to say my love life felt as empty as this bottle of champagne.

If you're like 3.8 million other people on an average weeknight, you watch The Wilson Show, Tonight! and you probably know who I am. I'm that average Joe who gets trotted out whenever the show needs a generic, slightly out-of-shape white guy. My acting skills run the full gamut, all the way from "bewildered-looking" to "slightly befuddled."

Unlike Michael Wilson, I never wanted to be on-camera. I'm one of the people who sit in a tiny room for six hours each day trying to write a perfect joke for Michael to read off a cue card. Eight of us sit in the Writers' Room checking the news and praying for enough inspiration to get us through another show. We eat a lot of takeout food. We argue a lot, especially about whether a joke sounds like Michael or if it sounds too much like something Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, or any of the other late night hosts might say.

Sometimes, we laugh. Never at a joke for Michael. Jokes for Michael get appreciative nods or little grunts to indicate, "Yeah, that'll work." When we laugh, it's always at each other and usually at someone's expense. Comedy writers are like that. We don't laugh at jokes, we laugh at misfortune. Considering that trait, my life should be filled with laughter.

I poured my first glass of champagne and made a toast to the oversized, round bed with the satin sheet. "To my best man," I announced, raising my glass high before draining it. Bubbly wasn't meant to be chugged. I released a long burp before pouring a second glass. "To HER best man!" I said, amending the toast and knocking back half the glass before the first tear started. I forced myself to stop at just one tear. One felt like more than she deserved.

Calling Darlene the "Darlin'" of the Writers' Room felt like too much of a cliche to ever use. I think that's precisely why the rest of us did it. We knew it was obvious, lame, and the worst kind of lazy writing. The curls of her pretty blonde hair and her deep dimples kept the cute jokes coming. Everyone agreed, Darlene/Darlin' was too cute for the Writers' Room, and too damn talented to let go. Darlene earned her seat at the table every single day.

If asked what I like best about Darlene, I give a variation of the same answer, "Have you seen her butt?" Depending on who asked, I'll say anything from butt to ass to derriere. Always tough picking out just the right word for that silly joke. The key is to surprise your audience without shocking them. No one gets the real answer. No one would believe me.

Truth is, I loved her mind. I loved how she had the sharpest wit. Darlene seldom wrote the joke, but she always knew how to rewrite it. That's a valuable skill when you're chasing down the funny in something stupid. You can sense it is just around the corner, but it wasn't until Darlene added her little piece of polish that you suddenly saw it in perfect clarity. I didn't deserve smartness like that.

I felt that single tear dripping down the side of my face like an odd tickle. I didn't realize tears could be so big. As it neared my jaw, I caught it in my tapered glass of sparkling wine and nearly laughed. "Crying into your champagne? How's that for a first world problem?" I should write that down. It would make a great gag for The Wilson Show, Tonight! After scribbling it down, I caught myself trying to rewrite it, searching desperately for the funny that Darlene could find so easily. I wrote and rewrote the thought three different ways before my heart started aching too much to go on.

You probably saw my national television debut. If you didn't see it on the show, you probably saw the original Youtube gag, "The World's Worst Proposal." We shot it in the park near the studio. The premise was so simple; as a guy tries to propose to his girlfriend, he drops the ring down a storm drain and so much comedy ensues as he desperately tries to fish out. Such a simple gag made so much more endearing because of its context.

Bill did a great job shooting the bit. Darlene had the idea that Bill should use his cellphone. Heck, those things have near professional quality cameras on them. She positioned him in the right spot for the gag to look spontaneous. We did the cuts using home video processing software for that genuine, amateur feel. Again, that was her idea.

Remember the part where I tried to pull a branch off a tree and got arrested? That wasn't part of the bit. That really happened. We tried explaining who we were, how we were shooting a bit for the The Wilson Show, Tonight! Except, without a star or a film crew, the officer wasn't buying it. How was I supposed to know it was illegal to pull a branch off a tree in the park? I didn't see the part where Darlene ran after the patrol car like a lawyer chasing an ambulance until we were editing it together. Funny stuff.

As you know, the video went viral, which created a problem for the studio and our contracts. We started getting calls from rival networks wanting to interview us. People wanted to know the rest of the story, they wanted to know if I ever managed to rescue the ring, propose to her and if she had said yes. It felt like a loose end for too many people. The problem was, we were legally forbidden from appearing on a rival network.

We had another problem, too. A problem that involved Human Resources and our contracts. Against our contracts, behind the scenes, Darlene and I had been dating for months. It seems major corporations are running scared of the #MeToo movement, as they should. Especially entertainment companies. We had two choices. Either one of us had to quit or we had to get married for real.

"Do it on-air," one of my fellow writing partners suggested.

"We can get Michael ordained," came another suggestion as the idea grew legs.

"Wait, we should redo the entire proposal. Really milk this thing. Reveal that the YouTube video was a hoax, follow it up with a real proposal, and then a wedding during sweeps week!"

"What if he drops the ring again?"

Then Darlene suggested the genius part, "He drops it and I dive for it!"

Layer-by-layer, the drop of an idea transformed into a full-blown bit worthy of national television. At home, Darlene and I kept checking and double checking with each other, "We're doing this because we really want to get married, right?" We both swore we did. I guess we both meant it, too, though Darlene had one more twist up her sleeve.

If you saw the proposal, you know how it went. In the sketch before we're introduced, a joke was made about whether or not Michael bothered with pants behind his desk. Unlike the other late night hosts, Michael did his opening monologue behind his desk. In fact, it was a running gag that he never left his desk. We can thank Scarlett Johansson for playing along. Remember how she made such a big deal about Michael never standing? Remember how she checked, blushed, and exclaimed, "You're not wearing any pants!" Then came the bigger laugh when she asked, "Does it have a name?"

"Thor," Michael quipped. (Thank you for laughing, I wrote that line.)

Scarlett checked again for another look before saying, "It deserves its own zip code!" (Again, thank you for your laughter. I'm proud of that line, too.)

And then, we were introduced. First, they played the entire YouTube video for the six people in the world who had somehow missed it. Then we were brought out. To jeers and groans from the audience, Michael revealed how the entire video had been a setup, then the teaser, "But you're here to make it right, aren't you?" Followed by, "Right after these messages."

Four minutes of commercials later, we're back to Darlene and I sitting on the couch with Michael for the big reveal. "The thing is, I really do want to marry Darlene," I announced, fishing in my pocket and dropping to one knee in front of the desk. I can still remember how the live studio audience broke into cheers. My hands shook for real, so much so that I was afraid I would screw up the gimmick inside the jewelry box holding the ring. As I fumbled with opening that stupid box, the ring popped out and rolled beneath Michael's desk.

Howls of laughter at my bad luck repeating itself. Poor Darlene had to wait nearly three full seconds before delivering her line, "Not again!" She vamped like a pro as she looked at the empty ring box before delivering her line, jumping up, and diving behind Michael's desk to even bigger howls of laughter.

And the part where she stuck her head up from behind his desk and announced, "Scarlett wasn't kidding!" Completely ad-libbed on the spot!

The same when I asked, "Did you find it?"

And her perfect reply, "Find what?"

As Scarlett Johansson later revealed, Michael really wasn't wearing pants that night. He was supposed to be wearing a merkin. (A "merkin" is a modesty covering actors often wear during nude scenes to maintain their privacy while still appearing nude. Think of it as a pubic wig.) At some point, his merkin had fallen off and the eyeful Darlene received when she crawled beneath the desk was all Michael.

Who knew Darlene was a Size Queen? I sure didn't.

I know, that's harsh, but the poor thing couldn't stop fantasizing about Michael's larger than most equipment. I'm sure that wasn't the only part of him enjoyed. Michael Wilson's star was on the rise. He was gorgeous in that slick, dipped in plastic, Hollywood kind of way. He was funny, too. At least when he was reading the lines people like me wrote for him. We owed everything we had to his show. It was where we met. Where we fell in love. And, it was on the set of his show that my fiance realized she wanted more in the world than an Average Joe comedy writer.

I don't know if Michael pulled off the merkin on purpose. According to Scarlett, the merkin had vanished before she had taken her peek beneath the desk. Of course, the rumor among the staff is that he did it on purpose. He probably hoped to impress our A-List celebrity. The impact of his unintentional nudity took on new significance after, well, after I was left standing at the altar. There really isn't an easy way to put that, is there? Michael was supposed to walk Darlene down the aisle, not out the door of the church and into the limo waiting for the newlyweds. Fucking prick.

So yeah, I went on the honeymoon by myself. Why not? Michael had prepaid for the cliche Niagara Falls honeymoon suite. He made sure it included every honeymoon suite feature from the heart-shaped hot tub to the big, round bed with the lacy negligee draped across it that Darlene would never wear for me. The champagne I drank was bought and paid for by the man who had stolen my bride. The least I could do was run up as big of a room service tab as possible. This trip was as close to a severance package as I would get before I quit or got fired.

Staring at the champagne glass holding my tear, I imagined being able to see the tear floating on its own like a tiny sliver of ice. On a whim, I threw the half-empty glass into the fireplace. Wasn't that what you were supposed to do after making a toast? You threw the glass in a fireplace to seal the deal, right? I made another toast with the second glass and tossed it into the fireplace, too.

Drinking straight from the bottle, I overfilled the hot tub with bubbles. After a nice long soak, I jerked off on the red negligee laying on the bed while giggling like a drunken madman. Social media blew up with the details of Michael marrying the cute blonde in a Las Vegas ceremony while I passed out naked on the bed clutching the empty bottle of champagne.

When morning arrived, the room looked like the set of "The Hangover" without the tiger in the bathroom. A gentle rapping on the door was followed by a tiny voice, "Housekeeping." I made the mistake of opening my eyes to a ray of sunlight. The vampires were right, sunlight does kill. Reluctantly, I rolled out of the bed.

"Hold on," I groaned. Staggering into the bathroom and pulling on one of the two robes hanging there. I had pulled on the one that read "Mrs." instead of "Mr." Did it matter? Stumbling to the door, I pulled it open to greet a very petite, dark-haired girl wearing a shy smile. She wore a maid uniform and stood protectively behind her cart of supplies.

"I'm so sorry," she said, blinking as if she might recognize me from her TV. "I would come back except you're my last room for today."

"Bring it on in," I said, stepping back from the door. "Hell, I'll help." I started by picking up the soiled, red negligee and tossing it into a trash can.

She hesitated and looked over her shoulder down the empty hallway before deciding to risk entering the room. She carefully kept the cart between me and the door while shoving something inside the door jam to hold the door open.

I felt her giving me that look of vague recognition as she tried to place why I looked so familiar. Television exposure does that to a person. I waited to see if she would ask. Some do and some don't. A few people will freak out as if they met someone truly famous rather than a minor star enjoying his fifteen minutes of fame. I braced myself. Surely the network hadn't aired my failed wedding, had it?

The wedding took place at 10 AM to give the rest of the crew plenty of time to finish editing it. The wedding had been scheduled to air in Michael's usual time slot with the same disclaimer at the top of the show, "Live, on tape." I always found that phrase funny. How could it be "live" if it was previously recorded?

We had recorded lots of little bits leading up to the wedding, most of it trash. There had been the montage where Darlene and Michael went shopping for her dress, including him trying on a couple dressed. Another compilation video had aired of Darlene and Michael trying to pick a wedding photographer. That bit had ended with Darlene posing for nearly nude pictures as one photographer after another took pictures. The wedding cake montage had ended in the obligatory food fight. Like I said, none of it had been high humor, but we milked the buzz for all it was worth.

I never resented the attention Darlene had received during the lead up to the wedding. Darlene was beautiful. The camera and the audience loved her. We played up the planning of a wedding as her special day while showing me doing typical guy things. After the wedding dress montage, we had done a short clip of me picking out my tuxedo where I walked into a tux shop and said, "I need a black one." End of bit. When Darlene asked me about what kind of cake, I had a single line, "Um, a white one?" While they auditioned photographers, I sat in a waiting room, seemingly oblivious to the boudoir style photography going on in the next room.

No, I wasn't oblivious to what was going on. I sat in the Writers' Room we wrote every bit. Initially, the joke had been nothing more than comparing and contrasting the drama a woman goes through planning her perfect day while the sad sack guy does very little. As we milked the concept, a new story arc crept into the narrative. "What if we played up the amount of time Michael and Darlene spend together?" That became as funny as the original concept. Michael would show up to pick up Darlene. While the two of them were whisked off to pick out wedding dresses or visit the cake baker, I would stay behind playing video games or hanging with my buds.

I'm sorry, I lied to you a moment ago when I said: "I wasn't oblivious." I meant, I knew the joke. I knew the gag we were presenting to the audience. It wasn't until I became the punchline standing at the altar that I had realized the rest of the joke. After spending all that time together in the name of humor, Michael and Darlene had fallen in love. I had been oblivious to that part, caught completely off-guard.

I bent and picked up broken pieces of my cell phone from the fireplace along with the broken glass from two shattered champagne flutes. After watching Michael and Darlene running down the aisle, out of the church, and into the stretch limo waiting meant for Darlene and me, I had stood flat-footed and stunned at the altar. That hadn't been part of the script! I looked at the group of our friends standing with me for a clue.

Timmy, one of our fellow writers, slapped me on the back and said, "Looks like you just earned an all-expenses-paid trip to Niagara Falls!" Typical comedy writer trait, Timmy took something sad and had instantly tried twisting a tragedy into humor with an unexpected twist.

"But they took my limo," I said, still confused by what had happened.

"I'll call you an Uber to the airport," Gretchen said from the bridesmaid side, fishing inside the top of her bridesmaid dress and producing a cell phone from inside her bra.

I felt the cameras rolling and heard the uncertain murmurs from the guests. While my time in front of the camera had been minimal, I do happen to work for the #1 show in late night. A murmuring, uncertain audience was never a good thing. The rest of the writer staff converged around me with the general consensus being, "Go for it," "Do it," and "Roll with it." Somewhere in the back of the church, an associate producer began organizing the crowd into a birdseed throwing line. In a dream-like haze, I walked down the aisle and out of church doors into the waiting Uber car. Part of me thought it was all a gag.

There were cameras everywhere as I arrived at the airport and given VIP treatment. I followed through with the stupid bit of failing the metal detector and needed to receive an enhanced pat down. The original bit had Darlene sailing through TSA despite lots of violations while I got pull out for a pat down that was one step away from a body cavity search.

I had no idea how well it played without the Ying and Yang of Darlene's experience versus mine. I had no idea how any of the failed wedding had played. While in flight, I didn't have access to social media. Met with another film crew on the ground in Niagara meant I couldn't play catch-up. Once I was in the limo to the hotel, I glanced at my social media, realized I couldn't face it, and had turned off my phone. After half a bottle of champagne, my phone had followed the wine glasses into the fireplace. I had no idea what had aired last night. I didn't want to know.

Lindsey the housekeeper did an admirable job with not gawking at me, but it couldn't last. As she began working on stripping the bed, she finally asked, "You're that TV guy, aren't you?" she asked. "The funny one."

"In the flesh," I said, giving her a grand flourish with my arms before realizing how my gesture made the short robe carry up past the level of being discrete. She had known me less than a few minutes and had already seen more of me than most women do on a first date. "Sorry," I said, lowering my arms.

"It's okay," she said, ignoring the flash I had inadvertently provided while heading to the bed. She pulled off the sheets, dragging the empty champagne bottle within reach and throwing it away.

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byBuckyDuckman© 26 comments/ 22929 views/ 15 favorites

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