|Image by Ron Riccio via Wikimedia Commons|
A red-faced girl of no more than four stared at Melvin. In her hand, chocolate ice cream flowed from her cone over her fingers, dripping onto her dad’s Jedi robes. Dad, oblivious to his mounting dry-cleaning bill, held his daughter in one arm and held out his phone with the other, recording the spectacle of Darth Vader and his stormtroopers gyrating to Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Melvin stumbled, and stutter-stepped back into position, knowing that the mistake would not go unnoticed. The girl fixed her gaze on him and pointed. A bead of sweat rolled into his eyes as he spun around, and Mevlin wished for the thousandth time the park would have provided ventilated suits to offset the hot Florida sun. He finished his dance with a heel-stomp a half beat behind the others; the music ended and applause began. Dad put the little girl down and fiddled with his phone. She waved at him, then extended her arm palm out and spread her fingers so that they formed a V between the middle and ring fingers: the Vulcan salute.
Melvin wished, also for the thousandth time, that the park would have provided working blasters. Tourist scum.
Kel made a log cabin on his burger patty out of French fries. Into this structure went the extra ketchup, mustard, and pickles before he replaced the bun. He gave his creation a tentative pat, and squinted at the oozing result. Melvin, reached to the napkin dispenser and started shucking brown waffle-patterned squares across the booth as fast as his fingers would allow.
Kel looked up and pulled a face. “What?”
“I’m not getting my armor dirty over your dumb idea,” Melvin said. He pushed his stormtrooper helmet further away from Kel, and tossed a last napkin his way.
“The burger extender is a beautiful idea. When I’ve made a million dollars on it, don’t come crawling to me to pay off your student loans.”
“You’re going to get ketchup down your front, and some kid will scream ‘momma, momma! That dancing stormtrooper has his throat all cut out.’ Then you’ll get fired, and somehow, I’ll get fired too because we’re roommates.”
Kel shrugged, and gently picked up his burger. “The costume is plastic and rubber. It’ll wash.”
“It’ll attract flies and wasps.”
Kel sniffed. “Stormtrooper armor might not protect against blasters, but I’ll back it against a wasp any day of the week.” He rotated the burger in his hands, seemingly looking for a place to take a bite.
Melvin scooted some inches to his left, out of the line of fire. “But what if Sabrina notices?”
Kel put down the burger.
“I see I finally got your attention,” Melvin said.
Kel opened his burger and reached for a tiny paper cup next to his helmet. “Nah, I just forgot to add the mayo.” He squeezed the mayonnaise into the French fry well and stirred with his finger until it turned a pale orange before replacing the bun. “Sabrina isn’t going to give me the Darth job anyway.”
Sabrina, head choreographer and technically their boss, offered the coveted Darth Vader slot as a carrot and withheld it as her stick. Other cast members saw the position as a springboard to higher-profile gigs as cartoon princes and princesses, or even playing the mouse himself. For Kel and Melvin, Darth Vader was the pinnacle of their career aspirations, until such time as the theme park operators reversed their stance on Boba Fett as being too edgy for the guests. Though after five years stuck as Stormtroopers KL-696 and MV-119, Melvin doubted either one of them would ever get the job. Kel lifted his burger once again.
“I think we messed up,” Melvin said.
“You mean on Footloose? Or Turn Down for What? I thought we hit our marks in time.”
“No, I mean all this,” Melvin said waving his hand around the room. “We had dozens of Sci-Fi shows to adopt and we chose Star Wars.”
“Who else could compete?’
Melvin thought back to lazy summer afternoons on his grandmother’s couch. What was it that came on after Scooby Doo? Guy frozen in time, ran around with a short robot and guy who was half-bird. He snapped his fingers.“Buck Rogers.”
Kel stopped shy of taking his first bite, and sat back contemplating. “Colonel Deering was hot, but that show was terrible. No merchandise, no Hollywood reboot, no one even cosplays it at the cons. Who beats Star Wars for costumes? Nobody.”
Melvin flicked a wadded-up straw wrapper at Kel. “But it’s the fast-food of Sci-Fi now. Everyone’s a fan, not like when we were growing up. Now even news anchors and pro-wrestlers geek out on TV.”
“You’re an elitist, Melvin. I bet if you won the lottery today, you’d run off and become president of some gated community.”
That, coming from a kid whose daddy was the president of a gated community. Back when they were kids, Melvin would have to wait on his bike at a striped wooden barrier while a rent-a-guard on a white phone would call Kel’s house each time before letting him through. When it was Kel’s turn to visit, the nanny would drop him off.
“Would it be so bad?” Melvin asked. “Look at what they’ve done to us. We’re shuffle and twirl behind the Dark Lord of the Sith while he moonwalks to Michael Jackson. And the people eat it up! They don’t treat it with any respect. George Lucas doesn’t even care anymore, so long as he gets his cut.”
Kel shrugged. “Pays the bills.”
“And we’re the Empire, we’re not even the good guys!”
“Dancing rebels aren’t as entertaining, unless you’re a Wookie. Would you really want to do the routine wearing fake fur?” He shook his head. “You wouldn’t be happy in any other sandbox.”
“Well not now, but if I could go back in time, I’d tell my seven year-old self to pick something else.”
“And you’d still be pissy. I’ll prove it. Go name your alternate-geek demigod.”
Something less cheesy, Melvin thought, something harder to laugh at. “Battlestar Galactica. We could have been in on the ground floor of the reboot.”
“Robot dog in the ‘70s gives way to a decent two seasons before it devolves into a parable about Iraq and god. The cognitive dissonance you’d have over justifying that storyline would lead you to drink or smoke weed. Possbily both.”
He had a point, that last season was a train wreck. Maybe something British? “Doctor Who.”
Kel sniffed. “Have you even seen what they’ve done to that poor man? I’m only still watching because I’ve seen every episode and can’t break the streak now. If I came at it with fresh eyes, I’d call it overrated.”
Something obscure, Melvin thought. “How about Blake’s 7?”
“Possible, but then you’d be stuck watching reruns on VHS. Who even has one of those anymore? It’s right down there with The Shadow radio dramas.”
“Firefly,” Melvin said smugly. Everyone loved Firefly.
“You’d cosplay, and everyone would be asking you why you’re dressed up as a cowboy.”
Melvin wasn’t sure cosplaying was the end-all of geekdom, but that was an argument for another lunch hour. He recalled an old toy he loved as a kid from the quintessential spaceship-and-a-moonbase TV show.“Space 1999.”
“Now you’re just being silly. You might as well be a superfan of Battle from Beyond the Stars.”
“I still think that’s a sleeper cult classic.” Melvin said. Who got it right? Who actually thought about physics and worried about continuity? There was that show in the late ‘90s.“Okay, Bablyon 5.”
“An excellent choice! But it needs to age more before it’s retro. You’d be like the guy still using old catch phrases.” Kel pulled a face and arched his eyebrows. “Whazzzzzzup?”
Melvin checked the room to see if anyone was staring at them. He was embarassed, and he hadn’t even used the old catchphrase. “Fine. Star Trek. We shouldda been trekkies.”
Kel pounded his fist on the table, barely missing his burger.“Blasphmer! You don’t really mean that.”
“No. Not really. Though Jean-Luc Picard never had to dance to Aerosmith.”
“No, he just had to talk about his feelings all the time.”
Yeesh, he was right. By the time that series ended, the crew was singing kumbaya and teaching the Klingons to eat with knives and forks. While he agreed with the ethos of Star Trek, deep down he wanted his sci-fi to get a little dirty. “Fine. Uncle. You win,” he said.
Kel smiled and eyed his burger. “You know, Melvin, no one has it better than us. The other guys, they have to fit this lifestyle in around the edges. We get to put it front and center. And if we have to do some silly things? It’s no worse than having to go to meetings all day to hear about what other people are doing. And you have to wear a tie.” He put on a sneer. “Spreadsheets and hokey sales presentations are no match for a good blaster at your side.”
Melvin snorted. “You’re not really going to eat that are you?”
“What? This has like ten thousand calories. There’s no way I’d fit in the Vader suit if I ate this.” He threw a napkin over his plate and stood. “Let’s go, MV-119.”
Melvin sighed, and grabbed his helmet. “Right behind you, KL-696.”
The little girl was there for the two o’clock show, and stared right at Melvin. The timing was tricky, and he made sure his body shielded the act from Sabrina, watching in the wings. He pointed at the girl, then extended his palm and flashed her the Vulcan salute. Her jaw dropped, and it took all of Melvin’s control to stifle a laugh, stay on cue, and hit his next mark.
Nope. Nobody had it better than him and Kel.