Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Herschel looked at me very seriously, and took a long drag on his Superman™ candy stick.

"There comes a time in an old klown's life when he wants to stop rifling through the pack for an ace, and just find the other joker."

Couched somewhere in that metaphor, Herschel was telling me that he had at last found that special 54th card in his life, that he and she were shortly to be wed, and would I do him the honour of being his best sidekick? (normal people call this role the 'best man')

Well of course I said I'd be honored. As well as the day out, the free lunch, and the excuse not to take pictures all day (the exclusive rights had been sold to Hey-Hey Magazine), the whole deal included a free weekend trip to Vegas! Yes, VEGAS!

Herschel: "Everyone! We're all goin' tah VEGAS!!!!!"

Fig. 1: Las Vegas, which we never got to. Instead this photo was sourced from wikipedia.

Come the day of travel (the day before the ceremony), the car Herschel had sent to pick me up seemed to be taking quite a while to get to Heathrow Airport. Things were making less and less sense. Then we passed a HOLLYWOOD-esque sign on a hill that didn't say HOLLYWOOD, or even WELLYWOOD. What the giant white letters actually spelt out was...

Fig. 1: Basildon. Source: Facebook.

Yes, Basildon.

Finally the vehicle stopped, and as I climbed out of the car, I was greeted by Herschel and his intended with the excited declaration "Hey-hey - welcome to Bas Vegas!!"

Bas Vegas. Two parades of shops and a Travelodge. It was even smaller than New Zealand's Roto-Vegas. I didn't say it to the happy couple, but I now admit that I was inwardly thinking "Eurgh".

With a CBD this small, keeping the stag night separate from the hen night looked to be a challenge. I had earlier protested that for about a million practical reasons it was advisable to hold the stag a week or so earlier rather than just the night before, but Herschel insisted that such close-shave timing was "a dependable rule of komedy". I don't know, it was almost as though he wanted to wake up the next day handcuffed to a hangover in Cuba or somewhere.

Anyway, not to let my friend down, I dutifully rounded up the other blokes staying overnight at the Travelodge for tomorrow's big day. We were: the Mexican Bee, Bicentennial Man, the Street Cleaner (you may remember him from such underground superhero movies as The Street Cleaner), Zippy, George and Comic Book Nick.

I'd never met Nick before, although we had been aware of each other's work in the comicbook field for a couple of decades, to the point where he had once drawn me into a strip. Anyway, it was like meeting an old friend.

The Mexican Bee appeared to be a fan of the 1960s TV series The Prisoner and would continually quote the jury's chant from the last episode Fall Out of "I! I! I!" Or maybe he was just a highly agreeable Scot…

Iron Man, Ant Man, Elmo and the eleventh Doctor never made it. Slackers.

Anyway, we found a Pizza Express on the edge of the desert (the A1235), and several hours of male merriment later all retired back to our rooms at the Travelodge. Indicating Herschel's kphone (in fact just a yellow oversized rubber iphone), I said that he could call me at any time of the night if he wanted to talk or anything. I don't know what goes through a klown's head on a night like that.

I know this goes without saying, but the following morning, Herschel was nowhere to be found.

There was no answer from his room, and when the cleaners showed up we found it empty. I tried calling his phone, and it duly started ringing from on top of the room's DVD player. Either he had mistaken it for the remote control again, or he had deliberately left it behind.

Oh dear.

Kairologically, we were two hours away from the ceremony. The Travelodge's packed breakfasts suddenly came in very handy as I had to organise the lads from last night into search parties to head out to every part of Bas Vegas, barring wherever the girls were, to look for him. None of those many websites that I'd read on "How To Be Great A Best Man To A Clown" had prepared me for this duty.

There was a completely unexpected moment when, as I was exiting the lobby, Herschel's phone rang in my backpack, and it turned out to be the bride calling him. This I navigated by making a wheezing groaning sound, and generally pretending to be Herschel with laryngitis. I thought I was doing quite well, right up until the moment when I discovered that she had been watching me across the car park the entire time.

As she marched indignantly up the curb towards me, I put the disconnected kphone back in my bag and I remember thinking "Ah well, I'd better make a clean break, admit the truth and apologise."

In the event she cut my confession short by telling me that she had just had poor Herschel on the phone, he had laryngitis, and just where did I think I was going, when I was supposed to be helping him to prepare for the ceremony in under two hours?

Before I could answer, my own phone started to ring, so I made up a lie about being Budgie-Man and headed back towards the front of the Travelodge to answer it. Could this be Herschel? No. The search parties were starting to report in.

Bicentennial Man was the first, yet was hard to coax a straight answer out of. He had scoured Bas Vegas' shop(s), from whence he clearly had some information to impart, but insisted upon improvising around it and dropping into famous comedy voices. I think he started out doing Igor from Count Duckula before moving on to (I think) the genie from the Alladin movies. Somewhere around about the point when he got onto doing Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in The Road To Bas Vegas I gleaned that Herschel was not in any of Bas Vegas' several shops.

Then came the very loud call from the Street Cleaner, who it turned out was actually standing masterfully on top of the Travelodge behind me. No visual contact from up there. Really, he's so loud, I don't know why he bothers with the phone. Still, he won't be bothering with it any more since at the end of his call he managed to drop it. Now he has no powers, no weapons, and no phone.

The Mexican Bee had been checking out the bars, from where he initially seemed to have some good news for me. The conversation went:

Me: "Have you found Herschel?"

Bee: "¡Aye-aye-aye!"

Me: "Really? You've found him?"

Bee: "¡Aye aye aye!"

Me: "That's great! How is he? He's not planning to call the whole thing off or anything is he?"

Bee: "¡Aye aye aye!"

It turned out he was trying to select a fish from the tank for breakfast, and counting how many eyes each them had.

Zippy and George were over at MFI purchasing a desk with a covered front so that they could get around more easily, but still hadn't actually seen Herschel himself.

And finally, Comic Book Nick was at the arcade. "Alas, sensors indicate negative lifesigns of the Bozo derivative. Worse, I have had the misfortune to make visual contact with a 'Defective Comics Pinball Madness' game, which features a generic composite backglass depicting Paul the aardvark meeting Rik. Since this event is patently impossible, even within the alternate history of the issue #100 back-up strip The Five Defectors, I must conclude that this is a lazy attempt to reboot the classic franchise. Worst. Backglass. Ever."

So it was all up to me. As indeed I should have realised from the start that it had to be. I was his best friend, and now I had to prove it by out-psyching him and figuring out just where in the sprawling metropolis that was Bas Vegas' entertainment district he would have gone. And all the time the clock was still ticking.

I looked around me. Shops. Bars. Cinema. Travelodge. Car park. Whoa - back up there, cinema???

My initial rush of hope was crushed as I entered and realised that the film playing was Johnny English Reborn. Grimly I recalled how, years ago now, Herschel, Harrison and I had all gone to see the original movie in this series, only to come out sobbing at its crushing lack of humour. Throughout the film, Rowan Atkinson had been repeatedly presented with two alternatives, of which he would reliably select the wrong one. But then he'd do it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. (I could go on) Literally, in the entire film there is only the one joke. Afterwards Herschel had demanded his money back. He had been deadly serious, yet the angrier he had become, the more the assistant had convulsed with hysterics. (he gets that a lot)

So, was it just possible that Herschel had got up early and come to see its less-than-promising sequel, and was even now sitting through 90 more agonising minutes of the same? Sadly, there was only one way to find out.

So I said to the sales clerk, "Excuse me, have you seen a klown entering this morning?"

To which he memorably replied, "What sort of klown?"

Dang, so now I had to buy a ticket myself. Using my last note. To a Johnny English sequel. I felt dirty.

So I showed him a picture of the queen and he gave me a comp. (sucker)

Then I got to the escalator and saw the sign "Dogs must be carried on the escalator". Took me half an hour to find one.

Then I got into the theatre, and was relieved to realise that my twenty pounds had been well invested.

Dotted around the seats were about five people with the appearance of having just got off of a long-haul flight (a vaguely Asian-looking guy at the back, for example). However in the middle, unmistakably silhouetted against the bottom of the screen, was Herschel's distinctive wild-haired outline, albeit drooping. Dear God, what had Rowan Atkinson done to him?

As the hapless MI7 agent proceeded to wink at the wrong Chinese man in spectacles, I slunk quietly up to Herschel and sat down. I've never seen him looking in a worse condition. Coughing, spluttering, barely able to put any words together into a sentence. Tears had streamed down his face smearing his klown make-up, and his hair had gone as white as Einstein's. Umpteen plastic cups surrounded him, and down his front he had probably scalded himself when spilling that great big stain of… coffee?

I looked again at him, and realised for the first time that he was shaking. With a massive effort, and hyperventilating, he hissed words at me in an order that managed to make sense.

"This… film… is…. GOLD!"

Now I realised. He wasn't crying, he was laughing. With dumbfounded horror, I pieced together what had happened.

Last night Herschel had snuck out of the Travelodge and spent the entire night camped in here, watching the same movie over and over again, until it had broken him. In addition, with the bars shut, he'd OD'd on machine coffee, and was now more hyper than Yakko Warner commentating a horse race. The mixture of caffeine and having to locate humour in a film where there was probably little to be found had, to him, been lethal, and transformed him into this insanely happy wreck.

There was no way he could get married in this gibbering unrecognisable state of mind, which wasn't something many couples said in Bas Vegas. There was only one thing to do.

I had to get him back to normal. I had to make him miserable again. It was my duty as his friend.

Dragging him back to the Travelodge via the DVD shop, I sat him down, starved him of coffee, and put on the film's straight to DVD spin-off Johnny English Meets Monsieur Hulot. Starring Dermot O'Leary as Johnny English and Alexa Chung as Monsieur Hulot, the timing was deadly. Having been through such a massive overnight high, the caffeine-free Herschel was now beginning to hit the corresponding low. The downhill gradient in his spirit was swift.

"This O'Leary clown is a genius! Just look at the way absolutely NOTHING is happening around him!! Hyuh-hyuh-hyuh-hyehh-hyehh-hyehhh, hyuh-hyuh-hyuh!!!"

"Now see, putzette here is funny because she kind of looks like Hulot from the back. I can see where they were going with that, if only they hadn't invested so much of it in her waiting in the lift."

"Waaaitaminute, both Hulots finally reach this end of the corridor.... and Cloneboy tries to dewig the wrong one AGAIN? [screams at spinning ceiling] EUERGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!"

I poured Herschel drink after drink from the mini-bar. He kept trying to stand to pace up and down, but I wouldn't let him, enticing him back to the floor with handfuls of chocolate cigarettes. Eventually, while the masked Dr Hulot was at length trying to amputate the wrong one of English's eyes for dissection (it was the director's cut with extended bleakness), this deadly cocktail finally sent Herschel to sleep. At this point I secretly dyed his hair green again and gave him a klown makeover. He never suspected a thing.

With the cab due to arrive in a matter of minutes, I half-woke him up, got him to stagger downstairs in the lift, and successfully hurried him past the lobby drinks machine, despite his protests for "juss one more esspressso".

The cab picked us up with no hitch at all, got us to the church on time, I thrust $1,000 of Herschel's Monopoly money into the happy Indian driver's hands, and before you knew it we were sitting at the front of the church realising that neither one of us had the faintest idea what to do next.

I glanced at the pews behind, which now contained the smiling faces of the Mexican Bee, Bicentennial Man, Zippy, George and Comic Book Nick, doing his best not to look too unimpressed. (someone really should have gone back to help the Street Cleaner get down) Even my mum was there.

Now Herschel was starting to get a few ideas about maybe intentionally leaving, ostensibly because he was about to stand up in front of so many people without having rehearsed his script.

But… was that his real concern, or was it just an excuse masking a deeper apprehension? Well, I wasn't going to push him one way or the other. He was about to make one of the biggest decisions of his life. He had to make this call alone, in whatever way he saw fit, and whatever his choice, I had to be there for him.

With his intended heading down the aisle to all the organ music and everything, we retrieved his kphone from my rucksack and hastily used it to access the church's wi-fi and scroll through wedding vows. He was muttering things like "'In Sickness And In Health'?? Oh suuure, why not just give me a tenth season of Scrubs to perform?"

Looking for some legal wedding vows that included jokes, Herschel broadened his search string to 'legal apps for klowns'. As with all things legal, it was a minefield. His oversized index finger was swiping through imortgage, ilease, icopyright and even iheartilyendorse, but it was all just too late.

The reverend - an aging sideburned crooner in shades from Memphis - motioned us to stand and come up to the front. We did exactly as asked, despite the padre's wearing stripey boxer shorts instead of trousers. (the vicar had obviously been battling his own farce that morning, which we chose to respect)

Everyone was welcomed, the first hymn was sung (somewhat enthusiastically by the minister), and after literally a word about mercy, the vows began. But Herschel was still preoccupied with punching away at his phone to find an app that allowed him to klown-up his promises. Those literacy classes were really paying off.

Finally the crunch came, as the vicar slowly read out the whole of the question to him. Yes, THE question.

"Say there, Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski," [that bought us a few more seconds] "whah, will you promise tah love, cherish and protect her, whether in good fortune or in adversity, and tah seek with her a laaf hallowed by thuh faith of Israel boy?"

Herschel gaped at his phone, and at the top of his voice exploded:


And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Herschel Krustofski got married.

"Vivaaaaaaaaa, Bas Vegas,
Vivaaaaaaaaa, Bas Vegas,
Bas Vegaaaaaaaaaas!!!"

[finish, cheering]

"Thank-yuh, thank-yuh ver' much."


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