Nobody puts Baby in the corner

I'll admit that a few times a year I head over to Will's Amazon page and use "Surprise Me" (which takes you to a random location in the text) to re-read some of my book. It's silly and self-indulging, but whatever--I doubt I'm the only author who does it. Today it brought me to the chapter "Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner", which I think has one of my favorite scenes in the book. It actually made me chuckle out loud today, so I decided it'd be worth copy-pasting an excerpt up here for posterity:


At six thirty, Will ordered a pizza. Not because he was particularly hungry again, but because he didn’t want to get completely smashed from all the beer. The live music Josh had mentioned turned out to be a young guy with a guitar and a portable PA. He set up in a corner and spent what seemed like forever doing sound checks and tuning the guitar.

“Who’s the guy?” Will asked Josh. He waited while Josh finished mixing a drink and set it on a full tray. A portly waitress named Amanda deftly shouldered it and slipped away.

“His name’s Curt something… Keiller I think. He came in last week and gave me a CD, sounded okay, and he’s not charging much to play. So I figured I’d give him a shot.”

“He looks a little nervous.”

“Ya, I see that.”


But when the kid finally started playing, he sounded terrific; his fingerpicking was clean and steady, and his voice was exceptional. He covered a Charlie Parr song and then did a couple of original tunes. Will tapped his toes on the foot rail and bobbed his head. Man, he seriously needed to try and learn how to play guitar. This wasn’t the first time the thought had occurred to him, but this guy Curt was a real inspiration. Just drive up to Munising and buy a cheap guitar and get on the internet and learn how to play the fucker.

Some guy at one of the tables shouted a request for “Brown Eyed Girl” and Curt played it perfectly, drawing a hearty applause.

When he started the intro to “Wagon Wheel”, by Old Crowe Medicine Show, the Van Morrison fan shouted another request. Margaritaville. Shocking. Will thought that the life of a starving musician must be hell sometimes.

But if Curt was irritated, he didn’t show it. He just gave the guy a polite, “just let me play this song first” nod.

But the guy was apparently too excited, or too much of an asshole, to wait, and he called out, “Come on man, play something we know!”

He was an older guy, maybe in his fifties—gray hair and a strong-looking jaw. He was in good shape, too, muscles showing under his loud button-up short-sleeved shirt. His sandals matched his khaki shorts. It looked like he was out with his family: a pretty, well-put-together wife, two college-aged boys, and a daughter who looked like she was maybe eighteen. Maybe. He started talking, very loudly, with a similar-looking dude at the next table over about how entertainers needed to do a better job of gauging their audiences.

Will walked over to the table and stood there, giving the guy a big, friendly smile until he finally noticed and stopped talking. Will felt good, loose but not slow or off-balance. He was in what he liked to think of as his beer window—that brief period of time before full drunkenness where you actually enjoy a heightened sense of awareness. Like a superhero.

“Can I help you?” the guy said.

Will didn’t answer. He just stared until it became awkward enough that the guy’s smirk faded. Then Will turned to the daughter and gave her the most charming smile he had.

“This is one of my favorite songs. Would you like to dance?”

The girl blushed furiously. She glanced at her father and then around the bar. “There’s nobody else dancing,” she squeaked.

“It’s okay, it’s allowed.”

“I, uh…”

Will could tell she was about to say no—realized his smile might not be enough to overcome his worn clothes, grungy hair, and half-ass goatee. But he didn’t give up (beer window, baby). Still smiling, he held out his hand. Nobody puts Baby in a corner, he thought. Then he wondered if she’d ever seen Dirty Dancing. Probably not.

“Listen buddy,” the dad said, “she doesn’t want to—“

The girl flinched at her father’s voice. “Sure,” she said, her eyes suddenly full of resolve, “that’d be great.” She took Will’s hand and followed him a few steps away from the table.

Will heard a noise and looked back to see that one of the brothers had pushed his chair back and now stood, glaring at Will.

Will glared back. What’s the problem, you fucking punkass?

The kid was pretty big, but Will knew he could take him—little shit had probably never been in a real fight in his life, probably wouldn’t enjoy having that beefy arm twisted behind his back until things started to pop. Will’s eyes must have conveyed some of this reasoning because the kid sat back down.

They danced, and Will was a perfect gentleman. He did his best young-guy dance, half-slouched and bobbing to the beat, and he never touched her except to twirl her a couple of times. He was more than a little relieved to feel only academic attraction toward her—she was too young.

He hadn’t done so well in the girl department lately. Andrea was the only local he ever hooked up with, mostly due to a lack of other options for either of them, and the tourists—well, he’d tried a few times, but rarely got anywhere. After the last time, when the twenty-something redhead he’d asked to dance had given him a look with actual fear mixed in with the incredulity, he’d stopped trying altogether. So, yeah, it had been a while, but at least this teenager wasn’t giving him a hard on.

It did the trick on the jackass dad; he was pissed. He glared at Will as if he were wishing him dead (which was probably the case). But at least he wasn’t harassing Curt anymore. Fucking guys like this, roll into town like they’re doing everyone a favor.

When the song wrapped up, Will returned the girl to the table.

“Thank you, young lady.”

“Sure.” She shot a rebellious look at her father. Will thought she might actually stick her tongue out, which would have been awesome, but she didn’t.

Will regarded the man again, still smiling widely while he let his eyes tell the rest of the story. “You all have a pleasant evening.”

Amanda came by at the same time and asked if they needed anything else.

“The check,” the man said, “now.”

Curt started playing “Margaritaville,” and Will was surprised to hear that the kid’s voice made even Jimmy Buffet tolerable.

When he got back to the bar, Josh was waiting for him. “Goddamnit, Will. What the hell was that?”

“The guy was a dick. You see him heckling your guy?” Will pointed at Curt.

“Yeah, well, in case you haven’t noticed, dicks make up a pretty big part of my business in the summer. I don’t need you running them off, eh?”

Amanda walked up and handed a credit card receipt to Josh. “The guy stiffed me.”

Josh glanced at the receipt and then held it up. “See Will, guy spent two hundred bucks and didn’t leave any tip. Now why do you suppose he did that?”

“Because he’s a fucking dick, Josh. Why else would he take it out on Amanda when I’m the one who pissed him off?”

“It doesn’t matter why, Amanda got stiffed, and I’ve got a disgruntled customer. I’d appreciate it if, in the future, you could leave my patrons alone.”

“Fine. Jesus.” He settled back down into his bar stool. “I think you’re kind of selling out though.” He gave Amanda a sidelong glance. She wasn’t bad looking, but she had a boyfriend (which didn’t matter to Will as much as it apparently did to her). “Buy you a drink when your shift’s over? You know, to say I’m sorry?”

Amanda rolled her eyes and walked away. Will turned to say something to Josh, but he’d moved down the bar.

The place was starting to feel overcrowded, full of tourists acting like high-school morons as they got plastered; getting drunk was a novelty for them, apparently. He needed another drink, but Josh had his hands full building a tray of pointlessly complex drinks (one of them even had an umbrella). Unless Josh would give Will the bottle, which he wouldn’t, then the service was going to be too slow tonight. He needed to get back to the cabin and enjoy his Jameson in peace.

Someone stumbled into him from behind, pushing him until he was leaning over his empty glass. He could feel the big sweaty asshole lean hard before regaining his balance. A young, slurred voice murmured, “Sorry man.”

Will didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to start another fight with Josh already pissed at him. Instead, he looked to his right, planning to tell Nick that he was getting the hell out of there. But Nick was gone. The guy sitting there now, young but dressed like a golfer or something in a pink polo shirt and unbelievably white shorts, looked over at him and said, “What’s up bro?”

Man, these fucking people.

Will downed the rest of his beer and practically bolted for the door.