Bud reached into the chip bag. It crinkled, loud and coarse by the cheap, jagged foil. He dug his hand around the salt-covered potatoes, angling for the perfect one. You never want to start too big. You have to aim for those mid-range chips, the ones the size of a beer bottle’s bottom. He pulled one out, smacked his lips around it, and sucked on the tips of his fingers before going in for another. He couldn’t stop. That’s how they get you, the chip companies, the corporate potato pigs, by drowning their spuds in moreish delicacies that rot your teeth and erode your stomach lining. Bud was a sucker for anything with vinegar on it, anything that made his teeth vibrate, thin and on the verge of shattering. Pulling out another chip, he paused to look at it. It was familiar. He spun it around, tilted it forward, and Jesus Christ, there he was.
“Jesus Christ, look at this,” Bud spat the crumbs of the half-chewed potato chip from his mouth.
Sitting across the sofa, Denise leaned towards Bud with her eyes half-lidded. She’d had enough of his bullshit.
“What?” she said.
Bud flung the chip closer to her, tilting it upwards so she could see it in better light.
“It’s a potato chip,” she said. “And?”
“That’s Martin Fucking Short.”
Sometimes the age gap between Bud and Denise wasn’t so bad. As long as you didn’t think about the fact that when she was born, he was graduating high school, and when she was applying to universities, he was in the middle of his first divorce. And as long as you didn’t think about the fact she didn’t know who Martin Fucking Short was.
“Martin Short!” he spoke louder, as if the volume would awaken something in her.
“Three Amigos? Father of the Bride? Legend of Saturday Night Live?”
Her face remained blank, unfazed by his manic spiraling into filmography recitation. Bud scoffed, gently placed his chip on the coffee table, and pulled up a photo on his phone.
“Oh!” Denise chimed with recognition. “He was Jack Frost! In the third Santa Clause.”
Bud didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.
“Okay,” he picked up the chip again, holding it alongside his phone. “See?”
Denise stopped for a moment to consider. The salt built up triangular in the middle, emulating what could be a nose, and the chip had burn lines resembling what could be eyes along its top. She supposed it could be him.
“I guess,” she said. “It just looks like a random face.”
Bud was flabbergasted.
“You’re kidding!” he said. “It’s a spitting image.”
“I don’t really see what the big deal is,” Denise went to grab for it, intent on eating it.
“Woah! No way,” Bud placed the chip on the far side of the table, away from her.
“What are you gonna do with it?” she asked, confounded.
“This has gotta be worth something,” Bud spoke confidently, picking the chip up and waving it in the air as he made to leave the room. “Just you see.”
Bud set his chip up in the study. Laying down a crisp, white page of A4 paper where the sun shone. He placed his chip in the middle, positioning it to the ideal angle, and opened the camera on his phone. Bud took a series of photos, all those which best captured the Martin Short of the chip. Bud uploaded the pictures to eBay, setting a starting price for auction at $50.
“You’re fucking kidding,” Denise said upon finding the stagnant bidding war on Bud’s computer. “No one’s gonna pay fifty bucks for a chip.”
“Not just a chip,” Bud said. “An exact fried potato replica of beloved actor Martin Short.” He pointed to the description he’d keyed into the item information.
“I think those are baked,” Denise said.
Bud kept the chip in a ziplock bag tucked in the back of the ice cube drawer in the freezer. They never went in there. The pair of them were accustomed to the summer heat and dealt with it better by removing layers. He’d looked up the best way to preserve a chip—he didn’t want Martin to go stale.
When Marl and Sue came over for drinks and a chat Bud told them about Martin the chip. About how he had put the chip on eBay, and about how you wouldn’t believe the likeness! And here’s the photos to prove it.
“I guess I see it,” Marl said, even though they couldn’t really. “So people actually buy that type of thing?”
“All the time!” Bud’s voice rose in excitement. “It’s practically memorabilia!”
Bud had spent hours staring at the glowing screen of his phone in their bed at night, his back turned to Denise. People were inclined to buy all kinds of things if they were attached to a celebrity. A piece of lint from Lindsay Lohan’s sweater from the 2005 Teen Choice Awards. A leaf in the shape of Javier Bardem’s head. Hair from David Schwimmer found on the set of ER circa 1996. A tile in the shape of an airborne Christina Applegate, if you squinted your eyes hard enough. And here he had Martin Fucking Short. A legend. A comedic genius. A star of stage and screen. Of course it was going to sell.
“Enough about that stupid chip,” Denise groaned, standing up abruptly to refill her guests’ coffee cups.
Sue sat awkwardly between them, gazing back and forth between the pair and then to Marl with her eyebrows raised.
“It’s really okay,” She said. “Um, maybe we could see it.”
“Oh no,” Bud shook his head, ignoring Denise, “I don’t want anything to happen to it.”
“Oh my God, Bud. Give it a rest, it’s a potato.” Denise rolled her eyes, dropping back down into her seat. “You haven’t even got a single bid on it.”
In the weeks after, Bud joined multiple online forums and Facebook groups, and signed up for innumerable newsletters on celebrities and Martin Short and selling memorabilia. He watched auctions on eBay, noting the number of watchers and bidders and starting and selling prices. Bud also stopped making love to Denise entirely.
When his auction ended, unsold, Bud re-uploaded his chip with the tips and tricks he’d learned from his research. He shared the link to his auction across Martin Short fan blogs and Facebook pages on celebrity collectables and subreddits on potatoes with faces. Slowly, starting his Martin chip at a price of $10, severely below retail value, Bud began to get some interest. One bid, then two, then the two going back and forth, then a third, and a forth, and suddenly, over twenty bids. With four days still left on the chip’s sale, the bidding price had skyrocketed to over $400.
Bud considered all the things he’d do with the money. He’d get a full back tattoo. He’d take all his friends out for a meal. He’d drink ’til his skin turned yellow. He’d fix the radio in his car. No, he thought, he’d save it, put it towards moving out of this dump.
Bud approached Denise returning home from work, ecstatic by the new interest in his Martin chip and his newfound wealth. She looked tired, moody, unapproachable. Bud considered for a moment not telling her. She’d probably use it to fix the heater or retile the bathroom. Besides, she’d never believed in him to begin with.
“What?” she spoke roughly in response to his vague stare, dropping her bag onto the counter.
“Four-hundred dollars,” he blurted out.
“You’re not buying any more blow right now, we can’t afford it.”
Bud hadn’t thought about that in weeks. He shook his head.
“No, I don’t need it. That’s how much the chip’s at. The auction.”
Denise furrowed her brows, sliding her jacket off and removing her shoes.
“What?” she asked, half paying attention.
Bud took his phone out, opening eBay and seeing the bid had risen to $530. He thrust the phone towards Denise. Her mouth fell open and she dropped her shoes so she could hold the phone closer.
“What the fuck?” she gasped, then began laughing. She stomped her feet like a child and threw her arms around Bud. “Five hundred fucking dollars!”
Things were really looking up. Denise let Bud choose the movie at night, and the pair of them would sit laughing at whatever crazy antic Martin Short got himself into. Bud dyed his hair a dusty brown, fixed his front teeth, and began putting on a wonky American accent at times to rise a laugh from Denise. The pair of them had never gotten along so well. Denise kept an eye on Bud’s eBay like it was the stock market, and boy were her shares climbing.
It was nice at first, then she began to speak about it as if the chip was theirs, as if Martin was their inside joke, their little secret. Denise was so happy about it, it made Bud’s skin crawl. She hadn’t even heard of Martin Short, yet now she was beyond ecstatic that this man’s face was making them money in leaps and bounds. She started to shop with less regard for home brand and sale items and began leaving late for work and arriving home before her shift ended. She was the breadwinner of the pair, or at least she was before Martin chip started pitching in.
The price rose: $900, $1000, $1100, $2000. It gave Bud goosebumps mainly, before anything else, because he was right. He knew it and Denise knew it, but the anticipation in her eyes was delight not reluctant resignation. God, why did he want it so bad?
The chip bag crinkled as Bud’s hand swan dove to the bottom, him slouching on the living room sofa and gorging on salt as he did routinely. He filled his mouth with palmful after palmful of chips while glued to eBay on his phone. He emitted an auction-and-potato-chip-induced sweat. He stank of salt and chin fat. The price soared beyond anything the pair of them had ever imagined: $3000, $3500, $3900, $4300. He put the phone down, his heartbeat quickening. Denise came rushing in, her own phone glowing.
“Four fucking thousand!” she yelled.
Martin Short was his celebrity, his chip, but the reward was theirs together. He considered the money. It’d be nice to have. He could settle debts. He could pay for the veneers and hair job he’d gotten. He could get that back tat. Sure, the money would be nice. Bud put his phone down and watched the price rise and the countdown drop. He drifted backward towards the refrigerator. Denise called from the other room, relaying information he could see for himself.
Bud bent down, opened the freezer drawer, and pulled the little ice tray drawer where Martin chip lay. He grabbed the ziplock bag, slid the chip out, and stared at it. Martin’s eyes were screaming.
“Five-thousand dollars!” Denise yelled.
Bud held the chip gently. It was cold and crisp as the day he’d found it. Then he laid the chip on his tongue. He felt a chill run through him. The countdown on the auction ended. The price read $5200. Denise came rushing in, eyes wide and smile cracking. Bud closed his mouth and swallowed the chip swiftly without chewing. He felt the potato’s edges scratch the inside of his throat. Denise looked confused, then horrified.
“What the fuck did you do?” she said.
And Bud didn’t know. But he wanted to say, “I told you so.”