i, the Protagonist


Chris Salazar couldn’t remember what sort of work he’d envisioned when he first fell under the sway of Sid Stockton, the weirdly charismatic CEO of SweetSpot Networks, during a pandemic Zoom interview, and wound up ditching his editing job for Sid’s entertainment start-up, but it definitely hadn’t involved filling entire walls with algebra. Yet here he was, two years later, with an aching arm and a racing heart, having run through several dry-erase pens defending his suite of “algebraizations”—a word he would have had trouble defining two years ago but now used upward of eighty times a day (he’d counted).

Edited Draft
Initial Draft

Why, the professional counters wanted to know (Jarred especially; Stanford ’19, like Chris, but a calc major), had Chris algebraized A Drink in the Face


a (+ drink) x (action of throwing drink) = a (– drink) + i/2


—making i, the protagonist, the target of the hurled drink rather than the hurler?

Without looking directly at Jarred, whom Chris made a point of ignoring, he explained to the group that a drink-hurling protagonist belonged to a different story block, Hero Delivers Comeuppance to Perennial Jerk, which Chris had algebraized several months back.

Jarred was dissatisfied; Jarred was always dissatisfied with Chris, and the feeling was mutual. “Shouldn’t i be squared after the drink lands in his face?” he pressed.

“Having a drink thrown at you is humiliating,” Chris said firmly. “Which is more likely to make i feel reduced, or i halved.”

“Yes,” intoned Aaron, their boss, a man of so few words that the occasional word he did utter had the cleaving finality of an ax splitting a log.

Chris experienced a jolt of manic exhilaration. He was killing it, crushing it; murdering this meeting; he was destroying Jarred, having powered through an entire set of algebraizations with nary a mathematical change required. These included, in addition to A Drink in the Face, which he’d catalogued as 3Aim:


  • A Slap in the Face [3Aiir]
  • “You Never Cared for Me.” (Shouting) [3Aviiiy]
  • “How Dare You?” (Whispering) [3Aviiiz]
  • Protagonist Hits Bottom Alone, at Night, on City Streets (with Soulful Music) [3Aixb]
  • Protagonist, Drunk, Drugged, or Hit on Head, Stumbles Through Distorted Landscape [3Aixd]
  • Nighttime Roar Followed by Vacuous Morning-After Hush (3Axiiw)