June 2013 archive

First Trip

I attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival at the University of Iowa this past weekend.  My assignment was to use a specific joke (“the string joke”) in a universally recognizable voice (valley girl, Elmo, Evangelical minister, etc).  I chose a combination of Chicago/Boston sports guy and what follows is my first piece of fiction writing.  Thanks for reading.
First Trip
In Beantown for work, Mike learned in his first thirty minutes to not call it Beantown.  Back home in the Windy City no one cared if you called it the Windy City, the Second City or the city of broad shoulders.
But as he’d been told, rather scolded by the cabbie, not Boston.  “Baawston” the cabbie pronounced as he smacked his gum and darted in and out of lanes of traffic, “‘ain’t no Beantown.  Where you from anyway?”  the cabbie asked.

“Chicago” Mike answered.

The cabbie kept smacking, “yep, I can tell.  The way you drag that A…Chicaaaago”.  He shook his head back and forth exasperated.
Annoyed, Mike rolled his eyes yet feigned appreciation and looked out the window.  
As a new recruit, this was Mike’s first solo business trip.  He could fake casual with everyone else, but his senses knew he’d never been east of Indiana and were on high alert, soaking in new things at every turn.
His eyes were not used to the sight of threatening sea water buddying up to the Logan runway.  How did the pilot know to stop before plunging the plane into the sea?  
His ears were adjusting to the echo of horns of boats and barges wafting over the waves as they requested permission from each other to pass.
His nose picked up a distinct and unique combination that smelled something like salt water mixed with the must of old cobblestones.
Even his sense of direction and rational thought were challenged as the cab went deep into the dark, subway-tiled tunnel and emerged just 6 minutes later having crossed the harbor (or, as his cabbie said “hahbah”) and in the middle of the bustling neighborhood his cabbie called Back Bay.
Hoping to make the most of his inaugural trip to Boston, Mike flew out a day early.  When the trip was booked he’d have no way of knowing he was scheduled to arrive smack dab in the middle of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup.
Much to his surprise, and everyone else’s, his beloved Blackhawks were playing for the cup, and of all opponents, against the Boston Bruins!  He and his dad used to watch the Hawks together when he was a kid.  His dad worked the night shift and wasn’t home a lot. But he always made time for the Hawks.  Knowing it would grant him access to his father, Mike learned everything he could about hockey just so he could position himself next to the big guy on the sofa during a game.  He’d settle in just close enough to catch the contagious and impassioned fever his dad had for the Hawks, but far enough away that’d be out of arm’s reach when the old man would grab for something in frustration and yell at the TV behind clenched teeth.  When Mike was lucky, his pop would grab him around the shoulders, pull him into his big chest and bury his knuckles into his hair saying, ” how ’bout that one, Mickey?  Ay?  How ’bout our Hawks?”
Lost in a wave of nostalgia Mike thought to himself, If my old man could see me now.  Me, a big time corporate guy…here in Boston on the company’s dime.
He pulled his worn hat down on his forehead, subconsciously rubbed the logo of a feathered chief and looked up straight thru the roof of the car into the heavens.  I’ll make you proud, Pops.  Me and our Hawks, we’ll make you proud.
Shit!  What time was it?  He checked his watch still set to Central time then frantically reached in his pocket to confirm with his phone.  Crap!  He’d forgotten about the time change…the game!  The game!  It had to be the 2nd period already.
“Sir,” he pleaded, “can you get me to the nearest sports pub?  I need to catch the hockey game.”
“No, I can not”, the taxi cab driver answered matter-of-factly.
“What?” Mike was confused.
The driver continued, “I ain’t taking you to watch no hockey game with that cap on”, and nodded in the rear view mirror at Mike’s Blackhawks ball cap.
“Oh geez!” said Mike, “I’ll take it off, now just take me to a place where I can see the game.”  He grabbed the hat from his head and frustratingly stuffed it in his pocket.
“No way, man” the cabbie continued.  “Let me tell you a joke.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Mike questioned.
The cabbie answered chomping his gum…there was that smack again, “so a string walks into a bar and asks for a drink and the bartender says we don’t serve strings.  So he went outside, twisted himself up and walked back in.  The bartender said, ‘I said we don’t serve strings’,” the cabbie was pleased with his joke.  While Mike, who was growing more and more impatient, only heard the way the words bar and bartender had been robbed of their Rs.
Mike waited, then turned his hands to the ceiling in a helpless gesture and raised his eyebrows, “yeah, I know that joke, but you forgot the ending.  The string tells the barrrtender I’m not a string, I’m a frayed knot.” Mike added emphasis to the AR sound to make his point.
The cabbie shrugged his shoulders then focused his eyes straight ahead to the road and mocked, “don’t matter, with or without that hat you’re a Hawks fan from Chicaaago and I ain’t taking you to no pub to watch the game.”
Mike rolled his own eyes, and pulled the score up on his Smartphone.  Phew! The Hawks were leading 2-0.  He smirked in the rear view mirror, settled into his seat and put his cap back on.  Satisfied, he looked up through the cab roof, again to the heavens and muttered, “well hey, aren’t the Bruins from Boston the same Bruins from Beantown that are getting their asses handed to them by our Chicago Blackhawks right now, Pops?”

He’s a Good Dad.

He’s a good dad.
He helps them plant a garden, plays catch and chases behind them as they learn to ride a bike.
He’s a good dad.
He memorizes the names of their teachers, Star Wars ships and Shel Silverstein poems.
He’s a good dad.
He has a standing bet with them when their rival baseball teams play one another.  The stakes are high since the winner gets to choose the milkshake flavor as the victory treat.
He’s a good dad.
He abides by the unspoken line that’s been drawn in our parenting team strategy.  I plan, he executes.  He assesses, I jump.
He takes them fishing and camping, I do trips to the museum and theatre.  I schedule the appointments and he checks the wiggly teeth.  While I swoop in with a kiss for a boo-boo, he swoops in with a band-aid.  He studies the wound up close and declares that the injury isn’t in need of stitches.  Without taking one look at the cut, I’m already starting the car and phoning the ER.
He’s a good dad.
Together we are one part keepers of the magic, and one part disciplinarians.  We hide elves during the holidays and distribute time-outs all year long.
He’s a good dad.
He is just as interested in their report card and test scores as I am.
While there are times when I wish he’d be more selective with the battles he picks, he cares enough to have an opinion.  Better to choose too many battles, than none at all.
He’s a good dad.
He plays along when they tell him he looks like Daddy Warbucks and smiles when princesses Belle and Ariel serve him imaginary tea.
He’s a good dad.
He coaches their teams and times their swim meets.
He hasn’t been able to watch a news story about a tragedy involving children since ours were born.  While I, on the other hand, am drawn to such stories as if subjecting myself to suffering can somehow relieve others of theirs.  Even knowing this I can’t help but tell him details, he simply shakes his head no to quiet me.
He’s a good dad.
When our son was in the NICU as a newborn, he’d wake every two hours to phone the nurses for an update and then stay up to sterilize bottles and tubes, so I could pump and keep my milk supply going.
He’s a good dad.
Without clergy available and knowing such a thing is possible in our faith, he baptized our son as he was rushed into emergency surgery at the ripe old age of three days.
When we later learned that our son had food allergies, he educated himself enough to learn small details like the difference between potassium lactate and sodium lactate.  He has attended every allergy appointment in the years that have followed.  He holds our son while he gets his blood drawn.  I steady myself in the hallway and conceal my own tears.
He’s a good dad.
He is the only other person who really understands what it was like to unexpectedly lose our second child just days before she was to be born.
Just as I labored and delivered our child, so did he.  His grief caused him to fall and stumble to the ground just as hard as I fell, and he worked just as ferociously to climb his way back up.  He continues to miss her everyday, just as much as I do.
He’s a good dad.
When deciding if we had the strength to continue to try to grow our family, he kept files on international adoptions and attended uncomfortable fertility-based medical appointments.
He gently explained that while he hoped for a big family, he respected that I would be agreeing to put my body through more pregnancies.
He’s a good dad.
During those subsequent pregnancies, he made countless middle-of-the-night drives to the hospital when we needed reassurance, worried about every lack of fetal movement.  Never once telling me I was overreacting, he sat in dark parking lots, idling a mini-van and tending to our young children while, in the hospital windows above, I sat hooked up to a fetal heart monitor at 2:00, 3:00….4:00 am.
He’s a good dad.
When our subsequent daughters were born he laughed and wept to the point that the doctors had to reassure him that the sound of a baby’s cry was a good sound.  Having known the anguish of hearing silence when a baby emerges from her mother, he choked out his response, “I know….I know.”  He understands just what a miracle it is when a baby’s birth is accompanied by the sound of her cry.
He’s a good dad.
He indulges in crazy road trips and travel ideas.  He has the patience for Disney World and Niagara Falls, as well as the interest for London and New York.
He’s a good dad.
He works hard so they can play hard.  And he works hard so we can play hard with them.
He’s a good dad.
He views parenthood with enough realism to to survive it, with enough humor to enjoy it, and with enough perspective to be grateful for it.
He’s a good dad.
He calls them nicknames like “Dog Breath” and after I urge him to do so, he softens it to “Stinky Toes”, though maintaining the harsher version is toughening them up.
When discussing social dynamics, I tell them to walk away, he agrees.  Then whispers “but hey, don’t be the one to start it, but be the one to end it”
He’s a good dad.
He is the keeper of the only other set of eyes that welcomed our children to the world with as much anticipation as my own.  He is also the keeper of the only other heart that will both swell and break with their every accomplishment and defeat.
He is the only other person who is as deeply amused and equally frustrated with these little maniacs as I am.
He’s a good dad.
He makes pancakes for them on Saturday mornings and popcorn for them on movie nights.  He teaches them how to play Euchre and Trouble and talks during Career Day at their schools.
He’s a good dad.
He is the co-parent of my three favorite people.  He is exactly one half of both their nature and their nurture and one of the biggest forces in shaping their legacy.
He’s a good dad.
He’ll go bananas when he realizes I wrote and published this.  But just like everything else, once he settles into the idea, he’ll smile.
He’s a good dad.
He treats them well.  He treats me well.  He treats his friends and parents well.  He treats the earth well and treats people well.
He’s a good person.
And he’s a good dad.