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.
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?”