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Swinging the bat in Chicago

Wed, 07/03/2019 - 15:27 -- Brian Keelan

Many years ago, my son Ned and I were invited to spend a summer weekend in Chicago as guests of my cousins John, Tim and Molly – children of my legendary uncle Jack – the world’s (and possibly history’s) most dangerous salesman. John and Tim were going to take me to a Saturday afternoon Cubs game after which their wives would join us as John took us out to, “A real Chicago restaurant.”

Ned (not a baseball fan) would hang out with cousin Molly for a tour of Navy Pier and the Aquarium followed by a quick visit to Soldier Field where the Bears played. (Ned is a huge Dick Butkus fan and he wanted to see where Butkus, “dealt out his mayhem.”) We stayed in the downtown apartment of cousin Tim, a wonderful guy with one small quirk: he shared his apartment with a boa constrictor named Jake. Jake was about 10 feet long and he and Tim had a relationship where they just basically stayed out of each other’s way. At least Tim stayed out of Jake’s way. Jake just did whatever he felt like doing. At the time, Tim had a bartending job and this kept him out quite late at night and thus we had the free run of Tim’s apartment with the only warning being not to step on Jake. This was not a necessary warning since boa constrictors scare the daylights out of me and I stay as far away from them as I can get. Ned, however, loves them and he actually wanted to hang out and watch Jake have dinner. I was okay with that as long as I wasn’t on Jake’s menu.

Tim warned us to be especially careful at night because Jake liked to, “move around,” in the dark. As Tim so eloquently put it, it was his, “business time.” I have written before about the worst two minutes of my life that were provided by Jake: getting up off the couch in the middle of the night and, upon noticing Jake was not in his terrarium, walking in total darkness to the bathroom not knowing where Jake was but envisioning his huge gaping mouth with every terrified step I took. I still have snake nightmares to this day and several people who read my story told me they’ve had a few as well.   

The best non-terrifying story of that trip came after the Saturday afternoon ballgame when John, his wife Debbie, Tim and his wife Linda and I, walked leisurely from Wrigley Field down Clark street through old Chicago to a street near Lincoln Park – a cool old neighbourhood. One of the large, stately old houses had been converted into a trendy restaurant called The Four Farthings and cousin John informed us that this was where we would have dinner. I was very impressed as we walked up on the large veranda and into the hallway – which had been converted into a small bar – where those who were waiting for a table could slake their thirst with a cocktail or two. As my dad would say, “The joint was jumpin’.” Lots of people in the dining room and the bar was packed.

That’s one of the things I love about a good old American restaurant. They do everything they can to accommodate everybody they can. That’s because they understand business: you welcome your customer, treat them graciously and thank them for coming. I never saw anybody go broke because they made too much of an effort to provide sincerely good service. People everywhere appreciate that.

After we had received our first round of drinks, we talked about Chicago as we soaked up the atmosphere. John – the oldest of Uncle Jack’s sons – took it upon himself to try and scrounge up a good table for us. He returned a few minutes later with a somewhat defeated look on his face as he said, “They are totally booked for tonight.” The rest of us could see that he was very disappointed by this so we decided to cheer him up by ordering another round of drinks. We weren’t driving so that issue was off the table and during our third round of drinks, I felt a tap on my shoulder issued to me by the stranger leaning on the bar to my right. I turned to him, smiled and said, “What can I do for you sir.”

A tall fellow in blue jeans and a denim shirt, he had that aging hippie look going for him with his long black hair and a full, but short beard. Underneath all of that there was bit of a smile and he said, “Excuse me sir but have you ever heard the old saying that everyone has a double somewhere in the world?”

I replied, “Yes, I believe I have.”

His eyes had a bit of a twinkle in them as he said, “Well that’s good because I’m from a small town in Canada and I knew this guy there and he not only looks exactly like you, he even has a voice almost identical to yours.”

I couldn’t believe it as I stuck my hand out and said, “Mickey Finn. How are you?”

It had been at least twenty-five years since I had seen Mickey. High school days. His younger brother Dann was my age and we have remained best of friends to this day. It was through Dann that I met Mick. Mick had attained almost a folk-hero status in Sarnia. The local YMCA used to have Saturday night dances and as a student at St. Pat’s, I used to go to them on nights when I couldn’t find a nice Catholic girl to go out with. That’s where I first saw Mickey Finn in action. A tall, cool-looking guy in blue jeans, t-shirt and low-cut Converse All-Stars, he always seemed to have a flock of the prettiest girls hanging around him dangling hopefully on every word he said in an effort to be, “the one.” It reminds me today of a scene from Grease.

Mick left Sarnia soon after that to go to university in the US and after graduation, he worked in Chicago as a social-worker specializing in youth gangs and drug education. He rose quickly in that field and eventually headed up Region 5 for the YMCA. He worked with Nancy Reagan in her, “Just Say No” campaign.

After bringing me up to date on his life, he informed me that the people who owned The Four Farthings were good friends of his and that he sometimes managed the place part-time for them on weekends. Upon hearing that, I explained our unfortunate dining situation to him. Five minutes later my group and I were seated at a table in the kitchen experiencing the chef’s personalized tasting dishes.

It was a wonderful evening and of course I got a real charge out of telling my younger cousin John that anytime he needed reservations at a top-of-the-line Chicago restaurant, he should just call his cousin Brian in little old Sarnia and I would be most happy to make the arrangements for him.

John smiled sheepishly but his younger brother Tim asked me. “Do you think he has any connections for primo Bears tickets?”

Today I am heading back to Chicago with Sylvia for the July holiday weekend. There will be a family party on Saturday night and I will spend Sunday at a small conference with Jack Canfield, the author of Chicken Soup For The Soul who has written over 40 New York Times bestsellers in that series.

Last year Jack sent out a marketing video on the positive use of humor in just about every aspect of our lives. Inspired by a marketing impulse, I called his office in California and talked to one of his assistants. I told him that I had this hilarious joke book – 400 Jokes You Can Tell Anybody – and that I would be happy to send one along to Jack – for obvious reasons. The man said, “Great, just send it to me and I’ll see that he gets it,” so I sent him a copy – along with a covering letter – in the hopes that he would find some of the material amusing, maybe even use it in his presentation and give me a testimonial in the process.

Panned out. Then? Bingo. I get an e-mail from Jack saying, “Brian - Thanks for the book you sent me in March.  I just found this letter that accompanied it in my pile on my desk… so this is a belated Thank You!  There are a lot of great jokes in it that I have enjoyed telling.  Keep up your good work.- Jack”

“Yippeee!” I said to myself.

I instantly replied, “Jack – Thanks for the reply. Glad you are enjoying the book. Mind if I use your words on my website? Maybe even my next cover? I’d really appreciate it. Thanks again. Brian.”

The next day, he replied, “Sure. Use it. —Jack.”

So, “What’s my point here?” you might ask. I asked the young kid shooting hoops in the driveway beside my place. He was getting a little frustrated after missing several shots from three-point territory in a row. So, I asked him if he’d ever heard of Babe Ruth.

He replied, “Yeah. He led the major leagues in home runs, didn’t he?”

“Very good,” I told him. “But do you know what else he led the major leagues in?”

“No,” the kid replied.

I said, “Strike-outs.”

He looked at me with a, “what’s-the-point?” look and I told him, “You don’t swing the bat, you don’t hit the long ball.”

That is just my opinion but I think the Babe would agree with me. I hope Jack Canfield does too. I’m taking several copies of my book with me. For promotional purposes only of course.

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