Where's The Punchline?
The vacillating neon announced 'Miller Genuine Draft,' and flies played Russian roulette around its sparkings. It alternately cast golden light onto the figures sitting on chrome seats at the bar, and then plunged them into gloomy purplish light.
Farmers huddled around the edge in conspiratorial looking groups; their little baseball caps perched like reluctant vultures on thin twiggy branches.
Local farmers always met in ' Ronnie's' every Sunday, to pass the time, watch a game, shoot some pool and moan about: the weather, new taxation, more legislation, lower grants, their wives, changes in town, lack of respect and the weather again. Then someone would make a wisecrack about it all, everyone would laugh, which made it worth complaining again. Some of them would then complain genially that ' Ronnie's' didn't stock Budweiser. Ronnie would laugh and then tell them to go somewhere else. They never did because Ronnie's was where they’d always met and there didn't seem much point changing now. Ronnie knew it and they knew it, it was one of those games they played.
A large group of farmers were, watching the live ball game in 3-D miniature virtual reality. The TV was a special one for bars, ‘Superbowl’; it resembled a baseball ground in miniature complete with every live detail.
It was a tense. Normally the farmers were screaming and shouting and placing bets with each other. Not today.
A woman sat in the corner, smoking a cigarette and clutching a brandy. Jack, Al and Tony had noticed her but she was hidden from them. She sat in a booth as far away from everyone else as she could. Her little body shook as tears ran down her face. She was indifferent to the ‘Superbowl’; in fact she didn’t give a fuck about the ‘Superbowl’ right now.
Jack, Al and Tony sat on their scruffy stools at the bar, clutching their bottled beers and staring up at the flat screen. They had tried to get around the Superbowl but there was no room. Ronnie’s was their local even on Sunday’s surrounded by the “Trotters” as they called the farmers.
Al was stuffing nuts into his mouth without even noticing he was doing it and Tony had been poised to take a sip of his beer for about twenty seconds. Tony was running his finger over his lips and Ronnie, the bar owner, had been standing behind the bar drying the same glass for about one minute and hadn't noticed.
They were all looking at the screen; there was a palpable silence.
"Goddamn it, pitch!" shouted Tony finally.
The ball seemed to travel in slow motion.
"Shit," said Tony as he slurped down some beer.
The ball was pitched again; there was a satisfying thump as it flew towards the spectators.
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhh!" shouted Tony, as he leapt up onto the bar top and attempted a poor rendition of tap dancing, along the table top narrowly missing the beer nuts en route.
The whole bar burst into flaming life, like a dormant volcano at last released from millennia of tension.
The farmers were throwing their baseball caps up in the air, whooping, screaming, shouting and giving each other manly pats on the back like they had just hit the ball personally.
Bottles were clinking, beer nuts were flying. Another farmer joined in and followed Tony dancing down the bar top and then another and then another. They waddled and skipped and 'tap danced' drinking their beer as they did so.
Someone put on the music machine it was ’Elvis.’ He, who was one hundred felt the surge of youth again, stood up and started dancing. Tony ran out onto the street and started shouting "We've won, we've won, we've won. Yes, Iowa has won the first Superbowl in twenty five years. I am a believer! "
He ran back inside. The atmosphere was electric. Even the Miller sign had perked up and was shining more continuously.
Ronnie declared, “Drinks on the house!” The long wooden bar was teaming with thirsty Trotters and a few Carlton guys. The noise and clamour for beer was deafening. Elvis was put on his son’s shoulder and passed beers back to his cronies across the heads of other folks.
"You be careful now, pop," his son said paternally.
“Oh hell! I’m fine.”
The whole commotion didn’t simmer down for about an hour: the reverie, the dancing, adulation, screaming and shouting. When it finally did settle, induced by an excess of drink, it became a kind of merry, voluble, happy hubbub of people with gay spirits, a kind of self-satisfied warm contentment.
Al, Jack and Tony had found a table to sit around.
"You never finished telling your joke," said Al finally. There’d been an alcoholically induced silence.
"Yes we did. You were too drunk to remember the ending," Tony murmured distractedly. "Anyone heard from Tom lately?"
"Not since we went to see him in hospital,” Al answered.
"Unbelievable,” he said finally shaking his head.
"I bet he did get beat up and there’s nothing we can do about it at all," said Tony.
"Goldentooth’s always had it in for Tom, since I’ve known him. The man has a few nuts missing and he's as clever as the Trotters."
Jack looked pensive. He was deep in some sort of daydream with a concerned almost scared look on his face.
"Hey, Jack! Snap out of it man. We won the baseball."
Jack shooed his head, looked up at Al and smiled weakly.
"I keep havin' this funny daydream. Won’t go away. I am drivin' a car, but I am kind of unaware of drivin'."
"So V’s finally fallen for a woman, falling into a journey of love!” said Tony.
Jack’s face reddened.
"You never told us this joke," said Jack, hastily and transparently trying to change the subject.
"What happened Jack? You ain't told us how it all worked out last week, what happened? You seen her since? Are we talkin' sex, passion, love and sex, long term, short term, marriage? Hey Jack c'mon, spill the story, we are dyin' to hear."
Jack looked hesitantly around him, took a deep breath and leant forward.
"Okay guys," he said with reservation, "I'll tell you what happened, get us another beer will you?"
Annie had been sitting crying in the corner but she’d stopped now. She had been eyeballing Jack, Al and Tony trying to find the time to escape when she wouldn’t be noticed. She couldn’t face anyone just now, except her Mom. She got up and slipped out.As she left she could hear Tony laughing.