Billy Goat

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Cheeseborger Cheeseborger Cheeseborger, no fries, no Pepsi, Coke. That is the sound that echoes throughout the small, cozy tavern wrought with Chicago history. It was a personal mission of mine upon moving to Chicago that I would locate and visit the tavern responsible for one of John Belushi’s most iconic Saturday Night Live sketch. Boy, does it live up to the hype. The cheeseburgers or simple and traditional but in all of the best ways, they speak for themselves, no frills, just quality. Glancing around the room it is clear that this place is a tourist destination and it’s not hard to differentiate the out-of-towners from the regulars. I spot an older man, well into his sixties I would imagine, perched towards the back of the restaurant nursing what looks to be a glass of gin while everyone else in joint sucks pints from the tap. Looking at this man is almost like peering through a window to a different time, like he’s crawled out from one of the many pictures and framed newspaper clippings that clutter the walls. For a moment I entertain the idea of approaching the man and maybe striking up a conversation, but he doesn’t appear to be in the mood for company.

I cannot say for certain what it was that caused me to fixate on this one old man sitting alone in this crowded bar, but when he pulled out a pack of Marlboro reds and made his way outside. I finished my drink and decided I too, could go for a smoke. I abandon the company of my roommate and head outside into the surprisingly mild Chicago weather. I step outside, light my cigarette and notice the same old man still standing outside. I say nothing though we are just a few feet apart when eventually he breaks the silence. “Don’t you know these damn things’ll kill ya?” I chuckle for a moment, and shrug it off, “yeah I guess so” I reply, “I’m not to worried about it.” This is by no means the first time I’d be hassled about being a smoker, even from strangers, but it is the first time I’d been hassled by another smoker I’d never met. He continued asking me how old I was, I lied and said I was 21, he was 67. We bantered for a bit as he told me about how great the Billy Goat was way back when, I eagerly listened.

Eventually he finished his smoke, said goodbye and we parted ways. I never caught his name or learned his occupation, but he felt like the face of a Chicago I would never know. I returned to the slight discomfort of the green cushioned chair and the company of my friend, as we enjoyed a few more rounds before heading home. I clumsily stammered into an Uber my roommate had called before passing out in the back seat, not my proudest moment, but it seemed to conclude my night rather well. Luckily I remembered enough of the important parts to ink this dispatch.  (COS/Zac Polston)

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