As some of you know, modern improvisational comedy originated in Hyde Park on the campus of the University of Chicago with the Compass Players, who went on to become the Second City comedy troupe. Here is a chance to play an improv game yourself (and to complete a college application in the bargain). Construct a dialogue or story that meets the following requirements:
It was 4:30 on a drab, sleepy, Chicago Friday. It was dark and snowy outside my third floor window. The January snow was fat and lazy, like someone's father shuffling from the table to the couch after Thanksgiving dinner. I had just started to decide which bills I wasn't going to pay that night, when the phone rang. I continued to watch the snow fall in the dull lime-green light of the street as I let it ring. I picked up the cold, black receiver after five rings.
"Wolf J. Flywheel, private eye," I answered. People never believe that I'm a real PI. Most of them think we all died out with tommy-guns and well-made American cars.
"Please, you must help me!" It was a dame; a sweet dame by the sound of it. "My husband is missing! I need your help!"
"Calm down honey, this isn't my kind of case. You'll have to talk to the badges downtown. Bring them some doughnuts, and they'll find him in no time, babe." I always tried to drum up as much business as I (legally) could for the C.P.D. I had to keep them on their toes.
"Wait!" she pleaded, "He said that if anything happened to call you. His name is Tom Allegory..."
I jumped out of my chair and told her I'd be right there. I was dizzy from getting up so fast, but I grabbed my coat, hat, and the doorknob in one motion as I ran out to my car. I gunned the engine and fish-tailed my way to the Allegory manse. I'd never seen the house, but Tommy had showed me the lot, back when we were closer than popcorn and artificial butter flavoring. We had drifted apart, but I had heard that he had strapped on the old ball and chain. I assumed she was it. I knew why she had called me; he was into some less than legal activities, and he didn't want any pigs sniffing around for his truffles. As I laid fresh tracks in the powder, I fiddled with the radio. Try as I might, I could only bring in "Achy-Breaky Heart." At least it wasn't rap.
I achy-breaked up to the Allegory demesne. It was everything a mansion should be. Some architect had had a field-day with towers, spires, and wrought-iron. It had the local MegaWarehouse Super Club beat by 200 square feet.
As I approached the huge doors, one opened and I saw the dame. She looked about 19 and she had short blonde hair with small curls and sky-blue eyes that had been raining. She was sweeter than two tablespoons of sugar.
"Come in Mr. Flywheel, come in. I'm Helen, Tommy's wife."
"Call me Wolf," I managed to say while hurrying after her into the library. Walking into the immense library, I tried to figure out which book opened the secret door to the Bat-Cave. Three of the long walls were lined with books, and the fourth was home to certificates, pictures, and a diploma. Helen sat down in a comfortable reading chair and started to tell her life story as I studied the wall.
"When a girl leaves her home at eighteen," she told me, "she does one of two things. She either goes to college and on to a career, or she finds a man and gets married. As you can see, I was all set to do the first."
I could see. Any college would kill to get a kid that smart. She had gotten perfect scores on a few standardized tests. She had graduated first in her class. She was a smart girl.
"I was headed for the University of Chicago, but then I met Tommy. I was shopping for some frozen vegetables when I glanced at the microwave dinners."
How true it is that words are but vague shadows of the volumes we mean, except in her case. She was long on details, but the gist was that several times, their eyes accidentally met, and then there poured into hers such a flood of feeling as she had never before experienced. They bought their frozen food, fell in love, got hitched on some island, and went on an extended honeymoon. They had just come back, a year later, and planned to re-enact their meeting at the supermarket. Tommy never showed, uncharacteristically; he had more respect for time than Rolex.
When I left that night, I had more leads than an extension cord factory. All the way home, I thought of more and more people who could have had designs on Tommy and his nefarious activities. As I went to sleep, I thought about Helen. Maybe an old boyfriend wanted to crop Tommy out of the picture.
After a night of ruminating, I had the answer. I phoned a contact and did some research. Then I called the precinct and met them at Barry Boxtop's house. They brought him in, and by six o'clock, we had found Tommy, tied up, at an old abandoned storefront.
As we walked to a nearby bar, I told them how I cracked the case. I realized that the U. of C. still wanted Helen, so I found out who was in charge of her admission. When I did a background check on Barry, I learned that he had brought a gun for show and tell at his last job (in a Post Office). I knew I was looking for someone with a history of work-related problems, and Barry was that someone. He had thought that Helen would go to college once Tommy was dead and he had figured she would be able to pay full tuition with Tommy's money.
The three of us walked down the street, catching up on the past few years. Ah the long winter in Chicago--the lights, the crowd, the amusement! This was a great, pleasing metropolis after all.
The Most Important Meal
"...cream and two sugars, please"
"Boy, Martha, don't you ever think about getting something different?" asked John. "I mean, don't you ever get sick of one soft-boiled egg, two lightly toasted pieces of white bread with strawberry jelly, orange juice, and coffee with cream and two sugars?"
"I like strawberry jelly," replied Martha meekly. "I don't like strong coffee, John."
"But every time we go out, every time we eat in, and every other time we eat breakfast? Did you ever eat cereal or pancakes or, God forbid, French toast?" shouted John.
"Please, John. People are staring."
"I bet they have variety in their morning meal..."
"Excuse me Sir. You had the chef's surprise?" interrupted the waitress. "And you, the soft-boiled, Ma'am?"
"Yes thank you."
"You even eat it in the same order: toast, egg, toast, with orange juice in between, then coffee, for Pete's sake!"
The conversation continued in the same manner for the remainder of breakfast. When they left for home, he was still badgering her in the usual way. She was still replying: "Yes, John," "Maybe tomorrow," and "Black coffee is too strong," as she had for the last twenty-five years.
The rest of the week was the same as the last quarter-century. Martha would wake up, cook breakfast (the usual for her and whatever he wanted), eat, clean, sew, knit, cook, clean and sew, John would read the paper, eat, yell at Martha, pretend to fix things, golf, and attend the Brotherhood of Otters meetings among other activities.
The next time they went out to eat, John tried to coax Martha. "Martha, why don't you try something different today? Change might be fun."
"I don't know, John," sighed Martha.
"You don't want to die without even trying something new, do you?"
"Okay, John, you win. I'll order something different," murmured Martha.
"May I help you?" asked the waitress.
"Yes, Miss. I'll have scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns," said John.
"I will have, um, pancakes and, um, sausages, and milk, please," Martha ordered nervously.
"Yes. No cream, one sugar."
All during breakfast, John applauded Martha's choice of food. He also commented on how she was moving toward a more liberal attitude. "I hear that pancakes are good this time of year," he joked.
"Actually, I never knew how good they were. Maybe tomorrow I'll try French toast."
After breakfast, they went home and did the usual clean-knit-sew and read-putter. At about noon, Martha started feeling sick. "John, I think I'll lie down for a while. I'm not feeling too good."
"Are you okay?"
"I'll be all right. I just need to rest."
She went to their room and soon fell asleep. John didn't worry about her until she didn't come out to fix dinner. He went into their room to check on her and she seemed to be having trouble breathing. She was as white as the sheet under her and sweating profusely. John called the ambulance immediately and they rushed her to the hospital. By the time she arrived, the doctors couldn't save her.
It was Dr. Edward Coli's job to break the news to John. "We couldn't save her, John."
"Oh my God," he slowly exhaled as he sank down to his chair.
"We think she died of food poisoning. What did she have for breakfast today?"
"P-p-pancakes and s-s-sausages," John stuttered.
"The sausages may have been tainted."
"I...talked...her...into...it," he realized.
"The usual, John?" asked the cook.
"Yes. One soft-boiled egg, two pieces of white toast with strawberry jelly, orange juice, and coffee with cream and two sugars," said the unkempt old man softly.
"You know," whispered the cook to his assistant, "that guy has been here at the asylum ever since his wife died ten years ago, and he always orders the exact same breakfast."