Nebraska Center for Writers

MOUNTAIN CITY
by Gregory Martin

MY UNCLE MEL IS TELLING A JOKE
"This old Basco from Winnemucca got tired of herding sheep and decides to fly home to the Basque Country. He takes a seat on the plane, settles into it, and then a little before takeoff a stewardess comes over and says, 'Excuse me, sir, but this is first class. Your seat's back in row twenty-six.' But that Basco says, 'My name is-a Aitor Uberuaga, and I am-a going back to Bilbao. And I like-a this seat right here!'"
Mel's finger points down and pokes the checkout counter firmly, as if the store were the plane and the counter the seat in first class. Melvin Basañez is short, a little chubby, and has salt-and-pepper hair and a large, slightly hooked Basque nose. His accent now is that of his father, a man who at fourteen came from the Basque Country to northern Nevada to herd sheep. He came without speaking a word of English and in fifty years never learned to read or write. In fifty years he never once returned home.
"The stewardess doesn't know what to do, so she gets the copilot, who comes out and says to the Basco, 'Sir, I'm sorry, but this seat has been assigned to someone else. Your seat's back in row twenty-six. It's a fine seat.' Well that Basco's pretty steamed up by now. When they're off alone with all them sheep, they're not used to getting bossed around. So he says again, 'My name is-a Aitor Uberuaga, and I am-a going back to Bilbao. And I like-a this seat right here!'"
Mel's finger is this time pounding on the counter and his eyes are gleaming.
"So the stewardess and the copilot go back into the cockpit, and after a minute or two, here comes the captain. The captain leans over and says something to the Basco which the others can't make out, cause the captain's talking to him in confidence. Then, when the captain's done, the Basco nods his head, slaps the captain on the arm, and goes back and takes his seat in row twenty-six.
"Now this surprises that stewardess and copilot, and they ask the captain, 'What'd you say to him that made him change his mind?' And the captain says, 'Well, now, you got to know how to handle them Bascos. I told him that this section of the plane wasn't going to Bilbao.'"

Reprinted with permission
from Mountain City
Copyright © 2000
by Gregory Martin
North Point Press


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