Thursday, May 03, 2007

I Liked Mike and I Miss Him

I had originally intended to write this piece on Sunday April 29th, but I was busy dog sitting at my daughter’s home. When I write I tend to chain smoke and smoking in her house is a no-no.

Sunday was the 10th Anniversary of the death of my all-time favorite Journalist; Mike Royko. I have read and followed some of the best Journalists of our time. I’m talking about writers like David S. Broder of Washington Post, George F. Will of Washington Post, William Safire of New York Times, and Jimmy Breslin of New York Daily News and Newsday. In my opinion, Mike Royko was a step above all of them.

Mike was the type of guy that you would hang out with in the local neighborhood bar. He was just an "average Joe" who was trying to make a living and support his family. He was the champion of the common person and their plight of making a daily living. He wrote from his heart.

Unlike the politically correct people of today, Mike smoked cigarettes and occasionally drank alcohol to excess, as I do. He felt no shame in having these bad habits. He was against being politically correct. He was a liberal who slammed the liberals!

I was first introduced to his writings when my Mom would send me clippings of his “Chicago Daily News” columns, while I was in the Army and stationed in Africa. At that time he was a political Muckraker, constantly criticizing the “Daley Machine” in Chicago. His topics were numerous. But they were mostly about City Hall, Mayor Richard J. Daley and the plight of the “working stiff” in Chicago. Political favors and dealings were a way of life during the Daley reign and Mike was quick to point them out in his columns. Royko wrote what I believe is the the definitive book about Richard J. Daley and Chicago Politics; The Boss.

Mike, as I am, was a die hard Cubs fan, a beer drinker and a chain smoker. I had the good fortune of meeting him in the early 1980’s. He was working for the Chicago Sun Times, at the time, and was playing on and managing their softball team. Our meeting was at the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue, not far from the Sun Times Building and Tribune Tower (many Chicago journalists would frequent the Billy Goat). Mike had just played three grueling games in Grant Park and had lost two of them. He wasn’t in a very good mood.

I will go off topic for a brief moment: Softball is a very big sport in Chicago. There are many corporate and bar leagues. It is played with a 16” Ball that is called a Clincher. You wear no gloves and a line drive can really sting your hands and leave you with several sprained fingers. Not exactly a game that a 50 year old man should be playing.

But Mike Royko loved this sport. He had a fervent passion for playing games both physically and verbally. This is something that we sometime lose later in our lives. Mike had true grit and gave up his body for a game that he loved. He always wrote the same way as he had played, with passion.

At the Billy Goat, I unfortunately picked the wrong time to speak to Mike. That late afternoon he was as gruff as a Billy Goat. I was a stranger invading his territory and privacy. I just wanted to speak to a man that I had admired for many years. And there he was sitting next to me.

Dumbfounded and attempting to strike up a conversation, I asked him how the team did today (he was wearing a bright red Sun Times Baseball jersy). Bad question! He sez:”Do you really care?” I sez “Not really, I just wanted to start a conversation.” He basically told me to buzz off, but I was persistent and bought him a beer. He sez “I can afford my own beers” and I sez that “I know that”! I told him that it was out of appreciation. That he had made me laugh, through his columns, for many years and that the least that I owed to him was a beer. This statement really got to him and we had a 10 minute conversation, mostly about the Cubs and the how we both loved the city of Chicago.

On Wednesday, February 4, 1981 Mike Royko wrote a column for the Chicago Sun Times titled the “Rigors of de Rigueur – A Gourmet Gauntlet”. I keep this column in a frame. I was in the Restaurant Business at this time. The article is about a high class couple (the Kelsons) that did reviews of high class Chicago restaurants for the Chicago Magazine. Mike really hated snobs and the Kelson’s were archetypal snobs. Like Jimmy Breslin in New York City, Mike was the champion of the common person. He supported the common man on the street (or in the corner bar), the Slats Grobnik’s (Mike’s alter ego) of Chicago and other cities!

His writings touched my heart and I have missed reading his musings dearly. Mike, I really miss you and I am proud to say that I Liked Mike!

The Beach Bum

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