Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Best of Mike Royko

If you're ready for the anti-Bronson, pick up The Best of Mike Royko, a selection of his columns, from the first in 1963 to his last in 1997. Royko addresses the pressing issues of Czernina (duck blood soup) and sanguinaccio (a chocolate candy made with jellified pig's blood) as well as the death of John Belushi, a family friend who called him "Uncle Mike." Royko consistently wrote in favor of civil rights but was hard to classify politically. I remember a reader once wrote to him saying, "I've read you for years but can never figure out if you're liberal or conservative." Royko responded with, "Neither can I."

I haven't heard much of Bill Hicks (since I got home after class on Wednesday night, I haven't been more than 20 feet from at least one of my kids) but from what I've heard of him, he still sounds current. Like Hicks, the situations and even the names of Royko's columns stay up to date (thank you Daley and Bush).

A few are prophetic, like one from 1992, which chastised Republicans for attacking television and movies while supporting Arnold Schwarzenegger (and this was while he was just the chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports).

Here's just a few that stood out:

"A Shovelful of Bad Thinking" from July 20, 1970 - Royko reminisced about the ground-breaking of the Cabrini-Green projects and the effects it had on the city. Cabrini-Green is something, when you first hear about it, you don't really believe could exist. Even Hell has an internal logic that you just don't find in Chicago. I certainly never thought about Mayor Daley scooping out the first clod of dirt with his silver shovel. I guess I thought Cabrini sprung fully built from the bowels of the earth.

"Viet Verdict: Mostly Guilty" from November 1, 1972 - Royko compared the readers of Jacqueline Susann's craptacular The Valley of the Dolls and Bernard Fall's renown writings on Vietnam. "Those who preferred Fall to Susann and marched in the streets were labeled Commies, faggots, cowards, hippies, and bums. Those who stuck flags in their lapels and stood on the curb and jeered were patriotic." He noted that the only liberal who was generally admired was Ralph Nader because he didn't worry about the war, only about the quality of consumer goods.

"Woodstock Was Just a Muddy Memory" from August 15, 1989 - Contains one of the best descriptions of the Baby Boomers: "No offense meant, but that generation was the most self-centered, self-indulgent, demanding, pampered, ungrateful generation in this country's history."

"A Nose Rub of Sorts for Ditzy Word Jocks" from June 1, 1990 - This was about the time I first heard the term "PC." Royko confronted a "bad word dictionary" created by the University of Missouri which included "airhead," "burly," "dear," "dingbat," "dizzy," "fried chicken," "gorgeous," "jock," "lazy," senior citizens," and "stunning." I was surprised at "burly" (I've always connected that with "truck driver") but "jock"? You wouldn't think someone who would make up a list like this would think of "jock."

"Flag Foes Show No Real Burning Desire" from June 13, 1990 - Royko contacted the police in Chicago, New York, and LA and found that they have no record of a single case of flag burning although Senator Bob Dole was intent on passing such a constitutional amendment. Royko noted that Dole and the rest of the Senate refused to transfer $30 million from tourism promotions to Panama to investigate the S&L scandal. Royko raked Dole over the coals but a few years later voted for him over Clinton.

"It Didn't Take Long to Lose Euphoria" from April 23, 1991 - In response to the first Gulf War: "There's a lesson in all of this that our present and future leaders should keep in mind. When you fight a war, don't be too quick to declare it over. Even if you stop fighting, by officially remaining at war, you can keep the censorship going, herd the press pools like sheep, and filter anything that might upset the TV viewer's appetite. Remember, next time keep the lid on. No burned, freezing, starving, or dying kids."

"It Was Wrigley, Not Some Goat, Who Cursed the Cubs" - from March 21, 1997 (his last column) - wrote about the unrepentant racism in the history of baseball (not 1800s baseball but post-Jackie Robinson baseball). The bright side (from a Cincinnati perspective) if teams like the Cubs hadn't set such counter-productive policies, the Big Red Machine might never have come to be. Not much of a bright side but I grew up in the 70s.

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