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William Howarth (review date 28 March 1971)
SOURCE: "October Nonfiction," Washington Post Book World, March 28, 1971, p. 8.
[In the following excerpted review, Howarth discusses Royko's substance and style in Like I Was Sayin'.]
No such modesty deters Mike Royko, whose Like I Was Sayin' … gathers...
(The entire section contains 6683 words.)
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William Howarth (review date 28 March 1971)
SOURCE: "October Nonfiction," Washington Post Book World, March 28, 1971, p. 8.
[In the following excerpted review, Howarth discusses Royko's substance and style in Like I Was Sayin'.]
No such modesty deters Mike Royko, whose Like I Was Sayin' … gathers 100 of his columns from the last two decades. Known in Chicago as a fearless battler of Mayor Daley, Royko has a style that runs to short graphs, heavy on the slang and sarcasm, fast with regional slurs. In his estimate, New Yorkers are rude, Californians weird, Texans "the world's tallest midgets." The tone is barroom banter, with all the subtlety of an ad for Lite Beer.
Yet below this style lies plenty of substance. Royko is a tough reporter. He runs down sources and asks hard questions, exposes fools or crooks with an impartial hand. His hero is the fabled "little guy," who lives today in a dwindling region between Chicago's affluent suburbs and high-rise lakeshore. This Bungalow Man, as Royko styles him, holds to the traditional values of work, family, and male supremacy: "We're in the age of wimps. It is nothing to be ashamed of."
Actually, Royko is only mock macho; he likes to pound his readers both left and right. After a harangue against draft evaders and permissive judges, he turns on the "hallelujah-peddlers" who want prayer back in school. The column on "King Ron," our affable chief executive, should be required reading for voters this year.
A cynic with a heart, Royko reflects the anger of many Korean War vets who have watched their country slide into venality and "pasta chic." A spiral seems to have caught his own career, which began with the liberal Daily News and now emanates from the Republican Tribune. Royko is there by choice, evading the Australian who owns Chicago's other paper.
Times Literary Supplement (essay date 12 November 1971)
SOURCE: "Chicago's Machine-Minder," Times Literary Supplement, November 12, 1971, p. 1413.
[The following essay gives a British reviewer's opinion of Royko's 'unsympathetic' treatment of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley in Boss.]
The boss in politics is largely an American phenomenon. There have been bosses around the world—Chamberlain in Birmingham, Daferre in Marseilles—but the boss has flourished most against the tightly knit ethnic background of American cities. Richard Joseph Daley, the Democratic mayor of Chicago, is the finest and, perhaps, final flowering of the Irish-American boss, one with Curley of Boston and Murphy in New York.
Mike Royko's portrait is unsympathetic. Few Chicago newspapermen admire Daley, although their editors and publishers, even if they don't love the Boss, are able to get along with him. But, unsympathetic, biased as it is, his book is a marvellously detailed analysis of what makes a boss tick; his strengths and weaknesses.
First, the man. Daley is an unfamiliar type to those whose views of American politics have been formed by the cinema or television. He lives a quiet, sedate, pious life. He is not interested in the trappings of power; his home, his life-style are resolutely lower-middle-class. His interest is power. And, because he has the secret of holding power, he has attracted support from outside his normal constituency. "Even Republican businessmen contribute money to the [Daley] Machine", Mr Royko notes, "more than they give to Republican candidates. Republicans can't do anything for them, but Daley can."
The man, his love and exercise of power, reached their zenith, for non-Chicagoans at least, during the Democratic National Convention of 1968. This was his convention. As a henchman put it, delegates must be impressed "that they are not just visiting Chicago, but Mayor Daley's Chicago". That Chicago, events demonstrated, was one of unbridled police ferocity. Demonstrators and reporters were beaten up. There were mass clubbings on Michigan Avenue. People, many of them innocent spectators, were shoved through plate-glass windows. Police chased others into the lobby of the Hilton Hotel and pummelled them.
There were at the time, there still are, a few who sought to justify the police action. There can be little doubt that the police were sorely tried. Many of them saw in the demonstrators a force dedicated to the overthrow of their, the police's, way of life. The police, in Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, it should be remembered, are just as American as those who assault them and their values. Yet, on balance, three years after the event it is clear that the police, with the support of their superiors, including Richard J. Daley, ran amok that night. Of course, that was three years ago. A visitor to Chicago recently found that natives of that city have either forgotten the affair or, as one said blame it on "those Eastern television and newspaper people".
Bosses, and the machines they control, have a facility for overcoming problems raised by such things. Tammany reigned for sixty years after the New York draft riots in the Civil War. Daley's explanation was at least novel. The massive show and use of police force, he explained, was due to "reports and intelligence on my desk that certain people planned to assassinate the three contenders for the presidency". Oddly enough, this explanation, never supported by the FBI, sufficed for millions of the faithful in Chicago and the Middle West.
Daley got away with it. Why? Because he has built up a loyal machine. It is not a matter of money and jobs alone. There is the personal touch; attendance at wakes, very important in the Irish-American community; the instant, wolfishly jovial recognition of old friends, the ruthless discarding of those who have failed the Machine, if not Chicago. Daley's private life is spotless. He does not want philanderers and drunks around him, although he has played politics all his life with the forces that control gambling, vice and protection.
There is graft there, as Mr Royko shows: in insurance, in building contracts. For all Daley's professed sympathy for the Negro, Chicago's Black slums appal the visitor. Like most politicians who have emerged from a White, ethnic background—Irish, Polish, German, or Italian—Daley has little understanding for and less sympathy with the Black community's needs.
Daley and his kind are the true subversive influences in American life, far more dangerous than the Birchers or the innocents of the New Left. They will last as long as the White, blue-collar workers dominate the inner cities of America. When these workers move to the suburbs, the Daleys will go, to be replaced by Negro bosses of about the same levels of intelligence and integrity.
Paul P. Somers Jr. (essay date 1983)
SOURCE: "Mike Royko: Midwestern Satirist," Midamerica X, Vol. 10, 1983, pp. 177-86.
[In the following essay, Somers assesses Royko's talents as a satirist.]
Mike Royko is a nationally syndicated newspaper writer whose columns first appeared in the Chicago Daily News in 1966 and continued there until the paper's demise in 1978. They are now featured in the Chicago Sun Times. Selected columns have been reprinted in three books: Up Against It (1967), I May Be Wrong, But I Doubt It (1968), and Slats Grobnik and Some Other Friends (1973). Although his 1971 book, Boss: Richard J. Daly of Chicago, was widely acclaimed—outside the mayor's office—this study will concern itself with Royko's reprinted columns, considering him as a Midwesterner, an American humorist, a satirist, and, finally, as a moralist who is outraged by the world as he sees it.
Writing within the confining genre of the daily—thrice weekly during most of his years at the Daily News—newspaper column, Royko has created some memorable characters, especially Slats Grobnik, whom we'll discuss later. Royko's persona is not rural, like Kin Hubbard's Abe Martin, and, while it is emphatically urban, neither is it ethnic like Finley Peter Dunne's Irish Mr. Dooley. As a matter of fact, Royko doesn't seem to have had to create a persona at all. From all accounts, he really is overworked and irascible, and he has been aging ungracefully for the past ten years. In the introduction to Up Against It, Bill Mauldin wrote: "Royko is like his city. He has sharp elbows, he thinks sulphur and soot are natural ingredients of the atmosphere, and he has an astonishing capacity for idealism and love devoid of goo." Royko himself affirmed: "like many Chicagoans, I grew up with a distrust of most things and creatures."
The following reply to a letter from "A Good Teen-ager" succinctly identifies Royko's point of view, which he had established as early as 1967, two years before this column appeared:
Dear Good Teen-ager:
I received another one of your letters today. You are getting to be a pain in the neck. I wish your mommy and daddy would take your personalized stationery away from you.
After asking why Good Teen-ager doesn't thank him for being a Good Adult, working and paying the taxes for Good-Teen-ager's schools, Royko concluded:
And don't try that other tricky one on me—that business of the Good Teen-agers being the Generation of the Future. I used to be a Generation of the Future myself. And now I've got a thirty-seven-inch waist and a couple of kids who think it's funny to punch me in it.
As for his own generation, "the group that was born just before and after the Depression began," Royko can't even give it a name. In "Who Actually Creates Gaps?" he wrote: "Half the kids born in my generation were accidents. That's a hearty welcome for you." His generation's war had been Korea: "Coming back from Korea, and expecting people to be interested, was about like coming back from a Wisconsin vacation with color slides." He did, however, rally to claim for his generation Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, Lenny Bruce, and Malcolm X.
In a Playboy poll, Royko was one of twenty celebrities asked: "Has your sex life been affected by women's liberation?" Expressing fatigue and resignation rather than self-righteousness, he replied: "Well, I'm a married man, so I don't even think about things like that. I don't even have lust in my heart."
In "Acute Crisis Identity," he made fun of those who question their role in life: "As for myself, I haven't had an identity crisis. I have always known who I am, which, while deeply depressing, saved me a lot of running around looking for me."
It is essential that a satirist know who he is, and, as he stated above, Mike Royko certainly does: he is the everyday, working citizen, living in a far from perfect urban society. It might be stretching matters to describe him as a cracker barrel philosopher, but he definitely represents common sense and the common man, the shot and beer bunch as opposed to the manhattan or martini set.
His identity is Midwestern, too. Although Jimmy Breslin praised Boss, Royko's collections don't receive much attention nationally, for reviewers tend to label, perhaps dismiss him as "regional." His life and career are bound inextricably with Chicago, and at times he takes on a big-city callousness, as in his 1968 column, "Shock Proof," in which he scoffed at the notion that the hippies would be able to shock Chicago.
"Shocked? A city that has had Capone and Accardo, dead bodies and dead alewives, Calumet City and Marina City, Lar Daley and Mayor Daley, beer riots and race riots, isn't going to be fazed by a horde of kids with long hair and beads." And, by the time the city's "jackrollers and assorted creeps," not to mention its teen-age gangs, get through them, "all that will remain of the sweet young things is a tuft of hair and a bead or two."
Royko's ruthlessness, even brutality, here is appropriate to a citizen of the Hog Butcher to the World.
Indeed, in a column from the same period, "San-Fran-York on the Lake," he lashed his city and its citizens for turning soft, scornfully contrasting the brawling Chicago Sandburg had praised to the pampered metropolis of today:
Hi-Rise for the World
Partygoer, Stacker of Stereo Tapes,
Player with Home Pool Tables and the Nation's Jets;
Dapper, slender, filter-tipped-
City of the Big Credit Card:
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I join in the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with razor-cut head
singing so proud to have a Mustang and a white
turtle neck and reservations for dinner.
Fierce as a poodle with tongue lapping for dog yummies.
Giggling the silly giggle of the fourth martini
at lunch; half naked, but not sweating, and if
sweating, not offending; Proud to be Hi-Rise
for the World, Partygoer, Stacker of Stereo Tapes,
Player with Home Pool Tables and Jet Handler to
His satirist's blood has been heated to the boiling point by the sorry spectacle of the Midwest's greatest city giggling as it emulates the effeminate decadence of the East and the West coasts.
If Royko is identified with the Midwest and with Chicago, he also exhibits many characteristics of American humorists in general: he plays the Innocent Abroad; he exaggerates and boasts; he deflates the pretentious and brings us back to reality.
As the Innocent Abroad, he entered a Munich beer hall: "… it sounded as if a basketball game was in progress, with everybody shouting and cheering. As far as I could tell, they were cheering themselves for being drunk…. Some say it is beneficial for Bavarians to remain indoors and groggy because that makes them less likely to march across somebody's border."
In Paris, he greeted the maitre d' at Maxim's with a "hiya," and, the classic provincial, asked the waiter if he had ever tried the whipped cream at the Buffalo, at Pulaski and Irving in Chicago. The waiter was disdainful, but our Midwestern traveler had the last laugh: he didn't leave a tip.
Of the famous Casino in Monte Carlo, he observed: "I've seen more action at church carnivals on Grand Av. The famous Monte Carlo Casino is a dump."
The only place he really liked was Oberammergau, as described in "Rumble in Bavaria." A confrontation between some old men with a German Shepard and several young motorcyclists whom Royko immediately identified as "punks" was broken up by the sound of police sirens. "… I decided I liked Oberammergau. It's a place where a Chicagoan won't feel homesick."
Like most urban comedians, he occasionally portrays himself as the "little man" popularized by such humorists as James Thurber and Robert Benchley. Even though he made fun of Monte Carlo, Royko compared himself to James Bond in Casino Royale: "whereas 007 has slipped on his light chamois shoulder holster and .25 caliber Baretta automatic, Agent Royko slipped his Dr. Scholl arch supports into his shoes."
His column, "Bugs in the Bug," began: "My car hates me. It is trying to destroy me and has been doing so for at least three years." This saga of man's uncontrollable mechanical "servant" ended with the demonic vehicle sprouting deadly toadstools with six-inch stems from its front seat. Royko subdued them with his shoe and took the bus to work.
He also utilized comic exaggeration, a typically American device going back to the frontier, to Mike Fink and Davy Crockett. In "Has Pinochle Lost Its Whack?" he lamented a pinochle tournament which had too little knuckle-whacking and too much politeness. In this tale tall enough for a riverboatmen, he averred: "The proper competitive spirit in pinochle was epitomized by a man I read about who was in a game in a Gary tavern one hot night. His partner made a serious mistake, so he leaped up, shouted: 'You should have led him in trump,' and shot him."
Even in a story about a penny-pitching tournament, Royko made a boast becoming a native of the City of the Broad Shoulders: "Being champion of Chicago is as good as being champion of the world."
"In some endeavors such as groin-kneeing, eye-gouging, ear-biting, dollar-hustling, or penny-pitching, being champion of Chicago is being champion of the world. New York is a rube town in such sports."
Comic exaggeration is a good classification under which to consider Slats Grobnik, Royko's most popular character. The Huck Finn of the alleys, Slats is a juvenile anti-hero, the boy your mother didn't want you to play with, an unwashed, untanned street kid. Before Slats' baby brother, Fats, swallowed his shooter, Slats used to be a champion at marbles. He exercised until his thumb muscles got bigger than his biceps. In the finest tradition of the Ring-tailed Roarer, Slats, upon hearing the story of David and Goliath, shrugged and said: "I could of done the same thing with a marble."
Slats excelled at sports like knuckle-cracking: "The first time Slats Grobnik cracked one of his knuckles, dogs all over the neighborhood began barking, and a squad car came to see who had been shot."
The Grobnik family itself is a link with an older, ethnic America. Mrs. Grobnik offered this bit of old-country wisdom about banks: "A good bank should look like a jail, except the bank's walls should be thicker." Watching the movie Frankenstein, she saw the mad scientist constructing the monster and said: "See? Doctors, they're all the same." Mr. Grobnik, meanwhile, had identified with the monster.
In addition to his comic exaggeration, another thing Royko does that American humorists have always done is to recall us to reality, to deflate the over-inflated. An uncollected column from 1978 pointed out the hypocrisy of Jane Fonda's lament that the trouble with Hollywood is that its writers are too money conscious—they should be willing to work for $100 a week. He suggested this is unappropriate coming from an actress about to make one million dollars for appearing in a movie written by that "capitalistic running dog" Neil Simon.
When we consider Royko as a bubble-burster, we run into several anti's; he is anti-sentimental, anti-romantic, and anti-intellectual. His anti-sentimentality often has an urban slant, as he works variations on the "tough childhood" theme, (often sentimental itself), of so many urban comedians, from Sam Levinson to Rodney Dangerfield to Richard Pryor to David Brenner.
Young Slats recalls us to reality with his observation about the Easter bunny: "No rabbit would come in this neighborhood, he'd be run over by a beer truck…. Anybody who can get in and out of that many houses without being seen is going to take stuff, not leave it." We laugh because we know that, alas, Slats is right.
And Christmas with the Grobniks is not exactly material for Currier and Ives: "In the morning the stockings would be loaded to the brim, and by the time they sat down to Christmas dinner, so would Mr. Grobnik." (Slats' father is one step removed from Royko's—and our—father, so he can write and we can laugh.) Slats catches his dad putting out the presents and immediately assumes he is stealing them.
Royko elsewhere mocks the sentimentalization of family ties, as in the time Mr. Grobnik ran amok and struck Slats and his mother with Slats' cymbals. Mrs. Grobnik took the children and left. "At first, Mr. Grobnik could not believe they were really gone. To make sure, he changed locks." This reversal of expectations is not at all unexpected to anyone who knows the Grobniks.
At times Royko goes beyond anti-sentimentality, as in the gleeful cruelty of "Save a Kitty from Extinction." To get rid of an unwanted cat, he threatened to drop it into a tank of piranhas unless children reading the article tell Mommy and Daddy to "do something to save the nice little calico kitty from the mean man in the newspaper." Otherwise, it will be "snap, snap, gobble, gobble, right down to his curly tail."
This is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sentimental excesses of Walt Disney. Nevertheless, it is mild compared to some examples from the Tribune Primer, written by Eugene Field in 1882 for the Denver Tribune. Field urged children to drink concentrated lye, play with lobsters and loaded guns, and kill a cockroach by biting it in two. Later he, like Royko after him, would become identified with Chicago.
Of course, romantic love is too fat a target for Royko to pass up. What could be more ludicrous than the spectacle of Slats in love? "The Day Slats Fell for a Girl" began: "Valentine's Day was never one of Slats Grobnik's favorite events. He was just a toddler when he saw a card with a drawing of a heart, pierced by an arrow, but his reaction was 'Good shot!'"
Using his own voice in "Marriage No Field of Daisies," Royko wrote: "For every young fool who runs through high humidity in a field of daisies, you'll find fifty wise older men in air-conditioned bars."
Others of Royko's assaults on pretension come under the banner of anti-intellectualism, as he usually honors his alliance with the shot-and-beer crowd. "It is a strain for local newsmen, being interviewed by visiting writers, especially the scholarly ones. They always ask if the mayor has charisma. In the mayor's neighborhood, they could get punched for talking dirty."
When Time referred to a yellow two-piece bathing suit connected by a gold-link chain as "anything but deja vu," Royko scratched his head and wrote: "I don't know what deja vu means, but when a writer is afraid to say something in English, that's always a tip off that it's pretty wild."
A related element of humor in our democracy has been anti-respectability, slob appeal if you will. And what better spokes-person than that "well known social arbiter, Slats Grobnik," who, according to Royko, was the author of the best selling book, My 30 New Year's Eves Without an Arrest? Here are samples of Mr. Grobnik's advice:
What to drink: Select one favorite beverage and stay with it all evening, and all the next day if you wish. I recommend the always-festive boilermaker. (Recipe: Pour one shot of whiskey down your throat. Follow with one glass of beer.) After midnight, the ingredients can be mixed in a glass, vase, or pot.
At midnight, the traditional drink is champagne. But remember, never drink it straight from the bottle unless the hostess does so first.
While we must grant that there is some narrative distance between Royko and the low brow advice of Slats, grown here to a disreputable maturity, the opening line from "Mrs. Grobnik a Checker-Upper" is worthy of Archie Bunker: "A Chicago bank has hired a creature named Gucci to design arty new checks and checkbooks." "A creature" veritably drips contempt.
Deflation and bubble-bursting are, of course, expected of the satirist, and Royko often uses his wit to point out the folly of human nature, and, most frequently, the folly, the injustice, the corruption of the Daley Machine, which has been his Moby Dick. In his Glossary of Literary Terms M. H. Abrahams defines satire as "the art of diminishing a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement, contempt, indignation, or scorn." This Royko does frequently.
On the subject of human nature, he told of Slat's uncle, Beer Belly Frank, who held an annual garage sale of merchandise his relatives and neighbors thought was stolen. When they eventually learned he had purchased it legally, they were angry at him for only pretending to be shady.
And then there was the theater owner who, in response to great public outcry, switched from X-rated movies to family films. He soon had to return to pornography, however, for so few decent citizens patronized his decent movies that he was going broke. "What do people want? I think they want you-know-what," Royko commented sardonically.
Moving on to Royko's nemesis, the Daley Machine, let's consider Leonard Feinberg's assertion in Introduction to Satire that "satire appeals to the sense of superiority." Many of Royko's columns are devoted to Mayor Daley and his minions, and it is gratifying to the reader to be able to feel superior to them. In "Alinsky Not in Their League," for example, Royko wrote: "The City Council paid a great tribute to the late Saul Alinsky a few days ago. It refused to name a park after him." He then went on to tell of the notable public servants after whom parks had been named, men such as former sheriff William Meyerling, who was the guardian of Cook County's law and order in the days when Al Capone was its most famous citizen.
Other columns tell of the vice squad's heroic raid on a senior citizen's penny ante poker game, a peddler who was harrassed even though he has a permit, and so forth. Not surprisingly, Slats Grobnik's hero was a certain Chicago alderman, because he had heard Mrs. Grobnik say he had never worked a day in his life.
It has been said that satirists seldom if ever succeed, and Royko would be the first to concede that Richard Daley was Mayor of Chicago until he died, and that his Machine lives on. [In a front-page question and answer column in The Detroit Free Press for July 9, 1979, Royko admitted "I suppose I miss Daley."] According to Feinberg, one reason for satirists' failure to achieve important results is that they rarely attack the fundamental political and economic structures of their societies. Royko certainly doesn't suggest that Chicago be reorganized under Marxist principles.
Perhaps Royko's most admirable characteristic is his sense of outrage. In "Laugh? I Thought I'd Die," he told of going to see a movie the day after Robert Kennedy was shot. Inside, some 300 ordinary, middle class men were watching an exploitatively violent film and laughing at the murder and the torture.
Outside, people were asking what is wrong with this country, why it kills the way it does. The world was asking if the United States is that sick and corrupt.
Inside the United Artists, and in theaters across the country, guns were barking, blood was flowing—and people were laughing.
They laughed and laughed and laughed. And by then the plane carrying the Senator's body had landed. Now, his family would bury him.
Similarly, he abandoned satire in his outrage and dismay at the assassination of Martin Luther King. In "Millions in His Firing Squad," he wrote: "We have pointed a gun at our own head and we are squeezing the trigger. And nobody we elect is going to help us. It is our head and our trigger."
Thus, we have seen that Mike Royko is firmly anchored in his city, his region, his nation, and his generation (even if it doesn't have a name). He utilizes many of the devices typically associated with American humorists and emerges as a rather grumpy urban Everyman. Occasionally satire fails him as a weapon against human folly and the Daley Machine, and it is at these times when he is most effective: If his writing can't change this world, at least it will remind us that justice and decency exist and that they should be heeded.
Jerry Griswold (review date 2 January 1983)
SOURCE: "Royko Re-bound: Buying into a Journalistic Stereotype," Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 2, 1983, pp. 3, 7.
[In the following review, Griswold, a California writer, praises Royko's book Sez Who? Sez Me!]
Chicago is most often called the Second City by people prepared to drive six hours rather than spend a weekend in their own part of the Midwest. Chicago also is a city where holding opinions is confused with intelligence, contrariness is taken as proof of individuality, and the metropolitan style seems hopelessly frozen in an era when everyone wore hats.
As proof of this last observation, consider how Mike Royko is presented by his publishers in this recent collection of his columns: cigarette butts spilling out of an ashtray, filthy coffee cups everywhere, a ratty cubbyhole they call an office, and a newspaperman in a crumpled shirt hunching over an old Remington typewriter. His beat is Chicago, and he knows more about barroom hangouts, backroom politics and bureaucratic pettiness than any palooka on the street. He has a heart of gold, a ready hand for the Little Guy and the love of a whole city.
Come on, I find myself saying, this is beginning to sound like a Bogart movie called "Dead Men Don't Eat Quiche." Nonetheless, mention soon is made of the stockyards, the old neighborhood, Nelson Algren, Ben Hecht, and all the rest—so tiresomely familiar that one can only blush when Studs Terkel is dragged out to say that Royko is "like a famished alley mutt; he digs away at the bone of truth."
To be sure, Royko acts the part, too. Consider: "So, I urged him to go back to his native Greece and find a nice girl who knows nothing of checking accounts, Bonwit Teller, property laws, Gloria Steinem, and tennis clubs." Or "It was said that if Duke (a barroom dog) licked your hand, you could die of blood poisoning." Or "Her late husband died of a sudden stroke some years earlier while moving furniture. A night watchman in the furniture store had surprised him, and during the tussle he gave Billy Tom a terrific stroke on the brow with his club."
On my part, I confess an uneasy suspicion of individuals who have bought into a stereotype, whose lives so lack flexibility that it is impossible to envision them outside their chosen cliché. And it is impossible to imagine, say, Royko transported to California, stripped of his cigarettes and rumpled shirt, put into jogging clothes and pushed into the sunshine, and happy. To a certain extent, that was the point of the movie Continental Divide, where a Royko-like character was played by the late John Belushi (another Chicagoan).
Now with all my gripes and reservations on the table, and despite them, let me tell you that I loved the book and have not had such good laughs in years. I spent a long summer weekend trying to pry the book away from three friends.
One woman woke everyone at 7 a.m. by laughing in bed at Royko's column on practical jokes ("Laugh and Learn"). A Connecticut journalist drank coffee the entire time he read the book and concluded that Royko was the only person to understand the admiration/hatred/disappointmentliberals felt about John Wayne. A public-relations specialist from New Mexico, who suffered from periodic spasms of titters, claimed that the best piece was a sports column Royko imagined Nixon might write. ("A Perfectly, Clear View of Baseball").
On my part, as a result of reading this book, I now know: 1) what to do if arrested for negligent driving while passing through a carwash; 2) what folks in Chicago think of those in L.A. ("sleepy-eyed men who wear shirts open to their belly buttons"); 3) how to avoid a hangover ("stick with the drink you started with … if you started the evening drinking champagne, beer and frozen daiquiris, stick with champagne, beer and frozen daiquiris the rest of the evening").
By the end of this book, one can only conclude that Royko is too good for Chicago. As a result, I propose that readers write to Royko indicating that if he came to California he would not have to act like a cranky ethnic or wear wrinkled clothes in smoke-filled rooms, unless he really wanted to.
David Shaw (review date 23 September 1984)
SOURCE: "Columns of Grumpy Gems," Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 23, 1984, p. 5.
[The following review contains praise for Royko's writing on the vicissitudes of everyday life in Like I Was Sayin'.]
Mike Royko, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago newspaper columnist, is such a delight to read that the all-but over-whelming temptation in reviewing his new book is to say:
"This book is a small sampling of some of Mike Royko's best columns from the past 18 years.
"Herewith is an even smaller sampling of some of Mike Royko's best lines from those columns."
Then I would quote extensively (but selectively) from the 100 columns reprinted in the book and figure that if you found them sufficiently amusing, insightful or provocative, you'd buy the book; and if you didn't, you wouldn't.
But Royko's columns are small jewels, not easily appreciated when chipped apart; besides, book review editors (and book review readers) expect more for their money (and their time) than that. So I should tell you that in this collection of his columns, Royko writes about every human activity from dieting to driving, about every social phenomenon from digital watches to draft evasion and about every political issue from feminism to racism. Moreover, Royko is almost always as entertaining as he is thoughtful, and unlike virtually every other newspaper columnist I read, even when he misses the mark—most egregiously in a column on capital punishment—there is always something to make you think or laugh (or both).
Royko writes with wit and style on matters large and small, writing as easily and as entertainingly on sexual promiscuity, xenophobia and gun control, for example, as he does on the hoarding of pecans in a corner of one's mouth while eating butter pecan ice cream. In this particular collection, however, Royko is generally best when writing about the vicissitudes of everyday life. I was particularly amused by his column in response to a woman who had asked his advice on removing a "starch build" from her iron and on coping with sticky, cloudy ice cubes:
"The sticking could be caused by several things," Royko wrote, "but the most common is water that is sticky. You might call the water commissioner … and demand to know if he is providing sticky water, and if so, why."
Royko also suggested the woman might try "the old fashioned method of rapping the tray against something to pop the cubes loose. The edge of a sink or the brow of an unruly child works fine."
As for her cloudy ice cubes, Royko said, "somebody is creeping into your kitchen and pouring goodness knows what into your ice cube trays." Since Royko had no solution for the "starch build" on her iron ("Frankly, I don't know what a 'starch build' is"), he recommended she throw the iron out the window. "If you are lucky" he wrote, "it will land on whoever has been putting a foreign substance in your ice cube trays, thus solving two pesky problems with one iron."
Royko is especially funny/grumpy when he is writing about the hapless (until this season) Chicago Cubs. Here is Royko on the 1960 Cubs, a team filled with men who "had big biceps … They could hit home runs. The trouble was, most of them had big biceps in their arches, too, and the old ladies behind the concession counter could run faster."
By 1969, Royko wrote, the team had improved considerably: "For the first time in three decades, the players were better athletes than the grounds crew." Later in the same column, Royko complained that the Cubs had traded Jose Cardenal, "the only player I saw who could sleep between innings. In fact, Jose could sleep between pitches. With his potential, I had hoped he would remain in Chicago and someday become a distinguished alderman."
This blend of humor and cynical political commentary is what helped make Royko's early reputation in Chicago. In fact, righteous indignation—seriously expressed, on matters both political and personal—has often been as important a device as bon mots for him. Witness a 1982 column, reprinted in this book and originally published in response to a 30-year-old reader who had written Royko to say he was going to kill himself because he could not find work. Rather than "plead with you not to kill yourself," Royko wrote to the man about all the "rougher things in life than being unemployed" and suggested the man was "more coward than victim …
"If your kids don't have winter boots while you are alive, how is your being dead going to make their feet warmer?" Royko asked.
Royko concluded his column by suggesting that the man "give it a little more time," and then said:
"But if you must do it, go somewhere isolated and do it quietly. Your wife will have enough problems without cleaning up after you one last time."
Charles Monaghan (review date 14 October 1984)
SOURCE: "The Daley Question," Washington Post Book World, October 14, 1984, p. 8.
[In the following review, Monaghan praises the writing and pacing of Boss, but notes that Royko's portrait of Mayor Richard Daley is only two-dimensional.]
Mike Royko is a witty and widely respected columnist for the Chicago Daily News, long an outspoken foe of Mayor Richard Daley. Now he has given us a book on His Honor—neatly written, energetically paced, and full of marvelous stories sure to please lovers of urban politics. But ultimately it is a disappointment because it doesn't tell us what makes Daley tick.
If a writer is going to devote a book to one man, he should try at some point to look at the world through his protagonist's eyes. Royko, however, has only a thorough, steely contempt for his subject—he doesn't want to spend a moment in Daley's mind. As a result, his mayor is a two-dimensional villain, a man of bad will, bad manners, bad grammar, and—one feels certain by the end—bad breath.
For instance, Royko devotes one sentence to the fascinating fact that Daley's first political memories are of attending women's suffrage marches with his mother, but two pages of arrant speculation to Daley's association with the 1919 race riots. Royko never probes things that might add another dimension, such as the mayor's insistent identification with the common man. "The party permits ordinary people to get ahead," Royko quotes Daley as saying:
Without the party, I couldn't be mayor. The rich guys can get elected on their money, but somebody like me, an ordinary person, needs the party. Without the party only the rich would get elected to office.
Royko properly details Daley's centralizing of political and administrative power and his monsignor-like dedication to bricks and mortar (though I would like to have seen more about how he wields power through his staff of "whiz kids"). But Royko doesn't pull the elements together into a coherent theory of the man.
The identification with the underdog, the view of ethnic blocs as the key to political power, the centralization, the emphasis on building things, the stress on administrative action—doesn't it all fall into a pattern? Isn't it reminiscent of the set of ideals surging in the heads of those young men who flocked to Washington in the Thirties to shape the New Deal? Daley may have been sitting in the Illinois legislature in the late Thirties, but his political mind was being formed by what was happening in the nation's capital. Today, he seems the quintessence of the New Deal politician-administrator.
Which is also the source of his troubles. Civil rights, for instance, was never the strong suit of the New Deal. The theory was then, and seems to be Daley's now, that induced prosperity is the best road to helping the underdog and assuring equality. But civil rights dissenters—not to mention ecology groups—often think that the goal of prosperity clouds more important issues. As for politics, the New Deal was the product of a coalition of big-city machines and Roosevelt could not have cared less what was happening to insurgents back in the Bronx, Kansas City, Memphis or Chicago. The important thing was that the Depression be broken, that prosperity return, and that the government run smoothly. Daley matches Roosevelt in his ardor for open politics.
There's something of a feeling of anachronism about Daley, a feeling that he is a man of another age, and I think it is because his style and world view lie back there thirty-five years ago. His ideals do too and there's bound to be a clash with other ideals now being put forward, such as participatory democracy and decentralization of government. But so far Chicago's voters don't seem to care too much about the difference.