A November Farewell -- by Mike Royko
September 15, 2020 8:51 PM   Subscribe

They were young and had little money, and they came from working class families. So to them the cottage was a luxury, although it wasn't any bigger than the boat garages on Lake Geneva, where the rich people played. ~~~ Then he got lucky in his work. He made more money than he ever dreamed they'd have. They remembered how good those weekends had been and they went looking at lakes in Wisconsin to see if they could afford something on the water. ~~~ They hadn't known summers could be that good. In the mornings, he'd go fishing before it was light. She'd sleep until the birds woke her. The he'd make breakfast and they'd eat omelets on the wooden deck in the shade of the trees.
posted by dancestoblue (21 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Songdog at 8:57 PM on September 15, 2020

40 years ago, a lot of things were possible.
posted by smcameron at 8:58 PM on September 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

Mike Royko was a treasure. I don't expect most people would be familiar with him, since his job was a daily columnist for the Chicago newspapers and his articles were tied into the specific local events of 40-50 years ago. But, man, was he an entertaining writer! I remember he did a song parody of Frank Sinatra that began with the lines:
Chicago, Chicago, that armpit on the lake!
Policemen, aldermen, who knows who's on the take? ....
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:24 PM on September 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

Mike Royko was a treasure.

Indeed. And who do we have now in his place? John Fucking Kass. This truly is the darkest timeline.
posted by Buy Sockpuppet Bonds! at 9:30 PM on September 15, 2020 [11 favorites]

In the mid-90s, my aunt and uncle subscribed to both the Trib and the Sun Times, and I found myself reading Royko a lot, but it was 90s Royko, where it just seemed like he was just sort of a grumpy old guy. Then I came across Boss, his book on the Daley family, and their role in the history of Chicago, and I was stunned. This guy? The grumpy old guy complaining about kids these days wrote that?

And seriously, Boss should be required reading for anyone who is about to start using Chicago as any sort of talking point. Like, just as someone is about to say something about violence in the city, another person should just show up, put an arm around their shoulder, and quietly guide them to a small room with a comfortable chair and a stack of books about the city, with Boss resting on top of the pile. There would be a pleasant beverage and a note saying not to leave the room until they're ready to apologize for the ignorant bullshit they were about to spout.

Not to derail, but seriously, if anyone has other books that should be in the pile, memail me, I'd love to read them.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:32 PM on September 15, 2020 [33 favorites]

Mike Royko was a huge part of what Chicago meant to me. I first read him in The Daily News, which was pretty much a sister newspaper to The Suntimes. The Daily News folded, Royko moved to The Suntimes. The Suntimes had Royko, Ann Landers, Jerome Holtzman (a fantastic baseball writer), Roger Ebert, Sydney Harris. Most of the best talent left The Suntimes when Murdock bought the paper, defected to The Tribune. I didn't see Royko as an old "Get off my lawn." kind of guy but he lost most of his bite, his political savagery, after moving to the other side of the aisle by taking a job at The Tribune.

I remember reading this column (the one linked I mean) and I wanted to bring it here, it's a strong piece of writing, and written two months after she died, written on what would have been her 45th birthday.

posted by dancestoblue at 11:33 PM on September 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

dancestoblue, it’s columns like this, books like Boss that made me see what I’d missed, as I only got to read him on a daily basis after he’d landed at the Trib, and I’m jealous of people who got to read him in earlier incarnations.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:33 AM on September 16, 2020

Not a Chicagoan, but I read Royko's syndicated column when I was a kid, and found some of his books later (not Boss, just essay collections I think). Still.
posted by bunderful at 5:36 AM on September 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I read Mike Royko as a kid in Kentucky. He was probably the first columnist I knew by name besides Dear Abby.

My kids find it hard to believe I read the entire newspaper every day as a kid. Yeah, and the whole family watched TV together because we only had two channels and one TV. It was easier to have a shared cultural experience back then.
posted by Miss Cellania at 6:00 AM on September 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

Wow. I haven't thought about Mike Royko in years and years. I, too, used to see his column in the paper my parents subscribed to; I tended to skip over it because, like Ghidorah, I got a grumpy guy vibe from him, but I still have weirdly fond memories of him.

I just popped over to Wikipedia to see what other books he'd written, and found this:
In 1976, a Royko column criticized the Chicago Police Department for providing an around-the-clock security for Frank Sinatra. Sinatra responded with a letter calling Royko a "pimp," threatening to "punch you in the mouth" for speculating that he wore a toupée. Royko auctioned the letter, the proceeds going to the Salvation Army. The winner of the auction was Vie Carlson, mother of Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos.
This is just lovely, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to rediscover him.

Thank you for posting this, dancestoblue.
posted by kristi at 8:17 AM on September 16, 2020 [14 favorites]

Lovely post, dancestoblue. Thank you.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2020

We had to make do with Lewis Grizzard, in my family newspaper reading years.
posted by thelonius at 8:51 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

This story sings to my core. His story is my family's story, largely...minus the windfall from a syndicated column...

I remember my grandfather getting the Sun Times and going to Royko first, Sports second, comics and crossword last.

Thanks for the post. Jogged lots of good memories.
posted by zerobyproxy at 9:08 AM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

Royko's awsome.

The sun rolls down
like a golden tear
Another day.
Another day

My parents have a lake place on Lake Vermilion, in far northern Minnesota. The sunsets there are always amaaaaazing.

Since I was a kid we had a lake place. They bought a lakefront lot, built a cabin on it, and after a few years or ten they sold it and bought one farther north. About a dozen years ago they finally found a place on the lake they'd always been working towards, and they've been in heaven ever since. Whether or not the kids and grandkids come up on any given weekend, Dad fishes on the dock, mom sits on the nice bench seat out at the end there, the dog lies nearby, and the sunset drenches them in generous, honeyed light.

My parents are in their mid-70s now, and I am so glad they got to Lake Vermilion and had so many sunsets together. Here's to dozens and hundreds more!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:45 AM on September 16, 2020 [10 favorites]

Goose. Bumps.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer used to run Royko’s columns, they were interesting.
posted by wnissen at 11:08 AM on September 16, 2020

Here's to dozens and hundreds more!
Here's to hundreds of dozens more!
posted by dancestoblue at 11:15 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

In my first newspaper job, one of my responsibilities was laying out the op-ed page two or three times a week. We used Royko's column twice a week, and reading them in advance of most of the world, and putting them on the page, was always a high point of my week.

We also used George Will twice a week. Not the same.
posted by martin q blank at 11:39 AM on September 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Vancouver Sun—in Canada—carried his columns 3 times a week. I grew up reading him and wanted to write like that, economically, emotionally. My brother and I still talk about knots on hamburgers if we end up at a pretentious restaurant.

The Sun had an award-winning slate of local columnists that my student-journalist friends from back then still rhapsodize about 30-40 years later, but it found the space to regularly feature columns by Americans like Royko, Bob Greene, Ellen Goodman, and, of course, Dave Barry.

But that article… never saw it. Thank you.
posted by morspin at 6:01 PM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

I used to read collections of Mike Royko columns. I enjoyed them very much.

I remember reading one in which he read one of those "how long will you live" quizzes, based on lifestyle choices, and it told him that he had something like -5 years left to live.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:50 AM on September 17, 2020

When the Daily News closed, Royko worked for its allied morning newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, Rupert Murdoch, for whom Royko said he would never work, bought the Sun-Times. Royko commented that "No self-respecting fish would want to be wrapped in a Murdoch paper", and "[H]is goal is not quality journalism. His goal is vast power for Rupert Murdoch, political power".[6] Mike Royko then worked for the rival Chicago Tribune, a paper he had said he'd never work for and at which he never felt comfortable.[7][8][9] For a period after the takeover, the Sun-Times reprinted Royko's columns, while new columns appeared in the Tribune.[10]

His columns were some of the first things I read in the newspaper other than the comics. Much of my idea of Chicago came from his columns - we lived in the suburbs on one of the metra lines and we did get in to the city to visit my aunt regularly, but I didn't have the freedom of the city until I was old enough for college.

I read Boss - which I also recommend - and it was a very important book for me politically as a teen.

Mike Royko seems to have had a lot of common sense and doesn't seem to have had a sexual harassment or sexual assault scandal, putting him in the minority of famous media men.

It's difficult to sort out the difference between the sort of parentless feeling that comes with age and the helpless feeling that comes with the world getting steadily worse. When I was a kid reading Mike Royko columns, it was only the mid eighties and while a lot of truly terrible stuff was happening, it was a totally different world - more social safety net (and welfare, may Clinton rot in hell for getting rid of it), more unions, less concentration of wealth, only the beginning of the homelessness crisis. The thing is, the Reagan years were a bad time, but if you were either a kid or not obsessively political, it was not at all clear how bad things were going to get. And of course, my family was still alive and now they're mostly gone, and many people I looked up to or would look up to were still alive and are now gone. You get older and you feel like the roof comes off and there's nothing between you and the weather anymore.
posted by Frowner at 11:13 AM on September 17, 2020 [13 favorites]

I just read this to my partner. I had to stop several times to recover my voice. Royko was among my favorites.
posted by mule98J at 2:29 PM on September 18, 2020 [1 favorite]

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