Friday, July 3, 2009
'Royko Was a Prick'
I don't quite understand the fascination and reverence that many people of Chicago, whether they are journalists, would-be journalists, or media junkies, have for Mike Royko. Royko is the legendary Chicago newspaper columnist who got his real start in Chicago reporting at the City News Bureau of Chicago, then worked for the Daily News, Sun-Times and Tribune, writing some 7,000 columns over a 30-year career, exposing government corruption, taking on City Hall, and writing about other passions, such as the Chicago Cubs and 16-inch softball. His book, "Boss," about Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago, is a classic, and showed the mayor as corrupt and racist, and I treated that book as a bible of sorts when i was in high school and college. He's also famous for drinking at the also legendary Billy Goat Tavern.
People speak of Royko as a Catholic would speak of the pope or President Kennedy, as some speak of Sinatra, as basketball fans speak of Michael Jordan, as boxing fans speak of Muhammad Ali -- he was the greatest, there will never be another like him, you all could learn a thing or two by watching him, etc. People name their dogs after Royko. When some get pissed off at a present day newspaper reporter or columnist, they sometimes resort to saying things like (I paraphrase), "Royko was the last great reporter in this town, the rest of you suck." People still are drawn to the Billy Goat, as they were when he was alive, because they want to be in the place where he spent so many thousands of hours drinking, getting into scuffles and hitting on other guys' wives and girlfriends.
He may have been a great newspaperman, but by some accounts, the guy was a first-class prick. A year or two ago, when I heard a radio interview with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg, who has had his own obstacles to deal with in his personal life (which you can read about in his book, "Drunkard"), in which he was asked about Royko, someone whom he spent some bar time with at the Goat, and Steinberg stated, "Royko was a prick." And by all accounts, Royko was an unpleasant person to encounter. (Maybe someone who knew him will disagree, that's fine. I never met him and can't say I regret that.)
Then, while bouncing around on the Internet today, I found that Jerry Pritikin, aka "The Bleacher Preacher," has a blog (he doesn't update often, but it is a blog nonetheless). Pritikin, now in his 70s, is a lifelong Cubs fan, a photographer by trade, and is also gay. In a piece he wrote (with photos which you should take a look at) for the Beachwood Reporter in 2008, Pritikin wrote of something he saw one summer day in the 1970s on Chicago's North Side lakefront (then and now, a place where gays liked to gather).
Pritikin saw a handful of police cars and bunch of cops "raid" the beach all because a young blond man in a Speedo was selling sandwiches on the beach, without a license to do so. Yeah, selling sandwiches without a license got nine cops to respond to the beach that day and arrest the guy.
Pritikin, who was visiting from San Francisco (he's lived in SF and Chicago) at the time, found a pay phone nearby and called the Daily News, where Royko was working at the time, and asked to speak to Royko, "who I had heard was always willing to go to bat for the little guy.
"I was connected to him and he listened my story and when I was finished Mike Royko said to me loud and clear:
'They should arrest all the faggots!'
And then he hung up."
So, you know, forgive me for not genuflecting at the altar of Royko the next time he is brought up in conversation or I remind you of how much of a prick this guy must have been when you ask me if I want to be like Royko or you assume that I ask St. Royko for journalistic guidance every day when I leave for work.