Hominy & Hash
MIKE ROYKO: A GOOD NAME TO REMEMBER
The American Reporter
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Mike Royko, the Chicaho newspaper columnist who died in 1997 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize three times in the course of his career for his work for the defunct Chicago Daily News, the pre-Rupert Murdoch Chicago Sun-Times and the post-Murdoch Chicago Tribune. The name Royko always guaranteed a good read and when I saw it in the news today, I paid attention. Royko is not a Smith or Jones name - I knew there would be a connection.
Alas, I was right. Robert Royko, Mike's son, walked into a bank carrying some sort of device fashioned to look like a pipe bomb. According to an Associated Press report, he had a box in his hands and lifted the simulated "pipe bomb" from it and pulled a ski mask over his head. He handed a bag to the teller with the terse demand that she fill it with cash. He assured the bank guard that he could detonate the bomb by remote control if anyone interfered with him.
At least that was his plan. But plans do go awry when the bank guard happens to be an off-duty police officer, trained to be quick on the trigger and fast on his feet, who knocked the box out of Royko's hands and arrested him before he knew what hit him. Actually, the report didn't say if he were hit or not, but it probably felt that way.
Sad. Not because he tried to rob a bank; not because he got caught, but because his father had made such a name for himself in that town as an honorable reporter who told the stories and made you laugh and cry all within the same sentence; a reporter, of life at its best and life at its worst. This generation of guys about town will hear the name Royko and laugh. "Isn't he the guy who tried to rob a bank with a hand-made pipe bomb?"
A defense attorney, also a Royko family friend, went to court with Robert Royko.
The attorney, Patrick O'Byrne, called the situation "an American tragedy - alcohol and drug abuse, which touches almost every family in America." Royko's was a long-term drinking problem and he will plead innocent, according to O'Byrne.
Mike Royko's column was always a keeper. I remember clipping one of his best because I was on the scene he was reporting. In August, 1967, United States Steel provided the steel and shipped it to Chicago Bridge and Iron to be used in the construction of The Picasso, an untitled sculpture.
Having always thought sculpture as art was a hands-on project, I was surprised to learn that Pablo Picasso "designed" the sculpture but the hands-on was done by the ironworkers and riveters and carried in pieces to an artistic assembly line, finally erected where it looms, there is no other word for it, it looms over the Daley Center Plaza in the famous Chicago Loop.
This was a long awaited event. No one knew what to expect but gossip said it would be a woman, the figure of a woman, in Picasso's inimitable style.
Political dignitaries, corporate executives, clergymen offering prayers to a restless crowd all sat in readiness. They were all waiting, thousands in attendance, for Mayor Daley to cut the ribbon that would release the drapes around "The Picasso."
The moment came. I can't do it justice but Mike Royko wrote: "...could see that it was nothing but a big, homely metal thing." I felt like the little boy seeing the naked Emperor. It was nothing. It was a shock, a hideous shock. Is it a woman?
Royko wrote: "If it was a woman, then art experts should put away their books and spend more time in girlie joints." <http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/730719.html>
I turned to my friend and she was holding back laughter until her eyes watered. She was trying to be dignified sitting there in the stands with the "swells" but she was losing it.
"It's his dog!" she said in a stage whisper. "Can't you see, it's his dog?" Sure enough, it was an Afghan, a dog just like my friend's big, blonde Afghan. "Picasso has Afghans. I know that for a fact," she said, continuing to laugh.
I understood her restraint because this was a very serious event. This was the cultural renewal of Chicago, known worldwide as "that toddlin' town," known for a generation as the shoot'em up speakeasy center of gangster Al Capone's universe. This was at last Chicago's chance for sophistication.
We couldn't tell them about Lynne's Afghan hound. Whether or not Picasso's sculpture was a tribute to Mayor Daley, as was surmised, or to the cold-hearted slumlords of Chicago's past, as Royko said, or just Picasso's last laugh, we'll never know. It will always depend upon how much old Pablo loved his dogs.