Book Review: Like I Was Saying (1984)

Select columns from the immortal independent newspaper columnist, Mike Royko
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright

Let’s take a journey thru yesteryear, which of course was only yesterday, to pay some homage with even a jab or two to Mike Royko, the newspaper man who made Chicago famous. These are selections from his columns for The Daily News, The Sun-Times, and The Tribune spanning 1966-1984. The sad fact is, while I was up and reading leading columnists for a good portion of that period—I came to Detroit in 1969, which is a mere 282 miles from the Windy City, and in those days still almost as happenin’—I never made a habit of enjoying Mr. Royko’s salt-of-the-earth daily columns.

A remarkable man who definitely earned his stripes as an afflictor of the powerful. The first thing that jumps out at those of us who are into the ‘English thing’ is that the proper usage of like and as has been violated. [The grammatically correct phrase is ‘As I was saying.’] Revealing Mr. Mike’s blue collar spokesman image, in pointed fashion. Indeed, one might well characterize Royko as the prototype of politically incorrectness. From a biography:

“Royko was ostensibly a liberal journalist, but a liberal journalist with a sense of the outrage of the common citizen. Therefore, he was at the forefront of those who questioned Gary Hart’s judgment rather than his morals, had a nationally celebrated fight with AT & T, and wrote a column castigating those social workers who were attempting to get men in pool rooms to find regular jobs. Additionally, he was generally unsupportive of political correctness, of those who are young and fail to function within the political system, of police departments that fail to protect the average person, and of those politicians who see people as part of —the problem. Royko was credited with first calling former California Governor Jerry Brown “Governor Moonbeam,” and he rarely saw virtue in those who voiced the idea of the criminal as the victim.”

That’ll bring up my two jabs:

  • Regarding civil liberties: Even though he realized that violent crimes and routine larceny should entail punishment above ‘crimes without victims,’ he apparently never saw the big picture that the War on Drugs had turned the country into jails and grossly empowered the legal mobsters at city hall, whom he railed against.
  • Regarding peace: Mike was a veteran, enlisting in the Air Force in 1952 and shipped to Korea, for the war that set the stage for undeclared imperial adventures ever since. As for Vietnam, I think he ‘abstained,’ dismissing the antiwar counterculture, with drugs and kids dropping out, emerging at the time.

In other words, Royko did not see world affairs and public policy in terms of the nonag-gression principle. Nor did he delve below the machinations of the national political mach-ine to see the puppetmasters at work. Yet we are no doubt better for that. Instead he delivered to us a decent helping of common sense and humor from everyday lives.

A Representative Column

The following is quintessential Royko, dealing somewhat with the war and peace issue above. It was written in the early 1990s, so well after the columns appearing in Like I Was Saying. It’s representative of Royko’s best:

I just phoned six friends and asked them what they will be doing on Monday.

They all said the same thing: working.

Me, too.

There is something else we share. We are all military veterans.

And there is a third thing we have in common. We are not employees of the federal government, state government, county government, municipal government, the Postal Service, the courts, banks, or S & Ls, and we don’t teach school.

If we did, we would be among the many millions of people who will spend Monday goofing off.

Which is why it is about time Congress revised the ridiculous terms of Veterans Day as a national holiday.

The purpose of Veterans Day is to honor all veterans.

So how does this country honor them?

By letting the veterans, the majority of whom work in the private sector, spend the day at their jobs so they can pay taxes that permit millions of non-veterans to get paid for doing nothing.

As my friend Harry put it:

“First I went through basic training. Then infantry school. Then I got on a crowded, stinking troop ship that took 23 days to get from San Francisco to Japan. We went through a storm that had 90 percent of the guys on the ship throwing up for a week.

“Then I rode a beat-up transport plane from Japan to Korea, and it almost went down in the drink. I think the pilot was drunk.

“When I got to Korea, I was lucky. The war ended seven months after I got there, and I didn’t kill anybody and nobody killed me.

“But it was still a miserable experience. Then when my tour was over, I got on another troop ship and it took 21 stinking days to cross the Pacific.

“When I got home on leave, one of the older guys at the neighborhood bar — he was a World War II vet — told me I was a —-head because we didn’t win, we only got a tie.

“So now on Veterans Day I get up in the morning and go down to the office and work.

“You know what my nephew does? He sleeps in. That’s because he works for the state.

“And do you know what he did during the Vietnam War? He ducked the draft by getting a job teaching at an inner-city school.

“Now, is that a raw deal or what?”

Of course that’s a raw deal. So I propose that the members of Congress revise Veterans Day to provide the following:

  • All veterans — and only veterans — should have the day off from work. It doesn’t matter if they were combat heroes or stateside clerk-typists.

Anybody who went through basic training and was awakened before dawn by a red-neck drill sergeant who bellowed: “Drop your whatsis and grab your socks and fall out on the road,” is entitled.

  • Those veterans who wish to march in parades, make speeches or listen to speeches can do so. But for those who don’t, all local gambling laws should be suspended for the day to permit vets to gather in taverns, pull a couple of tables together and spend the day playing poker, blackjack, craps, drinking and telling lewd lies about lewd experiences with lewd women. All bar prices should be rolled back to enlisted men’s club prices, Officers can pay the going rate, the stiffs.
  • All anti-smoking laws will be suspended for Veterans Day. The same hold for all misdemeanor laws pertaining to disorderly conduct, non-felonious brawling, leering, gawking and any other gross and disgusting public behavior that does not harm another individual.
  • It will be a treasonable offense for any spouse or live-in girlfriend (or boyfriend, if it applies) to utter the dreaded words: “What time will you be home tonight?”
  • Anyone caught posing as a veteran will be required to eat a triple portion of chipped beef on toast, with Spam on the side, and spend the day watching a chaplain present a color-slide presentation on the horrors of VD.
  • Regardless of how high his office, no politician who had the opportunity to serve in the military, but didn’t, will be allowed to make a patriotic speech, appear on TV, or poke his nose out of his office for the entire day.

Any politician who defies this ban will be required to spend 12 hours wearing headphones and listening to tapes of President Clinton explaining his deferments.

Now, deal the cards and pass the tequila.

— Mike Royko [pulled from this page:]

What a guy. Sure could use a few more like him in these scary times. Enjoyable read.

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