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Royko

He did it again. Every once in a while, my Dad gives me a Christmas gift that is so right, so perfect, so touching. In earlier years, there was a chemistry set. That was perfect and touching for only a little while, but then that was during a period of time when he & I didn’t really mesh well. In retrospect, I had no business owning a chemistry set in the first place. It’s amazing I didn’t blow up the house or melt my own flesh.

Later on, when I was of collegiate age but not necessarily collegiate manner, I decided I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I was to become a stand-up comic. And when I told my benefactor of my decision, he said: “I think that’s a great idea.” You see, the Guglielmettis are nothing but a bunch of laugh-hungry whores, and Dad & I are the pride of the stable. So when I told Dad I wanted change my major from business to theatre, he was all for it. That Christmas, I received two albums from him: Bob Newhart’s “The Best of the Button Down Mind” and a three-album collection of Lenny Bruce’s best stuff.

It was the first time Dad & I were allies in a common cause, and I appreciated his depth of expertise on the subject. In fact, it completely changed our relationship. But that’s a whole other story. The point is, he did it again.

Over the last five or six years, I have become enamored with writing. I always enjoyed it, but recent events such as my attempts to master the skies, my father’s firefight with cancer and the events of September 11, 2001 have somehow sparked a fire in me to write more often, and in so doing, I have come to appreciate how hard it is to do it correctly, and to delight in the few times it all comes out according to plan. Apparently Dad has taken notice to my little creative sidetrack, because this Christmas I received from him two Mike Royko anthologies (yes, at long last we’ve arrived at the subject matter of this post!)

Mike Royko was a daily columnist for three Chicago newspapers, starting just before I was born and pumping out quality journalism until just a few years ago. He wrote nearly eight thousand columns, and he was everyman’s spokesman. He could expose any situation for the hypocricy, the bullshit/moronic/petty situation that it was, and do it in such a manner that even the crooks and morons he was satirizing should have nodded knowingly.

For the last week, I have been annoying my neighbors on the train by snickering aloud, reading Mike’s greatest columns during my daily commute. I remember reading Mike’s columns a few times when I was younger, as he was syndicated and his work appeared in over 600 papers in the United States. But for some reason I never pursued his career. I should have. He had an uncanny ability to hammer out gem after gem, mostly from his corner office overlooking the Chicago RIver. Reading these books was like replaying his life, and I am envious of what he did. I can’t imagine the pressure of having to hammer out 900 words every day, for pay. But he did it, and he delivered a product surely worth more than any of the papers were paying him.

At the age of sixty four, thinking of retirement while on vacation in Florida, he suffered a brain aneurysm. He survived surgery, flew home to Chicago, and died a month later. The book I finished reading tonight was Mike’s idea, according to his wife. He figured he wouldn’t survive additional surgery and proposed a final collection of his best columns. It’s a really good collection.

His final column is in there; obviously, it’s the last piece in the book. The byline in the book included a note stating “this is the last piece Mike wrote”. I read it knowing that this was it, the end of the line. The final brilliant words from Everyman. I savored every word, and when I flipped the page, there was nothing. Nothing. Just one blank white page, one heavy stock page, and then the back cover.

I felt so lonely; then, as my train was pulling into Metropark station I had to deal with the inevitable rush of the crowds for the stair. Damned door jammed too, so even though I was on the car that stopped right by the steps, I still had to walk back to the next car to exit, and by then the platform was a mess. Damn.