On State Street, that great street, just wanna say
They do things they don't do on Broadway....
Chicago, Chicago, that toddlin' town....
A glancing reference earlier to my time writing editorials for the late, and by the time I got there, not-so-great Chicago Daily News brought an unexpected bonus: A list of questions from a Chicagoan who, embracing the better part of valor, decamped to beautiful Northwest Arkansas. Like so many ex-Chicagoans.
I love Chicago, where my grandfather settled more than a century ago, but can't say I blame these expats for choosing Arkansas. There comes a time when the thought of one more Chicago winter becomes too much to bear. I can remember walking down the middle of Wacker Drive in white silence right after one of its two-foot snowfalls and feeling like a character in "Doctor Zhivago" marching through Siberia.
It was wholly a pleasure to answer my valued correspondent's questionnaire. It got the memories flowing. To answer her queries, roughly in order:
1. No, I never wrote for the estimable Chicago Tribune, World's Greatest Newspaper, as its own masthead used to proclaim with all undue modesty. It doubtless was the world's greatest to Colonel McCormick, who was the Windy City's answer to William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer combined.
Today's Trib is but the palest shadow of the colonel's colorful kind of journalism, which was largely about him. I did once visit his office, where his desk stood on a raised deck at the far end of a huge, high-ceilinged room that seemed to go on for ever and ever. And then some. That way, he could look out of the Tribune Tower's neo-Gothic windows, master of all he surveyed when he wasn't peering down on the biggest world globe I've ever seen. It would have taken four or five of us visitors to get our arms around it. (The colonel never did anything on a small scale.)
Around its base, the Tribune Tower was ringed with stones the colonel had his corps of ace foreign correspondents collect from famous structures around the world. You name it and the colonel had part of it embedded in his monument on Michigan Avenue: the Great Pyramid, the Taj Mahal, the Berlin Wall, the Parthenon, the Alamo, the Great Wall of China ... a moon rock on loan from NASA may still be stuck on there somewhere. And a piece of petrified wood from the Redwood National Park. All on display like three-dimensional postcards.
Although I never wrote for the Trib, I have to confess that, now and then during my year to the day with the Daily News, I would think about walking across the street to the Tribune Tower and applying for a job. The impulse would strike whenever the News' editorial line got all too moderate for a reactionary Republican like me, especially when we endorsed little Chuck Percy over the great Paul Douglas for U.S. Senate in 1966. Sen. Douglas, a giant of a man in more ways than one, towered over his opponent, and not just physically.
After that election, which Mr. Percy won, maybe because Sen. Douglas was a hawk on Vietnam and the war was already growing unpopular, I wrote him a letter of apology. An ex-Marine who was a fighter all the way, he sent back a gracious typed note saying, in essence, "Don't worry about it, son. I get a lot of letters like that these days."
2. No, I never met the legendary Mike Royko, but would pass him worshipfully in the hall and read his column as faithfully as everybody else in town. His biography and analysis of Mayor Daley I ("Boss") remains a masterpiece not just of journalism but political science. Occasionally I'd spot him across the room at the Billy Goat tavern under Michigan Avenue. But I didn't want to bother him.
I did have a passing acquaintance with Bill Mauldin of World War II Willie and Joe fame. He used to draw his daily cartoon for our sister paper, the Sun-Times, just down the hall from my little cubicle. He still sported a GI crew-cut. A nice, quiet fella. I guess he'd seen quite enough action in his time, thank you. Me, I just stood in awe.
3. There's a lot of talk these days about the Chicago Cubs' having a chance for their first World Series championship since when, Nineteen-Aught-Six? It would be a tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions to spoil an unbroken record of defeat like theirs. There may be something touching about losing year after year, but there is something magnificent, operatic, imperial about a string of defeats going back as long as the Cubs'. May it long continue.
I've been a Red Sox fan since my daughter decided to raise a family in Boston.
Much of my big and very extended family used to live on the South Side before they moved up to the Near North Side -- hey, it's America! But the sight of all that ivy at Wrigley still makes my skin crawl. Once a South Sider, always déclassé.
Once, when the White Sox were having a good year, and hoity-toity Cub fans, always with an eye for the main chance, started showing up at Comiskey Park, my favorite Chicago banner was unfurled in the bleachers. In letters five feet high it proclaimed: YUPPIE SCUM GO HOME!
My predilection for the White Sox dates back to my boyhood, when an older cousin took me to my first major-league ball game. The White Sox were playing the Philadelphia A's at old Comiskey Park, which was later duplicated just across the street as new Comiskey Park even if it has some company's name on its marquee nowadays. A strange but still continuous history. Kind of like America's.
I can still see Connie Mack, the Athletics' original manager, sitting in the visitors' dugout down on the field in the powder-blue suit that set off his impressive mane of white hair, calling the plays with an almost imperceptible wave of his scorecard. He'd been managing the As since 1901. That's right: 1901. Or ever since there'd been a Philadelphia Athletics in the then brand-new American League.
He would go on to manage the team for half a century until he retired after the 1950 season at the age of 87. There were giants on the earth in those days. Even then I knew I was looking down at history.