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One More Time:
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One More Time:
The Best of Mike Royko
August 16, 1967
Picasso and the Cultural Rebirth of Chicago
Mayor Daley walked to the white piece of ribbon and put his hand on it. He was about to give it a pull when the photographers yelled for him to wait. He stood there for a minute and gave them that familiar blend of scowl and smile.
It was good that he waited. This was a moment to think about, to savor what was about to happen. In just a moment, with a snap of the mayor's wrist, Chicago history would be changed. That's no small occurrence·the cultural rebirth of a big city.
Out there in the neighborhoods and the suburbs, things probably seemed just the same. People worried about the old things·would they move in and would we move out? Or would we move in and would they move out?
But downtown, the leaders of culture and influence were gathered for a historical event and it was reaching a climax with Mayor Daley standing there ready to pull a ribbon.
Thousands waited in and around the Civic Center plaza. They had listened to the speeches about the Picasso thing. They had heard how it was going to change Chicago's image.
They had heard three clergymen·a priest, a rabbi, and a Protestant minister·offer eloquent prayers. That's probably a record for a work by Picasso, a dedicated atheist.
And now the mayor was standing there, ready to pull the ribbon.
You could tell it was a big event by the seating. In the first row on the speakers platform was a lady poet. In the second row was Alderman Tom Keane. And in the third row was P. J. Cullerton, the assessor. When Keane and Cullerton sit behind a lady poet, things are changing.
The only alderman in the front row was Tom Rosenberg. And he was there only because it was a cultural event and he is chairman of the City Council's Culture Committee, which is in charge of preventing aldermen from spitting, swearing, and snoring during meetings.
The whole thing had been somber and serious. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra had played classical music. It hadn't played even one chorus of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow."
Chief Judge John Boyle had said the Picasso would become more famous than the Art Institute's lions. Boyle has vision.
Someone from the National Council of Arts said it was paying tribute to Mayor Daley. This brought an interested gleam in the eyes of a few ward committeemen.
William Hartmann, the man who thought of the whole thing, told of Picasso's respect for Mayor Daley. Whenever Hartmann went to see Picasso, the artist asked:
"Is Mayor Daley still mayor of Chicago?"
When Hartmann said this, Mayor Daley bounced up and down in his chair, he laughed so hard. So did a few Republicans in the cheap seats, but they didn't laugh the same way.
After the ceremony, it came to that final moment the mayor standing there holding the white ribbon.
Then he pulled.
There was a gasp as the light blue covering fell away in several pieces. But it was caused by the basic American fascination for any mechanical feat that goes off as planned.
In an instant the Picasso stood there unveiled for all to see.
Photograph by Sidney J. Kaplan, M.D.
A few people applauded. But at best, it was a smattering of applause. Most of the throng was silent.
They had hoped, you see, that it would be what they had heard it would be.
A woman, maybe. A beautiful soaring woman. That is what many art experts and enthusiasts had promised. They had said that we should wait that we should not believe what we saw in the pictures.
If it was a woman, then art experts should put away their books and spend more time in girlie joints.
The silence grew. Then people turned and looked at each other. Some shrugged. Some smiled. Some just stood there, frowning or blank-faced.
Most just turned and walked away. The weakest pinch-hitter on the Cubs receives more cheers.
They had wanted to be moved by it. They wouldn't have stood there if they didn't want to believe what they had been told that it would be a fine thing.
But anyone who didn't have a closed mind·which means thinking that anything with the name Picasso connected must be wonderful could see that it was nothing but a big, homely metal thing.
That is all there is to it. Some soaring lines, yes. Interesting design, I'm sure. But the fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect. It has eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean.
But why not? Everybody said it had the spirit of Chicago. And from thousands of miles away, accidentally or on purpose, Picasso captured it.
Up there in that ugly face is the spirit of Al Capone, the Summerdale scandal cops, the settlers who took the Indians but good.
Its eyes are like the eyes of every slum owner who made a buck off the small and weak. And of every building inspector who took a wad from a slum owner to make it all possible.
It has the look of the dope pusher and of the syndicate technician as he looks for just the right wire to splice the bomb to.
Any bigtime real estate operator will be able to look into the face of the Picasso and see the spirit that makes the city's rebuilding possible and profitable.
It has the look of the big corporate executive who comes face to face with the reality of how much water pollution his company is responsible for and then thinks of the profit and loss and of his salary.
It is all there in that Picasso thing the I Will spirit. The I will get you before you will get me spirit.
Picasso has never been here, they say. You'd think he's been riding the L all his life.
October 25, 1972
(Mike wrote this column the day Jackie Robinson died.)
Jackie's Debut a Unique Day
All that Saturday, the wise men of the neighborhood, who sat in chairs on the sidewalk outside the tavern, had talked about what it would do to baseball.
I hung around and listened because baseball was about the most important thing in the world, and if anything was going to ruin it, I was worried.
Most of the things they said, I didn't understand, although it all sounded terrible. But could one man bring such ruin?
They said he could and would. And the next day he was going to be in Wrigley Field for the first time, on the same diamond as Hack, Nicholson, Cavarretta, Schmitz, Pafko, and all my other idols.
I had to see Jackie Robinson, the man who was going to somehow wreck everything. So the next day, another kid and I started walking to the ballpark early.
We always walked to save the streetcar fare. It was five or six miles, but I felt about baseball the way Abe Lincoln felt about education.
Usually, we could get there just at noon, find a seat in the grandstand, and watch some batting practice. But not that Sunday, May 18, 1947.
By noon, Wrigley Field was almost filled. The crowd outside spilled off the sidewalk and into the streets. Scalpers were asking top dollar for box seats and getting it.
I had never seen anything like it. Not just the size, although it was a new record, more than 47,000. But this was twenty-five years ago, and in 1947 few blacks were seen in the Loop, much less up on the white North Side at a Cub game.
That day, they came by the thousands, pouring off the northbound Ls and out of their cars.
They didn't wear baseball-game clothes. They had on church clothes and funeral clothes·suits, white shirts, ties, gleaming shoes, and straw hats. I've never seen so many straw hats.
As big as it was, the crowd was orderly. Almost unnaturally so. People didn't jostle each other.
The whites tried to look as if nothing unusual was happening, while the blacks tried to look casual and dignified. So everybody looked slightly ill at ease.
For most, it was probably the first time they had been that close to each other in such great numbers.
We managed to get in, scramble up a ramp, and find a place to stand behind the last row of grandstand seats. Then they shut the gates. No place remained to stand.
Robinson came up in the first inning. I remember the sound. It wasn't the shrill, teenage cry you now hear, or an excited gut roar. They applauded, long, rolling applause. A tall, middle-aged black man stood next to me, a smile of almost painful joy on his face, beating his palms together so hard they must have hurt.
When Robinson stepped into the batter's box, it was as if someone had flicked a switch. The place went silent.
He swung at the first pitch and they erupted as if he had knocked it over the wall. But it was only a high foul that dropped into the box seats. I remember thinking it was strange that a foul could make that many people happy. When he struck out, the low moan was genuine.
I've forgotten most of the details of the game, other than that the Dodgers won and Robinson didn't get a hit or do anything special, although he was cheered on every swing and every routine play.
But two things happened I'll never forget. Robinson played first, and early in the game a Cub star hit a grounder and it was a close play.
Just before the Cub reached first, he swerved to his left. And as he got to the bag, he seemed to slam his foot down hard at Robinson's foot.
It was obvious to everyone that he was trying to run into him or spike him. Robinson took the throw and got clear at the last instant.
I was shocked. That Cub, a hometown boy, was my biggest hero. It was not only an unheroic stunt, but it seemed a rude thing to do in front of people who would cheer for a foul ball. I didn't understand why he had done it. It wasn't at all big league.
I didn't know that while the white fans were relatively polite, the Cubs and most other teams kept up a steady stream of racial abuse from the dugout. I thought that all they did down there was talk about how good Wheaties are.
Late in the game, Robinson was up again, and he hit another foul ball. This time it came into the stands low and fast, in our direction. Somebody in the seats grabbed for it, but it caromed off his hand and kept coming. There was a flurry of arms as the ball kept bouncing, and suddenly it was between me and my pal. We both grabbed. I had a baseball.
The two of us stood there examining it and chortling. A genuine major-league baseball that had actually been gripped and thrown by a Cub pitcher, hit by a Dodger batter. What a possession.
Then I heard the voice say: "Would you consider selling that?"
It was the black man who had applauded so fiercely.
I mumbled something. I didn't want to sell it.
"I'll give you ten dollars for it," he said.
Ten dollars. I couldn't believe it. I didn't know what ten dollars could buy because I'd never had that much money. But I knew that a lot of men in the neighborhood considered sixty dollars a week to be good pay.
I handed it to him, and he paid me with ten $1 bills.
When I left the ball park, with that much money in my pocket, I was sure that Jackie Robinson wasn't bad for the game.
Since then, I've regretted a few times that I didn't keep the ball. Or that I hadn't given it to him free. I didn't know, then, how hard he probably had to work for that ten dollars.
But Tuesday I was glad I had sold it to him. And if that man is still around, and has that baseball, I'm sure he thinks it was worth every cent.
March 19, 1991
Ticket to Good Life Punched with Pain
The police chief of Los Angeles is being widely condemned because of the now-famous videotaped flogging of a traffic offender.
But Chief Daryl Gates, while refusing to resign, suggests that the brutal beating might have been an uplifting act that could bring long-range positive results for the beating victim.
As the chief put it at a press conference Monday:
"We regret what took place. I hope he [Rodney King, the beating victim] gets his life straightened out. Perhaps this will be the vehicle to move him down the road to a good life instead of the life he's been involved in for such a long time."
I hadn't thought of it that way, but there could be something in what Chief Gates says.
There's no doubt that King, 25, hasn't been an exemplary citizen, although he's no John Dillinger. When the police stopped him for speeding, he was on parole for using a tire iron to threaten and rob a grocer.
But as Chief Gates said, the experience of being beaten, kicked, and shot with an electric stun gun might be what it takes to "move him down the road to a good life."
Who knows, in a few years when all of this is forgotten, a reporter might drive out to a nice house in a California suburb and find a peaceful Rodney King pushing a mower across his lawn.
The reporter might ask: "Mr. King, what is it that moved you down the road to a good life?"
"That's a good question," Mr. King might reply, "and I'll be glad to explain it to you. You'll have to excuse me if I wobble and drool a bit; my face has nerve damage and my coordination hasn't been the same since they damaged my brain."
"But to get back to your question. I think it was after L.A.'s finest hit me about fifty or fifty-five times with their clubs. As you recall, some of the fillings flew out of my teeth and one of my eye sockets sort of exploded."
"Must have been a tad uncomfortable."
"Yes. And at that point, I'm pretty sure that those nine skull fractures and internal injuries had already occurred, my cheekbone was fractured, one of my legs was broken, and I had this burning sensation from being zapped with that electric stun gun. I was feeling kind of low."
"That's to be expected."
"Right. But as I was lying there, and they were getting in a few final kicks, and then sort of hog-tying my hands to my legs and dragging me along the ground, I said to myself: 'Why not try to look at the bright side?'"
"And did you?"
"Yes. I thought: 'Well, one of my legs isn't broken; one of my eye sockets isn't fractured; one of my cheekbones isn't broken. And although my skull is fractured, my head remains attached to my body; and while fillings have popped out of my teeth, I still have the teeth.' And I said to myself: 'Half a body is better than none.'"
"Thank you. And I had a chance to think about why the police were treating me that way. It was their way of telling me that speeding is an act of antisocial behavior and I had been very bad, bad, bad."
"You have unusual insight."
"I try. And I thought that if only I had led the life of a model citizen, this wouldn't have happened to me. Let's face it. The L.A. police never fracture the skull of the president of the chamber of commerce, the chief antler in the Loyal Order of Moose, or the head of the PTA. No, it was my past history of antisocial behavior that brought it on."
"But they had no way of knowing you were on parole."
"Yes, but I'm sure they could guess just by the look of me. Be honest, I don't look at all like the head of the PTA, do I?"
"Then, later, when Police Chief Gates said that the beating, although regrettable, could be the vehicle that would get me on the road to the good life, everything became clear. I realized that the beating would turn my life around and be a one-way ticket to the good life."
"The chief's words inspired you?"
"Not exactly. To be honest Chief Gates' words convinced me that he had to be as dumb an S.O.B. as ever opened his mouth at a press conference."
"But you said he helped you to a good life."
"That's right, he did."
"When I took his police department to court, that jury awarded me a couple of million in damages, and I've been leading the good life ever since."
"I don't think that's what the chief had in mind."
"I don't think that chief had anything in mind."