Like I Was Sayin'Like I Was Sayin’
by Mike Royko

How I used to whoop on a day when a new Royko column hit the newspapers! Oh, how I missed this gritty, opinionated, funny, literate, down-to-earth columnist.

I picked up this book at random a couple of weeks ago, and it has been sitting on the kitchen table ever since. I’ve gotten into the habit of reading a column over breakfast, another couple of columns over supper. Life in general continues to be chaotic, as we move all Brian’s belongings out of his house only to have the sale cancelled two days before closing, then discover that his retirement date has to be pushed back to next year, then top it off by a phone call from his daughter that she has a month’s notice to move out of her apartment and might have to move back in with him — into a house with no furniture, which might or might not still be for sale … Arghh!  When I feel like life is becoming a stomach-flipping roller-coaster ride, I open up the Royko book, and whaddaya know! Life IS a stomach-flipping roller-coaster ride — and a darned funny one at that!

Royko writes about people caught in situations so frustrating that there is nothing else to do but scream or laugh — and Royko helps us laugh. This book is a chance to wander back through some of his best material, including the head-scratching Picking-Packing School Memo —

  • “At the present time the Division of Supplies is filling picking/packing slips based on chronological issuance of these picking/packing slips…”
    I called the school headquarters and asked for the purchasing department. Somebody answered the phone and I said I wanted to know about the tongue twister in the general bulletin.
    “The what?”
    “The one about how many items a picker/packer picks in a package rather than having them picked separately by the picking/packing slip.”
    There was a long pause. Then the voice said, “Which department did you want?”
    “Purchasing”, I said.
    “Oh,” she said, sounding relieved. “They switched you to the wrong department.”

the outrageous Rites of Citizenship —

  • A few days later, Alfred stopped to see a neighborhood lawyer, Ray Rysztogi, who speaks Polish. He told the lawyer what had happened, then showed him the piece of paper the police had given him.
    “You dummy,” said the lawyer. “They charged YOU with disorderly conduct.” …
    “No, no, no,” said Alfred.
    “Yes,” said the lawyer. “You got it backwards.”
    The lawyer called the cops … “Didn’t you have anybody who could translate Polish?” the lawyer asked.
    “No, but his English was OK,” said the cop. …
    The lawyer contacted the immigration authorities, and they told him a question had arisen about Alfred’s worthiness. He had been arrested.
    The lawyer explained that Alfred was the victim, even though he had been arrested …
    Fortunately, the immigration people are familiar with the Chicago legal process and that made sense to them.

the farcical Great Shootout of Cullerton Street —

  • “Yes, we had guns at home when I was a kid. My father was in the tavern business, which meant that he kept a pistol behind the bar. ” …
    “Then you have to admit that people do use guns to protect themselves.”… He really thought he had me. So when he finished his lecture, I told him about the Great Shootout of Cullerton Street. …
    … So my answer to the handgun advocate was: Based on my childhood observations on the use of handguns for self defense, I’m still for strict control of handguns. But I did learn certain rules of safety from the Shootout on Cullerton Street, and most people would be wise to follow them:
    Never try to fill an inside straight, never hit a Pole in the head with a shot glass, and don’t ever get a Doberman mad at you.

the triumphant Little Guy Wins a Skirmish —

  • He got a clipboard and his Brownie camera, went outside, and began writing down license numbers and photographing cars. A guardsman spotted him and walked over.
    “What are you doing?”
    “That is my business,” said Branch, mysteriously. …
    The guardsman went back to the armory. In a few minutes the major appeared, followed by six other guardsmen.
    “What are you doing that for?” the major asked.
    “That is my business,” said Branch, clicking his camera at cars. …
    A police car was going by so the major darted into the street and waved his arms. The police car slammed on its brakes. Another car slammed into the rear of the police car
    The motorist and the policeman got out and glared at the damage, which was not minor.

the feisty Mrs. Irene Newsome in the tale of The Shoe Pinch–

  • The purse snatcher jumped out of an alley and grabbed her purse. Then he started running back down the alley. But he couldn’t run fast because Mrs. Newsome wouldn’t let go of the purse….
    Then Mrs. Newsome’s grip slipped and she only had him by the ankle… And suddenly she was sitting there holding one empty shoe in her hand, while the purse snatcher limped around a bend in the alley and disappeared. …
    As they waited for a police car, a young man came walking up the street in his stockinged feet, carrying the other shoe.
    He went right up to Mrs. Newsome and said, “Give me my shoe.”
    She said, “I’ll give you your shoe if you give me my purse.”
    “I didn’t take your purse,” the man said.
    “If you didn’t take my purse, then how did I get your shoe?”
    The young man then proved that he was an even worse storyteller than a purse snatcher. He said he had loaned his shoes to a needy friend for the day, and that the friend returned only one shoe, saying that an old lady had stolen the other one. …

and the heartfelt Punch Line for Lennie —

  • I suppose I’m a typical baseball fan. We boo and yell at the players and give little thought to the fact that those are human beings out there on the field. … So now I take a vow — no more wise-guy remarks about Lennie Merullo in future Cub quiz columns. .. Wait, I have to amend that. There will be one final brief quiz about Lennie Merullo. Here goes:
    Q. In about 1946, the Brooklyn Dodgers had a powerhouse team, loaded with top players. They really enjoyed bullying our hapless Cubs. One day, in Ebbets Field, a fight broke out and both teams poured out on the field. One of the most belligerant Dodgers was Dixie Walker, one of the top hitters in the league, and a very tough guy. When the fighting ended, a Cub player had a set of bruised knuckles on his right hand. And Dixie Walker had some gaps where his front teeth used to be.  Quick, name the Cubs player who separated Dixie Walker from his teeth and made us Cubs fans proud.
    A. The immortal Lennie Merullo, of course.

Thank you, Mr. Royko, for reminding me of the comic relief all around me in life’s more insane and chaotic moments.