Friday, December 09, 2005

Christmas Time In The City, Mike Royko Style

I have been resisting saying or doing anything Christmas related this year. The seemingly forced festivity does not correlate with my general mood of stress and impending deadlines. I need another thing to worry about like I need a kick in the shorts.

I did, however, remember a piece by one of my all-time heros, Mike Royko, that always struck me at this time of year. It is reproduced below.

It is one of hundreds of Royko's columns that prove that he was one of the greatest newspaper columnists of all time. Nobody captured the mind, heart and soul of a city like Mike Royko did with Chicago. It's too bad he's gone.

If you get a chance, see the Mike Royko exhibit at the Newberry Library.

This column was originally published in the Chicago Daily News on December 19, 1967.

Mary and Joe, Chicago Style

Mary and Joe were flat broke when they got off the bus in Chicago.

They didn't know anybody and she was expecting a baby.

They went to a cheap hotel. But the clerk jerked his thumb at the door when they couldn't show a day's rent in advance.

They walked the streets until they saw a police station. The desk sergeant said they couldn't sleep in a cell, but he told them how to get to a welfare office.

A man there said they couldn't get regular assistance because they hadn't been Illinois residents long enough. But he gave them the address of the emergency welfare office on the West Side.

It was a two-mile walk up Madison Street. Someone gave them a card with a number on it and they sat down on a bench, stared at the peeling green paint and waited for their number to be called.

Two hours later, a caseworker motioned them forward, took out blank forms and asked questions: Any relatives? Any means of getting money? Any assets?

Joe said he owned a donkey. The caseworker told him not to get smart or he'dbe thrown out. Joe said he was sorry.

The caseworker finished the forms and said they were entitled to emergency CTA fare to County Hospital because of Mary's condition. And he told Joe to go to an Urban Progress Center for occupational guidance.

Joe thanked him and they took a bus to the hospital. A guard told them to wait on a bench. They waited two hours, and then Mary got pains and theytook her away. Someone told Joe to come back tomorrow.

He went outside and asked a stranger on the street for directions to an Urban Progress Center. The stranger hit Joe on the head and took his overcoat. Joe was still lying there when a paddy wagon came along so they pinched him for being drunk on the street.

Mary had a baby boy during the night. She didn't know it, but three foreign-looking men in strange, colorful robes came to the hospital asking about her and the baby. A guard took them for hippies and called the police. They found odd spices on the men so the narcotics detail took them downtown for further questioning.

The next day Mary awoke in a crowded ward. She asked for Joe. Instead, a representative of the Planned Parenthood Committee came by to give her a lecture on birth control.

Next, a social worker came for her case history. She asked Mary who the father was. Mary answered and the social worker ran for the nurse. The nurse questioned her and Mary answered. The nurse stared at her and ran for the doctor. The doctor wrote "postpartum delusion'' on her chart.

An ambulance took Mary to the Cook County Mental Health Clinic the next morning. A psychiatrist asked her questions and pursed his lips at theanswers.

A hearing was held and a magistrate committed her to the Chicago StateHospital.

Joe got out of the House of Corrections a couple of days later and went to the County Hospital for Mary. They told him she was at Chicago State and the baby had been placed in a foster home by the state Department of Children and Family Services.

When Joe got to Chicago State, a doctor told him what Mary had said about the baby's birth. Joe said Mary was telling the truth. They put Joe in a ward at the other end of the hospital.

Meanwhile, the three strangely dressed foreign-looking men were released after the narcotics detail could find no laws prohibiting the possession of myrrh and frankincense. They returned to the hospital and were taken for civil rights demonstrators. They were held in the County Jail on $100,000 bond.

By luck, Joe and Mary met on the hospital grounds. They decided to tell the doctors what they wanted to hear. The next day they were declared sane andwere released.

When they applied for custody of Mary's baby, however, they were told it was necessary for them to first establish a proper residence, earn a proper income and create a suitable environment.

They applied at the Urban Progress Center for training under the Manpower Development Program. Joe said he was good at working with wood. He was assigned to a computer data-processing class. Mary said she'd gladly do domestic work. She was assigned to a course in key-punch operating. Both got $20-a-week stipends.

Several months later, they finished the training. Joe got a job in a gas station and Mary went to work as a waitress.

They saved their money and hired a lawyer. Another custody hearing was held and several days later the baby was ordered returned to them.

Reunited finally, they got back to their two-room flat and met the landlord on the steps. He told them Urban Renewal had ordered the building torn down.The City Relocation Bureau would get them another place.

They packed, dressed the baby and hurried to the Greyhound bus station.

Joe asked the ticket man when the next bus was leaving.

"Where to?'' the ticket man asked.

"Anywhere,'' Joe said, "as long as it is right now.''

He gave Joe three tickets and in five minutes they were on a bus heading for southern Illinois--the area known as "Little Egypt.''

Just as the bus pulled out, the three strangely dressed men ran into the station. But they were too late. The bus was gone.

So they started hiking down U.S. 66. But at last report they were pinched on suspicion of being foreigners in illegal possession of gold.

[Copyright Chicago Tribune (c) 1997]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice article. I've never read it. Does bring up an interesting issue. Do you think the state has an obligation to keep children out of a home in which they could face danger. (abuse is obvious, but how about people who refuse to administer medicine, or in this case people who appear to be mentally unstable?)