Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Mike Royko and Our Crossed Paths

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 7:22 am on Wednesday, May 4, 2022

by Robert M. Katzman © April 30, 2022

I’m a writer. I interviewed Mike Royko in May 1968 for my high school newspaper, the University of Chicago High School Midway, when I was 18. He was 36. 

The same issue where I wrote an anonymous column about how two plainclothes Chicago cops beat the hell out of me the week before, when I was still 17. By mistake, it turned out. I looked a lot like another teenager they were after.  You know, all us white guys look alike sort of thing.

Seemed like something Royko might have written about, except I never told anyone about it. The school’s Journalism Advisor thought it safer that I not sign the column. Think about that.

Mike was exceptionally patient with his time during our interview in his tiny cubicle at the Chicago Daily News Building. I told him I sold his column every day at my newsstand in Hyde Park. I felt he was  at first confused about how I could go to that sort of school and work like I did, where I did. Then I think he realized I was the kind of guy he wrote about, working class, real world, not everything has to make sense. Sometimes, better to not ask too many questions.  Because sometimes answers might embarrass a guy. Any guy. There was something warm and accepting about him. 

Later, after he published it, I sold his book, “Boss” in my still-wooden newsstand because I was proud of him, how he was, and what he meant to lots of people. I didn’t carry paperbacks for sale in my newsstand. But when Royko wrote about the powerful Mayor Daley Chicago Machine world I was still trapped in, I made an exception. I was 21, he was 39.

Still later, in 1989, I had my own Chicago bookstore, where I kept his book in stock, of course. I was 39, he was 57. I was getting closer to him, that certain time of life when things were clearer than before. 

He died on April 30, 1997, my 47th birthday. He was then 64. I was still catching up to him. Two middle-aged Chicago guys. He wrote words and I sold them. Newsstands at that point were extinct in a city which once had thousands of them, everywhere. 

Chicago, the last city in America with four daily newspapers. 

Five, if you counted the Chicago Daily Defender, a Black-owned newspaper. I counted it. 

But by 1997, I had a store called Magazine Memories where I was selling antique paper, old Daily News issues with his column in them from decades ago. I did that until April 10, 2016. After thirty-one years, I hung it up. Now we were both out of print, you might say. I was almost 66, surviving Royko by two years. 

Sorry, Mike. Didn’t mean anything by that. Knew I’d catch up to you someday. Now I’m 72. Damn!

In a way, we never left each other, two vintage newspaper guys from different ends of a Chicago newspaper truck’s path. Now I’m old, still a writer, very proud to be sharing that job description with Mike Royko. 

We had something else in common: We both knew an asshole when we encountered one, regardless of the cut of his suit, and we both knew class when we encountered it. Class, that is — character, — was something money couldn’t buy. 

Rest in Peace, Mike. You were really something, especially to the little guys, the working guys. Me. 


Comment by Brad Dechter

May 4, 2022 @ 8:37 am

He was special Bob, as are you. Thanks for sharing your insight and your nostalgia.
“All white guys look alike”? I am unsure how to take that or respond, but I will try.
For some reason I found that comment a little offensive- like saying All Lives Matter when someone states Black Lives Matter. There is a different point to All Lives Matter than to Black Lives Matter, and your usage of “all us white guys look alike” trivializes the point of the other saying which is obviously a racial slur.
Other than that, I really enjoyed a look back into your fond memory.
Thanks for taking me there!

Comment by John

May 4, 2022 @ 8:46 am

Bob a great article. I remember your store. It’s amazing how I think about your store and how I miss it and yet here you are. Love mike royko. I have a photo from 1980 I took in 1980. Funny the things I have valued have disappeared.

Comment by Barbara Wright-Pryor

May 4, 2022 @ 1:21 pm

Six newspapers, The Chicago Crusader founded in 1941 by Balm Leavell and Joseph Jefferson.

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