My Old Man Was A Sucker
by Mike Royko
Condensed from Chicago Tribune
As Printed in Readers Digest September 1991
Seeing a recent Washington riot on television, I assumed the rioters had suddenly been overwhelmed by a craving for fried chicken. They had smashed their way into a chicken joint and were looting it of every last wing and drumstick.
Later I discovered it wasnít chicken they were after. They wanted more bilingual education in their schools; more Spanish-speaking police; better jobs and more spacious housing; a more sincere effort by the rest of us to understand their culture; and a greater voice in government - even for those who are here illegally.
ďWe canít tolerate this situation no more. We have to let people know we are humans and we have rights too,Ē said one expert from what is called the Hispanic community.
And what better way to do that than to smash into a chicken joint and make off with all the chicken?
It just shows how dumb my father was, may he rest in peace.
Like many Americans, my father was an immigrant. He came here from Eastern Europe on an old boat when he was about ten. He couldnít speak a word of English. And the insensitive school systems provided no bilingual education.
Of course, it wouldnít have mattered if they had, since he didnít go to school. Times were tough, so he got a job on a coal barge. Child labor laws werenít very strict in those days.
Then he picked up other common labor - whatever he could get. By the time he joined the Army, he could speak understandable English. Later he taught himself to read the newspaper and racing form. He even got good enough at math to keep the books when he opened his own saloon.
Still he never lost his accent, so for a long time he was called a greenhorn by those who didnít respect his ethnic and cultural background. But since he had a very good left hook, nobody call him that more than once.
Iím not sure if he was frustrated by the governmentís failure to provide him with better housing. When I was a kid, we lived in dumps. Of course, we didnít know they were dumps. They had running water and indoor toilets. The kerosene stove kept the place warm. The ceilings didnít leak, and a diligent use of rat traps kept the rodent population under control. Young Abe Lincoln never had it so good.
Nor was my father frustrated because the government didnít give him a better job, business loans, student loans or any other form of assistance. All the government provided was a neighborhood police station, firehouse, public school and garbage collection. Anything else, you were on your own.
His ethnic group, like many others, built churches and formed fraternal organizations, credit unions and other institutions to help one another out. But you had to be really down on your luck to take a handout. You didnít qualify just by being a loser.
I was always proud of the old man, the way he made it on his own in spite of his handicaps. But now I realize he was a sucker. What he should have done was bust into a chicken joint as a social statement of his discontent. Then maybe he could have cut a better deal for the rest of us.
On the other hand, he never liked chicken fried. He said it was better in soup with noodles - it stretched a meal better.