September 4th, 2009

So It Goes

part 2

It was 1978, the winter of my sophomore year in college. I was a twenty year old virgin. As I dusted the shelves at the Rexall Drugs on Oakton Street, gently removing the Doan’s Pills and positioning them in neat rows, I knew with certainty that every customer was staring at me in my blue stock clerk jacket and thinking, “That’s right, he hasn’t done it yet; it’s so obvious. Look how neat and restrained he is.” The boxes of Ipana toothpaste mocked me. The old woman on the bottle of Lydia Pinkham’s elixir grinned knowingly. The bus driver, letting people off at the White Street stop just outside our front door, chuckled as he told the debarking passengers, “Go say hi to the twenty-year-old virgin for me.”

I won’t go into the many reasons why I was in this state. But suffice it to say, as I wiped my hands and stared out the front door at all the happy non-virgins driving by the store, I wanted to mark my territory in the world in some way. There by the door were all the daily newspapers; at the time we carried six or seven. In those days, the newspapers were full of columnists. It was obvious none was a virgin. They all spouted forth confidently, spewing out their opinions and making their mark on society. Jack Mabley and Richard Christensen wrote for the Daily News. Bob Greene wrote for the Tribune. My own hometown papers, the Suburban Times and the Journal, played out the competition between the local giants on a smaller scale.
The king of all the columnists was Mike Royko. I read his column religiously–first in the Daily News, and then (when that paper folded) in the Sun-Times. He was known for skewering Chicago’s longtime mayor, the Boss, Richard J. Daley. He invented a fictional character named Slats Grobnik who commented on the political intrigues that were always at play in the big city.
My town, Des Plaines, had not a bit of intrigue. We had no boss. We had no downtown; it was split in half by the commuter train tracks, and then much of it was erased by an obnoxious parking garage. Half of our residents could not name our mayor at any given time. Having no experience myself and having done nothing of significance, I was just the person to write about a town where nothing happened.

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