Of Cities & Suits
To the Editor:
. . . Isn’t it possible that in his book, Boss, Mike Royko (in the illogical, unscrupulous way of satirists) used Richard Daley as a symbol, and Chicago itself as a reductio ad absurdum of a way of life? And couldn’t Studs Terkel’s shockingly sentimental statement, which Joseph Epstein cites in his review [Books in Review, September], be rephrased to read, “The money keeps flowing, the construction workers are always busy, but it’s a wretched place for a human being to live in”? For decades now loyal American social scientists have been saying, “It’s not a very pretty system, but it works,” until finally the point of view is taken for granted. “It is generally conceded that Daley is the most effective big-city mayor,” Mr. Epstein writes, though for some reason he also seems to be saying that Daley’s crooks should be thrown out and new crooks installed. A very amusing theory. Unfortunately the system isn’t working any more, though the garbage is still picked up regularly in most white areas of Chicago
Mr. Epstein also resorts to the departmental theory of society; i.e., that such and such “isn’t Daley’s job.” And so in this way . . . everyone is exonerated by virtue of the fact that it isn’t his job to do anything about the problems that exist . . But no theorist of the “urbane-amusing” school, to which Mr. Epstein seems to belong, ever admits that to excuse individuals in this fashion is in effect to condemn the system. . . .
To the Editor:
For as long as I can remember I have suffered because of my race, creed, and national origin. In recent years attempts have been made to humiliate me because of my sex. But never, never before was I the subject of ugly political innuendos (in print, yet!) simply because I happen to wear a size-46 suit (short and portly) . Joseph Epstein is to be credited with inventing yet another variety of insidious bias. Thus he writes: “A political kibbitzer in Chicago once remarked to me on the occasion of a large fund-raising dinner that Daley had thrown for John F. Kennedy, ‘Ah, you should have been there. Every size-46 suit in the city was in attendance.’”
Shame on Mr. Epstein and on COMMENTARY.
Joseph Epstein writes:
John Williams neglects to mention whether he has in fact read Mike Royko’s book. On the basis of his letter, there is good reason to suspect that he has not. Allow me, then, to assure him that Mr. Royko has not used Richard Daley as a “symbol” and the City of Chicago as a “reductio ad absurdum of a way of life”; instead he has written about a particular man in a particular place. Nor is Mr. Royko’s method that of the “illogical, unscrupulous way of satirists”; instead it is only the illogical, unscrupulous way of someone who has set out to do a simple hatchet job. But then if one believes, as Mr. Williams does (despite his attention, all the way from Seattle, to garbage pick-up in Chicago), that what he is pleased to call “the system” doesn’t work any more, why bother reading books like Mr. Royko’s or any other? If the system is dead, the case is really closed, isn’t it?
Maurice Friedberg accuses me of prejudice. So be it. If he were a 46-regular, then I should be prepared to rethink my position. If he were a 46-long, then he would have my deepest and most sincere apology. But since he is in fact a 46-short (and portly), I will hold to my position.