Raising Our Glass to a True Chicago Columnist
Hog butcher, tool maker, stacker of wheat, player with railroads and the nation's freight handler, Chicago always manufactured a kind of husky, brawling writer too. They were born out of the city's work-weary, beer-sodden, punch-drunk confusion between our journalists and our literary types – guys like Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, Nelson Algren – half-poet, half-documentarian, streetwise and slangy and tough, but with a big warm heart for all the bent backs who raised this burg out of a lakeside bog.
You don't have to look too far these days to figure out that Chicago has strayed from that tradition. As they say here in the Bridgeport neighborhood, “It ain't what it use ta was.” And it's not that there ain't still husky brawling writers around nor bent backs for them to write about. It's just that you don't find them in the papers anymore. Anyone like Royko in the papers today? No. Don't even look. The only decent newspaper in this town comes in a Tiffany-blue wrapper and wears another town's name. The local fishwraps are too deep in their own muck to rake anyone else's. Nowadays it's all shadow boxing. They take impotent swipes at a City Hall that has no cause to fear them, hoping all the fuss will cover up their own dirt. With the nervous violence of the two-timing bridegroom whose guilt is more than he can bear: the bird who tries to throw his bride off the scent by accusing her of infidelity loudly enough for the neighbors to hear. Inflating circulation numbers. Propping up phony wars. Scalping baseball tickets. Putting out red-lipstick tabloids with headlines like, “This butt's for you.” And columnists? Don't even look. It ain't pretty. The city of big columnists just doesn't make them anymore. They've been outsourced to China like the steel mills, and now all we get are empty shells – like those vacant red brick factories down on South Halsted.
That's what I was thinking anyway, sitting at the formica bar at my forgotten local, the Redwood Lounge, on a forgotten corner in a forgotten precinct called Bridgeport, sipping the champagne of beers, when I eyed the slim newcomer on the stool beside me. It was a newspaper called The Tap, Chicago's Bar Journal . No one dropped The Tap at the Redwood Lounge (no one drops anything at the Redwood Lounge except the guy who drives the Miller truck). No, The Tap just swept in off the street, tattered and dog-eared, looking thirsty, looking for company, displaying immediately all the romance that seems to be lacking everywhere else. I'll just say this: The Tap digs more raw truth out of Chicago's forlorn taverns than the dailies find in all their fictive forays to City Hall.
And in The Tap 's rearmost pages, a columnist with all the promise once promised by Carl Sandburg's Chicago, a real fella named Billy Hanigan: brash, sexist, tough as a knuckle sandwich, with a gift for the language and, best of all, a stiff shot for the working stiff. Since he writes for a bar journal, Hanigan necessarily writes about the bars. But that's where all the good stories in this town always were anyway. — ed.
Three samples of William Hanigan's “Hang Your Hat,” reprinted from The Tap :
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