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A Tribute To Mike Royko - The Empty Stool

It's hot in the city this time of year.
The pavement and buildings
Seem to join together
To capture each and every photon of energy
From the sun and bounce them back and forth
Like a game of handball gone awry.

Fortunately, escape or at least momentary relief
Is available by ducking into a local bar,
Of which there are many
In the working class neighborhoods.

On entering, it takes a moment for the eyes to adjust
To the friendly darkness and comfortable shadows,
As if planned to reassure, the bar is directly ahead
So even a blind man can find relief.

Having made out that the bar
Was crowded on this particular day,
I spied an open stool and made my way to it,
Only to be told in a gruff manner
By the occupant on the next post, 'It's taken'.

So I stood and while the keep
Pulled a draft of Old Milwaukee,
I looked at the messenger on the next stool.
Big guy, hands could have been wearing oversize well worn out gloves,
But they weren't, they just looked that way.
Fingers that probably couldn't pick up a matchstick,
And you had to wonder how he could
Possible manage the buttons
O the long sleeve shirt he wore.

So I stood and drank my beer.
And then as if speaking to someone on the empty stool,
He said, 'You always loved the city.
Even the lousy pols, Daley, Washington and the rest.
When they had the Demo Convention here,
You gave them your best.

Yeah, and remember when they tried
To stuff mattresses in them coal tunnels to keep
The loop's basements from flooding -
Them dumb clucks read in a book
That they used mattress' on the Mississippi to control erosion
And just assumed it was the king-sized ones sold on the corner,
Not ones made out of concrete and wire cables.

The old lady said you sometimes quoted me
And I got to tell you I caught hell
For what you said I said, but that's OK.
Long as them, green-as-gourd-guts kids
Trying to run the government got the message.

Yeah, you told em real good,
Cause you really loved this town.'

Then, he says to me,
'Watch my stool,
I got to go to the lo'.
And he was gone.

The barkeep picked up my dollar,
Dipped the glass in the basin of salt water,
Wiped the glass with his bar rag
And put it back on the shelf.

Finally he said,
'He's gone and Slat Grobnik, he's gone too'.

Then I looked, and there was no space at the bar,
No empty stools,
Just the usual crowd of crones
There to get in out of the heat.

***
Mike Royko (and his friend Slats) ,1933 - 1997


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