Friday, August 13, 2010

Thoughts While Shaving: A City that Boasts its Gangland Past is Likely to Give Blago a Pass.

      Feast of Saints Pontian & Hippolytus*     
       The other day I was lunching at my favorite spot—the Great Street restaurant on the 2nd floor of the Renaissance hotel (State and Wacker)…featuring wide views of the skyline and the crowds thronging below…and as I was reading the paper and idly speculating what the jury would do to Blago, along comes a tour bus outside…a double-decker with a conductor blasting forth on the intercom to the gawking passengers. 
      We’re going to visit all…not just some…of the spots where killers Capone, Bugs Moran, John Dillinger and others made national news, blasted the tour guide on his electronic megaphone.  You’re on Chicago’s original gangster tour!  We’ll see hoodlum haunts, brothels, gambling dens and sites of great shootings including a look-see at Holy Name Cathedral which still carries evidence of the shootout that claimed the life of Dion O’Banion in 1924—also the site, not the exact building, unfortunately (that has been torn down) of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre!  This…I repeat…is the original—not duplicated by other competitors who aren’t worth their names—the original Chicago Gangland Tour! 
         He was making a marketing point because there were, at last count, three gangland tours operating each cutting into the insatiable curiosity of tourists to visit key locations of the city that boasts its crime prowess like an accomplishment.  There is (a) Untouchable Tours whose slogan is “It’s a Blast!” (b)  Gangland Tours…and soon to be added “Get Capone Tours” which are hustling a book of the same name. 
                                   It Triggered a Musing. 
         All this started me musing yesterday morning as I pulled my Walgreens-bought disposable blue plastic  safety razor over my jowls…and the musing went like this: 
         What’s my anticipation about?  Why am I even wondering what the jury will do? This is a city that brags of its ineffable toleration for crime!  And do I expect a jury of Blago’s peers to convict him and spoil that image?  It’s the town that Billy Sunday couldn’t shut down, sang Frank Sinatra…the town where I saw a man who danced with his own wife!  It also boasts its role in stealing elections via vote fraud, thrills to jokes like the one that says My late precinct captain uncle arranged to be buried in a cemetery within the city limits as he wanted to stay active in politics…and he’s voted the straight Democratic ticket ever since!  I’ve heard Eddie Burke tell it time after time as a warm-up for crowds.   
          We write books and newspaper feature stories recalling Big Bill Thompson, the last Republican…and reputedly the most crooked…mayor.  I myself have done a lot of boasting: I imported the 87-year-old Vito Marzullo to address my Harvard seminar in 1977, giving the nuts and bolts of how he came to his ward when it was Republican territory and “organized” it…using the number of jobs he put on garbage trucks—and the Harvard dons including Ms. Doris Kearns Goodwin.  
           Believe me: we’re the only town which regales itself and others with our love of corruption.  I used to live in St. Paul but I had to dig-dig-dig in its archives to discover any recognition that it was Al Capone’s hideout, that it was the home of a desperate Irish gang of killers called “The Hogan Gang.”  Reason: St. Paul is justifiably ashamed of its past and has done the decent thing—has discouraged people from bringing it up.  Sort of like a Catholic penitent who makes what is known in theology as “the firm purpose of amendment” to the priestly injunction…from an authentic priest that is: Go and sin no more—an echo from the One  who used the same words to the woman at the well and the woman taken in adultery.    
          St. Paul and the luxury suburb once host to the Mob, White Bear Lake, have tried to do just that.  They don’t brag and never have about their lurid past and have shut down the romanticism.  There are no Gangland Tours there, ladies and gentlemen.    
           Not us.  We love to regale visitors and school children with how bad we’ve been and how bad we continue to be.   
        I sat there and watched the bus disappear over the bend down Wacker Drive and the next morning while applying the lather I decided this: I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the jury…filled with average people who have heard these tales…doesn’t let Blago off—or at least gives him a slap on the wrist. 
        That judgment started to be verified a bit later yesterday…when on the 11th day of deliberation…the Blago jury sent out word that they couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict on all counts and indicated strongly that they didn’t want to deliberate anymore on some of the charges.  Also if you please: They want to take the next two Fridays off because they have other more important things to do. 
         I could be wrong and probably am but to me at least it signifies that they’re what lawyers call “unhappy with the case.”  Meaning: they think the government hasn’t proven out-and-out corruption. Oh I know that under the federal rubric plotting a deal, talking about an arrangement can make a wiretapped defendant culpable.  But the brilliant father-son team…the Adamses…may well have convinced the panel what they always insisted: Blago is a clown, a goof, a loudmouth who hasn’t really profited from corruption…that speech should not be co-mingled with the act of payoff no matter what the Feds think…and that Pat Fitzgerald has put together an indictment that doesn’t hold much water.   
         Understand I know what the law is and that the law says otherwise but this case is being tried in Chicago…where we are exceedingly tolerant of human moral deficiencies. So tolerant liberal priests which make up the huge majority and ministers don’t mention them.  Enough to make angels weep.   Look at the fond media serenade for Danny Rostenkowski.  Even Carol Marin kept saying…three times to be exact on WTTW…that he “brought home the bacon.”  And she’s Apassionata van Leftward!  Look at the journalists alive and dead who loved and love Danny Boy and who wrote and write fondly about him—including the late icon Mike Royko…who said he hoped if the prosecutor ever comes to Chicago and blows a red-light he is stopped by a hard-nosed cop who’ll throw the book at him—in retaliation for what he did to our Danny. 
        He’s our own Danny boy and the bend that the Kennedy Expressway takes to go around St. Stanislaus Kosta…how did you think that happened?  Our own Danny Boy!  
         You think a town which has absorbed its toleration for crime and corruption and brags about it is going to be dismayed if the jury gives Blago a pass?  Hell, no.  It just means the Dirksen Federal Building will be another stop for the Corruption Tour buses and the cafeteria inside will be roped off for the gaping out-of-town yokels to view as part of what they get for their $25.  “Here’s where Blago sat playing Trivial Pursuit with the journalists including Elizabeth Brackett of WTTW!” will say the tour guide.  A little old lady with a hair bun showing under her tiny hat… from Cedar Rapids…will stand on her tippy toes and say, “Where?  Where? Who cares where Brackett sat? Where did Blago sit?  Can you point out the chair?”  
   *: Saints Pontian & Hippolytus*  They were two lifelong enemies who struggled with each other within the Church… who eventually reconciled and shared martyrdom, later canonization, together. Fascinating story, hmm? Pontian was a Roman who served as Pope from 230 to 235. He was banished to exile by an Emperor in 235…exile to the remote island of Sardinia where due to harsh treatment by his captors he died in the same year.  Knowing his probable fate he resigned the papacy so someone else could carry on in Rome.   
        Hippolytus was a presbyter in Rome. His name means fittingly “a horse turned loose.” He was one indeed. He was regarded by many as more Catholic than the Pope.  He attacked Pope Callistus for not being tough enough on purveyors of heresy.  He became known as an Anti-Pope.  He got in the hair of the emperor as well and was also banished to Sardinia. There he reconciled with Pontian.  What he could not learn as a free man he learned in suffering. The  two died friends and were elevated to sainthood  as martyrs to the Faith.  

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