(Article Courtesy of The Chicago Sun-Times, December 25, 2011)
Editor’s note: The Chicago Daily News first ran this classic column by Mike Royko on Dec. 19, 1967, and then again at Christmastime many years until the paper folded in 1978. We missed reading it. For that matter, we miss Royko, who died in 1997. We thought we’d run the column one more time.
Mary and Joe were flat broke when they got off the bus in Chicago. They didn’t know anybody and she was expecting a baby.
They went to a cheap hotel. But the clerk jerked his thumb at the door when they couldn’t show a day’s rent in advance.
They walked the streets until they saw a police station. The desk sergeant said they couldn’t sleep in a cell, but he told them how to get to the Cook County Department of Public Aid.
A man there said they couldn’t get regular assistance because they hadn’t been Illinois residents long enough. But he gave them the address of the emergency welfare office on the West Side.
It was a two-mile walk up Madison Street to 19 S. Damen. Someone gave them a card with a number on it and they sat down on a bench, stared at the peeling green paint and waited for their number to be called.
Two hours later, a caseworker motioned them forward, took out blank forms, and asked questions: Any relatives? Any means of getting money? Any assets?
Joe said he owned a donkey. The caseworker told him not to get smart or he’d be thrown out. Joe said he was sorry.
The caseworker finished the forms and said they were entitled to emergency CTA bus fare to Cook County Hospital because of Mary’s condition. And he told Joe to go to an Urban Progress Center for occupational guidance.
Joe thanked him and they took a bus to the hospital. A guard told them to wait on a bench. They waited two hours, then Mary got pains and they took her away. Someone told Joe to come back tomorrow.
He went outside and asked a stranger on the street for directions to an Urban Progress Center. The stranger hit Joe on the head and took his overcoat. Joe was still lying there when a paddy wagon came along so they pinched him for being drunk on the street.
Mary had a baby boy during the night. She didn’t know it, but three foreign-looking men in strange, colorful robes came to the hospital asking about her and the baby. A guard took them for hippies and called the police. They found odd spices on the men, so the narcotics detail took them downtown for further questioning.
The next day Mary awoke in a crowded ward. She asked for Joe. Instead, a representative of the Planned Parenthood Committee came by to give her a lecture on birth control.
Next, a social worker came for her case history. She asked Mary who the father was. Mary answered and the social worker ran for the nurse. The nurse questioned her and Mary answered. The nurse stared at her and ran for the doctor. The doctor wrote “Post partum delusion” on her chart.
An ambulance took Mary to the Cook County Mental Health Clinic the next morning. A psychiatrist asked her questions and pursed his lips at the answers.
A hearing was held and a magistrate committed her to Chicago State Mental Hospital on Irving Park Road.
Joe got out of the county jail a couple of days later and went to the county hospital for Mary. They told him she was at Chicago State and the baby had been placed in a foster home by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
When Joe got to Chicago State, a doctor told him what Mary had said about the baby’s birth. Joe said Mary was telling the truth. They put Joe in a ward at the other end of the hospital.
Meanwhile the three strangely dressed foreign-looking men were released after the narcotics detail could find no laws prohibiting the possession of myrrh and frankincense. They returned to the hospital and were taken for civil rights demonstrators. They were held in the county jail on $100,000 bond.
By luck, Joe and Mary met on the hospital grounds. They decided to tell the doctors what they wanted to hear. The next day they were declared sane and were released.
When they applied for custody of Mary’s baby, however, they were told it was necessary for them to first establish a proper residence, earn a proper income, and create a suitable environment.
They applied at the Urban Progress Center for training under the Manpower Development Program. Joe said he was good at working with wood. He was assigned to a computer data processing class. Mary said she’d gladly do domestic work. She was assigned to a course in key-punch operating. Both got $20-a-week stipends.
Several months later they finished the training. Joe got a job at a gas station and Mary went to work as a waitress.
They saved their money and hired a lawyer. Another custody hearing was held, and several days later the baby was ordered returned to them.
Reunited finally, they got back to their two-room flat and met the landlord on the steps. He told them Urban Renewal had ordered the building torn down. The City Relocation Bureau would get them another place.
They packed, dressed the baby, and hurried to the Greyhound Bus station.
Joe asked the ticket man when the next bus was leaving.
“Where to?” the ticket man asked.
“Anywhere,” Joe said, “as long as it is right now.”
He gave Joe three tickets and in five minutes they were on a bus heading for Southern Illinois — the area known as “Little Egypt.”
Just as the bus pulled out, the three strangely dressed men ran into the station. But they were too late. It was gone.
So they started hiking down U.S. 66. But at last report they were pinched on suspicion of being foreigners in illegal possession of gold.