Last Tuesday, Neil Steinberg called me at Leo. I liked Neil Steinberg as a person at one time, because I had mistaken the grace of his prose for actual grace. Hey , I am mistaken often. I thought John McCain really wanted to be President. Last October Neil had written a piece for his Chicago Sun Times column calling on everyone to vote for President Obama, which most people happened to do. However, Neil Steinberg used that column to make his point by inferring that people in my neighborhood are Nazis.
Last October, Steinberg wrote,
Obviously, you want Obama elected — the nation will soon realize what it has done, the pendulum will swing the other way — your way. At long last! Ausgerechnet jetzt!
Persuasive stuff. But if I know you — and I do — about now you’re asking yourself: “Hey, wait a second. This guy’s a Jew. Why would a Jew be looking out for the best interest of the Iron Fist of Righteous White Anger, Mount Greenwood Corps?”
This snotty crack followed a series of Sun Times columns by other like-minded writers who hate cops and white Catholics in general that spouted pretty much the same lie. I live in Morgan Park which, like Mount Greenwood, gets grouped in a collective that the media call Beverly or the political landscape of the 19th Ward - home to largely white Catholic, government employees, teachers, nurses, tradesmen, some well-to-do folks, cops and fireman. Many black Americans live very well in this neighborhood as well. I meet black gents like Doc and Stewart up at Keegan's Pub drinking and horse-laughing with their paler hued neighbors. However, when I read Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun Times (without paying for either mind you), one might think that folks spent their time chasing Eliza over the ice flow on the Ohio River, as the poor child attempts to find the Underground High Speed Railroad. Nope.
Steinberg and I were friendly, before that snotty crack. I had invited Neil out to Leo the previous November for the Veterans Observances, gave him a Leo Warm-Up just like the ones worn by the remarkable Leo Lions on the basketball courts of Illinois. It is a swell garment. Champion, I believe. I took Neil Steinberg to Jackie Casto's Ken's on Western Ave. for lunch, where the talented word-sculptor chatted with a thick number of folks who live here.
Generally, when one breaks bread with another person some kind of bond of mutual grace and respect surfaces - not so with too many columnists, who believe themselves to be later day John Steinbeck's - Steinbeck gave every reporter with literary pretensions license to pretend to 'care about the downtrodden' and hate cops when Tom Joad uttered,"...I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be ever'-where - wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there."
Steinberg decided to lord it over the people in my neighborhood and columnists always seem to get away with saying anything about anyone. They keep their jobs, because the thin-hearted variety of columnist will write to advance whatever tack the editorial board takes - conservative editor and Neil is conservative,or radical; Neil gets radical. That's his church not mine.
I have had nothing to do with Neil Steinberg since October. I figure if a person has no use for another person why play at it. Life's too short. No grudge. No sweat. No nothing.
So Tuesday, Neil Steinberg calls me at Leo and to the very best of my knowledge the back-and-forth goes like this:
( ring, or Buzz) Hickey picks up :
- Leo High School -this is Pat Hickey. . .
- Hey, it's Neil Steinberg . . .
- What can I do for you?
- We haven't spoken in a while. What's new?
- Nothing. What Can I do for you?
- We were pretty friendly and you haven't spoken to me in a while . . .I have gotten e-mails about the harsh things you say about me. It was a joke - Satire. Why not be a man and talk about it.
- Talk about what? You smeared my neighbors, the people you ate with, the people who support black kids here at Leo, you called them a bunch of Nazis
- It was a joke. I write something and I generally don't think about it . . .
-(Louder than a nuanced sophisticate) That is the problem. You say something snotty about people that have little or no voice whatsoever and you call it a joke?
-Perhaps there was some ring of truth to what I said if you and your friends are so sensitive and . . .
- ( More than Loud) You can hop-up and kiss my ass, J@#off! ( click)
Today, Steinberg slaps back at my 'close-knit tribal ethnic' response to his 'apology' and make friends overture - which translates to 'I Take Back Nothing -Take it and Like It' in Medill School of Journalese:
It was with mingled melancholy and liberation that I bagged up my Leo Lions baseball warm-up jacket to give to the homeless. The coat was a gift from an administrator there who had befriended me, and every time I wore it, I had happy memories of my visit to Leo High School and of my pal, plus a little undeserved ego boost, as if I had once been that hot left hander with a mean sinker, Bucky Steinberg.
But alas, I made a joke last October that ruffled this guy's feathers. After five months of running across his nasty personal comments -- it's amazing how some fellows can shift from butt-nuzzling obsequiousness to permanent outrage -- flying across cyberspace, I realized that he wasn't getting it out of his system, as I hoped he would, and I had better phone him. It seemed the manly thing to do, and believe it or not, despite the acerbic edge to this column, I don't like to be on bad terms with anybody.
I figured I'd apologize, we'd bury the hatchet. Alas, he was still doorjamb-gnawing mad, and the conversation did not go well. He invited me to kiss something that I'd prefer not kiss, and hung up.
Oh well, I'll survive, and I'm sure some toothless shuffling drug addict will enjoy his new Leo Lions warm-up jacket.
As a butt-nuzzler who takes a back seat to no one - no matter how obsequious, I appreciate the genuine in all things. I appreciate Neil Steinberg's understanding that one person fails to understand his joke and his own sense of what amounts to a genuine apology.
I have shot my mouth off like a jerk and said something akin to 'Jesus, that was stupid of me.' When I failed to understand the stupidity of an off-hand remark, I fully understood the knuckles tapping my gums. That is the essence, the core and the foundation of a serious failure to communicate. Consequences. A wise police officer told me, "Too many people these days worry about self-esteem and pay absolutely no attention to self-respect or respect for other people."
I also understand shunning. Shunning occurs when a person purposefully violates the rules of good grace, manners and respect. A person whom I have willfully, or even unwittingly, offended would and should shun me -have nothing to do with me. Likewise, I should have nothing to ask of that person - beyond forgiveness and sometimes forgiveness goes along with the shun. Forgiven, but not forgotten. When I poison a well, I do not tell everyone how thirsty I am.
Neil Steinberg reacted in the manner that I fully expected - like a teenage girl told that she is 'not all that' and tosses the letterman sweater away. Given the spiralling state of newspapers, Neil Steinberg may have done well to hang on to that natty and quality garment.
At least, the 'toothless shuffling drug addict' will have a quality Champion warm-up and will appreciate Neil Steinberg.