Yesterday, when the guys got out of school for the day, I heard the news of the death of Roger Ebert. I had met the celebrated film critic, while I was teaching at La Lumiere School in LaPorte, Indiana. In 1990, Ebert was doing a joint book signing in New Buffalo, Michigan which is about five mile north of the school. Ebert and Frank Sullivan, Mayor Richard J. Daley's press secretary were selling new books and autographing copies.
Over the previous year, I had come to know the editor of the New Buffalo Times and her genius of an opinion columnist - John McHugh. Mr. McHugh wrote scathingly witty idictments of the small-town, small-time hustlers in real estate and township government that were the Mint Melt-Aways of local reportage.
His prose was acidic, to-the-point and enfiltered. Instead of bemoaning the the less-than public-minded Wolverine bandits, John McHugh would label them 'thieving gobshites!'
I had to meet this man. My wife Mary and I invited John to dinner in the residence attached to the dorm I supervised. We exchanged biographies. He ignored mine and turned his attentions to my lovely wife and the Yankee pot roast, " Jesus, Mary. How did you ever settle on this sawed-offvinegary gent, when the world is swimming with heroically proportioned and romantic swains like myself?"
John became a regular visitor to the campus and on several occasions lectured the student body on the craft of writing which had the kids howling in the aisles. Writing is conversation without the noise, or without the immediate need to enjoy a response - that is conversation. Mr. McHugh chronicled his life in Ireland and his love of songs and poems. He told hilarious tales of his subterranean encounters with vermin biped and quadruped as a Pest Control Specialist in Indianapolis. His peace time US Army career and his salad days with the Chicago Daily News.
The dessert in this feast of gab, McHugh served up NBC haircut news reader Ron Hunter, an ego unhitched from the diesel of good living.
John McHugh explained that a person must be humble to be a good listener, energetic to be a careful reader, generous to be a decent conversationalist and honest to be a good writer. Good writing must satisfy the need to know, the desire to enjoy what one has learned and the compulsion to share whatever one possesses.
Roger Ebert was a deep listener and an energetic writer. He wrote an account of his friendship with John McHugh including the great tale of unhorsing an arrogant dope:
John went to work for NBC News Chicago, as the assignment manager. At one time his two principal anchors were Maury Povich and the legendary Ron Hunter, who was possibly the model for every character in the movie "Anchorman." John liked Maury but found Ron unendurable: "He's so vain that instead of wearing glasses, he has a prescription windshield on his Jaguar."A great heart always points to an expansive intellect. A dope has no recourse but to be arrogant. It is axiomatic that Ebert and McHugh would be great good friends. The death of Roger Ebert sparked my recollections of time with John McHugh.
Anchormen value stories when they can go on the street and be seen in the midst of the action. One day McHugh came up with a juicy assignment for Povich. "The next day, " he said, "Ron Hunter comes into my office, puts his feet up on my desk, and says, John, that was a good story you had for Maury yesterday. What do you have for me today? I tell him, Utter contempt."
I was still in the Leo van with thirteen Canaryvillains and the Sox were yet losing to the Royals. Some few miles behind, I later learned, a man was dying on the sidewalks of 1400 West 80th Street - south of 79th on Loomis. Last year, at about this same time, one fella died and five other people were shot up by thugs with a Tech 9 at 79th Loomis.
Roger Ebert passed from this life at about the same time as some poor guy near 79th Street, blocks from Leo High School.
Roger Ebert knew John McHugh and lived according to that association. The Gresham homicide victim, like most urban victims, will be the news and someone else will make the news.
How do we live?
Sox lost to the Royals 3-1. I passed the police activity on my way home.