July 1, 1998

...And That's My Opinionă

The Rogers Park Community Curmudgeon

By Sandy Goldman


One of the interesting developments we have observed in airports traveling around the word is the emergence of airport retailing. Not only the duty-free stores, but major names both local and international. None, however, are as adventurous & compelling as the used bookstore at Billy Mitchell International Airport, a short distance from nearby Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

It was there that I found two wonderful books. One was an old Popular Library Book (remember that trademark?) circa 1977, original price $1.95, by John R. Powers called “The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God". An absorbing story about a young man growing up on the south side of Chicago Around 111 Street and Kedzie Avenue. He had a world of questions about everything, to be asked and to be answered. Perhaps I'll write about it another time.

The other was a 1987 edition of Jon Winokurs "The Portable Curmudgeon". This is a compendium of the world's most famous iconoclasts from Goodman Ace & Fred Allen through W. C. Fields and Oscar Levant to Dorothy Parker, Mort Sahl, Oscar Wilde, Edmond Wilson and Mike Royko.

It begins with the two definitions of a curmudgeon: 1) "archaic, a crusty, Ill tempered churlish old man" and 2) " modern: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner". But no one defined it more succinctly than Paul Fussell referring to an essay by George Orwell called "Why I write". Fussell reports that Orwell says, "that every writer who is honest is motivated by two things: one, the desire to show off; and two, "the habit of noticing unpleasant facts." Anybody who notices unpleasant facts in the have-a-nice-day-world we live in, is going to be designated a curmudgeon".

Herein lies the problem for a community curmudgeon, in a world of lemmings, he is always the salmon swimming upstream against the tide of "correct think", political correctness and "me-to-ism" in all the various economic, political, gender, race and status forms of thinking.

 As we move into the bi-millenium, "make no waves", seems to be the modus operandi. Neighborhoods live in virtual silence. Community groups spending far too much time internalizing their own existence, beholden to funders, fearful of political repercussions, hold their tongues, choosing issues cautiously and carefully (or not at all). Some are so deeply under the control of developers who need their not-for-profit status to acquire government funds, that they no longer have original thoughts or any critical sense. In most cases these self appointed leaders who essentially represent no-one but themselves, queue up in single file, mumbling the mantra of "me too". Politicians engage in the sham of "out-reach" before embarking on a predetermined course of action.

Only a few citizens speak out; mostly under-organized, under-manned and under-funded. Soon they tire, burn out, are ostracized or move, and their voices die. Only the curmudgeon remains. He never tires; his voice never dies. He persists and he insists.

To quote Fussell one more time, when asked if he saw the curmudgeon as a reformer, he replied, "Yes, he wants things to be better. Instead of running for Congress, he works through public presentation. He annoys and amuses people in order to bring about social change. The so called curmudgeon is really an idealist, perhaps even a romantic, sentimental idealist."

There is a dilemma, however. As Mike Royko pointed out "There is a problem in writing satire: If you publish it in a sophisticated magazine you can expect readers to know what you're talking about, but if you write for a newspaper or a bunch of newspapers, readers are easily confused."

Pretty educational, this travel thing. Stay tuned!

Please feel free to duplicate and distribute this or any of my previous columns from past editions of RP2000, published by the Rogers Park community Council at 1722 W. Lunt Avenue, Chicago, IL 60626 where I was a columnist and founding editor.

...And that's my opinion.

And I'm Sandy Goldman

To contact me: