Royko’s “Mary and Joe, Chicago Style”


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 a welfare office.

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. 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 fare to 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, and 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 “Postpartum 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 the Chicago State Hospital.

Joe got out of the House of Corrections 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 state 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 in 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. The bus 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.

13 Responses to “Royko’s “Mary and Joe, Chicago Style””

  1. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Roger, Merry Christmas to you and Maria! Thank you for another great piece that is as timely and relevant as ever. Paul

  2. Tom Dickinson Says:

    Loved every word…what genius writer…brings it all right home!

    Merry Christmas, Roger and Maria, and many more happy ones ahead!


  3. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Thanks T! He really was a genius. Hope your quiet Christmas was a good one.

  4. Naomi de Plume Says:

    Fantastic, ChiGuy. Just a delightful read. Best to all in the New Year.

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Thanks Naomi! Royko is my hero. And thank you again for the incredibly creative card. Maria and I were in awe of that card. So here’s to a better 2017!

  5. boomerbob Says:

    An awesome story Roger – thanks and have a wonderful new year.

  6. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Happy New Year Bob!

  7. paulhaider1974 Says:

    Now that the Cubs have won the World Series, I can wear my Cubs caps again with pride; that Phillies hat hasn’t been on my head since early June of 2016. Let’s meet for dinner again at Petterino’s when you have the time. Thanks. Paul

  8. pastorcarol22 Says:

    Such a great story! If only it didn’t seem all too true….looking forward to more from you in the new year! Hope things are going well for you and Maria!!

    • chicagoguy14 Says:

      Thanks Pastor Carol. This is one of my favorite Royko pieces–I’m compelled to trot it out at Christmas because it always seems new!

  9. chicagoguy14 Says:

    Paulie–there is ALWAYS time to see you. Will send a note.

  10. paulhaider1974 Says:

    I’ve learned to forgive Royko for the statement that he wrote about my father and his mayoral campaign in 1987. Besides, Mike had problems of his own with the Winnetka, Northfield, and Wilmette Police Departments and completing his community service hours for multiple DUI’s.

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