(Mike Royko is on vacation until Jan. 30. While he's away, we're reprinting some of his favorite columns. This one first appeared April 25, 1978.)
THE YOUNG COUPLE had a bitter quarrel. From the angry words that drifted to others in Billy Goat's Tavern, the dispute seemed to be over whether he or she was the better racquetball player. She loudly declared that she was through with him forever and flounced into the night, leaving him to brood over his beer.
After considerable brooding, he squared his shoulders and with a sob in his voice said: "I feel like jumping off the bridge and ending it all."
A broken-nosed man sitting a few stools down said: "Don't do it, kid."
The young man shook his head and said: "Why not? Without her, I don't want to go on. I want to end it all."
The broken-nosed man said: "I'm not telling you not to end it all. That's your business. Maybe it's even a good idea. What I mean is do it a different way. Don't jump off the bridge."
The young man blinked at him for a moment and said: "What does it matter how I do it?"
"It matters to other people, kid. It matters to me."
"Why should it matter to you? I don't even know your name."
"My name's Charlie," said broken-nose. "I work down the street on one of the excursion boats on the Chicago River. That's why I don't want you to go off the bridge. Show some consideration for others."
"How does it concern you?" said the young man.
"Because since I've been working on the excursion boats, I've spotted 25 or 30 stiffs in the river and reported them. It's very depressing."
"That many?" the young man asked.
"Yeah. And what's worse is when they float to my dock. Then the police pull them out and lay them out and that makes a mess. Who needs that?"
The young man looked revolted. Charlie went on.
"Just the other day, I was coming in to tie the boat up when I spotted a floater. I had just painted the dock and I thought, 'To heck with that.'
"So I put my boat in reverse, gunned it hard, and the backwash carried the stiff all the way down to the next landing. Then I called the police and they hauled him out there instead of at my dock."
The young man was horrified. "You saw a body in the river and you . . . you . . . just washed it away?" He couldn't go on.
"Sure," Charlie said. "Why should I be responsible for everybody who goes in the river? Enough is enough."
The young man shook his head. "What you did was, was . . . inhuman."
Charlie looked amazed. "What do you do, kid?" he asked. "You know, for a living?"
"I'm in computers," the young man said. He named a large corporation down the street from the bar.
"Uh huh," Charlie said. "Nice clean job, huh? No bodies around where you work?"
"Bodies? Of course there are no bodies," the young man snapped.
"But you think it is OK to mess up where I work with your body. How would you like it if I came to the place you work and stuck my finger in one of your computer plugs and fried myself and you had to take care of it?"
"That's ridiculous," the young man said.
"Think about it, kid. If you are going to knock yourself off, at least have the decency to do it where you won't be a nuisance. Go a few blocks over to the lake and jump off the rocks."
That suggestion brought an angry growl from a hulking man on another stool, who said: "Whatya mean, the lake. Don't tell the kid to jump in the lake."
Charlie shrugged. "I was just trying to help."
The big man said: "Yeah? Well, I fish for smelt. And last year me and some buddies were down by the lake one night, and you know what happened? Not more than five minutes after we put our nets in, we caught a stiff."
The young man gasped. "You caught a body when you were fishing?"
"Yeah, some guy."
"That's terrible," the young man said. "Who was he?"
"I don't know. We threw him back."
"You what? You threw him back in? The water?" The young man's eyes were beginning to bulge.
"Yeah," said the big man. "Whatya expect? If we pulled him out, the cops would have been making reports all night and we would have never caught no smelt. We called when we finished fishing and they got him out anyways. I heard it on the radio."
The young man shook his head. "I can't believe this. They threw him back in the water."
"I'll tell you, kid," said Charlie, "maybe a sewer would be the best thing."
The young man stared at him. "A sewer? Are you serious?"
The big man nodded. "Yeah, you won't mess up the fishing that way."
Just then, the door opened and the young woman came in. In a moment, they had apologized and made up. She suggested they have a drink.
"Not here," the young man said, pulling her toward the door. "Not with THEM."
After the door closed, Charlie said: "That's the trouble with kids today. You can't tell them anything."