Mike Royko is on vacation. In his absence, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This column originally appeared in 1970.
I SAT DOWN IN a restaurant to have lunch, and there it was again.
On the place mat were printed those generalized horoscopes, the kind that reveal your personality and character traits.
I tried to avoid looking at it, because I knew what mine would say. They're always the same.
Finally I looked: "You have a logical, analytical and precise mind, which causes you to hate disorder. You must guard against being cold, unemotional and fault-finding."
That's the burden of being born between Aug. 24 and Sept. 23, a Virgo. Even if you are muddled, sloppy, sweet-tempered, compassionate, gentle and kind -- as I am -- you are constantly told by the horoscopes that you are a cold-eyed, precise, logical nit-picker.
Not that I believe this nonsense. Logic tells me it is meaningless.
But it is irritating to be followed through life by it.
Had I been born a few weeks earlier, my horoscope on that place mat would have said I was a "born leader, bold, energetic, proud and ambitious."
Almost any other sign is better than Virgo. Take Aquarius: "A trail-blazing mind . . . inventive . . . progressive . . . fair-minded, and tolerant."
Or Aries: "The pioneer type, with contempt for all difficulties and danger."
A few weeks' delay in birth and I would have read: "Your shrewd business capacity would guide you to the very pinnacle of success. The magnetic personality which you possess has great glamour for the opposite sex."
All of it is silly, of course, but at least it would have been a bit more flattering. And accurate.
While sitting in the restaurant, I decided to conduct an experiment. I would ask the busboy, waitress, manager and cook for their birth dates. We'd see how accurate the horoscope was.
The busboy came to the table, but before I could ask him his birth date, I noticed a speck on my fork, so I sent him off for a clean one, warning him against such slovenliness.
He mumbled something about the dishwasher, but I pointed out that he, as the bearer of the fork, bore the final responsibility for its condition. That had hardly been said when he put down the water glass hard, splashing the tablecloth, which I asked to be replaced.
The waitress came for my order. I had to repeat it twice. Then I had to send my drink back, because it had an olive instead of a twist of lemon.
I decided not to ask for her birth date because she probably wouldn't remember it. Besides, she was busy returning my food to the kitchen. It was underdone.
The owner, a woman, came out and asked what was wrong. Nothing was wrong, I told her, except that the entire meal had been miserably bungled.
She began to weep and talk about her problems as a widow, trying to run a business. I told her there was no need to get emotional about it. As an adult, she should be able to discuss her inadequacies rationally.
An example, I pointed out, was the salt shaker. Four of its 11 tiny holes were clogged. The ashtray contained an ash from a previous customer's cigar. And the salad had been placed on the wrong side.
I suggested that she study methods used by other, more efficient restaurants, and adapt them when applicable. Also, fire the cook.
The cook was her brother-in-law, she said, and desperately needed the job. I warned her against mixing sentiment with business but that, if she persisted in employing him, she could cut costs by lowering his pay.
Finally, I suggested she get rid of those place mats. She asked why, and I told her that I had come there to eat, not to be told I was unemotional, cold, fault-finding and so on.
That was an insult, I added, and therefore my tip would be precisely 10 percent, rather than the normal 15 percent, or the more generous 20 percent.
With that, I departed. I never did get her birth date. She seemed to be upset and was taking a tranquilizer. My final words were a warning to avoid getting emotional. And to turn down the music. It was much too loud.