Common sense goes south when talk turns to politics

Mike Royko

March 16, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

"Does it make me a bigot," Slats Grobnik asked, "if I don't vote for this guy Bill Clinton because he's a Southerner?"

You mean if that is your only reason for rejecting him?

"Right. Because he's from the South."

And you are disregarding his position on vital issues, his potential for leadership, his fitness for office, his party affiliation, and other considerations?

"Yeah, throw all that out the window."

Then, yes, I suppose that judging a man by his regional origins would be considered a form of bigotry. But I can't believe you would be so narrow. Especially since Clinton has expressed a passionate love for the middle class, of which you are in the middle.

"Can't help it. It was this guy in the bar that did it."

In this bar? What guy?

"No, a bar down in Mississippi. When I was in the service. Me and a buddy get our first weekend passes and we go into town to this bar and we're having a beer. And this guy looks at us and says: 'Dang Yankees. I hate Yankees.' "

A sign of trouble.

"I didn't think so. I says: 'Me too. Especially the way they kick around the White Sox.' But he says: 'I ain't talking about baseball. I'm talking about you. Where you from?' No, he didn't say it that way. He said, 'Where you fum?' Yeah, 'fum.' "

Yes, 'fum' is considered the proper pronunciation anywhere south of Springfield. Maybe south of 111th Street in Chicago.

"So I tell him I'm fum Chicago. And he says: 'Yep, danged Yankees. I hate Yankees.' Then he says that his great-granddaddy lost his leg at someplace like Yakahakahoochie. So I say that's really a tough break, but if his great-granddaddy gets a sharp personal-injury lawyer, he can collect big bucks. And I tell him that if they don't have sharp lawyers around Yakahakahoochie, I know an ambulance chaser in Chicago who can collect on a nosebleed."

I don't think he was talking about an accident.

"That's right. He gives me a hard look and says: 'He lost it in the War Between the States.' I says: 'You mean the Civil War?' He gives me a harder look and says: 'We don't call it that.' "

Yes, that is considered rude in some parts.

"I figured. So I told him that I really felt bad about his great-granddaddy and that I hoped his limp was better. But that seemed to make him even madder."

I'm not surprised.

"Yeah, and he says his great-granddaddy is dead. Or I think he said 'daid.' Then he says: 'Where was your great-granddaddy in the War Between the States?' So I said that I couldn't be sure, but I figure he might have been somewhere on the border around Poland and Ukraine smuggling a stolen ox. That was his line of work. But I knew for sure that my great-granddaddy didn't have nothing to do with his great-granddaddy losing his leg. So he says: 'If he was here, which side would he have been on?'"

I hope you were tactful.

"I tried. I said that if my great-granddaddy had been around in those days he would have been glad to sell an ox to his great-grandaddy at a discount, with the cart thrown in free."

That wasn't the appropriate answer.

"I found that out. He says: 'So your great-granddaddy would have been a lowdown carpetbagger.' I didn't even know what that meant, so I said: 'No, he never dealt in carpets. They didn't even have a carpet of their own. And we still have linoleums, which look like carpets, and they're easier to keep clean. And I asked him if he used linoleums, which would have been a good idea in Mississippi because of all the bugs that could hide in a carpet."

I don't think that was what he wanted to hear.

"I found that out when he picks up his beer bottle by the wrong end and says: 'Are you funnin' me?' I didn't know what that meant, so I says: 'Not unless you want me to,' and the beer bottle whizzes past my nose and hits my buddy smack in forehead and crosses his eyes. I said: 'What ya do that for? He's from the South.' He says: 'Where?' I says: 'Indiana.' "

That wasn't smart.

"But I always thought Indiana was part of the South because they wear those bib overalls. So he picks up a bar stool, but by then me and my buddy were out the door. But I didn't want him to think he was messing with no softies, so as we left, I yelled: 'I hope the Yankees win the World Series.' "

That was telling him.

"Yeah. Anyway, it's been bothering me ever since, the way they keep bringing up this Civil War stuff and talking about Yankees."

But that has all changed. The South has become modern and sophisticated. It even has yuppies.

"Maybe. But a lot of them still got this hang-up. That's why in the primary on Super Tuesday they voted for Clinton. They don't care what kind of guy he is, just as long as he says ya'all and calls women darlin'. And they'll think that Tsongas is some kind of foot itch. So if they won't vote for a Yankee, why should I vote for one of them?"

Because we shouldn't let regional differences cloud our judgment. Besides, the South has shown it will vote for someone from another part of the country. The polls show they are very fond of Dan Quayle.

"See? I was right about Indiana."

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