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Classic Royko: The social coup of the year in Chicago

Lobby Rookery Building 209 South LaSalle Street 1988

Editor’s note: In this column, from his 1967 collection “Up Against It,” Mike Royko joins a snobby club, strictly speaking.

This story is being told to show that this is still the land of opportunity.

A group of men sat down one evening a couple of years ago for a discussion. They covered many weighty subjects: whose turn it was to buy, whether the house should pop for a round, whether they should call their wives.

Finally, by chance, the subject of private clubs came up. It developed that none of the men at the gathering belonged to any private clubs.

OPINION

“I was in the NCO club in the Army,” said a meter reader, “but it wasn’t worth staying in for.”

“I’d like to join a private club,” said a young lawyer, “but I won’t see my way clear until I get a car fast enough to catch an ambulance.”

“Frankly,” said a liberal journalist, “I wouldn’t join one because they discriminate.”

“Not all of them,” said a conservative policeman. “Some of them let in liberals like you, and that’s enough to keep me out.”

A black city employee said he tried to join a couple of clubs, but when he walked in and asked for a membership application he found himself filling out a form for a job in the kitchen.

Someone raised the question: “Who needs them? What do you get out of them?”

It was suggested that they serve a useful purpose by making members feel like insiders and the non-members feel like outsiders.

“So does the Bridewell,” said the policeman.

“Clubs represent status and influence and acceptance,” said the lawyer, “and don’t we all want that?”

There was a moment of silence for thought and for recalling whose round it was. Someone finally said, “Why don’t we form one? Then we’ll be the insiders and everybody else will be the outsiders.”

It was not a simple thing to do. The lawyer said he would obtain a not-for-profit charter from the state.

“And my office is on LaSalle Street and it has a leather sofa. A club needs a leather sofa. It can be the headquarters. The club can be my client. I’ve always wanted a client.”

A name was selected. One man liked to fish for perch in the lake. Another kept a gun at home in hopes of slaying a burglar. This became:

“The LaSalle Street Rod & Gun Club.”

Everybody chipped in a few dollars and some impressive stationery, with a club crest on top, was ordered. Every member paid for his own emblem to be sewn on a sport coat.

Another meeting was held and officers and board members were elected. As it turned out, everybody was an officer or a board member.

Then came the most important part. “I open this meeting,” said the president, “for membership recommendations.”

“Mrs. President,” said the meter-reader, “I submit the governor of Illinois for membership.”

“Blackball,” someone shouted.

The rule — drafted on the spot — held that one blackball was sufficient for rejection.

“Mrs. President,” said the cop, “I submit all these people.”

“Which people?”

“Every name on the society page of this newspaper.”

“Blackball.”

“And I submit Judge ––––––––––––.”

“Blackball.”

Before the meeting ended, most of the prominent people in Chicago were submitted. All were blackballed. One man — the bartender — was accepted after he bought a round.

During the following weeks, letters were sent out to all of the rejects. The letters stated simply and bluntly: “Dear Mr. –––––––––––, Your name was submitted for membership in the LaSalle Street Rod & Gun Club. You were blackballed. This is not final, however, since the application committee will meet again in one year.”

The reaction was subtle, of course, since one doesn’t go yapping it around that one has been rejected somewhere.

But calls came into the club’s headquarters. They were answered by the club’s president, who was also the lawyer’s secretary. She was elected president because she’d type the blackball letters free.

A prominent industrialist had an aide make discreet inquiry and was told only members could obtain information.

A judge hinted that he felt there were racial or religious restrictions, but he was assured that most races and religions were represented. This was true, as the only nationality not represented in the club was the Rich.

A political figure, angry at being rejected, asked whether the club did any civic work. He was satisfied when told that a yearly scholarship was given to a needy person.

At the next meeting, in order to provide this statement with substance, a policeman member was awarded a week’s transportation expenses on the bus to his night school law courses.

Recently the club achieved its major social coup — the reason this story is now being told.

“I know a guy,” said a member at a meeting, “who got a promotion in his job and he is going into “Who’s Who in America.”

“So?” someone asked.

“So, he doesn’t belong to any clubs. He wants to list a club. Let’s vote him in.”

The man was accepted and bought a round.

Somewhere in the new issue of “Who’s Who in America” is this man’s name. And after the name is this information:

“Clubs: LaSalle Street Rod & Gun.”

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