“The congressman’s wife’s bottom I was aiming right in the face of the critics. In a nutshell, boldness and lack of any shame or apologeticness is going to be the nature of the Sun-Times in ’85.”

—Editor Frank Devine, explaining a photo choice to the Reader‘s Paul McGrath. March 1, 1985

Most weeks the Reader ran a “reading” column, which was not a review but an essay hung from a book, and not necessarily a book that more than four people would ever read. Musicologist Kyle Gann was exhilarated by Joseph T. Shipley’s The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

After discussion of Joseph Pujol, the famous “petomane” who convulsed fin-de-siecle Paris with his musico-anal powers, we find farting for entertainment traced back to 430 AD in, no less, Saint Augustine’s City of God: “There are those who can break wind backward so artfully you would think they sang” (xiv, 24). To “razz” someone, as in giving him the raspberry – imitating the expulsion of anal wind with the lips – comes from an abbreviated old cockney rhyme, one line of which ended with “raspberry tart.” March 22, 1985

Our Man in Beirut-on-the-Lake

July 26, 1985

City Hall: How Low They Can Go

These were the days of 29-21, a white machine majority led by aldermen Vrdolyak and Burke attempting to stymie, confound, and discredit Harold Washington and his aldermanic coalition of reformers and party hacks whose constituents demanded fealty to the new mayor.

In 1992 Rivlin would dissect the era of Harold in the masterly Fire on the Prairie. But his first draft of this history was for the Reader. One garrulous source was Alderman Richard Mell. Here’s Mell explaining to Rivlin why the 29 intended to vote down a bond issue proposal that would clearly be good for Chicago.

“There are some who believe that to get rid of Harold Washington is good government because we simply can’t take four more years of him. Maybe someone can make the case that, in the long run, two years of not having this [bond] is worth ten years of politicial stability in this city. It’s a legitimate position; arguably, not voting for this bond is in the best interest of this city.”…

The 29 continue to block the bond issue, Mell said, because some of them fear that in 1987 Washington would use the public works project in his campaign against them. Washington would be wise to do so, Mell said, but added, “It’s also a valid political view to try and prevent that scenario from happening.”

How will Mell vote when the bond proposal comes up again? “To keep a caucus of people together…sometimes you have to compromise your own position. In fact, to keep people together on major issues, you have to vote for things you’re not happy with…

“I will sacrifice a vote that probably won’t be popular in my community for the good of the coalition.”