How Slats Lost His Cymbals

By Mike Royko

March 7, 1973

Many people were shocked by the recent news report of the two baseball players who swapped their wives, their children—even their dogs. They see it as still another example of our new, loose morality.
That may be. But it isn’t the first time such a thing has happened.
I remember a slightly similar incident involving the Grobnik family, who used to live in my old neighborhood.
The cause of it all was Slats Grobnik, the eldest son.
One day he decided to join the alderman’s marching boys band, which played in his parades and rallies and also threw stones at windows displaying pictures of his opponent.
The alderman had been Slats’ hero ever since his father had said the man never worked a day in his life.
Because of his peculiar ear for music, Slats was given the cymbals to play. He rushed home and immediately began practicing. He hoped that if he did well, the alderman would let him play something else, such as the horses.
Mr. Grobnik was working nights at the time, so when Slats began marching through the flat, clanging the cymbals, he came roaring out of bed.
He hit Slats on the head with one of the cymbals, causing the boy’s eyes to roll even more than they usually did.
This touched off a terrible row, with Mrs. Grobnik crying that her husband should not stifle Slats’ musical development.
That was when Mr. Grobnik said he would like to swap his family.
“I would trade all of you for a little peace and quiet,” he shouted, hitting Mrs. Grobnik with a cymbal, too.
“Ma, you can get alimony,” Slats yelled. “I will be your witness.”
Mrs. Grobnik gathered her clothes and children and said she was leaving and would not return until Mr. Grobnik apologized.
At first, Mr. Grobnik could not believe they were really gone. To make sure, he changed the locks. Then he want back to bed.
Mrs. Grobnik took the children and went around the corner to stay with her friend Ruby Peak, who had a nice apartment above the war-surplus store.
“Now you are the man of the family,” Mrs. Grobnik tearfully told Slats. He turned pale, thinking that meant he might have to go to work.
Word of the breakup quickly spread through the neighborhood. Naturally, some of the unattached women set their caps for Mr. Grobnik. They didn’t get anywhere with him, though, because he didn’t like women who wore caps.
The shapely widow who ran the corner bakery hurried over with some fresh sweet rolls for him.
And as Mr. Grobnik ate them, she leaned forward and whispered huskily in his ear:
“Is there anything else you would like?”
“Yeah,” he said, “next time bring a loaf of rye.”
When Slats’ teacher heard of the separation, she worried that he might suffer a trauma.
The next day he came to class with tears streaming down his face.
The teacher assumed it had something to do with his home life. Actually, somebody in the school yard had told a filthy joke, and Slats had laughed until he cried.
She put her arm around him and said: “There, there.”
Slats said: “Where, where?” and gave her a pinch.
She ordered him from the room, which didn’t bother Slats, as he figured he had learned enough for one day.
A few days after the separation, old Mrs. Novak asked Slats what his mother was doing.
“She is going to Reno,” Slats said.
He didn’t know what that meant, but he had heard someone say it in a movie.
Old Mrs. Novak didn’t know what it meant either. She figured it must mean Mrs. Grobnik had run off with a man named Reno.
So she went to the grocery store and told all the other ladies about it.
“I’ll bet he is a no-good gigolo,” one of them said.
That afternoon, they all told their husbands that Mrs. Grobnik was carrying on with Mr. Reno, a notorious gigolo.
The husbands discussed it in the tavern. One of them said: “I think I know the guy. He lives over in the Italian neighborhood.”
Another said: “I know the one. He has a mustache and hangs out in the pool hall.”
When Mr. Grobnik stopped for a beer, they told him his wife was in love with a notorious pool shark and fortune hunter named Reno, who had a mustache and pointy shoes.
“Everybody in the neighborhood knows about it,” the bartender said. “I hear she has even sold her wedding ring to give him money.”
Enraged, Mr. Grobnik went to the pool hall and punched the first man he saw wearing a mustache. He turned out to be a jukebox distributor, and three of his boys beat Mr. Grobnik with pool cues.
When Mr. Grobnik came to in the hospital, his wife and children were at his bedside. Mrs. Grobnik said she would come back home and make Slats give up the cymbals.
“Will you stay away from Reno?” Mr. Grobnik said.
“But Reno is in Nevada,” said Mrs. Grobnik.
Mr. Grobnik smiled. “Good. I must have really taught him a lesson.”

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