It’s 1980-something. I don’t like getting out of bed unless it’s a Saturday morning and I can watch cartoons until my eyes bleed.
As it’s not a Saturday, it’s the usual battle. Yelling, repeated threats, maybe the offer of breakfast drags me downstairs. My dad has been known to threaten an ice-cold wet washcloth as the nuclear option in waking me up.
Then breakfast. Cheerios on the weekdays, maybe Quaker Oat Squares for a treat. My parents had put a hard and fast no on any of the sugar-bomb Cap’n Count Lucky Trix Puffs Cocoa Froot “part of a balanced breakfast” cereals, which irked me at the time but now I think was among their best gifts.
And the Rockford Register Star.
Calvin & Hobbes. Bloom County. The Far Side. Even some I loved at the time but shudder at now. I remember loving Marvin, a Garfield knock-off with a fat baby replacing the cat. I still occasionally check in to see what Rex Morgan, M.D., and Bud Blake’s Tiger are up to.
I hunch over the counter for breakfast, my eyes taking in an ink-and-newsprint world I’m not used to.
It’s 1990-something. Puberty somehow turned my 20-hours-a-day cat-sleep into a brain-shattering insomnia.
It’s horrible and still haunts me, but the upshot is I don’t like getting out of bed any more as a teenager than I did as a kid.
God, Mom. That’s so lame. Jeez, Dad. Whatever. Yeah, they are my cigarettes, what are you going to do? God, I can’t wait to get out of here.
The morning routine now is a sulk. A shower because I need it, as big a meal as can be mustered because I’m going supernova in girth, height and attitude.
And the Rockford Register Star.
By now, I’ve added Dave Barry and the Opinions page to my comics perusal. I’m learning words can add nuance to life. I’m learning people express meaning through their choice of noun, verb and the other motley crew of speech terms Mrs. Boyer teaches about in sixth period.
I sulk over the counter for breakfast, sneaking as many peeks at a more-informed world as I can without looking like a dork.
Oh my God, Mother, can you not understand that I simply do not have the time nor the energy to deal with this at this particular moment? It is 2000-something and, oh dear Lord how did I miss that particular… UGH! I am heading back to Chicago tomorrow and we can speak by phone then.
By now I’m visiting home when I see the Rockford Register Star. I’m fussy and peculiar, stressed for no reason and working at a daily newspaper myself.
Now I pore over the paper to see what they’re doing that we’re not at my similar Northern Illinois daily. I smirk and sneer when my writing’s better than one of theirs. I pretend I didn’t see but secretly take notes when something they did blows me out of the water.
I flitter over the counter and say something hurtful because I’m so fucking stoked to be taken like an adult.
It’s May 19, 2016, and I just got interviewed by phone in my Bucktown apartment by my hometown newspaper. It’s for a “Local Boy Makes Good” story about the Chicago Corruption Walking Tour.
The Rockford Register Star isn’t a terrific newspaper. It’s understaffed, underfunded and puffs each issue with AP wire stories, but it isn’t a horrible newspaper either. The only feature it has that separates it from a hundred (once a thousand) regional dailies across the Midwest is that it was my first newspaper.
I’ve gotten a lot of press for the walking tour, but somehow the upcoming Register Star article feels a little special for me.
I’ll click at it online, maybe tweet it out, but nothing would make me happier than if I could scamper downstairs and hold it in my hands over a bowl of Cheerios, knowing I’m just pages away from Calvin & Hobbes.