A funny thing happened while writing for the Journal ...

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By JOHN RICE

I can still picture the day WEDNESDAY JOURNAL was born. I saw Dan Haley hawking issues of the inaugural paper in a park. I knew Dan from high school and offered on the spot to write for his newspaper. He declined my offerâ€"probably because he knew me from high school.

I remained an unrequited journalist until 1988, when I asked a JOURNAL reporter how I could get a job there. She suggested I submit writing samples to Mary Haley. At the time, I was writing for a church monthly at a salary of, let's see, nothing. So I submitted my churchy articles to Mary and she gave me assignments.

My first assignment was to cover a Fenwick baseball game. Being a diligent cub reporter, I drove out to Washington Park, on Chicago's South Side and watched the gameâ€"in the snow. After my article appeared on April 27, 1988, I learned I didn't have to attend the sports events in the snow. I could call up the coach after the game and get some quotes. Then I'd recreate the contest the way old "Dutch" Reagan did Cubs games from the tickertape.

That's how I started outâ€"high school sports and "advertorial" articles. In the latter department, I covered pain-free dentistry, pain-relieving chiropractics, and surgery for people with painful feet. I interviewed so many dentists I started flashing back to my childhood dental experiencesâ€"all of which were excruciating.

So without any prompting from the paper, I wrote about my horrifying visits to the family dentist. I worded it as seriously as possible and thought it might gain me some sympathy. That's when I found out that one person's suffering can be another person's amusement. People thought the piece was funny and, for a while, I was allowed to contribute more comical pieces about my miserable life.

The newspaper, though, wasn't content with my writing about past humiliations. They wanted fresh suffering. So I embarked on a series of first-person adventures, where I ate sushi, drank chlorophyll, and attended a Halloween party for the high school's science fiction club. It was like an early version of Fear Factor.

Meanwhile, I graduated to writing about the history of things: the history of the library; the history of the fire department, and my own cockeyed history of Oak Park, where the first settlers find overnight parking tickets on their covered wagons. These histories were like high school research papers and all would have gone well if I hadn't written about the history of arson in Forest Park.

Well, as the saying goes, you're not a true reporter until you've been named in at least one libel suit. Anyway, the paper kept me on and promoted me to writing opinion columns for the Forest Park Review. I can't thank Dan Haley enough for giving me an outlet for my offbeat notions. It sure beats taking my medication.

It's been nothing but a joy to write for the newspaper, plus it supports my lavish lifestyle in Forest Park. After six years of weekly columns, though, I got a little burned out. I tried to resign but the paper printed my old columns until I recovered.

Not only has my association with WEDNESDAY JOURNAL been satisfying, I'm also proud that our area has independent, personalized newspapersâ€"not the cookie-cutter journalism one usually associates with suburban weeklies. All I ask of the JOURNAL is to cover my expenses the next time I have a hot story in Washington Park.

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