I remember almost nothing about grammar school. I only really remember two or three incidents — one involving a kid in my first grade class who sneezed into his hands during morning prayer (I went to a Catholic school), one involving my tripping on somebody in the playground and landing forehead-first on the asphalt, and one vividly red moment when during a game of Duck-Duck-Goose a friend (!) stood up in my path and I broke my nose on the back of his head.
Past that, I don’t think I have even an anecdote-length memory until my freshman year in high school, and only then because I was on the football team and I got knocked out in practice.
And yet, despite the recurring head trauma, I still, 30 or 35 years after I met my classmates, remember all the February birthdays. February 3 is Joe, 4 is Eric, 5 is Mark and Bob, 8 is Maureen, 20 is Kim, 22 is the other Kim, and 25 is me. It’s an illness of mine that I remember dates. Came in handy for history classes and is best applied today to the significant dates involving my wife, but it’s somewhat annoying, I have to say. I’d like it better if more days went by without my knowing whose birthday it is, or who died today, or that this was the day my car got stolen.
I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me then that I recognize the significance of this particular February. It’s not because I turn 40 this month. It’s because this month marks my 10th year in the newspaper business. If I survive the next two weeks I will have officially spent my entire 30s working at a newspaper.
None of this makes me wonder what-if, because who cares? But it does make me notice how different things are from 10 years ago. When I started as a reporter, 9/11 hadn’t happened. Neither had Craig’s List, nor texting, nor YouTube, nor American Idol. Not in the big, fat, public way they exist now. Newspapers still made money, particularly from classified ads. Reality programming pretty much was limited to Cops and MTV’s Real World (in fact, we were still in the throes of a game show resurgence). And my mother, father, father-in-law, and two brothers were alive.
I also think about all the adventures being a reporter afforded me in my 30s. After watching my family shrink from seven people to three I’m better able to shrug off bad memories like sitting in planning board meetings until midnight, so I don’t think about all the crap I put myself through to write stories no one read. Instead, I think about some of the fun stuff I got to do on the job — pet a rhino; fly in a post-WWI biplane; meet Sparky Lyle; ride in the pace truck during an auto race; go to St. Louis. Modest stuff to be sure, but even in their salad days, my newspaper employers were not eager to spring for a “Where In the World Is Scott Morgan?” kind of travelogue adventure. Cheapskates. Seriously, how much could it possibly cost to fly me to Bulgaria? I only wanted to go one time.
It’s funny how often I don’t realize that something I did or some place I visited was 20 years ago, and yet the past 10 years seem as if they’ve taken so long. It’s also funny how the world seems so very much the same, and yet so very different. I don’t know how to keep up with the world the way I used to. Technology has surpassed my interest and my ability to comprehend it. And yet I’m still married to the same girl. Still writing for a newspaper. Still clearing snow off my car every January.
But a decade doing the same thing has to teach you something about yourself. Or at least it has to make you think about what you’ve learned about life. Between age 30 and 40, I have come to a lot of conclusions that I don’t believe I would have come to had I not been a reporter:
1.) Everybody works for the same company.
2.) No matter who you are or what you do, 2 percent of the people who know about you will think you’re a jackass, 2 percent will think you’re awesome, and 96 percent won’t give a damn either way.
3.) It’s your own fault. Everything. Get over yourself and get on with life.
4.) Having money is better than not having it, but you need way less money to live on than you really think. Unless you have kids.
5.) If you’re in business, you’re in sales.
6.) All those old cliches — day really does break after a long, dark night; it is easier to be forgiven than to get permission — are actually true. And their wisdom is legitimately profound, if you’re listening.
7.) The people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter won’t mind.
8.) White people take themselves way too seriously.
9.) Football is loaded with cheerleaders and halftime shows because fundamentally it is a really lousy game.
10.) Editors will always change your headlines (I wanted to call this “A Decade 10 Years In the Making,” just so you know).
I often think of my grandfather, who was born in 1902 and died in 1999. The world he entered was so different from the world he left, and I’m not sure any other age of humans will ever see that much change in a single lifetime again Think about it — from a world without radio to a world full of microchips? Wow!
But in 10-year chunks, we will notice lots of little differences. In February of 2021 will there still be fax numbers? Broadcast television? Printed newspapers? The Cubs?
I think so. But then, I’m not known for my accurate predictions of the future. Would I have been a Cubs fan if I had known what I was in for?