The Big 21
by Terry Hogan
As I sit at the computer with another glass of wine, it occurs to me that The Zephyr is about to reach the legal age. It is a bit of a scary thought. At times, it has printed items that I wouldn’t have printed. But it did. And it survived.
Now, The Zephyr is celebrating its 21st Birthday “against all odds”, as a reputable, but anonymous emailer described it.
What is there to make of it? Presumably, it is not necessarily due to the quality of the columns. After all, it has published my feeble attempts for well over a decade. That doesn’t speak highly of The Zephyr’s taste. But in The Zephyr’s defense, perhaps it is more a reflection of the menu it has to choose from.
It does seem to have its niche readership however. I recall talking to an antique dealer in Galesburg, during one of my many trips “back home”. I had commented about a particular item that he had in his shop, noting that I had written an article about the item in The Zephyr. He inquired about how Norm was doing, and what it was like to work for him. I explained that I didn’t really work for him. It was just that Norm and I had a working agreement. I wrote what I wanted and sent the drafts to Norm. Norm read them and published what he wanted.
But, back to The Zephyr’s niche. The dealer, who knew Norm well, observed that nobody ever confessed to reading The Zephyr, but it seemed that everyone knew what it said. Because I am the self-proclaimed historian in the paper, it made me feel a little bit like the only sane man in the asylum. Of course, this isn’t the truth, judging from the feedback I get from all three of my readers (family members excluded). Perhaps it is more the case that The Zephyr is more like the copy of the Playboy hidden under the teenager’s mattress. It’s not that you like it so much, as it is that you just don’t want to miss anything.
The arrangement I have with Norm and The Zephyr is a bit odd. In fact, it is a bit of a “loosey goosey” arrangement. But it has worked so far. It has worked much longer than I had expected. It probably has also lasted longer than Norm expected. [Editor’s comment: yes, it has, by far, but I can’t beat the price.]
By the time I got involved with The Zephyr, it was well established. I had met a fellow researcher, Martin Litvin, in the Galesburg Public Library. I was doing genealogy research and he was doing research work for his next book. Upon learning my line of research, he subsequently sent me stuff on my family line that he accidently came across in the files. We corresponded and I sent him a letter concerning a recent trip to the Amazon River in Peru. With some minor editing, and a few photos added, that became my first article in The Zephyr. Out of that, grew the column Backtracking. I think it was a clear case of supply and demand. I was willing to write and Norm had white space to fill in.
Backtracking started out as a genealogy column, but slowly evolved into a local history column and the occasional editorial ranting article. Ranting was usually limited to Knox College. Someday, I will likely forgive Knox for dropping “Old Siwash”, but not soon. A George Fitch doesn’t drop into your lap every day. A George Fitch doesn’t publish a successful novel about a fictitious college named “Old Siwash” that just coincidentally closely resembles Knox. But in the name of political correctness, Knox abandoned “Old Siwash”. What? Am I raving again? Well, it is The Zephyr. And it is The Zephyr’s 21st birthday.
I’d like to have a big scandal to expose in honor of the 21st birthday. But I don’t. In reality, scandals in Illinois have been pretty well worked through. What could I possibly discover to top the former Governor of Illinois and his charming, articulate wife?
Instead, I offer up a simple observation and prediction. If The Zephyr has given you heartburn from time to time in the last 20 years, just think. What can you expect out of The Zephyr now that it can legally drink? (It kind of puts the economic crisis in perspective, eh?)
The Big 21 and counting. Remember the cry of the 60’s: “Don’t trust anyone [or anything] over 30!” The Zephyr only has 9 more years to get the Pulitzer before it looses its niche of faithful readers.
Norm, the pressure is on.