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I sometimes had considered it tough working long hours on one job, particularly when I was commuting as much as two hours daily. That ended more than eight months ago when I was laid off. Since then, I’ve been searching with little luck for full-time work.
But other opportunities have coalesced.
For example, after Sun-Times Media let me go, I started work as a part-time reporter for BocaJump.com, a hyperlocal website in my hometown. That small step helped supplement my unemployment check, but it also served to remind me, along with this blog, that after 20 years of working as an editor, I really had missed writing much more than I had realized.
By the end of May, I had landed another part-time gig, editing stories for 12 Patch.com websites in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. That was enough to knock me off unemployment. But this group of talented journalist have been kind and appreciative of my contributions. They liked me.
Soon, I was contacted by another Patch.com editor who wanted me to copy edit for 12 websites in Chicago’s southwest suburbs. So on Monday, I began copy editing for this group, as well.
Because some news is cyclical — the Elgin City Council, for example, meets twice a month on Wednesdays, and Aug. 24 was one of those Wednesdays — I had a full plate before me this week.
So I tried to plan my workload accordingly. I spent a large portion of Sunday poring over the Elgin City Council meeting packet, formatting the materials I would need when I live-blogged from the City Council meeting for BocaJump.com. I also began pre-writing some preview stories I would refine or rewrite as needed later, after a Monday morning press briefing at City Hall to go over the agenda.
Monday proved busy but uneventful. I headed over to City Hall in the morning for the press briefing and on my way in, noticed a squirrel scampering around in the grass at the base of a tree. In retrospect, it seemed to be chittering something at me, but I ignored it and headed inside. Perhaps if I had just stopped to listen …
The rest of Monday and all of Tuesday, I alternated between editing for the 24 Patch.com sites, in between, writing more stories for BocaJump.com. I also ran out once to get a photo or two for a story. They were intense days, but I knew Wednesday would be the real bear. Funny, I almost wrote “a real squirrel.”
After hours of editing and writing, I stayed up well past midnight Tuesday to finish and post a couple of stories to BocaJump.com. So I started Wednesday with some sleep deprivation, but nothing a little coffee couldn’t handle. I had two 16-ounce mugs as I went through the afternoon editing, one story after another, until nearly 5:30, when I shut down and packed up my laptop, grabbed the day’s third mug and headed to City Hall.
The day was beautiful and sunny but humid, and I enjoyed the warmth of the sun, even though its glare was fierce as it hung low in the western sky. I found a piece of trash, which I balled up in my left hand, and walked across the municipal parking lot toward City Hall, where a trashcan stood near the curb in front of the courtyard.
In retrospect, perhaps I should have noticed that it was quieter than usual. Too quiet.
Typically, squirrels would be chasing each other up and down and around trees or sitting in the grass, eating whatever squirrels eat when they sit in the grass. But there were none out this evening. At least, that’s what I thought.
As I approached the trashcan, my hand dropped reflexively to release the wadded up piece of my trash.
The loud rustling that erupted from inside the trashcan as I dropped in the wad of paper startled me. Still in midstride, my eyes darted down and left as I turned my head to see what was making the noise.
The ensuing moments are etched in my memory as if frozen images taken from a video:
The squirrel rocketing toward me, framed by the black depths inside the mouth of the trashcan. It was in an almost Superman flight pose, sans the multihued leotards and cape
A ball of gray fur bouncing off my left forearm
Suddenly clearly defined legs with tiny clawed feet reaching out and glancing off my shoulder.
A fuzzy glimpse of whitish squirrel belly, edged with a thin line of orange fur, flashing before my face.
The squirrel landed on the ground in front of me, leapt through the grass and up onto the trunk of a nearby tree where it stopped. Its beady eyes glaring at me, the little furball seemed to be taunting me: “Scared you, uh-huh. Screamed like a girl, you did. Who’s your daddy?