Adventures of Career Day

Showed up at junior high Career Day this morning without a career.

I didn’t plan it that way, of course. I had a career when they asked me to come back again this year. Actually, I had a career yesterday. Or was it two days ago? It’s all sort of a blur at this point.

My 13-year-old daughter’s instructions were pretty clear on how to address her fellow eighth graders, this being the first time she and I had ever collided on the Career Day circuit.

“Please,” she said with real feeling. “Please, don’t be boring.”

And then for added dramatic effect, “Really.”

This was pressure beyond any deadline I have ever encountered. But so as not to leave the impression that she is somehow insensitive, she said this before I was let go from the Tribune. Let go? Is that how you say it? My husband says “laid off” is OK, much better than fired.

Anyway, after my daughter learned I was laid off, after I made a crack about going to Career Day without a career and after she hugged me and expressed her sympathy, she added worriedly, “But really, what are you going to do?”

Whatever it was, it seemed it would be OK with her as long as I wasn’t boring. That I would not embarrass her was understood, not that I would comply with that one.

I struggled a bit with whether or not to mention the fact that I was no longer a Tribune employee, briefly considered pointing my finger at the kids and warning them that if they followed their dreams, they would get their little hearts broken, that it was a cruel, cruel world.

But then I figured that might get me laid off from the Career Day circuit and though no one is paying me, you never know where it could lead.

I actually spoke nicely about the Tribune, more out of habit than anything. Told the kids, as I always do, how superior newspapers have always been as a news source as opposed to much of the alternative.

I even told one of my favorite stories about Mike Royko, though for the last several years I’ve sadly been getting blank stares in return when I mention his name.

I was in college, early eighties, working part-time during vacations answering phones in the sports department of the Sun-Times, and once again I found myself inside Billy Goat’s Tavern, hoping for a glimpse of my journalistic idol.

Royko was a regular but I always seemed to miss him until this one particular Friday, as he walked in and settled behind the bar. For an hour, maybe more, I worked up my courage to approach him, rehearsed what I would say (“Mr. Royko, I’ve always been a great admirer of your work” seemed like a good start). And finally, I actually got out of my chair and started in his direction.

My arm was out-stretched, ready to make my move, when a drunken patron cut me off.

“Hey Royko, that column of yours today was a load of crap,” the guy slurred.

But before he could go on, Royko reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter and flicked it in the guy’s face.

“There’s your money back,” Royko snarled. “Now, f— off.”

Not long after engineering a quick about-face and shooting back to the safety of my table, I marveled at the brilliance of that move.

For a quarter, we got Mike Royko. We got his Pulitzer Prize-winning wit and cynical best in its perfect literary simplicity. We got a lot more for a quarter and for a while, we got it for 50 cents and then 75 cents, still a lot more bang for the buck than your average bottle of fake spring water.

I believed that with all my heart. And so I would tell the story to kids, imploring them to get into the habit of reading the newspaper, even just glance at the headlines.

I found myself telling them that again Friday and the kids didn’t even look too bored. I was quite pleased with myself actually, as I snuck a glance at my daughter, who looked at me almost approvingly.

“It wasn’t too bad,” she said afterward in one of those proud mother-daughter moments to savor.

 “Next time though,” she added as she walked out the door, “you really need to talk more about Michael Jordan.”

5 Responses to “Adventures of Career Day”

  1. Amy

    Your daughter seems to have a good grasp on what is important in life. She is a girl after my own heart. Go, Amanda!

  2. Mike


    Beautifully written as always. I never had the thrill or honor to work at a paper like the Tribune, but The Gazette has always been that way for me. From my days at Iowa on, this is where I wanted to be. Not the QC Times, not the Des Moines Register, but the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I am an Iowa boy through and through and this was (and is) the paper for me.

    I said something to my kids about the possibility of me losing my job and my 10-year-old, bless his heart, said. “Dad, all you have ever done is the newspaper. What would you do?”

    I’ve thought a lot about that. I was never aspired to be anymore than what I am, a hard-working journalist at what I consider Iowa’s best newspaper. I’ve got a career day gig coming up soon and I honestly wonder how I am going to handle it.

    Maybe I’ll tell them I was lucky enough to work with great journalists like Melissa Isaacson when I was starting out. Maybe not quite as powerful as your Royko story, but no less significant.

    As Royko did, you will be able to make it on your name alone and this Iowa boy was damn lucky he got to work alongside of you for a couple of years.

  3. Diane

    Next time you have to BRING Michael to career day. And I’ll bet he’d show up for you.

  4. Maria

    hey missy,

    I can relate to the career day dilemma. I got asked this year to speak at my daughter’s school and had to say back: are you sure? i’m no longer at the tribune…. and they still wanted me and i loved talking about newspapers/reporting/writing. And I know EXACTLY what you mean when you write:
    “I will continue writing because that is what we do and because it makes me feel better, like I have not been robbed of the love of my life. But I do wonder how I will ever adjust to identifying myself as anyone but “Melissa Isaacson from the Chicago Tribune.” It is who I am, with or without my employee ID card. It is my identity. It was not a job.”
    So I still talk about ‘us’ and ‘we’ when I talk about the tribune to friends/family. And I’ve been gone 8-plus months! how strange is that? I don’t think it’ll ever go away, even as the paper we worked for and love seemingly does. 
    I look forward to reading your blog here, missy. good luck. you’ll be just fine.

  5. rich

    hi, i grew up reading your articles when you covered the bulls. i probably read everything you ever wrote during the jordan years and a lot since then. sorry to hear about what happened but good writing is good writing so i’m sure you’ll be okay. i’ll be following your blog 🙂


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