Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 is here; everybody wants to be 1st

First baby: A girl named Jaylaine, born at 12:01 a.m. at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in suburban Park Ridge.

First murder: A 24-year-old man who was shot dead at about 2 a.m. in the Bronzeville neighborhood when he was arguing with another man who happened to be armed with a pistol.

NEW YEAR’S DAY is one of the quirky days of working in the newsgathering business. We get all obsessed with documenting the “first” of all sorts of things that typically wouldn’t get much mention, if any at all.

Particularly if they had happened just hours, or even minutes, earlier. Because they would then have been amongst the final activities of 2015. The old year, ancient history. Been there, done that! Let’s move along.

Yet you’d be amazed at the number of people who get all worked up over being acknowledged as a “first.” Take the ‘first baby’ saga, which is one I had my fill of way back in 1989.

Because on Jan. 1 of that year, I was a reporter-type person for the now-defunct City News Bureau, and I was on duty that overnight shift. I wound up having to make the call between dueling hospitals (one of which may have been Lutheran General, if I remember right) that were claiming to have had babies born just as the clock was ticking off the final seconds of the old year.

I ULTIMATELY MADE the judgment call of a tie, and other news organizations followed our lead. Which resulted in a third hospital that was just moments behind claiming I had somehow cheated them out of recognition.

The concept remains the same annually
I still recall the frantic phone call City News received at about 3 a.m. on 1/1/89, as a top hospital administrator felt compelled to give me a piece of his mind that we wouldn’t recognize his claim to have a “first.”

You’d think at that hour he’d have better things to obsess about. Apparently, he didn’t.

All I know is that for the past quarter-century, I have always associated the thought of the “first baby” with neurotic hospital administrators desperately trying to get themselves some press for actions that don’t involve allegations of medical malpractice on their parts.

THAT IS WHAT I suspect the desire to be a “first” is for many officials – a chance to get mentioned in the news publications and programs for something that doesn’t involve their screw-ups.

The site of many more firsts, come Monday
Such as the fact that on Monday, somebody is going to be awarded the first marriage license in Cook County. Clerk David Orr made sure we in the news media are aware of this fact – issuing a statement telling of the $800 in prizes to be given to the soon-to-be wed couple.

The Palmer House Hilton, Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, iO Improv Comedy Clubs, LaSalle Flowers and Bryan Docter photography all are kicking in to that prize package – which I’m sure means a whole slew of free advertising to be generated for those companies by whichever couple feels compelled to be at the clerk’s office in the Loop when it opens at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Personally, I wonder what kind of people would feel compelled to get up early and force themselves to the head of the line, just to get themselves on the Monday evening television newscasts as the first newlywed couple.

ALTHOUGH I DON’T think anybody is as extreme as Jim “Moose” Murphy, the guy who for nearly 20 years in the 1980s and 1990s used to camp out on New Year’s to ensure he was the head of the line to get the first permit issued for the year by the Forest Preserve District.

Murphy, who died in 2009, was with the Antler Dancer’s Sportsmen’s Club, which used to like to have a huge-scale party (with liquor flowing freely) each summer in the forest preserves of southwestern Cook County near suburban Palos Park. For Murphy, it was absolutely essential he had permit Number 000001.

Although Murphy’s saga always reminded me of that episode of The Simpsons in which Lisa and other Springfield residents of some intellect got a permit to hold a Renaissance-type costume event in the town gazebo – only to find that the town thugs were already gathered there and refused to leave.

I would have feared for the physical well-being of anyone who had tried to cut in front of Murphy and his crew in that line. It would have become an ugly scene.


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