I used to work at the Chicago Sun-Times.
I was in college. I had just started summer break. I needed to find a job.
I was sitting on my mom's bed eating cereal out of the box, watching daytime TV.
I needed to find a job, if only to spare me from three months of that.
The phone rang.
It was Jeff Zaslow. Jeff was an advice columnist at the Sun-Times at the time. He wanted to know if I wanted a job. His assistant had to go on emergency leave.
So I spent the summer in Ann Landers' old office, answering phones, filing Jeff's column to the syndicate in New York (syndicate as in "newspapers," not as in "gangsters," though that's a funny thought), ghostwriting replies to readers (Jeff liked to answer every piece of mail, if not in the column, then as a personal letter).
Richard Roeper was pretty new to the Sun-Times then. Women were swooning: He was young! He was cute! He could write a coherent sentence!
Jeff threw a singles' party every year -- the Zazz Bash, as it came to be known. Readers writing in for tickets wanted to know if Richard would be at the fete.
Hell if I knew.
I tucked a few tickets and a note into an interoffice mail envelope, inviting Richard to make an appearance.
Which he did. Nice guy, then. He stopped by Jeff's office once or twice. I'd see him in the now-razed Sun-Times building. He'd say "Hi." I'd say "Hi."
Over the years, he's become "Richard Roeper," columnist, local news personality.
And then he took over Gene Siskel's chair, opposite Roger Ebert.
Recently, I saw a news item that Rich inked a seven-figure deal.
He's a millionaire. Good for him.
Just saw this item from his July 19th column, snipped from the Sun-Times:
Chunky women in their underwear have surrounded my house.
Billboards of chunky women, that is. If you've been downtown lately, you've no doubt noticed the ads for Dove soap, featuring regular-sized women in bras and panties. It's part of a nationwide "Campaign for Real Beauty," and it's drawing waves of attention from the media. (For a major debate on this issue that's sure to sever some friendships in our Features Department, check out Pages 44-45.)
There's no doubt the ads are attention-getting. Let's put it this way: this is the first time in 3,000-plus columns that I've ever mentioned Dove soap.
Now here's where I'm supposed to say that I find it refreshing to see "real people" on billboards, given that our culture is so obsessed with youth and beauty, and that most billboards feature impossibly gorgeous, ridiculously thin women who have been airbrushed to a level of perfection that 99.9 percent of the population can never reach.
But the raw truth is, I find these Dove ads a little unsettling. If I want to see plump gals baring too much skin, I'll go to Taste of Chicago, OK? I'll walk down Michigan Avenue or go to Navy Pier. When we're talking women in their underwear on billboards outside my living room windows, give me the fantasy babes, please.
If that makes me sound superficial, shallow and sexist -- well yes, I'm a man. And I'll have to point out that most of the men who appear on billboards and in magazines and on TV commercials are just as genetically blessed as their female counterparts.
"Superficial, shallow and sexist." You betcha. Because here's the thing, Rich: Men who appear in ads are "genetically blessed," too, but by and large, it's women who suffer in this image-obsessed society. Yes, there's the occasional token story about men who suffer from eating disorders or poor body image, but in our culture, it's much more acceptable for a guy to look less than perfect.
There are too many girls and women on this planet who have internalized the daily visual assault on their senses that tells them they have to look like Britney or Jessica or they're just not worthwhile human beings. This isn't just column filler, Rich. Many women succumb to eating disorders. Many of them die.
So good for Dove for recognizing that it's time to stop making women feel like crap for not living up to impossible ideals. (And for those who don't know me, yes, I'm just like the women on the billboard. I wear a 14. I'm also 6'3". Sure, I can lose a few pounds, but I will *never* be a size 4.)
Excuse me, Rich, if I don't give a shit that your high-rise view is marred by a lack of "fantasy babes."
Here's a thought: Billboard campaigns don't last forever. In the meantime, close your curtains.