Chapter 11: My life as a reporter for the Quad-City Times

Copyright David Heitz

The lead story on my going-away page of June 6, 1991, said it all.

“BELCH, BELCH, BELCH: Dave Heitz answers his last phone call at the Quad-City Times.”

Indeed, the headline referenced my already well-established drinking problem. What’s worse? I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet. But I’d certainly had lots of practice working at the Quad-City Times during the previous five years.

Going out with Times staffers post-deadline in the 1980s and 1990s, I never got carded even once.

Nope. Not even once. Pat McGuire’s had been great fun for me since my freshman year of Augustana College.

Augustana College is another chapter of this book altogether.

No institution has shaped who I am today more than the Quad-City Times newspaper in Davenport, Iowa. No place even comes close.

And I’m proud of that. I don’t really have a choice!

Strange and chuckle-able as its name may be (what’s a Quad-City?), the community the newspaper serves is anything but a laughing matter.

Q-C already has caught Hollywood’s eye

Few people have heard of the Quad-Cities. A few have heard of Davenport, the largest city in the Quad-Cities, and where the Quad-City Times is located.

The community comprises four cities that straddle the Mississippi River on both the Illinois and Iowa sides, and many smaller, outlying burgs. Eventually, the metropolitan area trickles off into cornfields in all directions, although Des Moines and Chicago both are within a three-hour drive.

What goes on in this town is the stuff Hollywood films are made of. Indeed, “Road to Perdition” starring Tom Hanks, based on the novel about notorious Rock Island gangster John Looney, already was a blockbuster hit.

From Lexa Luther, to Billy Blowhard, to Lois Lush, our cast of characters knows how to make news, even if it usually never gets covered. We’ve got dirty politics, what certainly appears to look and smell like organized crime, and a drunken news reporter on duty somewhere, 24/7.

And it’s always been this way, even if the players in the various roles have changed through the years.

Check out excerpts from Chapter One: Dad and I reclaim the property

Lord knows I filled the role of Lush for many years. And Lord knows I have known the Lexas and the Billies. Smart reporters do their time here and get out, or move on to some other profession locally.

Smart reporters do not get sucked into the swamp.

Problem is, I used to get so drunk I didn’t even care about the things I saw and heard. I wasn’t the first Quad-City reporter to ever get to that point and I won’t be the last.

From Milan skunks to skunk weed in Milan

The most disturbing part about the news media in the Quad-Cities, at least every time I was a part of it (which spanned 25 years on and off), is how everyone looks the other way about official things gone awry.

I certainly got that impression throughout every tenure I had at the Quad-City Times. The commandments were clear:  Doth not question authority, doth not protest too much, and doth never take a competitor’s name in vain.

Consider the tertiary headline on my going-away page, after the “BELCH, BELCH, BELCH” banner and the secondary head, which referenced my poor driving skills.

“When things reek bad, call on Times reporter, skunk expert, Heitz” may have secured my place in Quad-City Times lore even more than the Klindt interview.

From the story on my going-away page, which sadly has some true parts to it:

“When the skunks stormed Milan, Dave Heitz scooped the competition and sniffed out a front-page story. He basked in the glory of his story. Job offers flowed in from around the globe. Even Geraldo called.”

But then the smart-aleck author takes a turn for the true. “Next day came the call that would threaten his job security and make him sorry he ever uncovered that skunk scam. ‘Hey is this the skunk reporter?’ sneered a disc jockey.”

Indeed, 97X, I believe it was, had called me while I still was in bed wanting to talk about a story I had written about skunks terrorizing a Milan neighborhood. I apparently didn’t handle it properly on the air or represent the Quad-City Times well.

I was in college, remember. Augustana College. Another chapter.

“After several high-level meetings, it was decided that Dave could keep his job,” the author of the story on the faux front page pictured with this chapter wrote. “But sadly, his career never rebounded.

“That’s why he’s fleeing the skunk-infested Milan beat. He’s heading to the L.A., where the freeways are free of the varmints that ruined his reputation.”

Ha!

I never realized until I wrote this how ironic it is that now I go to Milan for “skunk” weed. As a qualifying medical cannabis patient in Illinois, my dispensary is in Milan.

Read more: I legally bought weed today in Milan, Ill. Thank you, Lord

The notorious James Klindt ‘killer tacos’ interview

Always take no for an answer from public officials, and then politely run along. That’s the message I always got while working as a reporter for the Quad-City Times, at least if you wanted to keep your job.

My problem was, I always had a very difficult time doing that. And I still do. And I got to where I decided that unemployment was better than going in every day and pounding out happy stories all the while drowning in the community cesspool.

That’s not to say the newspaper doesn’t produce some fine scoops now and then. For sure, it does, and I am forever grateful for every community newspaper that exists. I know how badly they are needed, even if the days of doing impactful journalism are few and far between. Everywhere.

The biggest feather in my cap during my tenure at the Quad-City Times probably was landing the only post-prison interview convicted killer and former Davenport chiropractor James Klindt ever gave.

Years of warming the bar stool at Mary’s on 2nd Street paid off when a sizzling tip led to my explosive story: “Klindt finds new life, career in taco stand.”

I interviewed Klindt in my Ford Taurus. You can check it out by clicking right here.

The story ended up going out on the wire and even was translated into Japanese. Jay Leno had a ball with it, too.

Klindt killed his wife before dismembering her body with a chainsaw and then dumping it in the Mississippi River.

The Halloween party featuring Clarence Thomas – in black face

Through the years, the Quad-City Times has seen characters aplenty come and go. Newsroom alumni I have worked with through the years have gone on to become members of Congress, a mixed martial arts tycoon convicted of tax evasion, multiple healthcare PR divas, a spokesman for a far-right think tank, porn stars, clergy, an assistant district attorney, and much, much more.

Lots of people leave the news business, but stick around and do different things.

Most of the time that’s fine and dandy, but sometimes it gets “icky sticky makes me sicky.”

But then, newspaper people are known for their shenanigans.

At one Times party in the late 1980s or early 1990s, a staffer came dressed as Clarence Thomas – in black face – with pubic hair taped atop a Coke can.

At another, everyone was drunk at a going away party for an editor. There was marijuana, booze, rifles, and bows and arrows everywhere. No harm no foul, right? Everyone was having a grand old time. A hunter was showing off his hunting tools like hunters do.

Still, what a scene. I was driven home (I think) by a photographer who still works at the Times. I threw up on the way to my apartment, just as I had thrown up at the party.

The editor was the coolest guy on earth. I called and offered to clean up his apartment the next day, and he totally laughed the entire incident off. Very gracious.

Burning it at both ends has been a hallmark of the news business for many years. Drugs and alcohol have claimed thousands of journalists’ lives and careers.

It’s important to remember how these sorts of stories typify the fraternity that exists among news people. In this same context, it’s very important to remember that mainstream news people are still people. For me, it’s why the current “holier than thou” and “fake news” narrative is aggravating.

Nobody is completely objective. Nobody. You can strive for it, sure. But it’s not part of the human condition, and I never have felt comfortable with the Fourth Estate making that claim.

Do you want to get your news from a person or organization who admits their slant (and knows your objectives in terms of information seeking), or do you want it from organizations that claims “objectivity” when it’s not even humanly possible?

We find out when staffers leave the Times who they really are. Sometimes it’s rather startling.

My first ‘stakeout’ at Moline mayor’s house

For me, the Quad-City Times was a grand escape from a miserable life. My mother and father had just divorced, and I had moved in with my cousin (and was paying rent) my senior year of high school.

At the time, everyone marveled at how I held my head high. I performed in all the plays and the musical my senior year on top of editing the student newspaper, working on the yearbook, and working part-time at the Quad-City Times.

In reality, this overachievement was a quest to be affirmed by someone, someplace, something. The Quad-City Times gave me that, and there is no way I ever can be anything but eternally grateful.

I was the biggest little suck-up on earth during my first two tours of duty at the Quad-City Times. It served me well.

I remember being sent to my first “stakeout.” One editor in particular had a fascination with the Moline mayor. One night, she sent me to his house to take down all the license plate numbers of the cars parked outside. She said she wanted to know if he was violating the open meetings act by having council members meeting at his house.

Other staffers say she may have had other intentions.

I didn’t care. It was a stakeout, and it was exciting. And I figured I must be very, very trustworthy and important to be sent on such an assignment.

In retrospect, I wonder if I was being used. It’s sad that I feel that way. But things have happened since I left the Quad-City Times that make me look at the place a lot differently. It will forever be an incredibly strong trigger.

I realized this when I got a car for the first time in three years. Seldom do I ever venture to the Iowa side of the river anymore, but when I have, just driving past the building makes me start to have physical symptoms of anxiety.

It’s too bad, but it is what it is.

Read excerpts from Chapter 5: My dad’s bizarre brain disease

Me and Sioux See had so much fun

One of my best friends at the Times during the early days was Sioux See. Sioux See and I had great fun.

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We were about the same age, and found the Quad-City Times a fascinating place to work part-time. We would gossip and giggle about all the different personalities. Sioux See was incredibly insightful and smart. She picked up on realities about the Quad-City Times long before I did.

And she was right about so many things. Things that still hold true.

Book coming fall 2018!

Sioux See and I would giggle uncontrollably at times. We all did.

For a while, there was an editor in charge at night who would write up a note at the end of the shift. She kicked butt and named names and then she slid the note under the editor’s door.

Sioux See and I figured out that when she printed out the note, it briefly became visible in the system for anyone to see. We would type in “FE, AmCity” – oh yes, I have worked on newspaper systems that old, even VDT terminals prior to the birth of the PC – and we would find the file and read it.

We were true journalists. We still are. Even when you’re not fully feeding the fire, it never goes away. It always keeps burning.

Green Crack: Blisters on my feet, 2,500 words on a sheet

Like a true addict, there was no way I could say no to the crack.

Green Crack, that is.

Green Crack is a strain of medical cannabis. It is cultivated by GoldLeaf.

I have heard people rave about this strain. But as someone who was addicted to crystal meth from 1997 until 2001, and easily could have had a heart attack (once or twice I think I did) while tweaking, I don’t think kindly of the “crack” vernacular being applied to anything medicinal.

Names like this strain’s are one of the biggest stigmatizing forces the medical cannabis industry faces, if you ask me.

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What’s the flip side?

The flip side is that the addict in me absolutely has been wanting to check it out. If it’s called “crack,” and if people like it that much, something tells me I may find it pleasurable. And it’s legal!

Hmmmm. Irresponsible marketing? Not really. The stoner vernacular is to describe a strain as exactly how, well, a stoner sees it I guess. Bio Jesus. Girl Scout Cookies. Ghost Train. Etc.

That’s another blog post for later this week.

At any rate, experimenting with uppers is what led me down addiction’s beaten path. It was all fun and games on the dance floor in the beginning. You can read about my struggle with crystal methamphetamine by clicking here.

Green Crack helps sick, weary rise from bed

I certainly would not compare Green Crack to crystal meth or crack cocaine. However, it does hit me in the groin and make me horny, like crystal meth always did. I do not feel the least bit impaired cognitively. I do have quite a bit of energy, especially considering I got up at 3:30 a.m. and it is now almost 1 p.m.

Who would need something labeled “Crack” as medicine, one might ask. Well, for starters, how about depressed people? Or for that matter, anyone with a condition so debilitating, be it from physical or mental pain, that they don’t even want to get out of bed each day.

Do you know what that feels like? I do. But it has been a good many years since I have felt that way.

You do kind of wonder how “green” can make you feel like this. I understand it has to do with terpenes, the sativa strain, etc. Still, it definitely is an ampy feeling, but without any of the harsh side effects you would find in unnatural uppers like meth, or dirty ones like crack.

Add Moroccan melt for three, two, one…ignition…

However, like a true addict, it wasn’t enough for me to simply smoke the Green Crack flower. As a grand finale, I sprinkled Turbo Lemon Cake Moroccan melt atop one final bowl.

Now that is quite something. I just power-walked three laps around the block. I have plenty to do here inside the house as well.

Green Crack effectively powered me into the tenth, eleventh and 12th hours of my workday today. When coupled with Turbo Lemon Cake Moroccan melt by Revolution Cannabis, the power-walk laps around the block served as an effective cardiovascular routine in between writing cannabis blogs and book chapters.

Green Crack contains large amounts of psychoactive THC. For people suffering from anxiety or mental illness, such a strain could induce psychosis and other undesirable effects.

I have been high strung most all my life, but in the past week feel better than I have in years. I found the Green Crack to be a fun supplement to my day that resulted in increased productivity.

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David Heitz is a freelance writer for Contently, which provides America’s most recognizable brands with the finest content in the world.

Chapter One: Dad and I reclaim the property

“Jeezus Christ! What the hell is going on!” I screamed to dad as I pulled up to the house, admittedly excited to be moving in despite the inevitable battles I innately knew were ahead. “You better not chop down that God damned tree!”

Undoubtedly, I had been out all night drinking the night before. I had been totally unemployed for a year, as checking in on dad had become too stressful and I was completely burnt out with my newspaper job.

Honestly, I had thought to myself more than once, “If you’re not going to report on things you know about that need to be reported because of personal relationships, you need to get out of the business.”

So that’s what I did.

Branches were falling from the maple tree out front of what was the family homestead until mom died. It had changed hands just twice when dad got it back, almost 30 years – three decades — to the day mom got rid of him.

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Dad and his best friend Jack Long dug up the tree down by the Mississippi River and transplanted it into the front yard when the room addition was built in 1976. I remember it grew very fast, and in a couple of years I was enjoying climbing it. Now I could not even reach the lowest branch if I wanted to. The tree is massive.

Dad had no intention of cutting down the tree. In retrospect, I’m sure he knew hiring a big crew to top that monster was not something I would make a priority, or possibly even be able to afford. He took care of certain things immediately.

Like re-siding the garage. The garage looked like hell when dad bought the house back for more than seven times the price he paid for it in 1963.

Dad and I had a wonderful first six months back in the family home.  He began to fall from the day we moved in. In fact, I found him lying on the floor when I moved in the day after he did.

He would fall out of the lawn chair in the front yard. My brother and I both thought maybe he did it on purpose to get neighbors to talk to him.

For me at least, it became apparent by the seventh month that was not the case, and something really, really frightening was going on with my dad. In fact, he had a horrible, extremely rare brain disease called frontotemporal degeneration, behavioral variant, also known as Pick’s Disease.

Learn more about the rare brain disease that killed my dad

My dad, who had saved my life so many times, soon would meet an unthinkable finale to half a lifetime of suffering.

In retrospect, some might argue not soon enough. And did.

About a year after dad and I moved in, dad was taken out by paramedics, never to return. He had chased me with a butcher knife and I had called the police, but only because I thought he was going to fall and spear himself. The night before, he had shoved towels and cooking utensils down the toilet.

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And as he was running through the house with the knife – remarkably without a walker, as though Lazarus had stopped by – smoke was pouring out of the kitchen wastepaper basket.

Once again, he had thrown a burning cigarette in it.

My poor cat, an incredibly spry 18 years old at the time, used to hide in the basement. Dad loved the cat and she ignored him, so he would cuss her. Later, I found out he was feeding her cookies when I was at the bar at night those first six months.

It would fast become a terribly exhausting, scary and frustrating situation. Dad would howl at the moon at night. He would wake me up and order me to go across the street to the church and turn their music down. There was no music.

This should not be surprising, as he was having many odd flashbacks in the house. In 1984, he walked across the street to the church once, interrupted service, and told the priest that someone needed to move their car so my brother could get his boat out of our back yard.

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I call my neighborhood Redneck Ritz.

It was incredibly surreal to be living with dad, in the very house I was brought home to from the hospital. The hospital right up the street, in fact.

The hospital has a helipad. As a kid, I always thought the helicopters touching down at the hospital were the coolest thing ever. That, and the airplanes flying overhead, so low if you squint it feels like you could touch them. The house still is directly in the flight pattern of Quad-City International Airport. Which is not a big deal, despite the “international” in its name. The Quad-Cities likes to be bigger than it is. Almost 30 members on the Rock Island County Board, after all, in a county of 130,000 or so people.

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I knew on move-in day that as profoundly bizarre that what dad had done might seem to some, it wasn’t at all strange to him. And by the end of the first week, it wasn’t strange to me either.

Dad, at age 72 and already with significant mobility challenges, incontinence and dementia, had purchased the family home he lost to my mother in their second 1984 divorce.

Yes, from each other. They married and divorced each other twice.

And I inherited half of the same house twice. It would have been a lot more economical had I kept it the first time I inherited it, when mom died, but as a 24-year-old living in Los Angeles in 1995 I was not about to move back to Rock Island, Ill.

I might have been on to something there. But we age, we make choices, and I chose the stability and the warmth of my family home, even if unspeakable things have transpired here. Not only in this house, but in the unspeakably corrupt community in which I live.

Lots and lots and lots of abuse.  I lived almost an entire life of abuse, and for many years resumed being a victim – and playing a victim – when I returned to the Quad-Cities from Los Angeles to care for dad a decade prior.

Little did I know my real troubles would begin once I already had been a year on the straight and narrow path nobody ever thought I would find. Clean, sober, and laying naked on a concrete slab in solitary confinement in the Rock Island County Jail, held on no charges at all.

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