My name is Jon Zal. I was born in 1970, raised just outside of Boston, and now live near Philadelphia. As a child, I thought I was going to be a member of the rock group KISS when I grew up. That didn’t work out.
As a teen, I thought I was going to be a cop. I enlisted in the Army and served from 1988 to 1992. Most of that time was spent working as a Military Police K-9 handler at Ft. Irwin, California, located in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
Despite being on active duty during both the Panama conflict and the first Gulf War, I was fortunate enough to spend my entire enlistment in the United States. So, yes, I am a veteran, but, no, I am not a combat vet.
By the time I got out of the Army, I knew I didn’t want to be a cop when I grew up; I wanted to be Howard Stern. I returned to Massachusetts and went to college, where I majored in communications and hosted a weekly college-radio show. Occasionally, I listen to tapes of my old college-radio show. They are mostly bad. Regardless, my quest to be Howard Stern was misguided, since, as it turns out, there already is a Howard Stern.
Located across the hallway from the college radio station was the college newspaper. Since getting paid to talk for a living seemed increasingly less likely, getting paid to write for a living seemed like the next best thing, so I signed on as a Staff Writer, then as Living/Arts Editor, and, finally, as Editor-in-Chief.
I graduated from Salem State University in 1996 and immediately went to work as a reporter for a local newspaper. I covered city-council meetings and wrote about things such as housing developments and sewage problems—and, at one point, about local singer Gary Cherone, who, during my tenure as a reporter, became the third frontman for Van Halen, my all-time favorite band.
I enjoyed writing about Van Halen more than I did writing about city-council meetings, housing developments and sewage problems, so—long story short—I relocated to Arizona and took on a publishing job that offered the perk of being peripherally involved with the group. Highlights included spending the day with the band at Eddie Van Halen’s home studio (a.k.a. 5150) and having All-Access passes for the group’s entire 1998 tour. For the most part, this was a dream come true.
The part that wasn’t a dream come true: Van Halen with Gary Cherone was not Van Halen with Sammy Hagar, nor was it Van Halen with David Lee Roth. The album tanked, the tour ended, and I needed to make something happen before my career arc mirrored the band’s.
I landed a job as the editor of an online city guide in Phoenix, and used that position to leapfrog into a full-time gig as a work-from-home music journalist based in the Boston area.
In 2010, my wife and I decided to move our family from Massachusetts to her home state of Pennsylvania—where, for what it’s worth, our votes mean more than they did in Massachusetts; that’s not why we moved, but it is a mantra that I’ve adopted to help ease the pain of my yearning to return to the Boston area. (Surprisingly, our son and daughter—who, at the time of our move, were 7 and 5, respectively—still consider themselves Bostonians, and are die-hard Red Sox fans. I consider this evidence that I’m an excellent father.)
Prior to launching JonZal.com, I spent about a decade publishing a “daddy blog,” where I mostly wrote what I like to believe were poignant, touching and riotously funny stories about the trials and tribulations of fatherhood. As my children got older, however, I became less comfortable sharing the details of their lives with the Internet, and more interested in writing about other topics. It was around this time that an unfit, unqualified, incompetent, racist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissistic, misogynistic, reality-TV host conned his way into the presidency.
I found something new to write about.