Hi, I’m the new girl. I figured I might as well state the obvious because I know we’re all thinking it. Before I came to live in Forest Park, I worked here – at the Beacon Pub – and when I first started that job the regulars would come in and stare at me quizzically until someone else piped up, saying, “Have you met Stephanie? She’s the new girl.”

Since we don’t have anyone to introduce us, I decided I better do it myself.

So, (shakes hands with fellow Forest Parkers), I’m Stephanie Kuehnert, brand new to the Forest Park Review. The closest I’ve come to writing a column is maintaining a blog, but I do write fiction. My first novel “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” comes out in July. You may have read about it in the Review earlier this year. I tend to stumble into jobs that way. I got the aforementioned job at the Beacon because I drank there. I got my day job at the UIC College of Nursing because I interned there. And now, lo and behold, they write about me in the paper and then ask me to write for them.

I don’t think I’m technically allowed to call Forest Park my hometown yet, though I would like to. I moved here four years ago, which makes me one of those “new” Forest Parkers. And (cough) I did move here from Oak Park (cough), but you can’t hold that against me. My parents moved me to Oak Park from St. Louis when I was 8.

Had I been allowed to choose I would have picked Forest Park. Hello, the Ferrara Pan Candy Company! I had a job near Ferrara Pan one summer and gorged myself regularly at the factory store. And maybe Rehm Pool has those diving platforms, but the Forest Park pool has a waterslide. I have not indulged in the waterslide. It’s a summer 2008 goal.

During my teenage years, I also preferred Forest Park. Perhaps you remember Ambrosia’s on the corner of Desplaines and Madison streets? It was a delightfully shady joint with excellent rice pudding; my favorite 24-hour diner in the western suburbs. And at least I could daydream about sneaking into the Madison Street bars, Oak Park was dry. Really, really dry in my teenage opinion.

I hightailed it out of there when I graduated. Spent a year in Ohio and a couple more in Madison, Wis., before deciding to return to Chicago to attend Columbia. I had two choices: rent an apartment in some “hip” area of the city and struggle to make ends meet or move in with mom and save up to actually buy something. I chose the latter.

I spent three years in Oak Park and got past most of my teenage angst about it, but it still wasn’t a place I wanted to call home. I wanted a place that was transforming into something unique, that would grow with me. It was between the South Loop where I went to school and Forest Park, the town I’d always had an affinity for. More square-footage wasn’t the only reason I settled on Forest Park. It’s not just a neighborhood here, it’s a Community and that is very important to me (hence the capital C).

So far, even though I’m a quirky artistic kid, I feel quite welcome. Writing for the local paper allows me to get more involved. That’s the main reason I’m here. It’s nice to meet you.

Stephanie is the author of “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone” and “Ballads of Suburbia.” She’s a proud Forest Parker who holds a master’s in fine arts degree from Columbia College Chicago. She loves to hear from people through her Web site www.stephaniekuehnert.com .