Reading the Paper

I know; I have vanished for an unconscionable amount of time. I didn’t mean to, and I have multiple topics to cover, but every morning for the last four I have decided all those could wait. I have to confess, I kind of got stuck on last week’s local paper, which came out Thursday.

I could have started with the Crested Butte News, which always gets some people with its annual April Fools stories, always wickedly close to the bone and done straightforwardly enough to sound plausible — until you keep reading. But I didn’t: I opened with the Gunnison Country Times and its real, hardly surprising but still disappointing headline: “Trustees back Salsbury,” the bad-penny president of Western Not State. If this headline had been in the CB News, a good subtitle would have been: “He may be a misogynistic racist, but at least he’s our misogynistic racist.”

I didn’t even bother to read the story, although I did read the one inside where it turns out the trustees have no idea what their responsibilities are and whether they’re supposed to wag the president or he them. Smashed into the side of the Suez Canal and no one can decide who is in charge . . . Yeah, I feel great about one of the largest drivers of our local economy.

[Don’t you worry: Some Day I’ll come back to the Suez Canal, which goes hand in hand, if you can believe it, with another local front-page headline: “Community prepares for Little Blue Canyon closures.” The shutdown of Highway 50 heading to Montrose has more in common than you might think with a major waterway halfway around the world.]

My sister made the paper, as she sometimes does when school finances are discussed. This time the school board — which has not held an election in at least 15 years because there have been no contested races in all that time — is trying to figure out how to offer a $15/hour minimum wage as an entry-level wage.

I’m glad to see it’s not just me that struggles with this issue as the board held an inconclusive discussion. One board member suggested it was fine to raise the minimum but not anyone else, which would mean, according to the editor who wrote the story, “New hourly workers would suddenly make as much as their coworkers who have worked multiple years with the district.”

And yet (here’s where my sister, the finance manager, comes in), if all hourly personnel were given a 14 percent pay increase, it would cost the district $413,522 annually. That “annually” is a good word to keep in mind; in a previous iteration, a board member convinced his fellows to go along with his vote to take a one-year windfall and turn it into a permanent wage increase. This was a nice idea but ultimately misguided, and it ended up with our school district deeply in debt and on a state watch list.

So when a current board member blithely asserts, “We are in a healthy financial situation,” I hope at least some members of the district administration harken back to a time when they might not even have been affiliated with the district. At least one of them, whose wife used to attend board meetings for the Crested Butte newspaper when I was going on behalf of the Times, might, because he suggested a compromise: since there are eight classifications of employees, and only three of those start below $15, elevate all the wages in just those three classifications.

The board decided only not to decide yet, and they will wait for Tia to bring them back more numbers. When they get it figured out, maybe it will provide guidance, good or bad, to some of the rest of us.

But here’s the part of the paper that really tripped me up: Page 3, which turned into all of page 4 as well. That’s where the obituaries show up, and in an average week, the paper usually publishes two or three. This week there were six, and the hell of it was that I knew all six.

Two of them were the parents of classmates, Megan’s mom and Todd’s dad. One graduated GHS in the years after me, and one was a co-worker of Lynn’s from her days in food service at the college whose house I used to pass while walking to work. The saddest two came from the same local family: first the Whites lost their son Jared, probably not yet 40, who died in his sleep in January, and then his father Don, who battled cancer for several years, lost his fight exactly two months later.

I think everyone in town knew Don: he delivered bread to the groceries for much of his career, and he had a kind word and a smile for absolutely everyone he saw. That’s just such a shame for the White family, including Don’s wife of 47 years, Trish, whom I’ve known for years through her work with the parks and rec department, his two daughters and his brother Loren, whom I’ve known since childhood and with whom I used to work chains for Western football games.

On top of what has already felt like a lot of loss this year (and not a bit of it covid-related), it just felt like too much. It has been running through my head for days: six obituaries, and I knew them all. It didn’t help that when I got to the baby section, where there were the average two announcements. Other than recognizing the name of one mother as a one-time customer, I don’t have any connection to anyone in the baby department.

So then I start wondering: is this where the future goes? I start knowing everyone in the obituary section and no one in the babies:? Trust me: this line of thought is not a pick-me-upper.

We did get news yesterday that Lynn’s best friend back in Wisconsin has another grandbaby on the way, the first from her son, and we do have three young great-niecphews back there as well, but so far if we’re keeping score in a year where I’d really rather not, the losses feel like they’re piling up.

There’s really nothing to do but pick up one heavy foot after the other and keep trudging forward until the load doesn’t feel quite so heavy, but trying to offer anything other than sadness just didn’t seem possible these past few days, and so I offered nothing. Soon here, I will get to complaints, or outrage, or maybe even humor, but it’s just taking awhile, and thank you for understanding. You are all helping my path forward, even when I’m not here to tell you about it.

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