The work goes on and your help is needed and appreciated

I draw in a deep breath and brace my arms on the steel frame of my car. I heave myself into a standing position. I try to suppress the noises, but a few groans and grunts escape.

I steady myself on arthritic knees. Sometimes I find myself in a daydream when I had the full power of my legs, that going to the mailbox was three or four quick strides.

The first step reminds me of how much fantasy that dream remains.

I wobble and shuffle over to the mailbox. I turn the key. The box is empty.

Quick rewind: A million years ago, I lost my job at the local newspaper in the teeth of the pandemic. I struggled to find work. Lots of people did.

I decided to go back to graduate school and finish my teaching degree. They’ll always need teachers.

I received unemployment benefits. They ran out. I applied for a program that paid extended benefits for people who left a declining profession for a needed profession.

The state government denied me. Officials told me journalism wasn’t a declining profession. (How many days a week does the local newspaper publish, again?)

They also told me teachers weren’t on the needed jobs list. (The kerfuffle about a teacher staffing crisis must be a fart in the wind.)

I appealed to the administrative law judge.

I lost the appeal.

I appealed to a higher authority.

An attorney friend of mine gave me so pro bono advice. He told me to appeal, but it was unlikely a judge would overrule an administrative law judge.

But appealing was free.

That was months ago.

I’ve heard nothing.

Meanwhile, I’m close to the end of my student teaching. It’s been a challenge to manage a classroom on two bad knees, but with the help of mentors, I’ve managed.

I’ve survived on the donation of friends, family, and a lot of strangers who only know me through my paragraphs in the local paper and online.

Their generosity humbles me.

I don’t know when I’ll hear about my appeal, if ever. I don’t call anymore. They just tell me they’re behind.

I started a GoFundMe. I ask for donations. I don’t like this, but one does what one must to keep moving forward.

I’m very close now. I just need to finish up student teaching, fill out the last bit of my paperwork, and find a job.

I’ve gotten a few rejection letters.

I get it.

I may be middle-aged and an experienced writer, but I’m a novice teacher.

But surely there’s a need for a middle-aged former newsman trying to be a teacher.

I’m asking for help again, which I don’t like to do.

Yet, if I’ve learned anything in the long painful slog of the last two years, it’s that none of us get where we’re going without a little help.

For all of you who have helped, thank you. I love you. And I will be that teacher that I’ve promised I will be: cut from the mold of the ones who helped me find my inner fire.

Any nudge you can offer to help me pay for groceries, utilities, gas, and other basics is greatly appreciated.

May God bless and keep you all as you have blessed and kept me.

Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
GoFundMe: https://gofund.me/9136fd48
Meal Train: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/5ek08z
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. (No fees.)
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

The ghosts of the past haunt my contacts list

The best Rolodex I ever saw belonged to Tom Alex, the dayside police reporter for the Des Moines Register.

You needed two years of CrossFit just to twist the wheel.

When one managed to crank the wheel, business cards rained out.

Most pages had six or seven entries hastily crossed out with the new contact shakily scrawled in with blue or black ink.

I worked as the night police reporter for several years and thumbed my way through that Rolodex many times.

I worked as a newspaper reporter for 27 years, but I never had a Rolodex.

Younger readers, if there is such a creature, will need to Google Rolodex.

I embraced technology and sought to be what edgy tech magazines such as Yahoo! Internet Life and Wired magazines called an “early adopter.”

Younger readers will also have to Google “magazines.”

And “Yahoo!.”

I used a cutting-edge Palm Pilot as my Rolodex. A Palm Pilot was just like an iPhone except it didn’t make phone calls and the screen cracked when dropped on a bar floor.

There was also no texting or social media.

There was a Tetris app.

My friend Jeff also owned a Palm Pilot. Jeff showed me how to upload databases into the device.

He uploaded the phone number and address of every Register newsroom employee. It was more than 200 names.

The data had a quirk. Everyone’s name was in ALL CAPS. This was in 1999.

I note this because I decided the contacts list needed cleaning. I realized how old some of the names were because they remained in ALL CAPS.

Over the years, my contacts list swelled to more than 5,200 people.

Some were duplicates, of course, but I found this task of winnowing down my bloated list more troubling than attacking a poorly organized linen closet.

Some of my contacts were dead.

I am not so nostalgic as to keep a dead person in my contacts in effort to keep their memory alive.

Yet when I came to my old friend and mentor Steve Buttry or my buddy Ken Fuson, the best writer any of us will ever know, I hesitated to delete either. It somehow made what has been final for years that much more final.

So it goes.

Other people deleted much easier.

One was a murderer. I knew him as a community-minded south Des Moines lawyer.

A few years back, he killed his wife and two sons and then himself at their home in Minneapolis.

There were a lot of cop contacts. I’ve been out of the journalism game for more than two years. I haven’t needed to call a public information officer in the middle of the night as a civilian.

Also, I think one or two of those guys are dead, too.

One of the cops that stung to delete was my old friend Dan Dusenbery. A Marine during the Vietnam War, he worked his whole career as a patrol cop.

Dusenbery had the best cop stories.

My favorite was the time he and his partner were ordered to clear out one of the city parks where teenagers were parking to make out.

His partner got the idea to work harder, not smarter.

They pulled into the park and flashed their spotlight into some nearby trees.

After a while, one of the kids asked what they were doing.

Dusenbery and his partner told the kids a murderer was on the loose and might be hiding in those woods.

Pretty soon there was a string of taillights leading out of the park. Dusenbery and his partner never had to get out of the car.

Dusenbery died a few years back. He was the kind of guy you hope is a cop in your hometown.

I trimmed out several former girlfriends or people I wished had been girlfriends or people who wanted me to be their boyfriend. That last pot was the smallest.

I felt pangs of nostalgia, but not hard enough to keep the numbers. What would we talk about?

The hardest contacts to let go were estranged friends — or people I’d had a falling out with over the years.

One guy got mad at me about a joke I made on Facebook. He vowed never to speak to me again. He’s stuck with that. I’ve respected his wishes.

Another was a best friend, as close as I imagine brothers to be.

But misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and my own guilt put a gap between us that has grown into a chasm with years.

By the time I was done, I had whittled the 5,200 down to a manageable 250.

I put down my phone feeling a bit cleansed — as if this minor exercise in digital cleaning served to knock some of the detritus off my soul.

Alas, the next morning I awoke to discover some unknown restore feature on my smartphone put all the contacts I deleted back on — even the murderer.

I bet this never happened to Tom Alex, who left his Rolodex behind the day he retired and hasn’t seen it since.

Former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express. Reach him at newsmanone@gmail.com.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Podcast: Giant lizard story too horrible to contemplate; Plus: What word did the Pope use? And this week’s reason to never fly ever again

Vincent Van Gogh plays Graceland and other bizarre adventures from the life of Paul Talking Paragraphs

Let's be honest: I forgot what we talked about for most of this podcast. It seemed interesting at the time, at least to us. I know there's something about Paul and his mom going to see a traveling Vincent Van Gogh exhibit at Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley. After that, there's talk of an African restaurant nearby. The rest is hazy to me. So, we can listen and discover together. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/support
  1. Vincent Van Gogh plays Graceland and other bizarre adventures from the life of Paul
  2. Crypto tanks; Don't mess with the swim-up bar; and Dan is mumbling again in a medication haze
  3. Tragic and bloody true crime! Weird animal stories! Shocking superhero secrets! Everything the almighty algorithm says you wanted and more!
  4. Bears use house as Airbnb without owners knowing; Elon Musk buys Twitter and its still horrible; Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly blood-drinking habits; and 'fictosexuality'
  5. 3,500 pounds of cheese stolen in Netherlands; Iowa Democrats can't count; Fox News hosts are horrible people; and tackling in junior college baseball

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.