I was on the phone with a reader Friday morning when Standard-Examiner executive editor Jordan Carroll walked up to my desk.
Thumbing through a stack of envelopes, she pulled one out and wordlessly handed it to me. We made brief eye contact as I took the envelope, nodded thanks and continued with my telephone conversation.
That ritual — accepting a pay stub from my boss once every two weeks — has continued unabated for most of my adult life. A couple of decades ago, it was a physical check. These days, it’s basically a receipt; the actual exchange of money for time worked is much less personal, involving little more than a series of numbers silently transferred between computers where I work and where I bank.
That exchange with my employer meant a little more to me this week.
OK, so journalism isn’t the highest-paying job on the planet. Every time I open my bank statement I’m reminded of that line in the holiday movie “The Family Man,” wherein Nicolas Cage tells his pro bono lawyer wife Tea Leoni: “Your paycheck is a disgrace to paychecks.”
But whatever the amount, there’s something incredibly comforting about receiving that physical envelope every other week — knowing that, without fail, each time I give my employer 80 hours they give me money.
The ritual took on a bit more significance this week as I got to thinking about the thousands of people in Ogden, and hundreds of thousands across the country, who on that very same day weren’t getting paid — again. Why? For the simple reason that our supposed leaders in Washington continued to put politics ahead of people.
Just a few hours after I and my Standard-Examiner colleagues got our latest paycheck, President Donald Trump went on television to announce a temporary end to the government shutdown that has left some 800,000 federal government workers without a salary. Yet despite this good news, it’s only a temporary fix. There’s a good chance the clowns running our government will do it again in just three weeks.
Now I ask you, is this any way to run a government?
As tempting as it may be to again tee up our politicians and take another swing at them this week, I’d like us to instead consider the flip side to all of this. Because this whole experience has gotten me to thinking: Why is it that just when we Americans seem to be at our worst, we’re also at our best?
As disheartening as this disgusting display of partisanship has been, what with all the ugly posturing on both sides, there have also been plenty of stories of people who’ve kept their eye on the ball. People who know and understand what really matters in all of this. The stories of people stepping up and and selflessly giving to their fellow Americans.
Standard-Examiner reporter Tim Vandenack recently looked at this phenomenon, compiling just a partial list of Ogden-area businesses and organizations that are trying to help others in their time of need.
For example, Great Harvest Bread Co. in downtown Ogden has been offering free loaves of bread to furloughed federal employees, as well as those who are working without pay. The restaurant Jessie Jean’s on Historic 25th Street has been giving free meals to Internal Revenue Service workers, as has Union Grill. Ziegfeld Theater has offered affected federal workers free admission to its current production. And Catholic Community Services has opened its food pantry to federal employees, risking the very real possibility of bare cupboards in the future.
Plus which, it all goes well beyond these five do-gooders. Writes Vandenack: “Across Ogden and Utah, many businesses, nonprofit groups and other entities are taking a similar view, offering free food, haircuts, diapers, theater tickets and more, sympathetic to the many federal workers no longer getting paid as the shutdown lingers. Those doing the giving say it’s about helping neighbors through a rough patch.”
But the best part of all this? Not one of the Good Samaritans running these entities — and many of them are social-activist types, so I’m pretty sure they already have strong feelings about immigration, border security and “The Wall” — is asking a recipient’s political leanings before agreeing to help them.
When it comes to assistance, it doesn’t matter if the recipient is an illegal immigrant or a die-hard Trump supporter. The only thing these folks need to know is that someone is in need.
So they help them.
I have to say, it’s restored my faith in humanity at a time when, given all the vitriol in the news and on social media, I was beginning to lose hope.
About two dozen more times this year, Jordan Carroll will walk out to my desk, thumb through a stack of envelopes, and hand me my pay stub. Here’s to hoping federal workers will be afforded that same number of rituals.
And if they aren’t? It’s nice to know that the people of Ogden have each other’s backs.
Even if Washington doesn’t.