Thomas: The five people you meet in the library
“But it wasn’t a dream. It was a place. And you and you and you … and you were there. But you couldn’t have been, could you?” Dorothy Gale, “The Wizard of Oz”
This is a story about a man named Dan, and it begins somewhere in the middle, with Dan dying behind a desk, as he has spent the better part of the past decade and a half doing. It might seem strange to start a story in the middle. But the middle can be an ending or a beginning as well as just a middle. We just might not know which it represents at the time.
It also might seem strange to start a column mostly about newspapers by taking a poke at “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” when you’ve never actually read it, you’re not as successful as the journalist who wrote it and you’re an agnostic to boot. All I really know about the book is a guy named Mitch Albom wrote it, and so I kind of copied the first graf in the book. All I know about Mitch Albom is he was a sportswriter from Detroit and had enough money to buy a big house in Breckenridge right before I left there and some trees got cut down there. The last story I could find about that in the Summit Daily News, where I used to work, was by my friend Jane Stebbins.
Neither of them, however, is one of the five people I met in the library. Despite Mitch Albom and his books, I’d be more surprised to find him in the library I’m talking about than Jane.
This isn’t a nerdy literary thing but rather a hypernerdy journalism thing. I read a lot of books and often hang out in libraries like the Avon one, where I had my first library card as an adult, but I’ve maybe spent more time in the editorial libraries, especially since I’ve been back behind the copy desk for the past six months.
Libraries are like mini-databases full of the elements we — particularly the copy desk — use to build the newspaper each day. They’re part of whatever program we use to lay out and design the newspaper: formerly Quark XPress, now InDesign.
To oversimplify it, the libraries are full of boxes. You drag the boxes from the library onto the page, fill them with text and images, and then arrange them in relation to one another — on top, beside or inside.
I think it was in Summit where I came up with the analogy that working the desk is like playing Scrabble, Tetris and Trivial Pursuit simultaneously, with a timer running, but against yourself, and in 10 and a half years, I never managed to win once.
But Tetris is especially apt. The last time I played a lot of Tetris was, maybe surprisingly, not when I was in Russia but rather journalism school in North Carolina. If I had known that I were going to spend most of my career as a copy editor and page designer rather than a sportswriter, maybe I would have spent more time getting stoned and playing Tetris than doing homework: It might have been more helpful. It certainly helped me stack boxes for my 30-odd moves since I lived in Vail the first time.
We share libraries with the other papers in our network. You kind of need to use three and a half of the libraries to put out the paper each day.
I count the library called CMNM Mugs as a “half” because you might need it for only a few pages depending on what you do that day. If you don’t run what we call a “column sig,” the mugshot with the writer’s name and the title of the column, you might not use that library that day.
You learn things if you ever have time to peruse the library, no matter which one. From the CMNM (which we started pronouncing as “Cinnamon” in Aspen because the acronym for Colorado Mountain News Media is kind of a mouthful) Mugs library, I learned that Cal Thomas looks kind of like a Baroque-era vampire and Jonah Goldberg resembles Dwight Schrute from “The Office” enough that that joke has spread around the desk. Every time I see the name Romer pop up on the story budget, I halfway expect it to be Roy, the former governor, rather than Chris from the chamber of commerce.
Not all of the familiar faces I found in the library were surprises: I haven’t gotten to read too much my friend Arn Menconi has written since I helped edit his book on the Pentagon Papers, but he’s still writing, he’s in there, and somebody should give him a regular column. The tech columnist who started at the Summit Daily News when I was there is still in the library, and she’s hard to forget because we used to stylize her name manually as “eRin PheIL” or something like that.
April Allford makes it easy to start alphabetically with the names it surprised me pleasantly to see again. We started in Glenwood about the same time and were friends through all my moves from there to Aspen and Tahoe and back. She used to be “April in Glenwood” but is April in Indiana once again.
April and I used to produce Options, Glenwood’s weekly entertainment magazine, with our friend Ryan Graff. If they somehow stumble across this column and see no mention of Tabasco shots or sides of corn, then they will count me remiss. Ryan and I used to occasionally hang out with his friend Phil Nyland, who apparently still works for the Forest Service and is still in the library.
Before I got to Glenwood, Ryan worked with my friend Andy Stonehouse, a former Vail Daily entertainment editor whose car reviews the Summit Daily still publishes. I’ve known Stonehouse since we were both in Frisco doing their A&E weekly, which used to be called ETC., and I’ve been his frequent copilot.
But I was also a professional driver, too, down in Denver, where I gave David Sirota a ride one time. I recognized but couldn’t place his name, and when it became evident that I was taking him to a radio show on which he was appearing, I tried to tune in while I waited.
The big surprise, however — and the genesis of this column, actually — was my friend Josh Ganz, a snowboard instructor at Snowmass and a high-level coach for the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club. I guess he used to write columns for the Snowmass Sun, and so that’s how he made his way into the library.
“He was nothing now, a leaf in the water, and she pulled him gently, through shadow and light, through shades of blue and ivory and lemon and black, and he realized all these colors, all along, were the emotions of his life. She drew him up through the breaking waves of a great gray ocean and he emerged in brilliant light above an almost unimaginable scene:”
Dan Thomas is a copy editor at the Vail Daily, a former sportswriter for the Vail Trail and a master’s degree candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of Denver. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.