Mystery loafers

A farewell to two longtime CN&R staffers

Early morning on a recent Monday, staff writer Ashiah Scharaga and I were the first ones to arrive at Second and Flume streets (aka CN&R’s headquarters). Or so we thought. It was overcast outside and the rest of the building was dark.

Ashiah and I were chitchatting when I saw the profile of a pair of men’s dress shoes on the other side of a table in the room at the far end of the building. That’s the space we generally refer to as the arts room, where Arts Editor Jason Cassidy works and the editorial department gathers for meetings. The black leather shoes weren’t familiar to me, nor to Ashiah, whose attention I had directed toward the mystery loafers.

We lowered our voices and she took a closer look.

“Who is that?” I whispered.

“I don’t know,” she responded quietly.

Ashiah and I could see that the person was sitting in a chair, but we couldn’t see past his legs. We looked at each other with raised eyebrows, wondering who was hanging out by himself with the lights out. After hearing a thump, I got up to investigate. Ashiah followed, and as I moved closer I could see that the person was now lying on the floor.

Then the moaning began. My heart raced, and my steps quickened. There, on the carpet, was longtime CN&R staff writer Ken Smith, on his side and clearly in distress. I fell to my knees and shouted something like, “Oh, no! What’s happening?!” I grabbed his arm to turn him, trying to figure out how I could help. Fearing the worst (read: stroke), tears welled in my eyes.

Seconds later, Ken turned toward me. “I’m OK, I’m OK,” he said.

Turns out he’d strained his back, and was stretching to get some relief. He and wife Kate recently bought their first home and had spent the weekend moving their final load of possessions. What a relief. Ken later told me he thought the whole scenario was funny until he saw the look of fear on my face.

Indeed, I was spooked for a while thereafter—having seen someone’s life flash before my eyes, or so I thought.

“Thank you for caring,” he said to me more than once.

I was able to joke about it only days later when the CN&R’s staff gathered to wish him, and Howard Hardee, good luck in their pursuits in the freelance world. Both worked here for more than five years—Ken as a staff writer (“the best job at the CN&R,” I’ve always said) and Howard in a variety of roles, from calendar editor to assistant news editor. Howard started with the paper as a college intern back in the summer of 2010, and came back to us after graduating about a year later. Ken started in 2009 as a freelancer who came aboard part-time a few years later and then full-time a few years after that.

Between the two of them, Ken and Howard wrote a little over 1,000 stories for the CN&R. Both are great reporters who are already missed but whose bylines you’ll continue to see in this publication.

While drinking beers during that get-together, Ken told me he’d love it if I’d write about the aforementioned scare as a sort of goodbye column. I couldn’t help but oblige him. I don’t have a similar story about Howard, which is fortunate, because I don’t know if my heart could take it.