Services Pending

Staring down death at the obit desk

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    Matt Rota /

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Mount Vernon—Dale Edwards Irwin, 36, of Denver, Colo., formerly of Mount Vernon, Iowa, died Tuesday, May 22, 2007, in Montbello, Colo. Services: 1 p.m. Monday at First Presbyterian Church, Mount Vernon, with the Rev. Paul Mark Davids officiating. Burial: Mount Vernon Cemetery. Visitation: 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Morgan Funeral Home, Mechanicsville, Iowa. Survivors include his parents, Edward and Paige Eldridge of Mount Vernon, and two sisters, Allison Painter of Cedar Rapids and Wilma Eldridge of Iowa City.

It’s 11:00 p.m. in the newsroom of the regional newspaper where I work. I’ve been here since 5:00, collecting death notices, faxed, phoned, and e-mailed in, mainly from funeral homes, and entering them into the ancient computer system. The next day’s paper was put to bed at 9:00, but I’m still awake, updating service notices and entering tomorrow’s batch of obits.

The police scanner squeals and spits out a report of gunshots fired in the vicinity of Third Avenue—only a couple blocks away from our building. The late-shift newswriter—a dirty-blond twentysomething named Sam—moseys up to the main desk—my desk—where the scanner sits three feet away.

“What was that report?” he asks.

“Gunshots, Third Avenue,” I tell him.

Even close to midnight, the newsroom is cacophonous. Someone has turned the police scanner all the way up because someone has turned the two televisions all the way up. Phones ring incessantly. The calls bounce from the empty desks of one editor to another until they finally forward through Sam’s cell phone, which rings to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”

“You’d probably be able to hear the scanner if you put your phone on vibrate,” I yell at him over the top of it all.

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