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There’s a downside to being nosy

I’ve always enjoyed television shows and books about detectives. Mannix, Cannon, Columbo, the Hardy Boys, Ellery Queen, Encyclopedia Brown and Sherlock Holmes were entertaining companions during my youth, particularly this time of year when another Midwestern winter had arrived, not to exit until March if we were lucky.

I think journalists and detectives have a lot in common. Both are solitary pursuits where the ability to ask lots of questions and a keen nose for baloney goes a long way toward solving the case, or in my case, getting an accurate, complete story.

I have a license to be nosy, which works well for a naturally inquisitive person.  I can ask just about anybody anything I want when I’m working on a story. Of course, they don’t have to answer, but they do most of the time.

I learned how to use, but not abuse, that license in journalism school, where rule number one was not to get personally involved in the story. Don’t get too close, stay objective and present both sides and let the readers decide for themselves.

In my short tenure with the WDN, I’ve tried to stay detached from the stories I’ve covered and have been successful I think, until Wednesday morning’s fire at the La Perla Panaderia bakery on Water Street.

It’s rare that I hear sirens at 2 a.m. but I did that morning. Though they sounded close, it was hard to tell and I wasn’t going to go wandering around in my jammies looking for the scene of the crime. The neighbors might have called the men in the white coats to come pick me up.

However, my instincts told me something was amiss, and I had trouble going back to sleep. Sure enough, my wife broke the news around seven, so I grabbed my camera and down the street and around the corner I went.

I’ve seen my share of unsettling sights over the years, but I was still surprised by the damage the fire had done. The roof had caved in, the windows were blown out and a charred window air conditioner lay on the sidewalk in front. Smoke was still rising through the drizzle five hours after the blaze started. The folks who made my wife’s most recent birthday cake and filled the block with the wonderful aroma of warm, tasty baked goods were suddenly out of business.

I returned later that afternoon to see if there were any new developments and the owner happened to be there, surveying the wreckage.

My license to be nosy suddenly felt like one to intrude. My objectivity disappeared quickly as I told him how sorry I was and how much my family would miss his business.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a grown man that sad and as close to tears, so that made me feel even worse. I asked a couple of questions and he answered them gracefully, then walked away so I wouldn’t see the waterworks open.

Nosy is no good sometimes and this was one of them.

My mood lightened when I saw our community’s reaction when Rachel Jordan of Rachel K’s Bakery set up a GoFundMe page to help the family. Donations exceeded the $5,000 goal in less than 24 hours and the total is up to over $8,500 now. The page is still open if you’d like to contribute.

On a side note, thank you for all your kind comments and emails. They mean a lot to us nosy types. Merry Christmas.