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Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on September 4th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 26 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 26

Now, where was I?


When I was just a little fledgling, I had a bad habit of losing things. I’d leave the nest for school with a lunchbox, scarf, and hat, and I’d come home with an empty thermos, some plastic tubs, and a crumpled wad of papers.

“Where’s all your stuff?” my mom would ask.

I’d look down at the random collection of homework and empty containers I was clutching and would suddenly realize I had no recollection of what happened to most of the belongings I’d left with.

“I … I have … no idea,” I’d stammer, desperately trying to visualize the last place I’d seen my hand-knit beanie, exactly where I was sitting when I apparently removed a sheaf of assignments from its handy carrying folder and abandoned said folder to the classroom or the elements or … who knows? I had no clue.

“Honestly,” my mom would say, shaking her head, “if your head wasn’t screwed on tight, you’d lose that, too.”

Now that I’m older and wiser, I know I wasn’t a statistical anomaly or anything. Plenty of kids have problems with their memories, whether you’re trying to pry out of their slippery little minds exactly where they hid your car keys or are simply interrogating them as to whether they brushed their teeth five minutes ago.

Kids forget things. It has something to do with the fact that their brains aren’t properly wired yet.

And, years later—many, many years later—those wires start coming loose, which is why old people start forgetting stuff, too. I’ve seen Grandpa Canary feebly flutter into a room and start muttering more than once.

“What’s wrong, Gramps?” I’ll ask, helpfully.

“Consarn it all to high water, but I can’t remember what I came in here for,” he’ll reply.

Youth and age seem to be the great memory-dampeners, which is why I can’t figure out what’s going on at the county level.

While working on a story about the Santa Barbara County budget, recently finalized by our board of supervisors, Sun Staff Writer Camillia Lanham encountered a woman with the Homecare Providers Union who feels that their labor contract negotiations aren’t all they should be. In her case against the county, this woman pointed out that the county gave homecare union workers a $1-an-hour raise in 2008 or 2009, but later dropped that dollar back down, citing a lackluster economy as the big bad reason the raise had to go away.

Camillia contacted a couple of sources to confirm that tidbit. To be fair, county human resources said they’d start combing their records for that information, but couldn’t find it by the time our deadline rolled around. And deadlines do that. They roll. Like the big boulder Indiana Jones sends down the chute when he unwittingly triggers a trap in his first on-screen treasure hunt.

Ah, Harrison Ford.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. I was being fair. Now, to be unfair, I don’t see how such information as a raise given to and taken from county employees would take all that long to dig up. Maybe it’s because a dollar an hour is a big deal to me, as it seems to be to Clara McDonald, the caregiver who spoke with the Sun. What a difference that dollar makes!

But, as leaders at the county level—including the county’s human resources director—said, “We think it happened.”

Yes, yes, I admitted already that I was being unfair. Of course not every leader is going to have every fact immediately accessible, waiting only for a reporter’s question to march to the front of the fact pile and present itself, polished and perfect, for inclusion in an article. Research takes time.

But, also as I said before, a dollar an hour is a big deal, and 2008 is not all that long ago.

A bigger concern of mine in this story, though, is the California Public Employees Retirement System—also known as CalPERS, which always sounds to me like calipers, which are vaguely threatening medical devices in my admittedly hazy memory. Don’t blame me; I’m getting old.

I believe calipers pinch, which is an accurate metaphor for the system that pays money to every one of the state’s retired public employees. And there are a lot of them! About half a million, according to my count … which came from 2010 figures. The average pension is somewhere around $25,000 (again, from 2010). I’ve heard that the investment rates CalPERS uses are expected to go down, putting local governments on the hook for more money every year. Plus, Baby Boomers are going to start dropping out of the workforce, and though CalPERS said it’s been planning on that reality from day one, it also says, “The money needed to pay benefits for retirees is expected to be there when workers retire.”

Expected. Huh.

Obviously no one has a crystal ball, and the future is unclear, but given our collective problem with memory—yeah, kids and old people aren’t the only ones who have trouble learning from the past; look at where we’re at with Syria right now—I’m not so assured that we’re going to avoid the doom of repeating history.

I just don’t know which parts of history that will be. Wasn’t there a depression of some sort a while back? And a recession more recently?

And what did I start writing this column for?

 

The Canary can’t find her glasses. Or the thing she was going to read if she had her glasses. Or her house. Send comments to canary@santamariasun.com.