Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Beauty of the Sunday Paper

It's the small pleasures of life that make it so bearable, from finding an unexpected five-dollar bill in your coat pocket to gazing upon Tom DeLay's mugshot. I have now regained one of these pleasures after too long a severance: the Sunday newspaper. Now that I live in the New York City area, I get the weekend New York Times delivered to the apartment, and get to set aside a few hours on Saturday and Sunday morning leisurely perusing its many rustling pages.

I seem to have bad taste in small pleasures, since printed newspapers, like local diners, record stores, and independent book stores are currently under threat of extinction. Even hearing of the ignominious demise of the scandal-wracked News of the World saddened me. While my feelings may in some part extend from my hopelessly old-fashioned temperment and general disdain for our modern Philistinism, they come from years of cherished experience, and the hard-won knowledge of what it means to be bereft of a true Sunday newspaper.

For a child growing up in a relatively isolated town in the middle of the Nebraska prairie in the pre-internet 1980s (and not having cable until 1985), the Sunday newspaper was an important conduit to the larger world. That's in large part because my hometown paper did not have a Sunday edition, so my family consumed the Sunday edition of the Omaha World-Herald, the biggest newspaper in Nebraska by far, and originating from a place that, in all my naive childhood ignorance, I thought of as the "big city."

Its shear size compared to our thin little local daily paper made the Sunday World-Herald both intimidating and wonderful. I used to love being the one to fetch it off the porch, rolled up thick and heavy like a fire log, smelling the acrid ink on my hands before doing the laborious task of pulling off the rubber band. When I was younger, I was interested in one thing, and one thing only: the Sunday funnies. Not yet jaded by life and still unaware that more exciting pleasures existed in the world, I felt a special kind of joy at being able to see Garfield and Peanuts -my two favorites- in the vivid, almost garish newsprint colors. I was also intrigued by comics that my local paper didn't carry, like Funky Winkerbean and Ziggy. Although my Dad usually went straight to the news section, he did and still loves newspaper comics. His favorite, probably going back to childhood, was the adventure series Prince Valiant. He also liked to clip out copies of the Lockhorns and put them on the fridge because Mrs. Lockhorn and my Mom were both named Loretta.

Once I got a little older, I let my sister, who was a Garfield fanatic in the extreme, take the comics first while I grabbed the sports section. As a certified baseball nut, during the spring and summer I would flip to the back page, which had printed on it the statistics of every major league baseball player up to that point in the season. In those days before the internet, this was pretty much my only complete source of baseball statistics, and when they published the final list at the end of the season, I would cut it out of the paper and save it to be pored over in the winter months ahead. The fall also brought forth that great religion of my home state: Cornhusker football. Since the 'Huskers played their games on Saturdays, the Sunday sports section had huge multi-page layouts of photographs, stories, and statistics. Back in those days before the expansion of cable sports beyond Australian Rules Football and monster truck rallies, I only got to see my team play on television about three or four times a season, at best. (Oklahoma, the bowl game, maybe Colorado and maybe a non-conference matchup like Washington or UCLA). That big spread of pictures in the World-Herald helped me put images to the words I had heard excitedly spoken the day before over the radio by Kent Pavelka (still a legend in my heart, even if he was unjustifiably canned in the nineties.) If the game the day before had been an absolute demolition of one the Big 8's lesser lights or one the many non-conference cupcakes scheduled by Tom Osborne (yes, I will cop to it), I loved exulting in the gaudy statistics put up even by back-ups brought in to keep from running up the score. Little in the world made me happier.

When I got older still I paid more attention to the front page, but especially to the "entertainment" section, which contained film and book reviews of stuff that might not ever make it to my home town multiplex or book store. It felt like a glimpse into a cultural world that was so tantalizingly close. Once I was in high school, I felt a special twitch of longing looking at the ads for concerts taking place in Omaha, wishing I could overcome 150 miles and overprotective parents. I distinctly remember a promo for Bob Dylan at the Orpheum Theater that made me almost sick with the knowledge that I would not get to go.

The paper also helped supply a special rhythm to my family life. We were devout Catholics who went to 11 o'clock mass each and every Sunday. The paper provided a common activity between breakfast and church, a kind of solemn, quiet ritual of relaxation. My father, who has only recently revealed to me the true extent of his job stress, absolutely cherished this time, and that is probably why we didn't go to the earlier masses.

When I flew the coop seventeen years ago I no longer got a Sunday paper delivered, and I rarely put aside time on Sunday for church. However, I still enjoyed an occasional trip down to the corner to buy a Sunday paper to relax with. Whenever I traveled, I always took the opportunity to read the local paper, since it told me more about the place I was visiting than perhaps anything else. Once out of my hometown and actually going to college in Omaha, I preferred the newly available New York Times over the World-Herald, mostly since the latter has an unapologetic right-wing agenda, and would print the worst kind of drivel in its letters to the editor. (I have vivid memories of one screed against "socialism" that singled out "mind decaying water flouridation.") In fact, I was such a dork that I would go to the library's newspaper section a couple of times a week and read international papers like the Irish Times and Guardian. (Keep in mind, newspapers were not yet readily available online in the mid-1990s.) Later, in grad school, I had the pleasure to house-sit at my advisor's swank residence, and the absolute highlight was getting to read the Times each and every morning over breakfast. After I moved to Michigan, I had a weekend ritual of buying a newspaper at the corner, then walking to a local diner to eat and have coffee while reading it. It was something I looked forward to at the end of each and every grinding week of work, because it gave me some of the peace that my father had once found.

For years, I assumed access to a substantial Sunday newspaper was a given, no matter where I lived. Once I moved to take my former job in East Texas, I knew that something was wrong when there was no place within a hundred miles where I could acquire a copy of the New York Times. In fact, for my first two years there, I couldn't even buy the Houston Chronicle! Without a real newspaper, my weekends lost some of their luster, and the world seemed further away from me, even if I could access it on my computer. For me, there is just no substitute for opening up that pungent fire log and digging in for a couple of hours in the quiet stillness of a Sunday morning. I plan to keep reliving that pleasure as long as it's still possible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well put, sir. I went from getting the Sunday Chicago Tribune as a youngster and splitting it with my parents to getting no Sunday paper for far too long. I have to credit a certain insane scholar of Eastern Europe for my New York Times devotion since grad school. When I moved to Macon, I was disappointed to find that we were on the wrong side of the river to get the Times delivered, but a couple of years ago they expanded the delivery area. There's still a decent local daily (and Sunday) paper here, and we get that, too, but nothing beats the Times.