The Times They Are a-Changin’

I started reading the Sunday New York Times seven years ago under protest, when my then-live-in girlfriend unilaterally started “our” subscription. Eventually, I fell in love (with the paper, that is). But all relationships change, and this one is no exception. This past Sunday, I opened my front door and, instead of being greeted by that deliciously thick roll of outstanding writing, I saw the broken toilet that had been removed from my bathroom the previous day but hadn’t yet made its way to the dump.

Thank god, I don’t think in metaphors. It’s not all that bad. But I did get a little sad.

As long as I’ve been able to read, I’ve been a daily newspaper junkie. My parents had the Los Angeles Times (or what my mom now calls “What’s-Left-of-the-L.A.-Times”) delivered seven days a week. As far as I knew growing up, reading the paper in the morning was as much a part of the day as eating cereal.

In fact, it was the newspaper (in cahoots with my parents) that made me a reader. When I was about four, the L.A. Times ran a how-to series on teaching your kids to read, and my folks dutifully pasted these cartoon phonics strips into a scrapbook (which I still have, believe it or not). Working together on this scrapbook was so much fun that by the time I got to kindergarten, I was reading at a third grade level.

Once I reached adulthood, I never questioned the L.A. Times as my paper of choice. In fact, it would never have occurred to me to read anything other than my local paper. Naturally, when I moved to the Bay Area, I had the San Francisco Chronicle delivered to my apartment. I quickly learned The Chronicle was a lousy substitute for the L.A. Times, but not getting a paper wasn’t an option, so what choice did I have?

As much as I’ve always loved San Francisco – and don’t get me wrong, I DO love it – I find it a bit pretentious. Yes, its culture is divine, but still, the fact that its locals refer to it as “The City,” as if it were the one and only, says so much. And seeing people reading the New York Times in San Francisco coffee houses on Sunday mornings only served to solidify my perception. Clearly, their own paper wasn’t good enough for them. Poor San Franciscans, I thought, and went back to my lousy Chronicle.

When I left the Bay Area for Vancouver, I found the Vancouver Sun even worse than the Chronicle. The first day the paper came, the front-page story was about a sick giraffe at the zoo, and it went downhill from there. My then-girlfriend, who was from Toronto, begged to switch to the Globe & Mail, which I’d never heard of (my American friends will relate). She reasoned that The Globe was Canada’s “national” paper, so I went along in an effort to be an agreeable roommate. Turns out it’s a Toronto paper, but they cover more national and international news, and the writing’s great, so I was cool with that.

One thing that was missing from my life in Canada, though, was the Sunday paper. Neither the Sun nor the Globe publish on Sundays – they put out their “big” paper on Saturdays, which I have to say just isn’t the same. But when my girlfriend suggested that we fill that gap by getting the New York Times on Sundays, I couldn’t get over my association with the pretentious San Franciscans. I wasn’t at all interested in flouting my intellectual elitism by getting a paper not just from another city (I was already uncomfortable enough doing that) but from another COUNTRY… good god, how far could I be expected to go?

She persisted, though, and I eventually succumbed. Let’s just say I was still learning about being an individual in relationships. For sure, I was unhappy about the expense – we were paying more for a paper that was delivered once a week than we were for the “national” paper delivered six times a week. But there it was, on our doorstep every Saturday night, and largely unread by me. I just couldn’t bring myself to look at it… too much resistance on too many different levels.

Everything changed, though, once I moved out. After a year of struggling in Vancouver (not just with the relationship, but with all of my choices), I moved to Sedona, Arizona, one of my spiritual homes, to clear my head. I happily found myself with a lot of time on my hands, living in a month-to-month furnished studio in the converted garage of a house owned by a self-described “retired clairvoyant.” (In the moment when my landlord was simultaneously helping me light my wood-burning stove and channeling my grandmother, I realized that you can’t actually retire from that sort of work.) I absolutely loved the place. Along with a breathtaking view of Sedona’s red rocks, it had no TV, no internet connectivity, no cell phone reception … in other words, no connection at all to the outside world. All I could do there was “hang out” – just what the doctor ordered.

View from my bed in Sedona

I decided on a lark one Sunday morning to pick up the New York Times, to give it another go. It turned out to be the perfect companion for me. I spent all of my free time that week pouring over every section, fascinated (to my great surprise) even by the wedding announcements. Unlike the other papers I’ve read, the New York Times isn’t so much about “place,” though it does carry a distinctly New York pretension – well deserved, I might add, unlike that of some other cities who shall not be named (again). It’s more like having this brilliant essence stop by and share with me all of its thoughts and ideas about everything going on in the world. I felt like I’d made a new friend, one who made me a better person. And so I began to pick up my friend each week in what became a favorite ritual.

I’ve had the New York Times delivered to my home almost every Sunday since then… that is, until last week. As part of my effort to simplify my life and save some money, I’m going to the online version. It’s not the same, though. With all respect to the trees, old habits die hard – I still prefer sitting at the kitchen table with a paper. So Sunday afternoon, after seeing the toilet sitting on my front stoop, I dropped a loonie and a toonie into a stand on Main Street and picked up Saturday’s Globe & Mail. It’s no New York Times, but it’s kept me (and my cereal) company all week, and for that I’m grateful.

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One thought on “The Times They Are a-Changin’

  1. OK, no…beats the NYTimes! (Is my New York chauvinism shining through?). Tried and failed many times in the 17 years of being away from my home town to find a substitute, and there just ain’t no substitute. It pains me to see the anorexia continue to affect this wonderful paper. I seem to notice, without being completely sure, that the articles are getting shorter, the sections lighter, and the content fluffier. But it IS the best newspaper in North America. In my many years of trying to find a substitute, only the International Herald Tribune, which I read the year I lived in Paris, could compare. (sigh). Thanks for the homage. : )

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