If We’re Not Reading Newspapers, What Are We Reading?

news

Irony. It can be rich, yes, but also cruel and sometimes funny.

A year ago, exasperated by adult newspaper delivery employees who never seemed to deliver a paper by the proscribed time (that would be “my breakfast”), I canceled my beloved subscription to the beloved paper-and-ink morning news in favor of a much more antiseptic online-only version.

Some months later, a new delivery man was hired. Now, as I walk the dog at outlandishly-appropriate (for newspaper-delivery people) hours (that’s 4 to 5 A.M. to you), I watch as headlights drift by and my neighbor’s plastic-cocooned newspaper flies out a car window onto his driveway.

Sigh. Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you lose.

On this morning’s walk, a different thought, however. A more alarming one. At age 12, I delivered The Hartford Courant, an early morning paper, and damn near every house on  the three streets of my route subscribed. Those who didn’t? They were outliers, eccentrics, or illiterates.

This morning, after hurling a paper on my neighbor’s macadam, the deliveryman drove his car the entire length of my street without so much as a second newspaper toss. The dramatic difference between my reading neighborhood as a kid and my non-reading neighborhood as an adult was depressing, to say the least.

Yes. I hear you. You’re saying most of these good neighbors are probably like me, reading online Boston Globes and New York Times and Wall Street Journals. And I’ll grant you five neighbors tops that you’re right. But only five.

Beyond that, my spidey sense tells me that most of them are not reading at all. Or, worse, that they’re getting their news in biased dollops of cable television “news.” Or, worse than that, that they’re merely picking up maligned bits and pieces from Facebook and Twitter feeds. Or, worse than all those things rolled into one, that they’re just reading texts on their binkies (read: cellphones).

As they say in Paraguay: Aye, Dios. The contrast was too much for me. As it was a beautifully-cool spring morning, I focused on the chirping sparrows, the cardinals, and the catbirds calling in the wood.

The news there was much more promising.

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I Dreamed It Was a New Year

2017

I don’t wait up for New Year’s anymore. For me, the ball and the TV are metaphors for boredom and social ruts. And holidays built around drinking (see Exhibits B and C, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo) are paper tigers left out in the rain.

Visiting a city for First Night festivities? I can’t think of a worse start than fighting traffic, being elbow to elbow with crowds, and dreaming of my furnace back at home.

No, I took my own escape tunnel out of the annual New Year’s dog-and-pony show. I read in bed until the gaudy hour of 10:30 before falling asleep and dreaming of a year that will never be. One built on the ideas of the Enlightenment, now under siege, so long ago. One quickly buckling at the foundations like a sandcastle inside the high-tide lines.

And peace on earth, good will to men? But a lyric and a myth, like friendly green aliens from the red planet.

So sleep. Yes. Even thugs and murderers and white collar criminals are but innocent babes when they are asleep. It’s the waking hours that breed deceit, greed, crime, hate, war, hunger, and all those other mug shots that grace each year’s front pages.

All we can control is local. And if enough people go forward with that mindset and sense of activism, we can create chinks that will eventually change the greater misdeeds and injustices. It’s the only way, and it should be all of our resolutions once we’ve slept through the parties and hangovers associated with Dec. 31st and its little brother, Jan. 1st. Resignation and hopelessness are but arrows in the other side’s quivers.

So that’s what I dream for a 2017. Readopting the line that all politics and activism and volunteering is local. May the year be a happy one for you, gentle readers!

In Praise of Anticipation

carly

Anticipation. Great 70s song by Carly Simon, yes. And almost ruined by her ill-advised agreement to lend it to a ketchup company for an ad. But still, there’s nothing quite like anticipation. It has the same salutatory effects on life as a massage does on the body.

Exhibit one is the contrast between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and you can look through the lens of a child or an adult. On the Eve, everything is ahead of you, bigger than life. Anticipation multiplies the number of gifts you receive. It increases their size and value. It takes every glinting light on the tree, in the windows, and atop a candle wick and makes of it a holiday brushfire to warm the sugarplums of your heart.

The Day? Rip. Tear. Oh, that’s it? And then the aftermath, when every decoration in the house is less a festive source of cheer and more a visual reminder of work to be done: putting Christmas, already stale, thankfully away.

Let’s consider books, shall we? I read about new books all the time on Goodreads, in The New York Times, and in the Boston Globe. The descriptions whet my parched literary appetite. I go to the interlibrary loan page on the Internet and, with relish (I see a condiment theme developing here) put holds on dozens of books.

In short, my to-read eyes are bigger than my time-to-read clock. The books come in. The books wait in their lonely tower at home while I trudge off to the mines each morning. I read upon my return but, like Christmas Day, most of the books disappoint without the pixie dust of anticipation to burnish their credentials.

And so it goes. Shopping at the grocery store for this healthy vegetable and that healthy fruit in anticipation of a new page in diet? All good and anticipation at its best until, weeks later, the wilted produce must be given its 21-gun salute and burial in the garbage. Minus the anticipation, there’s the pain of preparation and challenge of taste, you see.

“This is going to be so-o-o-o good. Can’t wait!” It’s the kid in you, over and over. Anticipation is a gift of childhood that follows you into adulthood. Don’t banish it. Luxuriate in it, even if it eventually comes to naught. Life isn’t overloaded with pleasures, after all, and as Carly reminds us in the golden refrain: “These are the good old days.”

Kindred Death

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Debbie Reynolds, mother of Carrie Fisher, has died one day after the death of her daughter. The clinical cause is stroke, and no doubt the stress of her beloved daughter’s demise played a role, but what the coroner would never write in his report is “kindred death: broken heart.”

It happens. We all have stories of spouses who die unexpectedly only days or weeks after the death of their lifelong partners. The same can occur in parent-child and spouse relationships. Sometimes the brain tells the body to follow and the body listens.

From a deeply religious point of view, there’s something Romantic to kindred death. To join family in the after life is the ultimate sacrifice, a paramount expression of love. But you need to own stock in the alleged oxymoron “after life” to pull that off.

On the other side of the coin, we have widows and widowers, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters who live years, decades, half a century beyond the deaths of their loved ones. Still, kindred death, sooner or decidedly later, is kindred death. In the gaping eons of time, 50 years is all one and as insignificant as not.

Rest in peace, Debbie and Carrie. As in life, in peace and together.

Hygge Is the Word

hygge

Forget bird. Forget Grease. Hygge is the word.

For those of you who think Danish is something you wash down with coffee, that’s pronounced by the consonant-happy Danes like so: “HOO-gah.” In English, it translates to “cozy.”

Right out of the gate, I prefer the sound of hygge over cozy. When I hear “cozy,” I think of overpaid realtors who love the wimpy euphemism to describe a cramped apartment. Hygge, on the other hand, sounds like something privates might bark in reply to a drill sergeant. Or something a runner might hawk up and spit out to clear his air passages.

I discovered this word in The New York Times in this feature. What it all boils down to is comfort at home. Nothing’s rotten in Denmark if you’ve got a fire blazing, a few dozen candles flickering, a hot cup of coffee, and, of course, big warm socks to fend the cold from your most distant provinces.

You’ll want some porridge, too, and none of this Goldilocks take-out, either. Hearty stuff with ingredients like rye, barley, black lentils, and bits of pumpkin and turkey. And if it’s late in the day, you can dispose of the coffee and substitute in off the bench. You know. Something appropriately Nordic (read: “alcoholic”) like glogg.

What I liked least in the article was it’s not so subtle advertisements for a couple of books on the topic. And its headline, telling Crazy Marie Kondo, the neatnik apparatchik , to move over and give hygge its 30 seconds of fame.

Blah, blah, blah. If you’re hyggelig (the adjective form, pronounced HOO-gah-lee) and you know it, you don’t need no stinking books. Just sort of take the article’s cue and grab the things that make you feel home for the holidays (“holidays” meaning “any day you’re not at work”).

This is all guaranteed stuff, this hygge. The Happiness Institute (yes, Virginia, it does exist) has proclaimed the Danes princes of world happiness year in and year out. How do they do it? A whole lot of hygge. That and bacon.

And so I’ve done my civic duty for the day. Told you to get in touch with your inner Dane. And please. Swear off the Danish pastry, will you? It’s not hyggelig to weigh 250 pounds.

 

 

Mall Rumbles on Boxing Day!

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Every morning I wake up to news. Not intense news, mind you. More “browse-the-headlines” news. If it looks stomach-turningly negative or hopeless, I take an ostrich-head pitch into the sands of Skip-It. But if its lead becomes curiouser and curiouser, I read.

Today the news was about December 26th. OK, it’s the Feast of St. Stephen, all right. But it’s “Boxing Day” in Jolly Olde, too, and even though that means “boxes” as in gifts or gratuities to those who serve you throughout the year and not float-like-a-butterfly sparring, boxing as in rumbles were the order of the day.

What Boxing Day was supposed to mean: tips for the help. Forget Upstairs, Downstairs or whatever they’re showing on PBS nowadays. We’re talking tips for the garbageman, the paperman (formerly “paperboy” until age did its number on  him), or the USPS mailman who leaves your packages in the rain rather than walk an extra 30 feet to the protected porch.

What Boxing Day actually meant yesterday: another “victory” for social media. Apparently young people (what they call “hooligans” in the renascent Soviet Union) ran riot in dozens of shopping malls across the country. Fisticuffs. Stampeding. Shouting random words like, say, “Gun!” (So, so random.)

Kids will be kids, as the saying goes. But what it really provides is another example of the toxic mix or our age: the Internet and boredom. “Let’s see,” the young and the bored collectively typed. “Around three days into our vacation from school we’ll be bored silly. Can we all scream, run, and tussle in malls at 4 o’clock eastern, 3 o’clock Central, 2 o’clock Pacific? I’m almost sure it will go viral if we do!”

And we don’t need degrees in Communications 2016 to realize that there is no honor higher in life than having uploaded film from your cellphone go viral, garnering umpteen thousand hits from the masses slash great unwashed slash madding crowd.

Ho-hum. Off to our next headline, our next positive contribution to the greater good….

Taking a Constitutional

walkers

Yesterday my wife and I took a constitutional. That’s “old-speak” for taking a walk for your health, mental and physical. In “new-speak” that might mean getting the heart rate up, conducting a slow cardio workout brisk enough to be good for the ticker, and clearing the mind with a nip of north wind.

The dog, much to his chagrin, was left home. As a Christmas gift, I gave him his own “constitutional” first. The problem with a long, brisk walk with a dog is dogs have little interest in the brisk part. No, they are the original stop-and-smell-the-roses (and grass stems and rocks and trees and telephone poles and crumpled McDonald’s bags and other dog turds) walkers. Maddening, not mind-clearing.

So, yes. A good start to the new year (which can be declared any old day of the year in the autocracy of your mind). When we returned we had that “good feeling” you get after you do the right thing. You know, like after the benediction at church as you file out, after they remove the needle from your arm and hold up the heft of you (in a dark red plastic pint) at the blood donation center, or after you let that long-suffering car on a side street enter traffic ahead of you with a friendly wave.

We cannot control much in this indifferent world, and it can get depressing to think about at times. But consider this: If a daily paper for your day came out every night, the front page could be plastered with more good than bad — all good, even — because you rule that microcosm like the most benevolent of dictators.

A sanguine thought, no? Good for the constitution to think about, even.