It’s 8:45 am on Sunday morning and Melvin is standing on the corner, his red hat cocked to the side and his arms full of real newspapers. I pull off to the side and roll down the window. “Hey Boss.” he says with the inflection only a coloured man from the Western Cape could utter. “Hey Melvin, how’s it?” I reply in an attempt to sound a little less American than I am. The exchange is nearly automatic. He shoves an enormous edition of The Sunday Times on my dash; simultaneously I hand him a crumpled R50 bill with Nelson Mandela’s face stamped on the front. “Thanks Melvin.” I say. “Dankie Boss.” he replies. I put the car into gear, cranking the manual window winder with one hand as I shove the Volkswagen into second and pull away. I feel alive and more coordinated than I actually am.
This little ritual is the beginning of one of my favorite events of the week – reading the Sunday newspaper.
Some might call me old-school, but I say there is nothing quite like reading a real newspaper. Each Sunday afternoon I settle into my favorite chair, with a cup of dark roast black coffee and the bundle of paper from Melvin. Only part of the newspaper experience is about acquiring information. For me it’s a calming and pleasurable experience that I cherish at the beginning of each week.
I always start with the front page, carefully folding the gigantic grey paper into a manageable form. The crumpling of the thin newsprint as I tame it in my hands is like a little symphony playing just for me. The crinkling reminds me of my father sitting in his chair reading the Charlotte Observer every evening. That memory is a good one for me. When I think of him sitting there, I feel this assurance and stability that only comes from having a father who works hard, provides and comes home to read the paper every night. As I bring the print closer to my eyes I take in the distinct aroma of newsprint. There’s something visceral and authentic about that scent, produced by the arduous early morning printing and delivery process that certainly requires the efforts of a small army of men and women dedicated to delivering this experience.
My eyes scan the lines and feel this freedom to jump around from article to article. When the mood strikes me I do a bit of origami to turn the giant page. I feel like a skilled professional in control of my little world of paper. Learning to read and fold a newspaper should be a rite of passage, a skill passed from generation to generation, like learning to drive or mow the lawn.
Sometimes I come across a particularly interesting article or picture. I hand it to my wife and say “Look at this.” Sometimes we cut out a piece of the paper and hang it on our refrigerator door for a while. I remember being in the war in the Middle East and receiving the comics in a letter from my Grandmother every single day. She would cut them out and hang them with a paperclip onto a short handwritten note. Lots of people sent me emails with attachments of funny YouTube videos, but there was something very special about those comics from Grandmother. I suppose maybe it was knowing that she read them first, touched them, laughed and took the time to cut out each one. When I read those small cutouts I felt connected to her, to civilization and to the world where people weren’t slaughtering each other. I seriously doubt that an email attachment could bring about that level of sentiment.
In the information age, where thousands of newspaper articles are available with the click of a mouse, the real newspaper faces extinction. I for one think that this is a real tragedy. I hope this experience is around for my daughter to enjoy one day. If not, I might just have to start an “old school” newspaper. For now I’ll just keep up the ritual with Melvin and company every Sunday.