Parsing the Paper

Try divvying up a smartphone on Sunday morning

By Brian Doyle | April 17, 2015


I respect and admire the plethora of new plastic and metal toys by which we gain data and news and information and shrill opinion and witless commentary; I enjoy the machines with screens by which much drama and melodrama is streamed to me in an unending flow; yet I still savor the fluttering inky sprawl and splay of the morning newspaper, a pleasure of a lifetime, and one I hope to enjoy until my final day in this form, before I become the subject of a lyrical obituary on page B23, complete with a beaming photograph that will make many people laugh.

There are so many subtle delights in the morning paper, things like port calendars and crossword puzzles and comics and mastheads and photographs of ocelot cubs, but this morning let us choose one to examine closely: the meticulous maniacal fussy fidgety parsing of the paper into its disparate sections, and delivery of the right section to the right place at the breakfast table. These days the parsing is simpler, what with only two readers at play, but the paper once had to be divvied into five piles: the news to the woman, who prefers to find out what’s up before she delves into film and theater and art and cooking and fashion and advice; the sports to the man, who even deep into his 50s remains utterly absorbed by box scores and arcane statistics and line scores and at-bats and shots on goal and who won the cricket match in Jangalpur and who in heaven’s name will be patrolling right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates, are they really going to open the season with a kid hitting .245, great fielder and devout Presbyterian though he be?

The daughter, for some years, desired the section having to do with television and film and theater and painting and dance and music; Son One preferred business and commerce and investment and financial shenanigans; and Son Two, for reasons that still elude his father, consistently began his day with the automotive section, though he had no car, no license, no permit, no money, no realistic hope of money, and not the slightest prospect of having a car in the next decade, not even, especially not even, the horrifying beater lemon being sold by the teenagers up the street for One Hunderd Dollars or Best Offer, an appalling typo that the father desperately wished to edit with a magic marker, though he did not do so, on the advice of his lovely bride, a wise and subtle soul.

Some mornings, when all five readers were at the table at once, there would be such a flurry of newspaper sections changing hands, it seemed to me that broad-winged birds were hovering over the table, above the toast and jam, the coffee and bacon, the rattle of plates and the gentle inquiries of the dog, who had the lovely habit of suddenly inserting his nose under your shoulder, so that more than once when I reached for my shirt pocket for a pen to mark a particularly startling line score for the sons who would paw through the sports after me, I would encounter a cheerful moist nose, behind which was a being who always hoped, despite years of steady disappointment, that today might finally be the day that bacon fell ceaselessly from the sky, so much so that he would afterwards waddle out onto the sunlit grass, to doze and dream, and keep half an eye on the squirrels, who never could believe he was asleep, but kept to their sylvan thrones, calling down lewd and insulting remarks, and chittering like Girl Scouts on Thin Mints.

Sports, and then comics, and then business, and then news, and then … no, not the automotive section—who in heaven’s name actually reads the automotive section, and isn’t a sign of the collapse of civilization that there are more pages devoted to cars in the paper than there are to books? And then, if it is a Saturday or Sunday, we might pore through a few of the sections we have saved from the harried week before; but in the end we gather up the papers, and carry them with affection and respect to be recycled, in one way or another; which is the fate of all the things that ever were; but didn’t we live, didn’t we love our living?

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