The New York Times for October 11, 2015, pictured above, is the last issue of theTimes I’ll be going down to the end of the driveway to collect on Saturday and Sunday mornings. With mixed feelings, I’ve canceled the subscription.
As far back as I can remember, there was a New York Times at home. My father carried it in from work six evenings a week, having bought it at the newsstand outside the subway station in the morning to read commuting in and out of the city. It would remain in the house until the next one arrived the following day, after which my mother could use yesterday’s paper to wrap up coffee grounds, orange rinds and other organic garbage before taking them to the incinerator. On Sunday mornings, my father got his constitutional by going out to pick up poppy-seed rolls from the bakery and stopping at the newsstand on his return to get a copy of the Times, on that day a heavy and unwieldy multi-section affair.
By contrast, my mother favored an afternoon newspaper, which she bought when she went out to do her daily shopping — first the New York Telegram, and after it merged with the New York World, the New York World-Telegram. As a young girl, I preferred my mother’s choice; it had bigger type, more photos and fewer boring news stories about government and politics; instead it featured murders and other local tragedies, a horoscope column, advice to the lovelorn, a column of Hollywood gossip by either Hedda Hopper or Louella Parsons (I forget which), an easy crossword puzzle (with the answers appearing the next day) and a page of “funnies” (comic strips). The Times — despite its considerably harder crossword — was, in a word, dull. However, I did always piously acknowledge it was where one went for “the real news” (as my father put it). It was also where you looked for an apartment, a used car, or a job if you were old enough to work and didn’t have one; the Classified Section in the Sunday Times was massive.
Those were the days when newspapers were one of the two major sources of news; there was no television, internet, smart phone. (The other news source was radio, but only at certain specified hours in the morning and evening, unless an announcer interrupted a regularly scheduled program with “a special news bulletin.”) Most cities had at least two newspapers. New York had seven when I was growing up (before the Telegram and World merger). Besides the Times, the other full-size morning paper was the Herald-Tribune, which my parents dismissed as “too Republican,” whether with justice or not I have no idea. Since they equated “Republican” with “anti-Semitic,” the Tribune never entered our house. These two, plus the Telegram and the World in the afternoon, were all large newspapers, difficult to read unless on a table or with your arms spread wide apart to turn the pages. You had to learn how to fold these papers to be able to manage them neatly on a train or a bus.
The other two morning papers, the New York Daily News and the New York Mirror, both called “tabloids,” were much smaller in size; you didn’t need to fold them before reading. I understand they were good on sports, but otherwise seemed pretty cheesy; needless to say, my immigrant but educated parents, who didn’t know from sports, scorned them as papers for “riffraff.” There was also the tabloid-size Post in the afternoon; in my girlhood, it earned theoretical parental approval as “liberal.” But as it was always getting excited about some new scandal in very big headlines, which my parents probably thought uncultured (nyi kulturnyi), it never dislodged my mother’s loyalty to the Telegram or, later, the World-Telegram.
You can safely bet the Sarah Lawrence College library had a couple of copies of the current issue of The New York Times up near the front desk during all the four years I was there. Then I went to California with my parents and did not read theTimes for five years. Not that I had really read it before, but it had been there, if I’d wanted to. The Los Angeles Times, which entered the parental home soon after we reached the West Coast, was equally bulky in weight, thanks to much advertising, while at that period of time being considerably lighter in intellectual content.
Back in New York again with first husband — a tight man with a nickel, not to mention a dollar — we were paperless for a while, except for when he pinched part of the Times (or anything else he could find) from street wastebaskets while he was out and about. That wasn’t often, as shortly after we arrived he decided not to accept paid work he deemed beneath him and was devoting himself instead to writing great books. (No, you have never heard of him.) I myself became gainfully employed as quickly as possible, because one of us had to, and soon thereafter began bringing home my boss’s copy of the Times, with her permission, when she’d finished with it. I was still pretty much ignoring the front pages, but made careful study of the Times “Help Wanted” Classifieds (in search of a better job) and slightly later of the Times “Apartments for Rent” Classifieds when planning escape from the marriage.
Once legally separated from first husband and ensconced in a studio apartment on the other side of Manhattan, I assumed my own purchase of the Times. If like me, one were looking for an appealing second husband and father of one’s as yet unconceived children — that is, a not unsightly possessor of sperm and a decently remunerated profession — it was important to be well informed on subjects of interest to upwardly mobile men. I therefore had to learn at last how to read the Times, including the front page news, on the bus. You open it up completely and fold it vertically down the middle. Then you fold back half a page at a time for reading, as needed. You can bend your half a page horizontally if required. You are thus looking neatly and compactly at a quarter-page at a time and don’t have to hold open a full paper to turn a page, to the detriment of the faces or laps of those sitting next to you.
The only problem with reading the Times, or any kind of newspaper, in public was related to the white gloves — think Grace Kelly — mandatory for the professional young woman aspiring to upward mobility herself; it was impossible to touch newsprint and also appear at the office with pristine white gloves. The solution? Keep the gloves wrapped in Kleenex inside your purse until outside your office building, at which time you tuck your folded Times under your arm, fish out your unblemished white gloves, put them on, and enter your place of work absolutely comme il faut.
Another observation about theTimes in what we might call my second-husband-hunting days: I spent two summers worth of weekends during this era of my life hunting on the right-hand side of the East Hampton Main Beach. As far as I could then tell, the apparent principal occupation of appealing professional single men in their thirties sitting on towels becoming tan while waiting for an attractive woman to show up — was timing themselves when doing the Sunday Crossword in the Times. The Times Sunday Crossword was otherwise known to most of the rest of us New Yorkers as a real bitch. Some people worked away at it all week, till the answers showed up the following Sunday. But those young lawyers and doctors and bankers on East Hampton Main Beach: a couple of them could fill in 98% of it in slightly less than an hour! It’s not clear to me that this skill correlated positively with qualities one might appreciate in a second husband, as I didn’t get to marry one of them and find out for myself, but I was certainly impressed. That’s the Times for you.
In the marriage to the second husband I did get, I continued to read the Times. There was never any question about it. While we still lived in the city, one or the other of us went out to buy it at the corner. When we moved to Massachusetts, we had to order it and have it delivered, together with The Boston Globe. The Globe was for what was happening where we lived. The Times was for what was happening in the world. (Also for what was happening in what both of us probably still thought of as the center of the universe. But I won’t go there. Not this time.) I kept on with this bulky habit when we parted after the children went away to college. What was home without the Times? By then, I was a lawyer, and the Times was also the paper of record. But the Globe, which began to improve the longer I lived in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, was the paper of the Commonwealth, where (and only where) I was licensed to practice. So how could I choose? Let me tell you those were heavy trips to the recycling bins in the basement with a weeks’ worth of both papers.
And then came the internet. Once I had met Bill and five years later retired, we transferred ourselves to Princeton. Where of course we kept the Times delivery going. What good was a Trenton or Philadelphia paper to transplanted (via Boston) New Yorkers like us? But what do you know? A few years after that the Times went online! At first it was free, and a sort of novelty. But several years later, just when I was getting used to reading most of my news on the desktop, it wasn’t free anymore. You had to subscribe to the paper printed on paper to be able to read more than ten articles on the web. Except we were already subscribing to the paper paper. Even if I cut the paper delivery down to weekends, the online Times was still free. So that’s what we did. Every weekend, we had a Saturday and Sunday delivery at the end of the driveway; every day we had the Times on the computer. And then on the two iPads, with cute little apps to make it even easier. And finally, when I at last succumbed to a smart phone — iPhone naturally, not to have to deal with too many Clouds — the Times app came with it.
Now I could read the Times everywhere, anywhere, wherever I was. Well, it wasn’t exactly the Times as I’d known it all my life. It wasn’t the post-Sunday-morning-coitus Times. It wasn’t the after-Sunday-morning-breakfast Times, spread out everywhere, with sections traded back and forth between members of the family. It didn’t carry with it all the associations — childhood, marriages, East Hampton bachelors — that the look of its type and neat front page always brings up for me, like Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea.
But for the past two years, Bill or I have been trundling two heavy weekend copies of the Times in its paper incarnation back out to the curb in the yellow recycling bins Princeton requires for its bi-monthly recycling program — and they haven’t even been opened! That’s right: we were now keeping the paper on the coffee table in the family room near the kitchen just for visual effect. Even the cats have lost interest in lying on it or chewing up bits of it. So I made a phone call. It seems we were paying $93 and change every three months for the privilege of bringing the paper paper in from the driveway every Saturday and Sunday and dragging it back out to the curb twice a month. But if we dropped the paper paper, access to the paper through the web and the app on the iPhone would cost less than half that: only $15 a month, or $45 every three months.
I suspect the Times doesn’t really care if we never turn another page of its newsprint again. I suspect the Times is pricing its digital subscriptions so favorably because selling advertising on its web edition is more lucrative than selling advertising in its paper edition. The Times keeps interrupting my online reading to proclaim that it’s got one million digital subscribers already. I doubt very much if as many as a million present and past New Yorkers, libraries, universities and the like bought the paper newspaper, even in its heyday. What am I saying? This is the Times’s heyday. It’s making more money than ever, and you have to click “x” (if you can find it) to make its online ads go away.
You know the end of this story. We caved to “progress.” Also to the fact that we’re getting quite old, and the recycling bins seem to be getting heavier, and money keeps going out without coming in (except for those “entitlements” the Republicans want to shrink or remove), and we weren’t reading the damn paper paper anyway. Still, it’s hard to think there’s one more thing gone that used to be so much a part of life as I knew it. At least I took its picture before throwing the October 11, 2015 front section away. I told myself I was photographing it for you. Who was I kidding? It was really for me.