The older I get the earlier I awake. If the trend continues, I ‘m concerned I might be rising at 4:00 a.m., eating supper by 3:00 p.m. and hitting the hay at 8:00. The jokes about senior citizens early bird dinner specials starting at mid-afternoon taking on a different, more practical meaning to me.
“You know,” I say to my wife, Yolanda, “and I’m not saying we’ll ever do this, but eating early kinda makes sense if you’re startin’ the day before dawn. I mean, think about the pioneers, Ben Franklin, early to bed, early to rise…all that jazz.”
“Iy, vato,” she says, slipping into Spanish when aggravated, “you’re staying awake with me until 10 to watch the news. I’m not ready to live with an old man.”
Often, around 9:30, I’ll nudge her awake, both of us asleep on the couch and we’ll stumble upstairs to bed. With the hard-earned judgment of a man married for over twenty years, I make no comment about living with an “old woman.”
As was so often the case, Ben Franklin was correct regarding the pluses to rising early. I can write, check email, and take a soul-centering run through my silent, slumbering small town. It also allows time to read the morning paper while drinking a couple of cups of steaming coffee, two practices which Ben would approve. The solitary act of reading the newspaper gives me the chance to consider the news of the day at my pace with no hyperactive news anchors, flashing “ALERTS,” or gold commercials touting the end of the world. (Apparently a lock box filled with precious metal will, according to G. Gordon Liddy, make economic Armageddon more palatable since those of us with gold will yield a profit.)
A newspaper contains none of these distractions. We are in control of the process, interacting with a newspaper in ways we do not with other media. We read what we choose, lingering over an article or ad that catches our attention, scanning past those that do not. We separate the thin pages with our fingertips, smell the “fresh off the press” scent, hear the snap, crackle, pop as we crisply fold it to the shape we desire.
Of course, not everyone has time to read the paper in the morning or has delivery available. When I lived in downtown Chicago and rode the El to work I purchased the Chicago Sun-Times at a newspaper stand. I chose the Sun-Times not because I thought it was a better paper than the Tribune, but for its tabloid design which made it easier to read on a crowded train. When Yolanda and I lived in Dallas and drove to work, dropping the kids off at daycare along the way, there was no time to read the Dallas Morning News. Busy with two toddlers up to bed time, we never woke up any earlier than necessary. So I’d read the paper on my lunch break as I munched on a sandwich.
Newspaper readers also have the choice to prioritize sections per individual tastes. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren famously said: “I always turn to the sports page first, which records people’s accomplishments. The front page has nothing but man’s failures.”
As a sports fan, and a person who grows weary of what seems to be an increasingly dysfunctional world, I enjoy the sports page as well. The Champaign-Urbana based News-Gazette, our daily, has one of the best. But I save sports for last. First, because for me, like Earl Warren, it is the most entertaining and satisfying section so I savor it like dessert. Second, and more practically, Yolanda and I share a love of the morning paper. Since I rise about an hour before her, there is usually no conflict. But to preserve early morning peace I read the hard news, editorial and local sections before she comes downstairs. These are Yolanda’s favorites and she pours over them like she’s preparing for the bar exam, mumbling in Spanish when, you guessed it, she disagrees with a point of view offered in a column or editorial.
The other section I make sure to look through is the obituaries. Some may think this macabre, but for me the obits are similar to the sport section because they highlight an individual’s accomplishments. Even more so, they provide insight into the deceased’s life by recording lineage, loves, and passions. This is particularly interesting when the individual has lived a long and productive life. The list of parents, spouse, children and siblings go on for paragraphs followed by the place of birth and a recounting of a life from childhood to death. Even in the tragedy of a life cut short, there is always a paragraph or two about the individual’s love of family, friends, music, reading, model trains, doll houses, school or any number of passions. You certainly will never learn such personal things by listening to brief obits on the local radio station.
No, it is only the newspaper which gives us the breadth and depth of coverage we need to digest local, national and international events. From coverage of local bake sales to the machinations of an international economy, from high school softball scores to the Olympics, from the death of a fellow you knew as Frederick, but his friends called “Spud,” the newspaper covers it all.
Most importantly, for an “old man” like me, I don’t have to stay up until 10:00 p.m. to learn about it all.