But now I have a paper again. The newspaper involved in my little experiment in home delivery was The Wall Street Journal, but any of the daily newspapers on offer in my city would have made for a similar success. There are things specific to the Journal that I love, but the same holds true for The New York Times, and The Washington Post too, and even the Financial Times, which is a magnificent work of journalism, despite being printed on orange stock. Staring at an orange object so early in the morning is an unsettling way to start the day. Imagine how Melania Trump feels.
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I subscribed in the dead of winter. A few weeks after the check and order form were sent off, the subscription took hold and the paper began to arrive. (The delay between cause and effect was another retro touch I had forgotten.) A freshet of anticipation swept over me that first morning when I looked out the front window to see the bagged paper at last, peeking up through a fresh layer of snow.
I shrugged on my bathrobe and stepped into my slippers and felt the cold encircle my ankles when I opened the front door. I felt again the slight wariness familiar from years ago, when I would fetch the papers in this untidy state under the glare of the nosy neighbor across the street. Through her living-room window she kept our neighborhood under constant surveillance, and she never tired of her disgust at a grown man who would show himself on his front lawn in the dawn’s light unshaved and uncombed, wearing an unbelted bathrobe. But my wariness that first morning was just a ghost: The nosy neighbor is long gone. Her house, nowadays, is home to an overachieving government functionary. I’m sure he’d be disgusted too, but he’s always looking at his phone.
The fetching is only the first of the little rituals that attend the reading of a real newspaper. There is the steaming cup of coffee, as essential as a chalice to the Eucharist or a hand-thrown bowl to the tea ceremony, and then the plumping of the reading chair—the quick scan of the front page to get your bearings and then the plunge inside, to international news or an annoying columnist or a review of an unexpected book or (my own preference) the obituaries. (Death is the only news that stays news.)
I unfold the paper, and the world opens up to me as through a parting cloud. But it is a special world, an invented world, and here is the key to its charm: It is pleasingly static, momentarily a settled matter. My news on paper isn’t subject to updating until tomorrow morning. Juan Guaidó, I read, has delayed his return to Venezuela, assuming Nicolás Maduro will allow him to cross the border, and there he will stay until the Journal tells me differently. In a newspaper, the world presents itself in discrete stages—or on stage sets, I should probably say—and each set will be dismantled or rearranged by the time tomorrow’s performance begins.