Buffalo, New York is a one-newspaper town. When I was visiting my parents recently I tried to explain how in Chicago, people don’t really read printed newspapers anymore, they get their news online. My dad sounded surprised. It’s not that he doesn’t use the internet or email, but a printed newspaper is part of everyone’s day.
When I was growing up, the newspaper arrived by 3pm, so I could always pick it up along with the mail in the box at the end of our driveway, when I got off the school bus. When I walked in the door I tossed down my backpack and spread out the newspaper on the kitchen table. I mostly read the Lifestyles section, which was a mish-mash of people-centric features, advice columns, travel stories, and whatever was less tedious than police reports, sports and politics. I learned about worlds outside of my suburban town.
I read at least some portion of the newspaper every day, and so did my parents. At 4am my dad was just getting home from work at the GM plant. If I woke up early enough, or stayed up late enough, I could tiptoe downstairs and find him at the kitchen table eating leftovers and reading the newspaper. I grabbed whatever section he wasn’t reading, and the messy stack of paper united us for a moment.
We had a drawer of “important things” in the dining room in the bottom of the china cabinet, and that’s where we kept the last copy ever printed by The Courier-Express, which used to be the other newspaper in town, along with a few papers printed right after the biggest storms, the headlines screaming BLIZZARD. Next to the cabinet we kept the most recent papers piled on a chair, in case you missed something.
I am enamored of paper itself — something that began as a living and growing thing. I spent a summer interning at an alternative weekly that had its offices next to the printing presses, where I could watch the huge rolls of newsprint spin on their spindles; the smell of the warm ink made me feel that work and knowledge permeated the building. People say newspapers aren’t practical anymore. But there are things we will miss, if everything is online: The communal stack on the kitchen table. The binding of the organic object with the human thought. Maybe I will carve a story into the skin of a red pepper and we’ll all sit down to lunch.