When a boy reaches a certain age, he can make mistakes that stay with him for much longer than one night. It was the third day of frosh week, and I was a wide-eyed freshman reveling in the newfound freedom of college life.
Sure, I wasn’t the only 2016er to make a bad decision that week, but mine was worse than most. I succumbed to a temptation that every adult figure in my sheltered suburban upbringing had prepared me to single-mindedly resist.
I bought a print subscription to The New York Times.
Maybe it was the saleswoman’s low-cut price quote—only three dollars a week with a special student deal! Maybe I fell for the flashy gifts she lavished on me—a complimentary backpack is nothing to sneeze at, after all. Everything happened so fast. Maybe my judgment was impaired by the drinks in my system: earlier that day, I had discovered the hidden seltzer water tab on the dining hall soda fountain and, as I meandered though the booths at the annual Frist Campus Center open house, I really, really needed to find a bathroom.
But in the end, I know that I have only myself to blame.
To be sure, even as the experienced saleswoman sealed the deal, I entertained the suspicion that maybe—just maybe—a print newspaper subscription was obsolete. But she knew how to make me feel like the only customer in the world, so I pushed the doubts out of my mind, jotted down my credit card information, and signed the order form. It was all a blur. I even forgot to check the box for shipping protection. When the transaction was complete, we parted ways outside Café Vivian.
I never heard from the saleswoman again. She left me no mementos of our fleeting encounter except for one constant reminder of my mistake: a forty-something-page heap of newsprint and ink. Deposited into my Frist mailbox. Monday through Friday.
“Cancel the subscription,” urged my buttoned-up parents, undoubtedly worried what the buttoned-up neighbors would think upon finding out that their son was the kind of degenerate who would subscribe to a left-wing publication like The Times. “Give it up,” my friends advised. “There are plenty of people trapped in unwanted conversations at the dining hall who would appreciate a newspaper.” But I had made up my mind: I would go through with the subscription.
I took my first newspaper home and tenderly placed it on a shelf I had set aside. “I’ll read this tomorrow,” I thought to myself, “when I have free time.” I did this again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that too. Within a week, the shelf in my common room was covered with unread pages upon pages of insightful reporting and some Thomas Friedman articles too.
Being a newspaper subscriber turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined. Everybody who owns a New York Times subscription likes to talk about the good parts. They like to tell you about their special bundle of printed joy that greets them every morning at breakfast. But they don’t talk about the strained friendships, taxed just a little further each time you excuse yourself to make a mailbox detour after late meal so that the Frist mailroom employees don’t start throwing out your actual mail. They don’t mention the ever-accumulating newspaper piles that need to be regularly changed. They don’t tell you about the sleepless nights spent drenched in sweat, overcome with fear that David Brooks might be wrong and that the ethos of the Age of Data will never effect a paradigm shift to restore the values of the Greatest Generation and save the Republican Party from itself.
There are difficult times ahead. Soon enough, the rosy “Family Circus” cartoons will give way to paywalls and existential crises. One day, I will find a telltale stray Wall Street Journal editorial lying around page A14.
But until that day arrives, I’ll continue to cherish lazy weekend mornings spent curled up in bed with my newspaper.