#154 Reading an actual newspaper

We used to read newspapers.

Do you remember waking up on Saturday morning and tiptoeing onto the ice cold porch to grab that tightly wound paper in the plastic bag?

After tossing it on the kitchen table you’d tear it open and fill the air with the stale stench of newspaper ink, hot plastic bag, and morning dew. Next you peeled off that disgusting black rubber band and unroll it till you had a bumpy beautiful stack of crisp fresh news.

And there was something beautiful about the paper before it was opened.

Strawberry jam fingers hadn’t dog-eared corners, flyers weren’t scattered everywhere, and unapologetic backwards-folding hadn’t flipped sections inside out, making them flimsy and disorganized — pages at different heights, untethered middle sheets slipping onto the cold linoleum floor.

Yes, it was just a clear window to the world on your kitchen table.

When you flipped open the paper there were kids huddling under cars in distant countries, stern-eyebrowed generals swearing in to lead violent armies, and tornados blasting barns to bits, all photographed inches away, just yesterday, and sitting in your hands right now.

Reading an actual newspaper came without distractions.

Windows couldn’t pop up, email wasn’t a click away, and detergent jingles didn’t scream out of random corners. Everything faded into the backyard background as you got sucked into tales of police corruption, stunned by fiery photos, or captivated by a long two-page profile of the local athlete on a comeback bid.

And after reading for a long time your fingers turned black with ink smudges smearing your body like tiny tattoos. It was like the newspaper marked you. While you were leaving greasy prints in its cracks and corners, it was leaving something with you. In a way you touched each other, traded molecules, and became one.

In addition to the ink, maybe you connected with the columnists. You learned from them, were challenged by them, and read everything they wrote. You hated them some days and loved them on others. Whether it was the sharp-tongued sports writer who hated ownership but loved the game, the provocative political pundit with the bleeding heart, or the snobby movie critic with biting reviews that kept you laughing, you could always count on opinions. Crystal clear voices and friendly faces in tiny boxes felt like chatting with friends. You even missed them while they were away and were met by a line on F2 saying “Dave Perkins will be back next week.”

That was when the game was a story instead of a score, ideas weren’t reduced to bullet points from news feeds, and movie reviews weren’t dumbed down into online percentages with lines like “59% of people like Rochelle, Rochelle.”

That was when newspapers were more than information.

They were entertainment too.

Little poems caught your eye in obituaries, colorful characters pulled you into cartoons, cheeky letters to the editor got you laughing, and crossword puzzles kept you and dad guessing for hours. Flipping through the paper was a little escape out of your head. It was a twenty minute vacation into a faraway world where you were watching Olympic games, attending film festivals, and trying new banana bread recipes, all from your front porch.

Quiet authority was baked into every page of the paper, too. Behind the stories was a team of experts deciding what was news and what wasn’t. Sometimes they went in-depth, sometimes they sent reporters overseas, and sometimes they created a weekly series to crack big cases in your hometown.

Instead of clicking the most popular articles there was something about flipping past everything all stitched together and making up your own mind. It was slow, meandering, and adventurous, instead of flashing headlines hitting you like a rubber mallet to the forehead. Album reviews, stock quotes, and relationship advice were waiting every day for new listeners, investors, and lovers.

“Just think,” my dad would say as I was growing up. “A team of people spent weeks digging up stories around the world, taking pictures and writing everything down, arranging and printing it on paper, and carrying it right to our front door…for fifty cents!”

Newspapers helped decide what was important and acted like filters against information overload. Costs prevented spam, space limited excess, and daily deadlines prevented constant updates from buzzing on cell phones all day. When there was a big sale at the corner shop, they splurged for a full page ad. When a new school was proposed in town, they posted notice for a local meeting. When your neighbor’s daughter finished college, there she was in her graduation cap, flashing a big toothy grin, in fuzzy black and white.

Clipped and cut into squares and rectangles were painted patches of our city and our friends and our lives.

Yes, long, long time ago, I can still remember … how that paper used to make me smile.

Now fat weekend papers are getting thinner, foreign bureaus are getting dimmer, and there’s bad news on the door step, with flat wire stories replacing local depth.

Sure, time changes, life changes, the world spins and moves on. Maybe we’re all fitter, happier, and more productive, and maybe we’re better informed with wider choices, greater access, and more transparency.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy those papers from our past, too.

Next time you pass a newspaper stand, next time you snap a dirty rubber band, next time you crinkle thin sheets in your hand, enjoy the feeling, enjoy the moment, and just enjoy the view.

Let’s remember to enjoy reading an actual newspaper.

Let’s remember to remember it’s


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#155 Correctly guessing which pocket your keys are in while standing at your front door

I used to have a man purse.

Somebody bought one for me a few years ago and I found myself strapping it on around town while I was in school. Once the cell phone and wallet got tossed in there everything else was fair game. I’d stuff a burrito in before the movie, skip plastic bags at the corner store, and avoid taking a backpack to class. “So practical,” I’d find myself saying to friends. “I feel like a new man.”

And when I was toting the man purse around I always had a specific pocket to stash my keys. It was on the front for easy access and I preferred having them there instead of stab-jabbing my thighs through a day of classes.

But sadly, my friends, those days are gone.

See, I left my man purse in the back of a cab one night by accident and it sped off into the distance, leaving me in a cloud of dust, never to be heard from again. It was like that tragic scene in An American Tail where Feivel gets separated from his family. Only I was Fievel. And my family was the man purse.

These days I’m back to my thigh-jabby self again with assorted wallets, keys, and phones poking out of pockets all over the place. Random folded pieces of paper, bus transfers, and jing-jangling coins come along for the ride too, strapped right onto me, everywhere I go.

It’s always a tense scene when I get to the front door and suddenly go on a frantic Pocket Search to find my keys. Winter coats, sweatshirt pouches, and cargo pants complicate matters and there are times I’m stuck searching for up to two seconds.


People, that’s what makes it great when I manage to correctly guess which pocket is holding my keys at the front door. Call off the search party and scrap the mission because now we ain’t going fishin’ — we’re just getting in, getting comfy, and getting


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#157 One-word ingredient lists

I had a bad ice cream experience on Saturday.

Leslie and I were walking home with a hankering for the cold and creamy so we popped into the local drug store and grabbed a carton of vanilla. It looked good enough and was from a blue-lidded brand we knew so we bought it quick styles and came home for a perfectly healthy late night snack of waffles covered in maple syrup and ice cream.

Everything seemed fine until we dug in.

Yes, that’s when we noticed our ice cream was a little … strange. It tasted like plastic. It didn’t melt. And it had the consistency of the foamy white stuff you spray into drafty holes in your attic.

A closer inspection of the carton made us realize this wasn’t even ice cream at all! Nope, it was “Frozen Dessert”, something so mutant we can only refer to it by its temperature and the time of day it can be consumed. It sounded sort of like some terrible meal pill from the future. “One-hot-break-fast-please,” the robot says to the holographic employee. “And-three-fro-zen-des-serts.”

Yes, the name explained a lot as did the twenty-seven word ingredient list that read like what goes into making a tire.

It made us realize that maybe the days of milk, cream, and vanilla are slowly going away. Maybe we’re losing the ice-cream loving of yesterday in favor of oil-infused aspartame air that goes down cheap and doubles as bleach.

Well, to that I say for all the ways our food keeps changing, one thing remains a rare beauty in the grocery store are those one-word ingredient lists. Spot them like endangered snow owls when you spy them on bags of almonds (Ingredients: Almonds), packs of dried plums (Ingredients: Plums), or slapped on the side of orange juice cartons (Ingredients: Oranges.).

Because maybe injecting whey protein powder loaded with omega-stuffed vitamins is the way to eat your breakfast cereal.

Or maybe it’s time to go back to oatmeal.

(Ingredients: Oats.)


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#158 When a human answer the phone

My office is open concept.

We’ve got short walls between cubes so we can all hear each other’s conversations. Yes, everybody knows when grandpa’s in the hospital, dinner needs sour cream, or junior wet his pants at school.

It can be a little distracting so some folks stuff their ears with headphones, others book rooms for phone calls, and the rest of us, we’re just working over here and listening in.

When you hear your office pals chatting all day you start noticing some voices rise higher than others. Sure, there’s tense phone calls home once in a while, but generally the biggest culprit of Telephone Anger is getting locked in a fierce battle with a voice-automated help desk. Yes, frustration fills the air anytime anyone rings up an airline, cable company, or government.

That’s when you overhear the painful ten-minute experience of Office Joe or Jane trying to talk to a computer. There is the extremely long pause before the stern “Option Seven, please” and “NO. SEV-EN.” There’s the frustrated hanging up and calling again. And there’s the exasperated attempts to exit the system completely. “Main menu.” “Request agent.” “Main menu, main menu, main menu.”

That’s why it’s great when a human answers the phone.

See, we’re not always great talkers, me and you. We mix up words, we have weird questions, and we don’t always know what we need. Option 4 might not rebook our flight and Option 7 can’t fix the mistake on our bill. We know we need a human to get things moving and we just want to find one to help us out.

Today we give high gives and big cheers to companies that ditch electronic prisons and just send us straight to someone who helps us keep moving.


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#160 Going really fast over speed bumps in the back of a school bus

It’s a different world.

The back of the schoolbus is a strange seatbeltless land far away from teachers, parents, and watching eyes. Slide on the slippery vinyl seats, let your booger noses drip, and laugh out loud with your eight-year old pals as you bump and bounce along to school.

When the bus smacks a big bump there’s suddenly a blurry scene of flying elbow-scabbed arms and grass-stained knees. Butts leave the seat, faces smack the window, and some kid sitting backwards sucking on a juice box might even go rolling right down the aisle.

You keep your looping roller coasters and fancy water slides.

We’ll take these big ol’ speed bumps on our daily school bus rides.


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#161 When you haven’t seen any of the previews before

I was a movie junkie.

Back one summer in high school my friends and I went to the mall a couple times a week to catch whatever teen comedy, sci-fi epic, or blow-em-up special Hollywood had just churned out. Mid-week matinees, Friday night openers, weekend doubleheaders — it didn’t matter. We just snagged a ride in mom’s minivan and went downtown for a show.

Back then it was rare catching a preview we’d never seen before. We’d done the whisper recommendations, seen the second version, and groaned with the bad jokes. There weren’t many surprises so I took for granted how great it is when you haven’t seen any of the previews before your movie starts up.

It usually happens three ways:

1. Wrongly targeted. Maybe you’re an arty movie snob slumming it with the kiddies on a Saturday morning birthday party. Just when you thought you’d caught all the French foreign film teasers with people stirring fresh chocolate and looking into each other’s eyes in meadows, there’s suddenly a pile of 3D animated animals to charm you away.

2. Season’s greetings. Here’s where you catch the first big summer blockbuster and are greeted with a pile of previews that welcome in the season.

3. Old basement classics. A delectable goldmine of rarely seen previews is when you push in a crusty videotape of Goonies on your friend’s basement couch and catch a pile of 1980s previews you haven’t seen in years. Coming soon! Adventures in Babysitting.

Sure, it’s a small thing, it’s a simple thing, but catching an entire lineup of fresh previews is a beautiful little appetizer of


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#163 Shampoo memories

My sister is way cooler than me.

Growing up, I was a thick-goggled nerd with solar system posters in my bedroom, Tetris blisters on my thumbs, and limited understanding of how to comb my hair.

My sister Nina was two grades below me but way above me on the popularity scale. While I was practicing my Pythagorean Theorem, she was captaining the Junior Girls basketball team. While I was taking figure skating lessons, she was going to the mall. And while I was upstairs playing clarinet scales, she was hosting parties in the basement.

I remember those parties well, too. She invited me to hang out with her friends, but I preferred watching Perfect Strangers with my mom. We would split a can of Pepsi and a bowl of popcorn and sock-slide to the front door whenever the bell bing-bonged. When Nina’s friends rushed inside, the hallway was suddenly full of deodorant clouds, perfume sprayballs, and the wafting aroma of some kid wearing too much cologne.

See, whether you like it or not I got news for you, baby: You smell. Yes, you’re some bizarro concoction of shower soap, dryer sheets, and hair spray. You’re a walking cloud of deodorant streaks, sweat stains, and perfume spray. Your closest cuddles with your closest pals will reveal your smell to them and them to you.

When you walk away from old places and disappear from forgotten scenes you might miss those little moments that come from cuddling in between. Snuggling with your boyfriend on Sunday morning, holding hands with your wife at the park, running in the basement with your sitter, squeezing Grandma in the theater when it’s dark.

Shampoo memories are distant smells of days gone by that pop back into your brain a long time later.

They surprise you in random closets, walk by you in jeans at the mall, pop out of dusty old dressers, and come back like no time’s passed at all. Shampoo memories are Grandma’s skin cream on crinkly letters, an ex-boyfriend’s cologne on new friends, shampoo memories are smells that pay you a visit, new beginnings or teary-eyed reminders of an end.

When a shampoo memory pops into your brain make sure you stop to appreciate it’s there. Because those memories built you and made you, they formed you and raised you, and that little moment gives you a chance to remember someone who helped shape your life.


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