Friday December 14, 2012

Telly Halkias

The gals at Elm Street Market set their watch by my arrival every Sunday morning, at least that's what my vanity would like to think. But I know better. The truth is they are efficient, meticulous, and take care of their customers.

And so it is on Sunday, usually around noon, an eight-inch stack of four newspapers awaits me as I roll in after church. In the nicer weather, I'm on foot with a huge tote bag; in winter, on wheels. But one thing remains constant: My bundle is ready, and the gals always have great neighborhood stories to tell.

A corner deli situated at a busy intersection is a magnet for entertainment and diversion. Everyone who works there enjoys their jobs because they can observe just about every cross section of humanity, from the ridiculous to the sublime.

Sometimes, comments from other customers involve a reaction to the journals I've come to collect: "That's an awful lot of reading, there - what do you do, wrap your fish bones in them?"

I often smile and reply generically, but the question is valid: Why on earth would anyone want to pile up on those recyclables when there is scant hope to make it through all of them? It's an answer I can't get into right there, what with people in line and the Sunday shift working to handle the flow.

But Sunday papers are less about news than experience. The presence of that pile with a mug of coffee parallels the constancy of my weekly visits: They are there. They are reliable. They rarely change. And they enter my life on the one day of the week I can afford to take a breath - if only for a moment.

The scope of the four newspapers makes demographic sense. The first is a Vermont publication that catches me up on everything happening in state. The next is from upstate New York and provides regional coverage. The last two are national/global journals, each ideologically opposed to the other, and the heftiest of the lot.

To be sure, I can get much of the same data for free on the Internet. But what the computer can't give me is the ability to lean back in my big chair and feel the news crinkling and rustling about in my hands, working its way through my every fiber.

My cell phone apps also can't make piles around my seat from which I'll pull a random section, only to drop it when something else catches my attention. As the mounds grow, walls of information between me and my surroundings give me great solace.

This mighty fortress isn't built in a day: The Sunday papers are meant to be rummaged through all week, even after their exile to the recycling container. Sometimes even for more than a week, much to my family's dismay. Often, in the ensuing days I'll catch myself digging through that box, asking: "Where is that article on kangaroo gymnastics in the Outback?"

With the Internet increasingly their sole source of news, this is a joy that fewer young people know and appreciate. In what is perhaps one of the most egalitarian experiences anywhere, reading the Sunday paper is likely to go the way of the dinosaur sooner rather than later. If we don't all get that by now, we should.

But that doesn't give me license to disappoint Sharon, Ashley, Kelsey, Lindsey, or anyone else behind the counter. Back in the deli's world, these ladies have the patience of saints. Sometimes when I need to pick up other items, I'll linger in the aisles and chuckle at some of the things they put up with.

Yet for all the surrounding drama, their refrain is unwavering: "Thanks, Telly. Have a great week. See you next Sunday. Or sooner."

My vanity notwithstanding, as long as they keep printing those colossi, the gals can count on it.

Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. You may e-mail him at: tchalkias@aol.com