If you wanted it—and I mean really wanted it—there were rules to follow. You had to be willing to shoehorn yourself out of your top bunk in the black licorice dark of night. You had to be brave enough to survive the seemingly bottomless drop to the carpet if your groping foot somehow missed the ladder again. You had to have the conjuring abilities of Houdini escaping a straightjacket to be able to in fling your nightgown off and your sweatshirt on in one single fluid motion.
I was so good at this! But I should have been. I did this every single Sunday morning.
I made my way downstairs. The walls of the house seemed almost to breathe with a steady rise and fall to the gentle rhythm of everyone sleeping.
My mother was already waiting in the kitchen. She’d beaten me downstairs again. I come from a proud line of light sleepers, early risers. Plus she knew how to be quiet. My mother could get out the door without a squeak of her shoe or a jangle of her keys. She motioned for me to follow and I did.
Buckled into the Delta 88 we were on our way. If we got to the bakery early enough—and we almost always did–the bagels would be hot out of the oven. These were Detroit bagels, small and a little sweet and really pretty good. Better still were the onion rolls, the round flaky ones and the square ones that were called New Yorkers. A perfect silver rectangle of Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Sometimes we added an incredibly valuable pink packet: prepackaged lox, yearned for mouthfuls to be carefully divided and dolled out only in slivers. Once in a great while we’d get my very favorite, a whole chunk of sable.
Greedy little thing that I was, greedy little thing that I am, I wanted more. I always did.
My mother got that for me too. Three inches thick and an all day read: The Sunday New York Times. Pages and pages of jazzy, neon blitzed sophistication and elegance. I couldn’t believe that it miraculously appeared where I lived; on what I was sure was the edge of the known world, the suburbs of Detroit. Hot off the presses, the world and all it’s possibilities, now lay in my lap. Along with hot bagels in a crackling brown bag.
If there was a straight route home we never took it. Instead we meandered, driving slowly through the sleepy, tree lined streets of Birmingham. It was much too early for anyone to be out. The trim houses were Tudor or brick or ranch and contained by sidewalks. They were all different but uniformly tidy, with yards that were so manicured they appeared to have been combed out and then precisely hand-edged with nail scissors. Through the open windows, even the breeze felt just right.
As we drove slowly, yearningly past I could almost imagine each perfect house tied up with a bow. Unmade beds, messy closets, dishes in the sink an unimaginable impossibility. Did they read The New York Times? Did they live The New York Times?
Someday in Times Square I’d pluck newly folded copy of the Sunday Times right from a newsstand’s big stack. It was Saturday night but I’d already be living Sunday.
Someday, in a doorman building on Riverside Drive, piles and piles of Sunday papers would teeter in unread towers as night gowned and exhausted, I double fed infant twins.
Someday I swore I’d finish reading an article or maybe two—just as soon as I got back from a pick up or a drop off. Just as soon dinner was made and the laundry folded. I swear.
Someday Sunday mornings would again be very quiet. Three inches thick and an all day read.
The sun was coming up. We drove home. Everyone else was waking up. We were home once again to the happy cacophony of TV and spilled dog food and unmatched pajamas. But we had hot bagels. And we also had the delicious possibility of The Sunday New York Times.