I have a New Year's tradition. Whenever I spend New Year's near an ocean or a lake, I go swimming on New Year's day, no matter how cold it is. The first time I tried this was about ten years ago. I was with a college friend in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, and there were actually ice floes in the water. I was in the water for about ten seconds, and two hours later my balls were still the size of hazelnuts.
The ocean this year near my father's place on Long Island was even colder than the water that day ten years ago. I dove in headfirst at the beach down the street and immediately had to run out of the water and back into the car at full speed, screaming like a hysterical housewife. It took nearly twenty minutes to get the feeling back in my toes.
I do that ritual once a year. But this year, I have to read the New York Times once a day. After just three days, I'm finding that first step of actually reading the front page harder than jumping into freezing water.
Normally, when I buy a newspaper, I read the sports section first. But since the Times sports section sucks so badly, I've had to search the paper back and forth for a less painful point of entry.
I found it yesterday: the corrections section. If the corrections section was 100 pages long, like the actual paper, I would read it gladly every day. It's that rare kind of writing that can be read greedily, like Catch-22 or a Raymond Chandler novel. It's hard to imagine ever getting enough of reading like this blurb, taken from yesterday's corrections:
"A report in the Boldface Names column yesterday misspelled the surname of a religious leader who attended an ecumenical breakfast with Michael R. Bloomberg at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He is Rabbi Arthur Schneier, not Schneider."
I couldn't write something that funny if you gave me ten years to work on it. There are so many great details. My favorite is the "R" in "Michael R. Bloomberg." They could have said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mayor Bloomberg, or simply Michael Bloomberg... but no, it had to be Michael R. Bloomberg. Rabbi Schneier's name is a nice touch as well. Kudos to whoever thought of it.
I also enjoyed the way they make the attending of an ecumenical breakfast out to sound like something sinister. I almost wished they had put quotation marks around the words "ecumenical breakfast", as though implying that they really meant something else.
The Times also has a great love for its corrections page, but for different reasons. It likes very much to admit to the tiniest of tiny mistakes (We are profoundly sorry for the reckless addition of a "d" to Rabbi Schneier's name) to underscore the truly amazing fact its having been so thoroughly right about anything else. The corrections page never says, "The management apologizes deeply for not having killed that shitty column by Maureen Dowd yesterday." Instead, it gives you stuff like this, today's first correction:
"An article in Sunday about India's movement of military forces because of tensions with Pakistan misidentified the aircraft carrier that moved toward Pakistani waters in the Arabian Sea. It is the Viraat; the Vikrant has been decommissioned."
They write this in a tone that suggests the paper expects readers all over New York to slap their foreheads and say to their bored wives sitting across the breakfast table, "You see, Martha! I told you they meant the Viraat in that article last Sunday! The Vikrant has been decommissioned!"
The corrections are often like small short stories; they have beginnings, middles, and ends. By themselves, they often make no sense at all, but that doesn't make them unsatisfying literature. Here's another one from today:
"An article in Arts & Ideas on Saturday about a Raphael exhibition in Paris, which includes 'La Fornarina', a painting of the baker's daughter who became his mistress, referred erroneously to her burial place. It is not she but Maria Bibbiena, the painter's longtime fiancee, who is buried beside him in the Pantheon."