This morning, as I unfolded my newspaper, a small envelope slipped out. It was a “holiday” card — about as nondenominational and unspecific as they come — and it wished me and everyone in my “household” a very happy merry whatever season’s greetings.
Or something like that. The text of the card isn’t as interesting as the sender. It came from the person or persons who are tasked each morning with the delivery of my two daily newspapers. They are supposed to be as close to my front door as possible, or at least close enough that I can slip out quickly in my robe and grab them without the front door closing behind me and making me appear ridiculous in front of my neighbors. And on rainy days, they are supposed to arrive as dry as possible.
Yes, I know you can get pretty much every newspaper online and that the really upscale ones have their own apps. But I like doing the crossword puzzles on paper (in pen, so there), and that means that my morning ritual involves making coffee, exposing myself briefly in front of my neighbors, grabbing the papers, flipping through the left-wing bias in the news sections, the skewed and often misleading headlines everywhere else, skipping the Arts section profiles of someone “dismantling the structures of oppression through dance” (or whatever) and folding back the pages into a neat little folio and getting at the crossword puzzle.
Crossword puzzles, according to an article I’m pretty sure I read somewhere, are effective ways to prevent or postpone dementia — word games, in general, are good for that — but I rely on my puzzles for a more immediate mental jump start. Once both grids are filled out, I feel like my brain is fully awake. When I write in the three-word answer to “Ant. for ant. For short,” for instance, I’m ready to face the day.
It’s “syn,” by the way. Get it? “Antonym for antonym, for short”? It’s “synonym,” or “syn.” See how fun these are?
So the entity that’s supposed to deliver my daily papers enclosed end-of-the-year greeting cards in each of them, and the message was very clear. It wasn’t just that they wanted to make sure that I knew how much they care about me. What they want, of course, is money. An end-of-the-year gift from me to express my gratitude for their daily help in keeping my mental decline at bay, at least for another 24 hours.
Except: Often, when I slip out of the house quickly to retrieve my newspapers, I find them missing. Sometimes, after some investigation in my pajamas, I discover them behind the wooden bins that hold the garbage bags where the spiders and the rats live. Or in the ivy bushes beneath the stoop of the house next door. Or soaking wet. Or just not there, anywhere.
And, of course, I complain, and for the next few weeks, the papers are carefully slid through the mail slot in the front door — as a result, those are the weeks in which my mental acuity is at its peak. But then, after a few weeks, the papers go back into hiding, and I don’t do my crosswords, and in those weeks, I’m left forgetful and confused and sometimes find myself standing in the middle of a room wondering what I came in for.
But this morning, both papers were neatly placed at the door. Today, for some reason, the delivery outfit made certain I got my crossword puzzles and the enclosed cards. Today, the service was impeccable.
It comes down to this: They want me to tip them for doing a lousy job. Which, I confess, I’m probably going to do because, well, I’m conflict averse and basically a coward. But also because I don’t celebrate the “merry happy season’s tidings ecumenical nondenominational time of wintry joy.” I celebrate Christmas, which is supposed to be a time of no-strings-attached giving and general, blanket forgiveness.
The right thing to do, clearly, is to send a note to the delivery team — their address is helpfully stamped in multiple places on the card — and enclose a $20 bill and a note of my own, thanking them for reliably delivering my newspapers 60% of the time. That would strike just the right balance between celebrating the Christmas season of giving and making a sharp rebuke in a passive-aggressive way. Which is also a tradition of the Christmas season, to be honest.
And I’d better do it today, because tomorrow, I might not find the papers so easily, which might mean no crosswords. Which means I’ll forget all about it.
Rob Long is a television writer and producer, including as a screenwriter and executive producer on Cheers, and he is the co-founder of Ricochet.com.