Saturday, July 21, 2007

"It was twenty years ago today..."

Twenty years ago this month -- almost to the day -- I bought the house I currently live in. For most of those twenty years, I had a long narrow driveway that led to a garage in back of the house. Since it was difficult to back out of without banging the car against the house, I never parked the car in the garage. It seemed sort of foolish having a garage that I couldn't use, so a couple of years ago, I decided to build a new garage in front of the house. As part of that project, I had a wider driveway poured, and after that, I had some retaining walls built so water wouldn't seep into the house during heavy rains. Finally, I had a guy install some sprinklers and do some landscaping.

Now here's the thing: In the eighteen years before the new driveway was poured, the various newspaper delivery people never had any trouble landing the paper somewhere on the narrow driveway each morning. But now that I've got a wider driveway -- and they've got a bigger target -- they seem to have a lot of trouble hitting it. It seems like, as often than not, they toss the paper on the sidewalk or the parkway strip.

Why is this so terrible? Why is this so annoying to me that I would post a blog entry about it and force you to read it? Well, it isn't really all that terrible, except for the fact that the sprinklers are set to automatically go on at 7:00 in the morning, which means that by the time I get up and get the paper, it's usually soaking wet.

I'm exaggerating a little here -- it's never soaking wet, but parts of it are sometimes damp. One mitigating factor is that they always put the newspaper in a plastic bag, so most of the water just beads up on the bag and rolls away, but since the bag isn't sealed, some water occasionally manages to get inside. And it's not a big problem for me, because it seems like on weekdays I rarely actually get around to reading the paper anyway. It usually just goes from sidewalk to kitchen table to recycling bin.

However, I like doing the Sunday crossword puzzle, so that's the one day of the week that I insist my newspaper be absolutely dry. (I don't know if you've ever tried doing a crossword puzzle on soggy newsprint, but in case you haven't, be advised that it isn't a lot of fun.) So I've got the sprinklers programmed to stay off on Sundays.

By the way -- and this is directed to people who like to do crossword puzzles -- have you noticed that crossword puzzles are generally considered as belonging to the class of puzzles known as "word games"? I wish they actually were word games, but it seems like most of the clues (and therefore most of the answers) have nothing to do with your knowledge of words. Instead they rely on your knowledge of history, geography, sports, pop culture, politics, and just about everything else other than your vocabulary. Wordplay has almost nothing to do with it. So crossword puzzles are more like trivia games than word games. I wish it weren't true, but it is.

I remember, one time I was trying to do a British crossword puzzle. I gave up after looking at one or two clues. As little as I know about American trivia, I know even less about British trivia, so finishing the puzzle would have been impossible. (And don't take my use of the word "trivia" too literally here. I'm not using it in the original pejorative sense of "useless information" -- I'm using it in the more recent sense of "miscellaneous knowledge.")

Anyway, I always manage to finish the Sunday puzzle, but there are times when I can't do it without resorting to a web search. I consider this to be a form of cheating, but I do it anyway. However, there are some people who think that looking on the web or in a dictionary is perfectly okay. I think those people are much too easy on themselves.

But getting back to my original topic, there used to be something called a paper route. These things might still exist somewhere, but not in my neighborhood. When you think of a paper route, you might think of some kid who rides his bike down the street every morning before school, throwing newspapers on people's driveways or walkways or lawns. I think when I was a kid, I even had one or two friends who had a paper route, but I haven't been a kid in a long time and newspapers today aren't delivered by school children on bicycles -- they're delivered by immigrants who probably work at least two jobs a day, driving up the street sometime between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. One guy drives the car while the other throws a newspaper out the passenger window whenever the car gets anywhere near someone's house.

This is just one example of how the face of American suburbia has changed in the years since I was a kid. But if you think I'm complaining, I'm not. There are probably plenty of people who don't like the fact that hard-working immigrants are getting the jobs that could be going to overfed American school children, but I have no problem with it. No problem at all. I just think they should learn how to throw better.