One of the reasons I still take the Sunday New York Times in print is the physical ritual: separating the news sections from the feature sections, working through the former over coffee and the latter with a Bloody Mary.
Another of the reasons is the mental ritual: The scanning of the front page and the defiant refusal to read anything out of duty. It is Sunday, after all. No school-funding stories for me. I whip the Business section aside pretty quick too; I read about business all goddamn week.
The section I always save for last—and this is usually confronted well into the Bloody Mary and the second beer back—is the Sunday New York Times magazine, a publication that has an uncanny ability to offer nothing that doesn’t have a moralistic, pessimistic, joyless overall theme. I used to dream of writing an article in this magazine—until I realize I wouldn’t dream of writing an article in this magazine.
Nevertheless, I slog through the shiny pages in hopes I will be surprised, and because it’s all I have left before my midday nap. Soon, I come upon the front-of-the-book feature, “The Ethicist.” In which a philosopher named Kwame Anthony Appiah answers questions posed to him by readers. Here are some of the questions posed to The Ethicist this year:
“My Roommate Is Neglecting His Dog. What Should I Do?”
“The Elderly Man I’ve Been Helping Turns Out to Be a Bigot. What Do I Do?
“Is It OK That My Co-Worker Keeps Her Anti-Abortion Views on the Down Low?”
“How Much Should I Spend to Keep My Elderly Dog Alive?”
“My Sister Did Me Wrong in Secret. Should I Tell Her I Know?”
“What Should I Do With My Late Son’s Gun?”
“What Should I Do About a Friend’s Racist Figurines?”
“My Daughter Is Having Sex With Her Best Friend. Must I Tell Her Mom?”
“Is It OK That I’m OK With My Mom’s Adultery?”
“Should I Tell My Elderly Turkish Dad That His Grandchild Is Trans?”
When I get to The Ethicist, I always read the headline. And then the ritual becomes physical once again. I audibly say, “Pfffft.” And I whip that cheap glossy page over violently enough that it makes a flapping sound. Sometimes, it even rips.
Never once have I been as much as tempted the read The Ethicist’s “answer.”
Because I reason that the sort of hapless pipsqueak who confronts a personal dilemma and thinks—either a minute, a day, a week, a year or a decade into deliberations—”I know what, I’ll ask The New York Times!”—is emotionally and intellectually incapable of properly executing even the most correct, clearest advice she or he receives (in her or his Sunday New York Times!). The elderly Turkish dad will be put to sleep, and the elderly dog will turn out to be surprisingly accepting of her trans grandchild (and their racist figurines).
So it doesn’t matter a whit what The Ethicist says.
And I go to the next section, which breaks down mystery medical diagnoses: “He Was Remarkably Healthy Until Chronic Diarrhea Nearly Killed Him.”
I also read the Times because it provides lots of grist for the gaping week ahead, on my insatiable daily blog.