My late father-in-law, Bill Pritchard, was proud of his ability to execute the “subway fold.” That’s the clever bit of newspaper origami that allows straphangers to read the New York Times on a packed A train chugging through Midtown.
Unable to shake the habit, Bill would do it even at his dining room table in Bethesda, proof that you can take the boy out of Brooklyn but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the boy.
You see variations of the subway fold on D.C.’s Metro, though not executed with the crisp precision that characterized the maneuver 50 years ago. Of course, newspapers have changed since then. Broadsheets are smaller, their column widths not quite so uniform. Folding a paper in half lengthwise, then in the middle, then again doesn’t guarantee an easy reading experience.
In 1997, a New York City Transit Authority spokesman told a Times columnist of the subway fold: “It’s a dying art form. It’s like Darwinism. Fewer people learn a skill, and it just dies out.’’
These days, most people just look at their phones anyway.
Not everybody. I recently wrote about a lady who slices The Washington Post to ribbons before reading it. I was curious if others read newspapers in unusual ways.
Reston’s Rose Mikus is also a deconstructionist, or has been since 1986, when her last child moved away and she had the time to read the paper in her own unique way.
Rose prepares by assembling her tools: a large knife, to slice the paper along its spine; scissors, to cut out articles of interest; a stapler, to join an article together if it appeared on different pages; a highlighter, to annotate special items; a pen, to write the date on saved stories.
Then, like pulling the bag of gizzards from a whole chicken, she removes for later reading that day’s special section: Food, Local Living, Weekend, Washington Post Magazine, etc.
She scans the front page quickly then gets to work. “I start with the Sports, Section D, and unless the local teams have done something noteworthy (or it’s the Olympics), this section will now go into the recycle bin,” Rose wrote. “Then it’s on to Style, Section C, to read during breakfast. First come the comic pages (of course!), followed by a check of the TV highlights and then the rest of the Style section.
“Next, I read Metro, Section B, during which I go to The Washington Post Points quiz, and when I find the answer, I enter it online.
“Lastly, for my night-time reading after TV viewing, I now check the front page, Section A, and set up the single pages in an easy-to-read format, and recycle the pages that don’t interest me. At this time, I’ll also go back to the day’s special insert section and either read it or put it in one of the eight containers that I’ve made for these sections so that I have them available for later reading.”
Rose admits that this may sound eye-rollingly complicated — eight containers?! — “but we all have our idiosyncrasies and mine is the manner in which I enjoy and get the most out of my daily newspaper.”
I’m just glad you read it, Rose!
Kathy Sullivan used to live in Arlington but has lived in Jordan for more than 25 years. “I often read English papers from back to front/right to left as for Arabic publications,” she wrote. “It’s unconscious . . . and sometimes time-saving.”
Eleanor Lawson of Springfield used to read newspapers for a living. She worked for a clipping service. Her office was in a building at Pennsylvania Avenue NW and 15th Street NW that was once on the back of the $10 bill.
A clipping service was the Google Alerts of its day. If you ran a business and were curious to see whether you had been mentioned in the paper, or if you were following a certain issue, you paid for one. Eleanor said she read about 60 papers a day. She had to memorize a list of 600 items that were also on index cards filed in a shoe-box-type file box.
“No desks, we used drafting tables,” she wrote. “We marked with a red grease pencil and someone else clipped in the back with blades.”
On Monday, I wrote about how, in 1934, House Clerk South Trimble served starling pie with birds he’d shot on the U.S. Capitol grounds.
“I doubt South Trimble discharged buckshot to kill those 50 starlings,” wrote Olney’s Jan Wessling. “Buckshot is designed for hunting large animals such as deer, hence the ‘buck’ in buckshot.”
Birdshot shells, on the other hand, contain smaller pellets. “Very effective for blasting starlings but no good for dropping bucks,” Jan wrote.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.