It began innocently, on January 23, 2015. That Friday, I signed up for The New Yorker‘s free daily e-newsletter. By Saturday afternoon, my first edition had arrived in my Hotmail.
I can no longer remember how I ended up wandering into The New Yorker‘s website in the first place. But shortly after I got there, a friendly plain white dialog box had interrupted my reading to invite me to sign up for the daily e-newsletter. And I had accepted.
Each day, the e-newsletter delivered to me a selection of articles and cartoons that, when I clicked on them, magically transported me to the website, where I found myself wanting to click on more articles and cartoons, staying much longer than I intended. It could happen to anyone. Even you.
Then, one day, having been lured in the usual fashion, just as I was sinking into the first exquisite paragraph of an article on the website, a very unfriendly-looking yellow and black paywall barged in on 70% of my screen. It informed me that I had read my 10 free articles for the month. Would I now like to subscribe to the magazine for the pleasure of unlimited reading, print and digital?
I thought it over for a nanosecond. Pleasure of unlimited reading? Yes please. Pay money? No please.
Month after month, whenever that mean yellow/black box got in the way of my fun, as I knew it would sooner or later (since I never remembered to keep track of how many of my freebies I was using up, and spacing out 10 articles over 30 days turned out to be remarkably torturously impossible), I would always click ‘Not today, thanks.’ Then I would just go hungry for whatever remaining days were left in the month.
And then, I broke down. I was in the U.S, breathing air just 240 miles south of New York City itself, so maybe that’s what did it. Who knows. In any case, after eight long months of dabbling, rationing unsuccessfully, I clicked. ‘Yes, subscribe me.’
Before I had even finished filling in my last name on the subscription form, I began having second thoughts. Not even actual thoughts. Whispers, like Really? You sure you’re up for this? An actual print issue in your home? Of The New Yorker?
I was glad I wouldn’t really have to answer any of those questions, because I knew that as soon as I started putting in my Canadian postal code (that bizarro combo of letters and numbers) into the zip code box, the American form would spazz out and it wouldn’t let me go through with it anyway. Like a bride who gets into the limo totally chill, because she knows the priest died last night. But that was just a dream. He didn’t die. And the system didn’t freak out on me. It accepted M#G#H#. It let me go all the way, credit card and all.
Minutes later, panicked, I pressed the back button to reverse the deed. The page did something wonky so I couldn’t be sure whether it went through or not. For weeks, I checked my credit card statement. Not charged. Phew. That was August. But, come September, there it was in my mailbox. In living paper: my very first issue. September 21, 2015. And sure enough, on my credit card statement, there they were: three figures. Goodbye September groceries. I breathed deeply, massaged my earlobes, and decided to accept that what’s done is done. I was now officially A SUBSCRIBER.
The following week, as I was slowly working my way through the densely packed pages of the magazine, I got a shock. Another issue showed up in my mailbox! I’d somehow missed the fact that this thing is a weekly. Are they insane? Don’t they realize that if you take all the text from a single issue, double space it, size the font to 12 pt., and put it on 8.5 by 11 paper, it could easily make an average 250 page book? So how am I, a human person, supposed to keep up with one of these things on a weekly basis? Especially when I’m already committed to one actual book-book per week? More importantly, who is going to watch all my shows??
Clearly, I was in way over my head. Who did I think I was, even subscribing to The New Yorker, much less thinking that I could actually read it cover to cover, week in week out? Hubris much? But then, something else set in: that sense of “just watch me” or “I’ll do it if it kills me”. We have a nice simple word for it in Amharic: ilih. I became possessed with a severe case of ilih.
The problem was, I could only read it at home. I was too self-conscious to read it when I was out. I didn’t want to look like I was putting on airs. If I absolutely had to read it in public, I triple-folded it so that the cover never showed. The three-column print was perfect for this. Only once, I offered it to someone who was bored and needed something to read. It was Election Day, we were working a registration table, and there were long stretches of the day that were slow going. If the person was surprised that I had an issue of The New Yorker on me, I didn’t see it, because I kept my eyes averted when I handed it over, like a street urchin caught handling a forbidden object from the Museum of the Elite.
And so, for the first four issues I received, I battled it out with myself as much as with the magazine. Mind you, that’s in addition to the daily e-newsletter – that rabbit’s hole of literary deliciousness. My tv shows suffered terribly. By the October 19 issue, so had I. It was time to admit defeat. No way was I going to be able to keep this up for forty-something weeks. The ads in the magazine didn’t help my confidence either. They say that if you want to know who a magazine’s readership is, just look at the ads. Well, I’ve never even passed near a Bottega Veneta handbag. Nor am I shopping for one-of-a-kind vintage hemlock furniture, or itching to drop a few thousand at fine auction houses. I am also not spending much time wondering where to “grow my valuable assets” (unless we’re talking about a different kind of asset, in which case mine always grow just fine on their own, thank you). And rehab in the countryside sounds lovely and all, but…
What once had been just a little whisper of doubt in my head now got louder: Who do you think you are? You’re in way over your head, on the wrong side of the fence. Clearly the Bottega people who subscribe to this magazine have much more demanding, high-level jobs and therefore busier lives and yet they still find time to read this whole thing every week! You, however, are not Bottega material. You’re not even an actual New Yorker. Have you looked closely at the guy on the logo, he looks nothing like you? Why has it not occurred to you to subscribe to Toronto Life? And so on the symphony went.
As the week of October 19 neared its end, with more than half of the issue waiting to be read, I called the 515 customer service number and shamevoicedly asked about cancelling a subscription. I was told I have to call Rogers Magazines, the distributor in Canada. Their message in turn told me I would have to call back during working hours.
That’s when things got really interesting. A few days later, not having called the Rogers people again yet, I logged into my account on The New Yorker website, just because I could. The novelty of being able to do so, of feeling like a member of the club, hadn’t worn off yet. And I wanted to revisit that fancy feeling one last time.
Then, the horror. On my account status, it said ‘Suspended’.
Who told them I was failing? Are they watching me? Do they put secret fail-sensors in the pages?
Indignant, I immediately requested a chat session with customer service (I have found chat sessions to be a wiser choice than calling in, especially if I am already mad in advance). During the chat, I ended up sounding like a philandering husband who’s been found out: I just asked a question about cancellation. I never asked for a suspension. How did the person understand from just my asking a question that I wanted to suspend my account?
If my ilih had been ebbing before then, it shot right back up to warrior level. Think you can just write me off, New Yorker? Well, watch me. Watch me READ. Watch me read the life out of you. Who needs sleep, food, baths?
A week went by in this way.
At the end of which, I logged into my Rogers account, as I had been instructed to do during my chat with New Yorker’s customer service (you know, for when I actually mean that I want to cancel) and requested a cancellation. See, you can’t just cancel in one stroke. You have to request it. They like to give you some time “process” your failure, sink into the stew of it, get nice and soggy.
Maybe 10 articles a month was enough.
Yeah right. Maybe I can have just ten pieces of chocolate and put away the rest of the box.
So, I called Rogers, not even knowing exactly why. To seek absolution perhaps. To be told it’s ok to fail. I talked finances instead, as if it was budgetary concerns that were forcing me to cancel my subscription and I needed a breakdown of what a “partial refund” means. The French-accented operator very patiently took me through the mathematics. What “a partial refund” means, in numerical terms, is that they take whatever number of issues you have not yet received, and divide that by the amount you paid when you signed up, deduct a little bit here and there for their emotional distress (ha!), and then credit you whatever is left over. Which turned out to be a not insignificant amount. Large enough to signal the fact that I had barely read anything. Whatever. I decided to go with that version of the story. A girl needs groceries, after all. Fiscally sensible me. Au revoir I said, to operator and magazine.
Twenty-four hours later, I called him back. Well, not him him (Marc, I think it was). Another him. I’ve changed my mind, I said, is it too late? Say it ain’t too late, I can make it work. Give me a second chance. Not at all, said him. We can reverse the cancellation. I was relieved. They hadn’t given up on me after all.
So now here I am, missing my shows, tenderly lifting each crisp new arrival out of my mailbox, praying that Canada Post goes on strike.