I think you can tell how well or poorly your life is going by how you feel about Sundays.
The New York Times runs a feature wherein prominent figures share how they spend their Sundays. Their choices are often interesting — always quirky. Among casual figures, however, the take on Sunday seems rather negative — hence the term “Sunday Blues.” People get anxious about going back to school or work and find themselves unable to enjoy in any capacity the weekend’s third act. I never understood this.
Looking back, Sunday was always my favorite day of the week. When I was young, I looked forward to the NBA on NBC or “This Week in Baseball.” In high school and college, I worked at the Hampton Cinemas Six and gave recommendations to Dan “DaVinci Code” Brown (I lost him on “Vanilla Sky”). But my Sunday Heyday fell between 2011 and 2016. This is when I was living in Astoria, New York, writing for a network late night show and sharing my favorite apartment with my then-wife.
NOW HOLD ON A SECOND! I know you’re ready to bail on that last part, but need I remind you that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as Brené Brown would verify, should you stop reading you are an insensitive twerp! So put that click-finger down and keep the scroll-finger up — I am going to tell you how I used to spend my Sundays, and perhaps, we can together arrive at a better understanding of Sundayism.
The day would begin as it did for most comics in Astoria: late. No earlier than 10 a.m. I would look out the window, bask in my New York happiness…then spend my first showered moments drinking and eating something from Dunkins while reading The Boston Globe with a vague awareness of Jeremy Lin or the Second Avenue subway line.
Around noon, my wife would return home from the gym, and by 1, we would be off to our favorite coffee and bagel establishment — the New York City Coffee and Bagel Co. My order was always the same: everything with turkey bacon cream cheese, chocolate muffin warmed, and another iced coffee (I’d be needing that second kick later). Hers was more intricate: an everything bagel with contents that would now doubt land on a Twitter or Instagram thread about difficult orders. I can’t even pretend to know everything that was in it. She herself had a list from which she would read — like managers on “This Week in Baseball” exchanging lineups after a double switch.
But I admired it. She was very particular about what she wanted, came prepared, and the baristas never complained. When she returned, I would go from watching her execute this culinary accord to joining her in watching parents with small children. “That’s going to be us one day, right?” she would ask. I’d assure her that it would be. Unless it happened to be that one weekend each month where we avoided the topic.
From there, we would usually go to one of our neighborhood’s many street fairs — she loading up on scrunchies and workout gear, I on posters and discounted “dad music.” After that we would head to the Regal Kaufman Astoria. It wasn’t just about seeing a movie: it was about taking advantage of the deals. Get lunch or an early dinner at Uno’s or Applebee’s, and you nab yourself a discount movie pass. And even with that pass, you could accumulate points on your Regal Club Card. For less than 100 dollars total, you could have two meals, a bunch of scrunchies, a Batman poster, see movie and still get a free popcorn. Man, did I love Astoria. It was cheap — and for that reason, safe.
With the sun now setting, I would turn to the setlist I had compiled, pick out the best topics, take a deep breath — and call Dad. It always began the same — “How’s the weather there?” “How’s the weather there?” — and before long, I’d be looking for one of the stage managers from work to tell me how much time until the next commercial. But then…we’d find it: something in the news we’d both seen, out of which we’d both gotten a kick. After some 45 minutes that felt more like five, I’d hear Mom asking to get on the phone. But that time with Dad was important. He didn’t really do e-mail, so I needed to make use of that 45 minutes — and make sure Mom didn’t run too long.
Because any moment, they’d be popping up in my inbox: the Weekend Premises.
“Premises” were prompts sent by the writer’s assistant summarizing the news and linking to various articles off of which we were expected to, as they say, make good comedy. Ever since I began my tryout as a freelancer in mid-2009, I waited for those premises like they were Christmas presents. I could have one of the worst weeks I’d ever had — hitting a wall, or trying to make topics like the debt ceiling amusing — but the minute I got those Weekend Premises? Let me at ’em. You know how they say a dog would eat forever if you let him? That was me with those Premises. Between the current events of two full days me being eye-deep in sugar, I could sit and go forever. I once turned down another job I had called to take simply because I got those Premises.
From 8–10, though, the jokes would stop, as we would eat dinner — baked if by her, grilled if by me (shout-out to the fine folks at Brinkmann). Then, it was either “The Real Housewives,” a WWE Pay-Per-View…or the “uniter”: “Mad Men.” Getting to bed before midnight after a fulfilling Sunday would temporarily blind me from the…not-as-welcome work e-mails later in the week. And…spirited discussions Saturday morning. Simply put, I had the order background. Even though those Premises were coming last…in my mind, they were first. So as I’m sure Dad — who openly despised the dark, winter months — didn’t love waiting to hear from his son until sunset, my wife probably didn’t love trying to stay awake on my schedule when she had been up since 7.
That’s the thing about Sunday. Not only can it make things seem worse than they are — it can also make you overlook the mistakes that are lurking in the shadows. There is, after all, just one day with the word “Sun” in its name.
I don’t remember exactly when Sundays stopped being Sundays (to me, at least). It could be when we moved to Hoboken — leaving the neighborhood I loved. Maybe it’s when I got promoted, and grew privy to how much of theirSunday the writer’s assistant would spend working for a show that didn’t air until Monday. And by the time I was finished digging around for stories to help…it was long after noon. The good news: my wife had our own child to look at in a café. The bad: I was back digging up news links.
I remember the worst Sunday I had. It was the day my wife said to call home — and ask for Mom. And when I did, Mom informed me she would be joining my calls with Dad going forward, as the memory issues I’d observed had officially been diagnosed. When you add all that to the Trump-era news cycle in a job focused on news, it can be hard to keep track of days altogether. So perhaps that is when Sundays vanished.
Astoria’s own Cookie Monster once tweeted, “Don’t cry because cookie is over, smile because cookie happened!” So I guess this is me doing that. To look back on when Sunday was my favorite day of the week. It still starts out that way — my beautiful, caring, funny four-year-old waking me up, eating her fruit and breakfast of choice (with very particular instructions on its preparation), and playing with me. She tells me that she loves me, makes jokes about the past couple days, and Sunday feels like Sunday.
But just as it begins…it ends.
I return her to her mother — the woman with whom I would spend Sundays for nearly a decade — and we avoid eye contact, never mind pleasantries. I say hi to Dad, and he says hi back — but even though I’m physically in his presence, a brief look into his familiar but distant eyes tells me he no longer comprehends our connection.
As for those Premises? My fault or otherwise, they stopped coming.
Johnny Cash once sang, “There’s something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone.” For me, it’s the Sundays that came before this one. It’s one thing if you’ve just never loved Sundays, but when you used to love them…it’s tough to kick that loss. And as you age, and friends drift away, you wonder if Sunday will ever be Sunday again. You wonder if you were living in your own “Vanilla Sky” timeline.
And that’s when you understand the “Sunday Blues.”
You feel like a trope. You feel like a cliché. You feel one step closer to just being alone in the woods. And as a loved one’s memories fade…I can’t get my own to leave. I guess that’s why as things “open back up” and “get back to normal,” I’m the most anxious I’ve been since I so much as heard of COVID-19. Because while people have been all about uniting and coming together and checking in on one another, I fear that will soon end. Zoom Willingness will soon dissipate, we will not all be going through the same thing, and it will again come down to who you have in your life. And the sad reality is, those who struggle due to illness, depression or circumstance will again be reminded they “really should” avoid burdening others — after all, you don’t want to depress people. But, I guess we can just wait until next year’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
That’s an awful lot of Sundays.
As I write this, I dread Sundays. It’s a day I know will carry immense, but short-lived, happiness. And when I hear my daughter in her maturing — and increasingly familiar — voice say, “Dad — get up!”, it hits hard. I wish she’d been there to give me that same advice five or six years ago. But to her, Sunday mornings are about time with Dad.
So…I get up.