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Archive for October, 2017

newsday

My entry into the workforce was delivering newspapers – Newsday, a Long Island publication that came out 7 days a week. There were about 50 houses on my route and neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night left their residents with empty, newspaperless hands. The town was Commack, a suburban-residential area; each house resting on about an acre of a well-manicured lawn and tended gardens. We were close enough to one another to hear our neighbors partying, or arguing, and far enough to not see each other through our windows.

The papers were hauled in a canvas bag hanging from the high handlebars of my banana seat stingray bike. This was the early/mid seventies – I was about 14 when I started, and kept at it until I was nearly old enough to drive. I usually hated the job – most of all Sundays, when I was up before first light, sitting on my cold garage floor, slipping tall stacks of colored ads – “inserts” into every paper. The Sunday papers were so thick, it sometimes took two trips to complete my route. The weight of the bag made the bicycle hard to steer, but it was something you learned how to do. You made wider turns and steered from your shoulders.  There were no days off, except maybe bank/mail holidays. If you were sick, real sick, you found a substitute. Or one of your parents would drive you along the route.

So why do this? Pshhh… easy answer. Money. I soon earned enough to procure a glowing flame-orange Huffy 10 speed bike. I loved that machine and put a lot of miles on it. I also bought a magnificent 6-man tent that my friends and I would use to camp out in my yard, and in later years would lug up into the Catskill Mountains. It took two to carry it. Also, girls were entering the picture and if you wanted to go somewhere with one, you needed money.

It’s probably not much of a job option anymore. I don’t think there are a lot of paperboys pedaling around these days. Around here (Killingworth, CT), at least, newspapers are delivered by adults in cars. It’s a shame. Kids learned a lot of valuable life lessons from this often-first paid job. They learned responsibility. Completing the job rested solely upon them. There were no excuses. You did the job or got fired, just like in real life. They learned money management. You kept a ledger of customers, tracking their payments, subscription details, and vacations. If you wanted things, you had to save up for them. Not spending money on a whim, especially if you are a teenager, is a skill and a lesson in self control. Newsday would pay us a small stipend per customer, but the real money was in the tips (especially around Christmas!), leading to the next lesson; people skills. Not only did we have to go door to door to collect our money in person, if we wanted to make more money, we needed to solicit more customers. This, too, required knocking on doors, asking strangers if they’d like to “get the paper”. I eventually added enough new customers to earn the coveted title of “Master Carrier”. The honor came with a sweatshirt bearing that title. Seriously, though, I wore it proudly.

So much of what we are today come from things we did long ago. Some of those things are things we have to overcome. But some are things that we can look back upon in appreciation of the role they played in building our foundation. I’m proud to have once been a paperboy. Not only for the life lessons, but also for the right to say to the young’uns, “When I was your age, I was pedaling a little stingray bike through the heat and slush, delivering cumbrous sacks of papers for a bit of change.”

Some memories:

  • Bad weather was NEVER an excuse to stay home. Didn’t mind the snow. Didn’t mind the heat. Did not like the rain. HATED sleet. Slush was the absolute worst!
  • I had a mad crush on a customer’s daughter who was in one of my classes. She once answered the door in her little white nightgown. I literally froze in place. I don’t know for how long, but I remember just standing there, wordless. Adolescent memories like that never fade… (Her name was Robin)
  • And then there are the houses with huge, exploding dogs that you swore were seconds away from tearing through that thin screen that stood between you and getting your throat ripped out.
  • Once a month I had an extra long day, often out till dark, to collect the money. You knock on each door and shout, “Collect”. It was amazing how many adults were caught by surprise (it was always the same day of the month) and didn’t have the money. This would prompt a second, and sometimes third, trip. It was often the same people. I didn’t particularly like those people.
  • But I did like most of them. Most were actually kind of nice to me.
  • From the front stoop, different people’s houses smelled like different food cooking.
  • I wasn’t “John”. I was “paperboy”. If I knocked on the door and they asked who it was, I was “paperboy”. Very few knew my name.
  • A guy from Newsday would sometimes drive your route to check that you put the inserts in. He’d actually pull the newspaper out of the mailbox and rifle through it. This wasn’t too often (that I knew of), and on a couple occasions I’d still risk dumping the pile of inserts down the storm drain. There. I admit it. But paperboys hated inserts.
  • I never met my boss – never once saw him in person. I’d get home and a stack of papers would be waiting for me in front of the garage. On occasion, I’d talk to him on the phone if I was short a paper, but that was rare.
  • Loved Mondays and Tuesdays, when the paper was thin.
  • If there were 2 stacks in front of the door, my heart would sink. That meant inserts. Did I mention paperboys hated inserts?
  • Some people didn’t tip. Sometimes their paper would get a little wetter in the rain than their neighbors’. There. I admit that, too.
  • They all had your phone number. If you were running late, they’d want to know where you were (looking back, can’t blame ’em). If you missed a house for some reason, Mom would pass on the message when you got home and you’d have to head back out. Hopefully you still had an extra paper.
  • I was home sick and my substitute (my friend John), missed a whole lot of houses. Got lots of angry phone calls. Had to take the cost of one paper off of the bill for each one of them (more record-keeping). People really wanted their newspaper and there was little forgiveness for failing to deliver them! Again, looking back, can’t blame ’em.
  • I was supposed to hang out with a girl I liked after school, but I had to do my route first. She came with me and helped put the papers in the boxes! That’s what would be known as a good day at work.
  • Toward the end of my delivery career, one of my customers (who shall remain nameless), asked if I would mow his lawns on weekends. I later learned he was connected with a certain NY mob boss. He would offer me gifts that – and he really used these words – “fell off a truck”. (My mother made me return them – she had “a funny feeling”). I liked him – he always very good to me.
  • There was a Chinese woman who struggled to speak English. I had to concentrate very hard to understand her. When you concentrate very hard trying to understand someone, you feel like you get to know them a little better. Maybe it’s the increased eye contact, or the fact you are listening with extra intensity. I remember being happy for her each time she cleared another word hurdle. (“Wednesday” was a tough one for her)
  • I occasionally have a recurring dream in which I’m riding my bike along the end of my route, and can’t find my way out. Always the same area.  Beyond the end of my route lie the homes of people I did not know. It was no-man’s land, both in reality at the time, and in the dream. Wonder what that means…

Would love to hear some stories from some of you ex-paperboys!

 

 

 

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