I was the world’s worst paperboy. In the salad days before the Internet, newspaper delivery boys achieved a certain status among pre-teens. We delivered the news. In my case, I usually delivered it late on a rickety 10-speed bicycle. I never saw a papergirl, but she would have been a big improvement on my abysmal record.
I like to blame my poor delivery skills on the fact I never wanted to be a paperboy in the first place. I needed a job after lawn-cutting season ended and a classmate’s older brother was looking for someone to help him expand his route.
I’d grown to hate my bike because I had to ride it so much to get around as it was. In the days before carpools, children in large families didn’t travel well. Delivering newspapers would ruin bike riding for me forever.
My route was actually a subcontracting job; my high school boss hired me and oversaw my inadequacy. I don’t know if I was paid a fair wage, but I know no amount of money ever felt worth it. I was asked to pick up the tied bundles he’d leave on his lawn and assemble the papers (advertisements often had to be inserted into the papers). The weekday editions were easy, but the Sunday paper required almost an hour to combine the extra sections. I learned to hate cartoons because of the work involved in adding them to the bulky papers I’d have to squeeze into the small blue bread bag to keep them together.
We’d use the same bags when it rained. I was the world’s worst paper stuffer and I didn’t have the stamina to bring them all back to my house, compile them, then go and attack the same hills for delivery. As a result, I crammed the slightly damp papers into the bags right there on the street. On rainy days, my customers had to handle their newspapers with gloves lest they get dishpan hands by the time they finished reading.
On the other hand, if it rained hard enough my mom would have to drive me along my route. As a result, I’d pray for rain the way ancient Native Americans would during a drought.
It didn’t help that no one ever sat me down and explained how the delivery game worked. I assumed every paper had to be delivered to customers personally. My neighbors looked at me quizzically when I appeared on their doorsteps with that day’s Bridgeport Post. It turns out nobody likes a sweaty 10-year-old waking them up at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. In our house, sleeping in past 7 a.m. was sacrilege, so I never thought twice about assuming my neighbors held the same view.
There’s also something inherently cruel about asking a kid to ride up long, sloping hills with a pile of papers tied precariously to his rear fender. It got worse when it came time to collect money. No one should have to be a debt collector at such a young age. It was awkward watching my neighbors hide behind curtains as I knocked on their doors. My boss kept yelling at me for falling behind on my collections, but I began to feel like a prepubescent Snidely Whiplash.
By the time I spent one windy Sunday morning-into-afternoon picking up the scattered remains of the giant stack of newspapers that had fallen off my bike while grinding up a particularly long hill, I’d had enough. I crammed them back onto my bike and rode to a large trash container at a local construction site. I tossed them in the garbage and swore I was done with newspapers forever.
Now, all these years later, it’s probably the same reaction some of you have to reading my column. Here’s hoping it at least arrived dry.
You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net, contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.