Thursday, July 27, 2006

Angels With Newsprint Fingers

"Whenever I think about the past, it just brings back so many memories." --Steven Wright

Recently, DW and I were with another couple at an east Baltimore neighborhood church carnival, which was in the neighborhood where the husband grew up. Unlike that carnival masquerading as a state fair in New Jersey, this was enjoyable. There were stands with chance wheels that were giving soda, chips, and baskets of groceries as prizes; I took home a huge bag of Chex Mix that could have doubled as a pillow. Moreover, I met a Congressional candidate stumping for votes (I don't live in his district), and then later realized we were high school classmates! A very nice evening indeed.

I told you that to tell you this: Being back near my old stomping grounds (I grew up a few miles to the north), it brought back memories of many aspects of my childhood. Today, I'll focus just on one, and perhaps talk about more later.

At some point or another, us four older children had jobs involving newspaper delivery. What I did more often was collect door-to-door from subscribers. Considering all the homes in our neighborhoods were rowhomes, it wasn't too difficult. The route belonged to a subcarrier who hired us to work it, and we had to meet a quota of something like 80 - 95 homes. It would usually take from 8:30 AM to 2 - 3 PM on Saturdays.

At first, the job was fun. I met all sorts of people, mostly older folks who were almost always watching Lawrence Welk if I came by at that time. And there were other memorable people:

  • The old guy who drooled on his money
  • The 60-something woman who once answered the door in a bikini, which she did NOT make look good
  • A young guy who almost always answered in his skivvies
  • The basketball coach from my rival high school
  • My parents, my best friend's parents, and my grandparents
Eventually, though, collecting became extremely dangerous. I could have up to $500 on me at a time, and I was nearly robbed.

So I served papers on Sunday mornings instead. I would wake up at 3 AM, jump in the van that picked up the other delivery guys, and head off to a garage where the papers would be dropped off. Three of us would then fold and string the papers and set them onto a conveyor belt where the fourth one would stack the papers. Stacking was crucial; if the papers weren't loaded correctly, they'd fall all over the back of the van, drowning us in newsprint. If it rained, all the papers had to go into bags.

We then would each take a half of a block at a time and stack the papers in our over-the-shoulder belts (remember, the papers are strung together already). One of my blocks involved carrying 16 Sunday papers in my belt. I would stagger all over the place, but I'd do it.

Afterward, we always went to Mister Donut for donuts and milk, usually to the tune of AC/DC's "Back in Black" album. Then I'd go home, clean the newsprint off my hands, and go get some more sleep.

Speaking of sleep, my brother says when he served papers, he would "sleepwalk" a bit when he knew he had time between houses. Of course, it took the van waking up the whole neighborhood to get him awake at 3 AM.


Anonymous said...

You know, my brother and my sister both had paper routes back in the early seventies. They both delivered to a garden apartment complex (at different times), and looking back, I see that there was quite a bit of responsibility in the job.

Rain or shine, well or ill, the papers had to be delivered on a daily basis. If you couldn't do it, you had to find someone who would cover for you.

I went with my sister a few times. I remember the types of nuts you described, and I wonder, did they just get some weird kick from answering the door in various states of undress.

One guy, a former cop (I now realize why he was a "former" cop, lol) used to parade around an open bay window in nothing more than his thigh length bathrobe. He loved to stretch and reach...if you get my point. To say the least, at twelve, I was sort of freaked out by the show. And this clown would answer the door like that. According to my sister, he never got dressed. He shot himself a few years later.

There was another woman I will never forget. I was helping my sister "collect" from the customers one balmy, 100 degree August day. Up and down flights of stairs, across parking lots...we were exhausted and burning up. Mrs. Oddball opened her door, and a blast of cold air hit us (she had her a/c on high). She looked at my sister and I and said, "Oh, look at you two poor must be dreadful out there. I'd invite you in to sit down and give you a drink of water so you'd cool off, but I wouldn't want you to aspirate". Whatever that means. We left two puddles of sweat in front of her door... though....

Anonymous said...

HEY! I'm not anonymous!!!! How did that happen. I'm not ashamed of helping my sister deliver her newspapers on a few occasions - I don't need to hide behind "anonymous", LOL.

SR (in case I hit the wrong thing again...)

SeasonedRefinement said...

Anonymous twice????

At least I figured out why it was happening. No, I'm not telling you what I did wrong.