Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Paperboy, Part Two

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! I started telling you about my paper route yesterday.

I liked being a paperboy, for the most part. The deliveries were no big problem. I could be in my own world delivering the papers in the early morning. I’d ride my bike up and down Elliot and Oak and Maple – yes, those were the actual names of the streets – and, aside from one dopey collie on Oak that occasionally took me out of my reverie by charging full speed out of his backyard and trying to bite me, it was kind of fun flinging the papers and seeing how close I could get them to the door while riding by. However, I actually had to interact with people when collecting, and that was work.

Considering some of the things I divulge here, and the fact that my current job involves nothing but communication, you might find it hard to believe that I was a very shy kid. I was. I really hated knocking on doors and asking people for money. It didn’t matter that I knew they owed me. I still felt somehow like I was begging. Most of the folks were friendly enough, but I was still ill at ease. I especially dreaded the customers who would tell me that they didn’t have the money this week and ask me to collect double the next time. Half the time they didn’t remember that they owed me double. When I reminded them, they gave me a look like I had just peed on their carpet. However, there was one woman who always paid when it was due and, on one occasion, gave me more than money for a tip.

She was an older woman. Of course, at the time I was 14, so somebody 15 would have been older. I think she might have been 40. She was dark blond, pretty in a mature way, very soft looking skin, and she smelled of lavender bath powder – not overpowering, but just always sort of hovering in the air around her when she came to the door. She was always nicely dressed and she had the slightest hint of a southern accent, an odd – but charming – thing in this neighborhood near Boston.

Whenever she answered the door and saw me there, she smiled very sweetly. I smiled back, of course. She’d ask me to step inside the front hall while she got my money. While I waited for her to return, I’d often hear her singing softly while she went through her purse or whatever. It was a pleasant stop each week. And she always tipped me a quarter.

Well, one week she came to the door and she was in a robe. It was mostly red, appeared to be silk and had floral patterns on it. She asked me to step inside, as usual. I couldn’t help noticing that she was barefoot. She had painted toenails. She went to get her purse and then she asked me to come into the room where she had gone.

I was no dummy. I grew up in Dorchester and went to Boston Public Schools, so I had certainly heard my share of dirty jokes concerning lonely women and traveling salesmen, milkmen, mailmen, and so forth. I started to wonder if I might be in the middle of one.

The room she called me into was her kitchen. She asked me if I might like a piece of cake that she had just baked that morning. Well, sure! I’ve never been one to turn down a free piece of cake. She put a big slice of yellow cake with chocolate frosting on a plate. She got me a fork and asked me if I’d like something to drink. I suppose if I had been surer about what was happening, I might have been all suave and asked her for a snifter of brandy. Instead, I told her that a glass of milk would be fine. She poured me a tall one.

As I ate the cake, she sat next to me and asked a couple of innocuous questions – where was I from, where did I go to school, stuff like that. Then she excused herself from the room, saying she’d be right back.

She hadn’t done anything overtly sexy, but I was 14 and horny. I did start to wonder if she might return to the kitchen naked or something. I wouldn’t have been unpleased. She wasn’t bad looking. She was also very nice in her mannerisms – gentle, sweet, soft-spoken, and graceful. I finished my cake and pondered the possibilities.

She returned to the kitchen as fully-clothed as when she had left it, but carrying a few items in her hands. She put them down on the table just slightly off to my side.

She said, “I thought you might like these things. If you want, you can have them.”

There was a ruler, a small notebook, a nice ballpoint pen, and a couple of other small school-type items. As I regarded them, she leaned over my shoulder to show them to me more closely. I could feel the heat of her body. My face was close enough to her to see a few small, fine blond hairs on her neck. The smell of the lavender bath powder was no longer hovering; it had landed.

After a minute or so of showing me the items, she casually straightened up. She asked me if I wanted more cake. Well, I can always hold more cake, but I didn’t want to look like a pig, so I said, “No, thank you, ma’am.”

She went to the other side of the kitchen, got a small paper bag, and came back over to the table. She put the ruler, notebook and other things in the sack. She handed it to me and I thanked her.

I stood up from the table and, as I did so, she said, “Oh, I forgot!” and she went into the pantry that was a few steps on the other side of the kitchen. She returned quickly, before I could start thinking any more Mrs. Robinson thoughts, and said, “I almost let you leave without your money!”

She handed me the regular collection and a half-dollar tip. I thanked her profusely then. That was the biggest tip I had ever received from any of my customers. She said, in that slight southern accent, “You’re very welcome. You’re a nice boy.”

Then she walked me to the door, giving me a very slight touch of her soft fingertips to my cheek - the only actual physical contact in the entire meeting.

I’ve never quite been able to deduce whether it was an attempt at a seduction or not. The way my hormones were raging at that age, almost everything had a sexual undertone to it in my mind. I think she may just have been a very nice lady, a bit lonely, perhaps at one time with a boy of her own whom she missed. I truly don’t know.

After that day, she never answered the door other than in regular clothes. She still smiled, but she never invited me inside again. The tip was always a quarter, which was a good tip but not as good as a half-dollar. I spent quite a few spare moments thinking about her. To this day, I can recall the smell of that bath powder and whenever I see small fine hairs on a woman’s neck, I think of her.


A totally different sort of encounter with a customer happened when I put a newspaper through the glass on his front door.

I had been doing the route for close to a year and I was now very good at being able to judge the speed and distance I’d need on a toss while I was riding by on my bike. I could usually land the paper within a foot or so of my target. I very rarely had to stop pedaling even once on the entire route, other than for traffic.

I was in the home stretch, on Maple Street, and feeling really good about myself. I had been hitting my targets with precision all the way along the route. As I came up on the Andrews house, I was whistling. I readied their paper in my right hand as I steered with the left.

It should have been the other way around. Their house was on my left. I was feeling so cocky about my aim, though, that I decided to try to hit their porch with a hook shot as I rode by. Bad idea. I let loose the paper and I knew as soon as I let it go that it was too strong a throw.

Well, I was disappointed in losing my perfect string of throws, but other than that, I didn’t expect it to be truly troubling. I started to put on my brakes. I figured to get off the bike, pick up the paper and place it on the porch. Except…


I heard it, but I didn’t want to see it.

I turned around anyway. Where there had been a storm door with two lovely panes of glass, there was now a storm door with one lovely pane of glass in the upper section, but no glass at all in the lower section. The paper wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

I immediately understood that the paper was inside the door, along with most of the glass. I was terrified. I had no idea how much it would cost to replace the glass. I had visions of myself delivering papers for the next ten years in order to pay for it.

“Hey, Sully, who are you taking to the senior prom?”

“Nobody. I’ve got to do my collections that night.”

I don’t know what possessed me to do so, but instead of going back and knocking on the door and taking my medicine, I got back on my bike and finished the route. Then I went home.

There was no way in the world I couldn’t be blamed for what happened, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go up to the door, ring the bell, and face the immediate wrath of Mr. Andrews. Somehow, it seemed better to go home, eat, go to school, and see if a miracle would occur to get me out of it.

There was no miracle. I got home from school and as soon as I walked in the door, I saw my Dad. He did not look happy.

He said, “Mr. Buckley called. He said a Mr. Andrews from your route called HIM. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

I told him. What else was there to do? When I had finished, my Dad told me what we were going to do.

“We’re going to take a ride over to Mr. Andrews’s house. You’re going to knock on the door and talk to him. I’ll be there with you, but I’ll wait in the car. You’ll apologize and offer to pay for the window.”

I again pictured myself penniless for the next decade or so.

“If he says that, yes, he wants you to pay for the window, I’ll help you pay for it. Mistakes happen.”

He must have seen the smile of relief on my face. Hell, how could he miss it? He had just given me a last-minute reprieve from the chair. Anyway, he wanted to make sure I knew that I wasn’t getting off scott free.

“I said I’ll HELP you pay for it. You’ll still pay half. How could you possibly think that you could do something like that, just ride away, and not get caught? What the HELL were you thinking? Come on, let’s get it over with.”

We rode over to Mr. Andrews’s house in my Dad's car. When we got there, there was already a new pane of glass in the door. Mr. Andrews wasn’t one to wait, I guess.

I got out of the car, walked up, opened the storm door, and knocked. Mr. Andrews came to the door. My stomach was doing somersaults. He just stood there, waiting for me to speak.

“Hi, Mr. Andrews. Um, I’m really sorry about your window. I don’t know why I didn’t knock on your door this morning when it happened. I just panicked, I guess. Anyway, I’m really, really sorry and I’ll pay for the window.”

Sometimes miracles just take a little while to kick in. As I stood there, waiting for the axe to fall, Mr. Andrews said, “No, these things happen. Don’t worry about the cost of the window. I had a spare pane in the garage. But I needed to hear you say what you did. If you had knocked on my door this morning, I would have been mad, no doubt, but not as mad as I was when I saw the glass and the newspaper and then realized you had done this and then gone on your way without even telling me.”

For a guy who had just received a miracle, I felt pretty lousy.

“The next time you get yourself into trouble, remember that it’s always better to face it than to let it face you. Is that your Dad in the car?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What did HE tell you?”

“Pretty much the same as you just did, Mr. Andrews.”

“Good. I’d like to talk to him for a minute. Come on.”

We both walked over to the car. I got in the passenger side and Mr. Andrews went over to the driver’s side to talk to my Dad. The conversation started about me, but it basically turned into a mutual admiration society by the end. They shook hands, and then we drove off.

From that day onward, I always stopped at Mr. Andrews’s house, got off my bike, and put his paper inside the storm door – without putting it through the window first.


Well, I certainly have another couple of stories concerning the paper route, but nothing that beats these. How could I top Crime & Punishment and a (sort of, maybe, could have been, but I’m not quite sure) May/December romance?

I quit the route when I became tired of the hours. One Saturday, I didn’t make my deliveries until about 11am. I didn’t feel like making them at all, but I knew I couldn’t just blow it off altogether. But I was sick of it. I wanted to sleep later before school and not worry about slogging papers through rain or snow. I was meeting girls – girls my own age, that is, and thinking of all sorts of wonderful things I’d like to do with them – and I really didn’t want to cut a date short because of having to get up in the morning to deliver papers. And I was really sick of that dopey collie on Oak Street trying to take a bite out of my leg. When Buckley came by to collect, I turned in my resignation. I was an ex-paperboy.

(I was about to become the youngest professional blackjack dealer in the history of the world, but that story will have to wait until next time. See you then!)


Emon said...

Great stories, Jim, and very well told! Can't wait for the next one.h

Mushy said...

Well, nothing may have happened in the kitchen, but I was a bit moved by it anyway! Nice delivery!

Yep...honesty is the best policy...learned that lesson over a borrowed mower once.

Great stuff my friend.

AliP said...

Oooh Missus Robinson on your paper route! That was a very moving story.

Barbara said...

Well, that lavender scented woman certainly was giving off mixed signals. Sounds like she was suffering a crisi in her life.

Mr. Andrews seemed like a reasonable guy. You were lucky.

Lots of experiences from a paper route.

david mcmahon said...

G'day Suldog,

Followed your link from Mushy's blog.

As a newspaper man, I have to say I realy enjoyed that post. Man, you are a good narrator ....

Will add you to my blogroll. Let me know if that's okay with you.



Suldog said...

Emon - Thank you! By the way, everybody should go to Emon's blog and read this:

It is about finding your inner bumblebee. Yup. And it's good.

Mushy - Thank you! By the way, everybody should go to Mushy's blog and read his series on life in the Air Force. Start here:

(Sorry to cut up the address like that, but I think I had to, to make it fit. You people are smart. You can put it back together.)

Alip - Thank you! I don't know who you are, but I'm glad you stopped by and I'm sure you have something good to read someplace, too!

(Oh, wait a minute! I just checked you out. You're Whaledancer, cleverly disguised! You're linked already, so everybody should go visit!)

Barbara - Even though you're a Yankees fan, everybody should go to your place, too. Always a lot of interesting photos, especially of birds.

David - Do I mind? Hell, I live for comments like yours! Please, yes, add me to your blogroll! I'll be over to check you out any moment.

Stacy said...

Great stories! I wish there was a Mr. Andrew's in every child's life. If a child has other adults who help teach valuable lessons about responsibility and respect, it just reinforces a parent's lessons. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening as much these days.

Regarding Mrs. Robinson, your descriptions of your thoughts and reactions made me smile, especially when I think of my 13 and 15 year old sons. I wonder what their reactions would be?

Melinda said...

"... and here's to you, Mrs. Robinson..."

Fantastic story Sully - I could just picture the nervous teenager eating cake in the kitchen.

Looking forward to the blackjack story...

Suldog said...

Stacy - Thanks for the kind words. I was over at your place and enjoyed it. I've had opportunity to travel quite extensively, as my Dad worked for the airlines. You might find some other interesting posts here, in the archives, that cover bits of those travels. Then again, you might not :-)

M - Always makes me feel good to get praise from you. I love your writing. Thanks!

Deborah Gamble said...

Found you from David's blog. Loved this line:

The smell of the lavender bath powder was no longer hovering; it had landed.

Best line of prose I've read all week!

indicaspecies said...

"I did start to wonder if she might return to the kitchen naked or something. I wouldn’t have been unpleased."

I do not have clue as to what was in the mind of the lavender scented lady, however, by your above statement, I am quite aware of what went through YOUR mind..LOL.

Well narrated. My first visit here. I must say a lovely blog. Cheers :)

eeka said...

Great as always!

Kuanyin said...

Well told! You kept me wanting LOTS more! :-) I must have been empathing your horny teenager. Hey, are you an "early adopter"? Read my blog today and tell me.

Suldog said...

Everybody - Thank you very much. I'll have the blackjack story tomorrow - I hope.

Pope Terry said...

I remember a few moments like that with some female teachers I had, nothing happened of course, but well ideas go into a pre teen boys head pretty easily dont they. Ah Mrs Strauch, if only I was old enough back then.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Suldog,

Loved your query on my Aussie Rules post. No, it wasn't a ``baby'' question at all.

A footballer can cover 15 metres and no more, before he bounces the ball. Ever tried sprinting and bouncng an oval ball in front of you at full speed?

You're right, it's a great game to watch.

Do keep in touch

Keep smiling


paulbasel said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your 2 part story about being a paper boy. I am currently writing my life story for my children and up to the part of being a paperboy. Like you, I didn't use rubber bands in order to save money, and also like you, I couldn't find any diagram on the web that showed how to fold a newspaper tightly without using rubber bands. I have tried to recreate the particular fold that I use but time has caused the memory to fade, and I can't do it any more which is frustrating the hell out of me.

Perhaps you remember the "hatchet" fold which was shaped liked an isosceles triangle. The last fold at the top folded into another fold which secured the entire paper. But, I just can't replicate it. Even though you don't have a diagram, can you talk me through it.

In searching for this diagram I came across the following:

I thought you might enjoy reading the review of the book. I think I might buy it myself.

Hope to hear from you,


Suldog said...

Hello, Paul:

Thanks for the many kind words.

I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the hatchet fold that you describe, so I can't walk you through it. I just did a simple tri-fold, but very tight - fold 1/3 over, fold the other third over and tuck it into the first third, as flat and tight as possible.

I'll explore the link you gave me. Thanks! And I hope the kids like your memoirs. If you wish, I'd be interested in reading about YOUR experiences as a paperboy. If you've got a blog, let me know. Otherwise, if able, send 'em on to

God bless.