Tuesday, August 21, 2007
My first job – my first long-term paying job – was as a paperboy. I was a paperboy when I was 13 and 14.
(An interesting thing occurred while I was trying to remember just how old I was when I did this job. I found that I could best date it via reference to drug usage.
Really. Just before I sat down to type, I was thinking, “How old was I? I know I smoked cigarettes at some point during that time. I distinctly remember sitting down by Central Avenue with Kevin McAteer [another paperboy] smoking Trues. Yechh! Those things were horrible! But I know I hadn’t started smoking dope yet, so...”
That’s truly how I figured out that I was 14, at the oldest, when I did the paper route. I started smoking cigarettes when I was 14, but didn’t try grass until I was 15.
And further thought brought the realization that many of my jobs are remembered in conjunction with dates involving drug abuse. When did I work at the shoe store? Well, that would have been in 1973, because Grand Funk were involved in a heavy legal battle with their former manager, Terry Knight, and they had just released the album “Phoenix” in late 1972, and Joey Santucci liked the cover of that album so much, he painted a reproduction of it on his bedroom wall and a bunch of us had smoked some angel dust one night after work and I stared at that damned bird for a good half-hour thinking it was going to come off of the wall and start flying around the room. And when did I work in the warehouse for Prudential Insurance? Well, I remember having been the broker in a deal to buy 500 hits of acid, made between a co-worker and a friend of mine from Dorchester. I remember thinking how strange it was that I could be making this big drug deal, but I wasn’t old enough to legally buy a drink to celebrate my windfall, so I wasn’t 18 yet, but it was winter - there was snow on the ground - and that means it was early 1975. And so on.
I wish this blog were a bit more widely read. I’d love to see some crackpot sociologist make a faulty connection and come up with a syllogism stating that delivering the Boston Globe leads to drug abuse amongst teens. I don’t expect that the Globe would report the story, but I know damn well the Herald would.
And I’d like to state, at this point, that I know of no studies proving a connection between drug usage and digression. If you’re the go-getter type, you might like to apply for a government grant to research such a link. If you do, please cite your sources.)
Back to the story, I was much more innocent when I was 13. The only plan I had for any of the money I made as a paperboy was to buy comic books.
The person who delivered the papers to my house, and who collected for them at the end of the week, was a fellow by the name of Buckley. Looking back, he was probably just scraping by in a job that was more work than it was worth, but to my adolescent eyes, he was a major businessman and someone to be feared. You didn’t want to not have his money ready for him when he came to collect because he could probably throw you in jail or something.
(I did fail to have his money ready one Saturday a few months into the job. I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but it was probably a combination of my not having made all of my collections and my still wanting to buy all of the comic books I had planned on buying. Anyway, he came by to collect and I had to short him something like two dollars. He was mad, no doubt about that, but jail time never entered the conversation. About the best he could do was threaten to take away my route if I didn’t have the money for him by next week. It was at that moment in my life that I learned there’s usually more time to get things accomplished than you might initially have been led to believe. It has shaped my philosophy ever since.)
Buckley delivered the papers at about 5:00 every morning. He left them on the lawn in front of our house. I’d get to them at about 5:30 or so and bring them inside the house. They were always wrapped with some sort of petroleum-based twine that was impossible to untie, so I always had to cut the string with a knife. Then it was time to fold the papers.
Folding newspapers for delivery was an art. You wanted to make them aerodynamic, so that you could fling them with precision while riding by on your bicycle, as well as compact enough to fit them all into the delivery bag. And you had to make sure the paper wouldn’t come apart when you threw it. Nothing sucked more than to have the paper fly apart into four or five sections before it reached the porch you were aiming at. In that case, you had to actually dismount the bike, take off the delivery bag, and put the paper back together – sometimes from pieces that had blown half-a-block away before you were able to catch them.
Some kids forsook folding the papers and put rubber bands around them instead. Not me. I took great pride in being able to fold my papers tightly. Anyway, it was a slim enough profit margin without adding an expenditure for elastics.
(I was going to include a photo here, showing how to fold a newspaper correctly, just in case any of you got the itch to become a paperboy from reading this stuff. I couldn't find anything decent; not even a good photo of a finished folded newspaper. Until this very moment, I thought you could find everything on the web. I am now officially disillusioned.)
I had about forty customers on my route, so that was a fairly heavy bag to balance while riding a bike. It was damn near impossible with forty Sunday papers, so I usually walked the route on Sunday. That was no bargain, either, as my shoulder quickly became sore from the weight of the strap of the bag.
(It probably would have been smart, in the long run, to have invested in a little red wagon, but see note above concerning elastics and profit margins. Besides, I was a teenager now and macho. Little red wagons don't get the chicks.)
I should explain that, while I lived in Dorchester, the paper route was in Milton. You’ve heard about someone coming from the wrong side of the tracks? In my case, as a paperboy, it was literally true. I had to go about a half-mile from my house and across the trolley tracks to begin my route. The other side of the trolley tracks was where Milton, a rich suburb and NOT part of Boston, began. There was still a fair amount of middle-class real estate on my route, not all big bucks, but definitely a neighborhood more well-off than my own.
I kept a small percentage of the actual price charged for the paper, but an equal source of income was the tips. In those days, a quarter tip was a good one. A dime wasn't scorned, but it didn’t produce glee, either. Some of those rich folks, though, were so tight with a buck that George Washington’s face turned red before they released it. I don’t remember anyone trying to truly cheat me out of the subscription price, but there certainly were a few for whom parting with a tip would have been a cause for apoplexy.
My least favorite part of the job was doing the collecting. Most folks paid on time, and were friendly, but there were three or four who, on a semi-regular basis, told me that they didn't have the money this week, so come back next week and collect double. Then, when I went back the next week, they'd forget that they hadn't paid me the week before. When I reminded them, they looked at me as though I were a particularly loathsome roach skittering across their kitchen floor. I just stared at them with my pitiful little red-headed boy eyes until they went and got the money. Never a tip from them, though.
There was one woman who always paid on time and who, on one occasion, gave me much more than a monetary tip. And with that titillating piece of information, I’ll leave you. Let your lascivious minds chew on it overnight and I’ll be back with the details tomorrow.
Go To Part Two