Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Pedaling for Dollars

A paper route is not just a job. It’s an adventure and not a good one. At least I picked the Bulletin for my route. This meant I worked after school, ate dinner, did homework all like a normal kid except for the work part. My brother Ted was dumb enough to be an Inquirer paperboy. That meant getting up at 5am. No way I was getting up at 5am.
The main bad part of a paper route was collecting money. Adults have a lot of trouble saying no when other adults ask them for money they owe them. Especially if it’s fifty cents. But for some reason they had no qualms saying no to us. Not just once, repeatedly, till you got sick of asking them. Finally they’d cancel owing, like, ten dollars and leave a 13 year old holding the bag. You had to go back to “the man” and tell him and he’d read you the riot act. Would he help you talk to the asshole who wouldn’t pay you? No way, Jose. You were on your own. A miniature collection agency with no muscle behind you.
Sometimes it was funny when they didn’t pay you. They’d hide from you. You could see they were in the house but they wouldn’t answer the door. That was really pathetic.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Better Off Dead” and you were a paperboy you know that movie was the revenge fantasy for every kid everywhere. “Give me my two dollars”.
Ideally people would tip you but this was a Methodist town and they watched their pennies and I was a lazy, indifferent paperboy so the tips were meager...even at Christmas.
There was a good side to collecting money too and that was you got to go to peoples houses and often young women answered the door. Maybe it was the woman of the house, say, a hot 22 year old or maybe it was a girl a few years older than you. You would ring the bell and they’d answer and you’d just stare for a long, long, long minute like an idiot. Stunned. Unable to speak. Eventually you’d squeak out that you were collecting but in between was lingerie or tight blouses and jeans or shorts or long hair or red, red lips and that was the best part of being a paperboy.
Actually being a paperboy was good preparation for being a poet. You got to see the inner lives of people and you rarely made money. Perfect.

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