By Brian Doyle
Sixty papers daily, 80 on Sunday, and the Sunday papers were three times thicker, and had to be delivered in two shifts, and had to be delivered as early in the morning as possible, for the subscribers as a rule very much wished to find their papers in their mailboxes, or under their milk-boxes, or tucked behind their screen doors, or in Mrs. Mahoney’s case, tucked behind the statue of the Madonna in the back yard by the lilac bush. Whereas the afternoon papers could be evening papers without much fuss and bother, you could plead football or basketball practice if necessary, and only Mr. Moore cared deeply about when the afternoon paper arrived, for his habit was to begin drinking whiskey sours at five on the button, as he spread out the newspaper, and parsed it carefully into sections to be read in the proper order, and annotated the idiocies and crimes of the rich and powerful with his beautiful gleaming silver pen.
The formerly white canvas bag in which papers were carried, slung on the handlebars of my bicycle; the endless circulars and inserts and advertising supplements that had to be stuffed into the Sunday papers in such a way as to enclose each other and not slide out and float away in the whirl of the wind; the folding of papers in halves if they were to be placed in the rungs for newspapers under some mailboxes, and the folding of them twice if they were to be jammed behind doors or statues, and the careful meticulous tight rolling of one paper for Mrs. Cavallini, who preferred it that way for reasons that elude me; the slow blackening of fingertips over the course of the hour it took me to deliver all the papers; the intimate knowledge of various dogs and their general dispositions and habits of attack and defense; the awkward theater of collecting money once a month, and the regular extension of credit by a shy 15-year-old boy to men and women three and four and five times older; the riding through rain, the survival of sleet, the huddling under hail, the slogging through snow; the once or twice a year you had to deliver papers on foot, pondering the possibility of snowshoes and sled dogs; the weekly moments when you thought that a paper route was the most arduous foolish unremunerative labor ever conceived, and you decided to pawn it off on an eager younger brother, and call it a day, and be able to sleep in on Sundays, and never again in a million years fold a paper in halves for this customer and thirds for another, and tuck it at waist-height for Mr. Billings, who could no longer bend to pick it up from the porch, and sprint desperately on your bike toward Mr. Moore’s house at 4:55 P.M., muttering dark and vulgar imprecations, but unwilling, for mysterious reasons, to endure the thought of Mr. Moore, or Mrs. Mahoney, or Mrs. Cavallini, or Mr. Billings, or the McLaughlins, or the Sullivans, or any of my other subscribers, reaching for their papers and finding no papers.
There were two streets on my route where almost every single resident got the paper, and sometimes I would see people stepping out onto their porches for their papers, reaching down without looking, and there his paper would be, folded in halves or thirds, and somehow this always delighted me, that the paper would be there as he reached for it without looking. I am not sure why I took such a pleasure in this, for it had nothing to do with a meticulous work ethic, or a deep sense of responsibility, or pride in work well done; indeed I was, in the final analysis, not much of a paperboy, lax in collecting overdue payments and vaguely punctual at best. Yet all these years later, I suspect I collected more memories of more tiny fraught and jeweled moments than any other paperboy in history; and so I am that rare man who is still being paid for work he did as a boy.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.