The picture on the left was taken when The Kid was 11 and in the back yard of his grandparents where he lived. This was in town, despite the rather open field behind.
Actually, the field behind contained a large cinder pile. It was for spreading on streets in winter snow. The neighborhood children use to race their bikes on that cinder pile and one time went door to door selling tickets to the neighbors to come watch. A few actually did.
The bike he had then was rather battered. You can see the dents in the photo. (It was red, he had spray painted it.) In those years, The Kid created a new sport and called it the "Ditching Club". The rules were simple. Across from the field and cinder pile was the grade school he attended. There was a macadam playground behind the school with basketball nets at the edges. The members of the "Ditching Club" would ride around that macadam, but instead of a race, the object was to knock everyone else's bike over. The Kid was pretty good at doing this without getting dumped himself, but his bike did pay a price. He later removed the fenders from the bike. Bare wheels were cooler.
Ir might as well be mentioned he learned to roller skate on this same macadam. He got skates for his birthday. These were not the streamlined skates you see today. These had four wooden wheels mounted on a metal frame shaped like a slipper. Your heel slipped against a brace to the rear and then a clamp went about the toes of your shoe, which you tightened with a skate key. The macadam had a slight slope down from the school. He had put on his skates and was struggling to stand, when some other kid shoved him backward down the slope. It was either skate or crash. He quickly learned to skate.
See, that was the way The Kid learned how to do new things, such as swimming. This early learning set a precedent, always an element of risk, always either do or die.
But I have digressed from what was the greatest job in the world.
Ron took The Kid along on his route a couple times and introduced him to his.customers. They all had one thing to say, "I hope you're half as good as Ron." Ut oh, starting off with prejudice. Still, on a frosty January afternoon, The Kid solo'd, owner of own own route. Why did Ron pick January to retire? It was simple greed. He offered his route that past fall, but said he would do it until after Christmas and all the holiday tipping.
Now, when we said owner of his own route, that wasn't quite the truth. He didn't own the route. The Philadelphia Bulletin owned the route. In those days the Bulletin was The Paper. The Philadelphia Inquirer was the competitor, but it was in second place. Since that time the roles have reversed --well sort of. The Bulletin went out of business decades ago.
Once a month his manager would come to the house to collect. Newspapers cost a nickel for a daily, Monday through Saturday, and fifteen cents on Sunday. The Kid got a nickel for the Sunday papers. The dailies divied up this way, as far as The Old Goat can remember: one and a half cent to The Kid, one and a half cent to his manager (who collected from all the local newsboys). one cent to the trucker who delivered the bundles of papers and one cent to the newsstand owner where he picked them up after school. (The Sunday papers were dropped off by the truck right in front of his house, so perhaps the trucker and his manager split the remaining dime after he got his cut.) He had a hundred clients during the week and sixty-five for the Sunday edition. That gave him a weekly pay of $12.25, if my math is correct.
Of course, earning it and collecting it can be two different things. Actually it wasn't much of a problem with most of his clients. There were a few where it was catch as catch can and one place where I am not sure he ever managed to collect. There never seemed to be anyone home. He would tap-tap-tap and rap-rap-rap upon their door many days and not a breath would sigh behind the portal, not a sou would make it into his hands. It was as if the place was deserted, although none of the papers he left ever piled up on the doormat. Perhaps squirrels toted them away to make their nests or the people in the place were vampires asleep in their coffins when he knocked.
Whatever he missed from deadbeats, he made up in tips. He had a fortuitous failing. Ron had taught him how to fold the paper for throwing from his bike. Somehow The Kid couldn't master this basic skill. He would fold the paper, but invariably upon chucking, it would pop open and scatter in the winter winds. This seemed a major setback, but God, probably chuckling at his incompetence, changed his fault into a blessing, as God is wont to do.
Because he couldn't toss papers properly, he would walk each delivery to the front door and place it either between storm door and inner door or upon the welcome mat. If it were a windy day, he would place the mat partially over the paper to prevent it sailing away. If it were storming with rain or snow, he would find a place to keep it dry. There was once a customer who his called his house claiming he had not left the paper, but was surprised to learn The Kid had hid it in a safe place to protect it from a blizzard. This inability he had to properly fold his wares led to compliments that he had surpassed his friend (sorry Ron) and to very nice tips. Soon he was making $18-$19-$20 dollars a week, even with the absences of slow- or no-payers.
You may not realize how much money that was to a 13 to 14 year old lad in the early fifties, but it was a small fortune. You could buy a meal consisting of a hamburger, french fries and a coke, plus tip for fifty cents. He was over twelve, so had to pay adult fare at the local movie house. A movie ticket, bag of popcorn and a box of Milkduds totaled sixty cents. Comic books were a dime. Paperback books cost 15 cents to a quarter. The Kid was rich! (Consider, his first adult job paid $56 a week in 1959, and he had to work seven and a quarter hours a day, not just 7 hours a week.)
And he loved the job. Even in the blustery winter, he loved it, probably even more on days when the snow was deep and the wind raging. He would make his round, which probably covered about two miles out and back, imagining he was in the Alaskan wilderness, escaping wolves and claim jumpers. He was a character in some Jack London novel trying to survive the harshness of the frozen tundra. Ah yes, that imagination he had honed living in the isolated swamp served him well on this job.
It could have been perfect, but like Adam and Eve there was a temptation in his garden he couldn't resist. He was at the age between innocence and raging hormones. There were these creatures called girls who were some how different from boys. He had always had some friends who were girls, but they were friends first, gender had gone unnoticed. Now he felt something intriguing about girls, a tingle when one was near. He had no clue what had changed. He really knew nothing about sex. This was the early 'fifties, people! Sex wasn't dinner table conversation. On TV Lucy and Desi slept in separate beds. There was no cursing, let alone nudity, in movies. The best known men's magazine was Esquire, not Playboy. And he had never seen a naked girl.
Why were there boys and girls? What was different between them? Girls had long hair, boys had short. Boys wore pants, girls wore dresses (the early 'fifties, remember). Girls skipped rope and played Hopscotch and Jacks. Boys played King-of-the Hill, Kill the Man and Mumbly-Peg. But there was something else, something mysterious about our bodies and he wondered what that was.
There were "girlie" magazines for sale at the newsstand where he picked up his bundles. They were in the men's section along with "Argosy" and "Field and Stream", but on their own separate rack with a sign saying people his age couldn't buy them, or look at them, or touch them, or breath near them. But he pretended a sudden interest in hunting and fishing and in the process of flipping through outdoors magazines, he would slip a couple of the forbidden fruit under his shirt.
Then halfway through his route, he would pause at some desolate spot and gaze at the women in these magazines. It was always something of a letdown. Yes, the pages were filled with women, often posed in bikinis, and yes sometimes even --gulp, gasp - nude. But whenever a woman went au natural there was an inconvenient plant or post or pot in the way of those parts that most likely differed from his parts. (Yes, the 'fifties morality was even enforced in the girlie magazines.)
His quest continued. His thievery went on until the owner of the newsstand caught him one day. Waving his confiscated loot close to The Kid's face, the enraged man informed The Kid where he was going to put such magazines if he ever caught The Kid stealing again. It wasn't a comfortable thought and that ended his criminal career. He never stole again in his life. I wish I could say he never looked at another "girlie" magazine either, but that would be a lie.
Still, despite this sin, he wasn't banished completely from his Eden. He still continued doing the paper route and loving it. All things tend to end. In the spring of the next year his parents moved from town to a home in the country several miles to the north. There were no paper routes there for boys on bikes. There weren't all that many homes either.
And The Kid was thinking in those days that he would become a mailman when he grew up. Being a mail carrier must be the greatest job in the world. Walk around town twice a day (yes in those years the mail was delivered twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon), saying hi to people, enjoying the open air and freedom.
The Old Goat recently spoke with a former mailman and it wasn't so free a job as The Kid imagined. "Have you ever heard the term, 'going postal' ?" he asked. "Now you know why." Okay, forget mailman as world's greatest job.
Anyway, much has changed. Mail comes once a day. The Philadelphia Bulletin is defunct. And I never see paper boys or girls on bikes. Now the papers come in the wee hours of the morning, chucked out of open car windows onto driveways by adults. They don't have to fold the paper for tossing, because each paper is in a thin plastic bag that makes for an easy throw. These papers are doubled bagged in bad weather to keep them dry, a precaution which often fails. In snows they get buried and hard to find. I wonder if they imagine they are driving sled dogs and passing igloos? Probably not.
Ah, such is progress.