We ate cereal for breakfast for as long as I was a kid; cereal, Cream of Wheat, oatmeal maybe from time to time, but I remember packaged cereal the most. Life cereal was my favorite of all time. On a few occasions, my dad might bring home some Rice Chex from where he worked but nothing stood up to the taste of Life for me. My mom would never buy Life. Apparently back in the day Life was a premium brand so we had to eat Cheerios – there’s nothing cheery about eating Cheerios when you want Life. So one week I bought my own box of Life cereal with newspaper money and hid it in my bedroom from everyone else so that only I would be able to enjoy my hard-earned fruits of labor. Another item I remember buying was a giant 10 pack of my own tighty whitey underwear. Money was tight in our house (read me) and it felt good to not have to wash underwear every few days. So I bought my own and then sewed in a little blue thread so as to not get confused with my brothers’ underwear.
Backing up though…..When I was 13 years old I decided that I wanted to be a paperboy to earn spending money. I lived in Hamilton, Ohio which is a little northwest of Cincinnati. A small proportion of residents of Hamilton subscribed to the Cincinnati Enquirer, (almost all residents subscribed to the Hamilton Journal). I found the phone number for the Enquirer and expressed my interest in acquiring a route. I was phoned back some time later and then visited by a guy who managed the boys. He had a kid who wanted to give up his two small routes in the Gordon Ave area which was a few city blocks away from my home.
So at the age of 13 I began my long journey towards becoming a newspaper mogul, 35 cents at a time. I had two routes, a total of 30 daily accounts and maybe 40 Sundays. Supplies consisted of two canvas shoulder tote bags, a giant box of rubber bands and the account payment record book. How money was made was that we paperboys told the Enquirer how many papers to drop off on a scheduled day. We would be billed at a reduced price below the stated rate, we’d pay the bill and then collect the full rate from the customers, pocketing the difference.
The Enquirer was a morning paper. Being a paperboy for a morning route was rough! You had to get up and deliver your papers before school. Typically we’d get up early enough so that we’d be able to catch 30 min of sleep before having to get up again for school. We’d drag ourselves to school, try to stay awake all day so that we could drag ourselves home to take a nap. I hated it! Sunday was especially rough; we had more papers to deliver and they were much heavier papers than he weekday papers. They got delivered in 2-3 bundles that were separated by the paper’s “Section”. So before delivering, we had to first construct the paper. The papers were so heavy that I couldn’t carry them all in one trip. This was a real bummer because my route began several blocks from my house and the furthest house was a whole mile away. A mile is 10 normal-sized city blocks; a long walk. Ugh, and then I had to go to church – I hated Sundays most!
Oh, did I mention Sunday Vampire Dog? Had Cujo been written yet, I would have used this name for the monster that used to terrorize me on Sundays. I called him Sunday Vampire Dog because 1) it was a big mean nasty dog that took every opportunity to eat me 2) I only saw him on Sunday before dawn (oh and I’m certain he wanted to eat me or drink my blood).
Sunday Vampire Dog lived in a totally hard to reach area that was separated from my daily customers. The boundaries of my route extended another half mile away but I only had 3 customers there and they only took the Sunday version. When Sunday rolled around I had to stuff the papers which were each slightly heavier than a one year old baby with a wet diaper. So in two shoulder packs, I’d have to lug around 40 wet diaper babies.
My first paper would not leave my bag for 3 city blocks. Hill’s Cafe, a local watering hole, was the first customer. After that, my walking route would extend about 9 city blocks worth. All told, my route was about a dozen blocks or a little over a mile. The prospect of hoofing over to Lagonda Ave, (Vampire Dogland), was about as attractive as the idea of giving my dad a foot rub after going gigging for frogs (i.e. not at all). But I did it (Lagonda, not the foot rubbing) – I did it for maybe two months. Collecting my dues were annoying too. Not only did I have to walk further, the accounts gave me a hard time over their dues – like I was trying to steal a crummy $2.50 from them.
Things took a turn for the worse one Sunday when after turning the corner to begin walking up Lagonda hill, there he was. In the middle of the street stood a huge dog. He looked as big as I was and so I froze. I took another step and he started growling. I knew better than to turn around and start running (which was exactly what I wanted to do). This was my first encounter with this dog and there was no other way to get to my customer; there was no back route. So I skipped my 3 customers that week and headed home to get my extra papers that I tried to sell to the employees leaving Champion Papers as they were getting off of their shift. Sunday Vampire Dog 1, Me -0-.
The following Sunday I decided to go out 30 minutes earlier just to see if I could find time to avoid the Lagonda Monster – no such luck. I got a little further up the hill and was feeling secure and confident but there he was again, poised and ready to break into a sprint should I attempt to run. I tried talking ‘nice doggie’ to him this time but he wasn’t buying it – he had not yet had his morning coffee treats. Once again I had to slowly back away and eventually turn around and make my way out of his territory. Vampire Dog 2, Me-0-.
This went on for several weeks. I kept trying and on a couple of occasions managed to not see the dog. Each time that happened I thought that finally he was gone, but I never got two weeks in a row – without fail, the following week, there he’d be waiting for me. I was about to give up when on a Thursday or Friday I was sharing my story about the wild vampire dog with some friends in the Alley. Tommy Mathews simply blurted out – how come you don’t just take your bb-gun? Oh yeah! I have a bb-gun!
Tommy wanted to ‘ride shotgun’ for me. He was the one who suggested we all sleep out that weekend and deliver the papers together with bb-gun in tow. He wanted to be the one who took the shots. I knew the bb-gun wasn’t strong enough to break the skin. If it connected though, it was strong enough to send a little sharp, sudden pinch – it would definitely send a message if you got hit by it. Bb’s are made of steel and typically have a zinc or copper coating. There are strong enough guns to puncture skin, but mine was not that strong. It was a spring-loaded type that had a hand pump on the barrel and had a distinctive sound during the cocking motion.
So the night came. We all slept out on lounge chairs on my front porch. I doubt that we slept that night. Likely we played pitch until the papers came. (Pitch is a local Hamilton card game which will one day have its own story.) I remember Tommy being unusually excited that night – he was really looking forward to trying to sting ‘ol Frankendog.
The papers came and we quickly got organized. I remember the group that night being me, Tommy, his brother Rich and possibly one other person, but I can’t place him. We zipped around rather quickly on the regular side of the route and then the anticipation mounted as we turned the corner of B St and onto Lagonda. Sure enough, 2-3 blocks up and there he was. VD (Vampire Dog) had heard us coming and he was in the street growling. Tommy took aim from about a half block away. I remember it took several shots before connecting with the target.
He aimed his first shot and pulled the trigger. We heard the sudden gush of compressed air bursting out on the first shot. We knew he had missed on the first shot because the dog didn’t budge. I remember we were joking that the dog had been hit but it wasn’t phased and now he’d be coming after Tommy. Two or three shots later and still no movement – only constant growling. But on the 5th or 6th shot we finally heard a small yelp; he had been hit. As soon as he heard the cocking noise again, he took off running in the opposite direction. We proceeded up the hill and delivered the papers and never saw VD again that night.
After that weekend I carried my bb-gun in my pouch on Sundays. I remember seeing ‘Future Cujo’ only once after that morning. He was in his usual spot, poised for a showdown. I brought out the gun and cocked it. The cocking noise is what he remembered because he took off flying away once he heard the cock. I never had to pull the trigger. As it turned out later, one of the Sunday customers dropped their Sunday request so that left me with only a couple in that area and one of those wanted the paper for free so eventually I just stopped going into that neighborhood. I also soon stopped selling at Champion Papers as it became evident that an hour of precious sleep before church was worth far more than $2 profit from additional paper sales.
After only a year I soon acquired an afternoon route delivering the local paper, the Hamilton Journal. I hated my morning routes, but I needed money. After getting my Journal route, I soon gave up my morning route. I can’t recall if my brother Steve took over that route or some other poor slob. My Enquirer route was a ‘dog’ in more ways than just the killer Cujo-wannabe. Profit was gained only if you were successful at collecting your dues from every customer. Lose only two of them and all of a sudden you were paying the Paper for the honor of breaking your young back and being traumatized by night sounds at every corner. I didn’t make any serious spending money on that route and was glad to be rid of it.
The Journal was different; I liked that route, not only because it had Sue Hall waiting for me at the end of the route, (read me), but I did make a little spending money on that route. I had a few non-paying customers from time to time, but because there were so many on that route, (175 I seem to recall – the papers were much more thin), I could absorb the loss and still have some spending money for ‘Betty dates’ another year down the road (read me).
Yeah – I was a paperboy. I hated it most of the time but I did it. I did it for the same reason I’ve done everything related to earning a living – to make money in order to support myself and my family. Today I have a whole drawer full of tighty whiteys and could probably go a whole month before having to do laundry (you’ll have to use your imagination on this one – no photos, sorry)!
Since getting married and living out on my own, I have had a box of Life in the cabinet. As soon as I open the last box, I make a note to buy another. It’s a symbol for me. I’ve spent more than 25 years of my life trying to earn degrees and certifications. I keep a box of Life cereal in the house as a constant reminder to myself that I can afford to buy Life – once I could not. It’s a simple symbol and if you look in my cabinet, you’d see cereal. I see life!
- Cereal Eats: Where Have You Been All My Life (…Cereal) (seriouseats.com)
- The Unbelievably Terrible Trailer For “Vampire Dog” (buzzfeed.com)