Recently I shared a story of nighttime hi-jinx where a few of us Prytania boys broke a commandment. Now that’s it’s been more than 40 years ago, memories like that one can be fun to look back on and reminisce with the cohorts equally responsible. It’s no fun being stolen from though and I have been on the receiving end of that commandment a few times. This week I thought I’d share one of those stories.
I’ve written a couple of fun stories about being a paperboy, like this one (link) and this one (link). I don’t think though I’ve ever taken the time to describe how the process worked; how a kid made money by delivering newspapers. Whether it was a morning route like the Cincinnati Enquirer or an afternoon paper like the Hamilton Journal, they worked the same:
Newspapers were printed in sections – Sports, Local, Business, etc. The sections were labeled and then put into order, either by someone at the printing office or by yours truly, the paperboy. At a minimum, those annoying, (and heavy), color ads were always delivered to me separately. Each delivery for the truck was pre counted and labeled so that they knew which bundle went to each specific paperboy. I’d hear the truck pull up and then a very loud ‘thump’ on the floor of our wooden front porch – indicating either a drunken truck driver had passed out on our property or my papers had just been dropped off.
If it was my morning route, I’d bring the load into the kitchen and if it was the afternoon route, I’d usually just go out to the front porch to perform the next steps. Next up was to cut the banding off and then put the papers together. Sometimes, like almost all Tuesday’s, the papers were already put together. I loved the Tuesday paper. Tuesday was always thin and light enough for a rubber band, ensuring I had a nice cylindrical missile I could hurl onto any front porch from the sidewalk. The courteous thing to do was to throw it underhand, lofting it perfectly onto a porch. The more fun thing to do was to throw it overhand so that it turned end over end many times before it punched the bottom of the house’s front door with a loud THUD! Customers that gave me a hard time always got the THUD!
Then once or twice per week, I’d have to go out collecting. Collecting was the term we used for getting our money owed from customers. Most paid on a regular basis. Some would accuse us paperboys of collecting twice for the same week. We’d have to show them our record book and then they’d usually pop out the wallet. At times, those reluctant customers would cancel their subscription, usually only to catch me in a month, asking me to start them back up. Those customers always got the THUD.
We paperboys were charged a reduced rate, presented to us on an invoice we’d have to pay. Yes, I had a checkbook many years before my first whisker. The difference between what the customers paid and what we were charged was our profit. Any little variance could send us kids into bankruptcy. Whether it be deadbeat customers, possible overcharging from the Paper or mismanagement of the collections.
Another possible variance – Lord help you if you lost your collection bag or had it stolen…..and that’s where this story comes in.
When I was very young, I had an experience where a friend tried to hide a half dollar of mine in his shoe, with the intention to steal (link). I was 5 years old then I think. I went another 8-9 years before I was to be on the receiving end of a theft. I never really thought to hide ‘valuables’ from my friends and neighbors. I just assumed that we didn’t steal from each other.
I kept my paper route collections up in our shared bedroom, back in my little corner nook. I was outside in the front of the house, just hanging out, chatting with next door neighbor Tim and his friend Marty. As we were hanging, we heard the ice cream truck coming our way. I don’t see those trucks around these parts today, but when I was a kid, nothing would generate a Pavlovian response in us kids like the sound of a truck, delivering frozen and semi-frozen sugar treats. Even today, if I happen to think about that annoying tune, my mouth fills with saliva, my tongue hangs down to my chin and my eyes begin shifting from side to side; I suspect, looking for that white truck with the giant fake cone on top.
But I digress….we all heard the ice cream truck at the same time. Picture a Ren and Stimpy moment…neither Tim, nor Marty had any money, but I told them to go stop the truck and I’d run upstairs and get some of my paper route money. I told them that I’d buy! I ran upstairs. Tim came with me, Marty flagged down the truck. Tim saw me pull out my purple pouch. The pouch had been some kind of wine pouch at one time. Ice cream cones in hand – tongues, do your duty!
Just a couple of days later, there was a Mini Circus parade or performance of some kind. My sisters were all performers in the Mini Circus and me and my family attended most of the performances, (and in fact my stepfather Joe helped to run things after the original organizer, Jim, left). I later heard the adults whispering about Jim and one or two of the wives, but what does a child know of adult rumors . Even though I could ride a unicycle then with the best of them, I was never part of the circus, (yet another activity I now wish I had been encouraged to engage in). On these performance nights, our house was always empty.
Our house was an older two story and like all houses in our neighborhood, easy to get into. The next morning I discovered that I was missing about money from my collection pouch. Being naïve, I didn’t really know who had stolen from me but I did call the Police. They sent someone to talk with me about the theft. I don’t recall if the man was in uniform or a suit, but he asked me a few questions, notably if anyone had been in my room with me within the past couple of days. Why yes, my next door neighbor Tim, but he wouldn’t steal anything from us.
“I’ll just ask him a few questions” was the response.
I wasn’t present during the questioning but I guess the authority figure was enough to scare a full confession out of Tim. The policeman was back in less than a half hour with Tim and his older sister Carla. He asked me how much had been stolen and so I told him my estimate. I wasn’t really positive how much so I erred on the high side. The police asked me if the boys promised to pay back immediately, would that satisfy me and I said ok. He said he would drive on over to Marty’s house to talk with the other boy.
As it turned out, Marty also had an older sister, named Lana. Lana was a complete opposite to her brothers.
Oh, I failed to mention. Marty had an older brother named Randy, a real bad ass. Randy was one of these kids who had the reputation for being ‘the most likely to kill someone by the age of 10’. No one messed with him. He wasn’t the strongest kid in school but definitely had the worst reputation so even the big kids never even messed with him. I think he got sent away for a couple of years because one day he showed up at Wilson Jr High. I think it was the first day of school in 9th grade. He was standing next to me and two other boys, and I’ll never forget this – he asked us who the hottest girl at school was because she was going to soon be his girlfriend. Hey, he had a bad and crazy rep. We kids weren’t going to argue but we knew he didn’t stand a chance in Hell with the names we gave him.
But anyway, (back to Lana), Lana was extremely embarrassed for the family and she was acting as the family matriarch, very apologetic. She spent a few minutes explaining for Marty while trying not to make excuses. She paid me Marty’s half and told me she was going to put him on a repayment plan. I remember her telling me how much she was trying to help Marty avoid ending up like his older brother.
I felt sorry for her. She was only 15 or 16 and here she was, having to show up more responsible than her parents. No wonder the boys were messed up. She gave me a big hug and left. I saw Lana again a few years later in a Spanish class but we didn’t speak of this incident. She might not even have remembered me. I never saw Marty again. As for my neighbor Tim, I never trusted him again. Tim died young, (of cancer I think).
This was the first time a friend, (someone I trusted), stole from me – but it wouldn’t be the last. I guess in each of our lives, we all are stolen from at least once. It’s no fun and I’m betting that for many of you reading this, someone you knew and trusted ended up being the culprit. Learning who to trust and how to recognize risk, (unfortunately), is part of growing up and learning how to live safely in our sometimes dangerous world.
The next time I would be stolen from would again be from someone I trusted. Again, it would be yet another neighbor named Tim. This Tim also died young. Hmm…the world is filled with coincidence…..at least mine seems to be. It would seem that both Tim’s ended up getting ‘The Big THUD’.