Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Extra, Extra, read all about it!

When I was a 10 years old I got a paper route. I was the youngest person to ever have a route. And I loved it. I always collected on time and paid the paper back for what I sold and I did it on time. I tried to sell subscriptions and there were always contests sponsored by the newspaper for all sorts of prizes, and I usually did well.

I didn't have the sort of route where I could ride my bike and toss papers on the porch. I had terrible aim and could never hit the porch, to start with. I could hit pets, people, flower beds and if there was a body of water from a puddle to a kiddie pool my hurled paper would land there no matter what. And I had lots of older people on my route who would like the paper placed in a certain spot. Rather than riding my bike place to place, I would walk my route. I left papers in mailboxes, between doors, on a table on the porch, and for one lady I even opened the door to her sun porch and left the paper on her recliner.

My customers were really nice folks. I had a 5 block walk or bike ride before I ever delivered my first paper, which at age 10 wasn't a big deal. The paper was an afternoon one so I would get home from school and get my papers and take off. Sometimes one of my parents would pick me up and have my newspapers along and leave me at the start of my route. I had about 48 customers and a few businesses on my route. Because I was a girl and because I was so young, the customers on my route were pretty protective of me. If I was running "late", which means I wasn't late but didn't have their paper delivered by the usual time, people would call my folks to ask if I was okay, not to complain.

I had customers who would have cups of cocoa ready for me in the winter. I had people who baked me treats and would give me after school snacks on a daily basis. Christmas time was a huge haul because I got presents, money and baked goodies. Because I couldn't ride and deliver, there was a couple at the beginning of my route who let me park my bike on their porch and I would loop around and get it when I was done. One couple had video game system and we didn't have one at home so they would let me play anytime. The man who owned the gas station would make "bets" with me for glass bottles of Pepsi. I got presents on my birthday. I had a few people who would fix me breakfast because Saturday was a morning edition so I would have breakfast with different folks. So, I had some really nice people on my paper route.

Except for one.

Mr. James Gardner.

He was mean. Really really mean. First, he had a yippy dog that he didn't tie up. Sometimes it chased me. Other times it was blocking the porch so I couldn't get the paper in the right spot and then he would call the circulation department and complain about me. Sometimes his dog even chewed the paper and again Mr. James Gardner would call the office and complain about me. He was difficult to collect from. He dodged me when possible or pretended to not be home. When I finally could corner him he would always want to pay me with $100 bill that he knew I wouldn't have change for. Then when I left him several notes that I would cancel his paper service since he didn't pay me, he would go to the newspaper office and pay his bill, then complain that I never knocked on his door. He never tipped. Papers had to be delivered by 5:30 pm during the week and one time I remember I was late because the papers were late (It was a halt the presses day in a small town!), and he got his paper at 5:38 pm and he had already called and complained to the office- and was standing on his porch yelling at me. He would look for any excuse to yell at me. I talked to his neighbor once and he could see me and then he yelled at me for not being quick enough. Are you getting the picture he was a mean guy? I was just a 10 year old little girl. Really, what a jerk, right?

Well, I lost it. I was 10 or 11 years old at this point and I just lost it. I was on time, I wasn't running late. There was nothing unusual going on. All I did was try to collect payment for the paper. And it happened. He yelled at me, telling me he didn't get a paper the night before and he wanted a discount. Well, I knew I had left him a paper. One, because I just KNEW I had, and two, if I hadn't he would've called and complained and I didn't get a complaint notice. I told him he was wrong and I couldn't give him a discount, but I would get him a yesterday paper and have my parent's bring me back with it in about a half an hour. Then he started yelling at me and that's when it happened:

I yelled back. I was shaking. I think I said something along the lines of: "You're a mean man and I'm never going to deliver your paper again!" And I ripped up the newspaper into bits and I threw the pieces at him, and turned and ran away.

I stormed down the street all indignant and mad. I was shaking. I was upset. And by the time I got to the gas station across the street I was in tears. The guy who owned the station had watched what happened and was trying not to laugh. I was crying because I was mad, because I thought I would be in trouble and lose my job, because I thought my parents would be mad because I was disrespectful to an adult, because I had never treated another person like that in my life, because the adrenaline was gone.

Well, the gas station owner gave me a soda and listened to my story. He knew Mr. James Gardner was a mean and crotchety old man. He knew the guy was trying to not pay me and complained all the time. The owner told me it would be okay and for me to deliver the rest of my papers and then go on home and tell my parents what happened. I took off and did the rest of my route.

When I got home my parents already knew what happened. The gas station owner called and filled them in. My parents knew the trouble Mr. James Gardner had always given me. My mom had already called the newspaper office and they talked. The knew the trouble he had given me. And the gas station owner had called the paper office in my defense. I got to keep my job.

I didn't get in trouble, though my parents did tell me that might not be the best way to handle problems in the future. But the good news: I never had to deliver him a newspaper again.

Years later I found out that the gas station owner knew what happened because he could see and hear the altercation, and the three mechanics who worked for him were all watching and listening, wrenches in hand to come down the block and save me if need be. And they had just cheered for me and howled with laughter. It became a neighborhood legend- and people asked me about it all the next day, and still talk about it now: remember the day the little girl with the huge newspaper bag ripped up the neighborhood terror's, Mr. James Gardner, newspaper and let the wind blow the bit to places unknown, leaving him red faced, and sputtering with a yippy dog in the background, who had to walk to the convenience store to get the paper from then on?

Your former newsie,


Curley said...

Even tho I had already heard this story, it is still funny. I can just see you ripping up that newspaper and throwing it at him.

Maggie said...

Curley- thanks! I still can't believe I did it. I'm glad I did it but can't believe I did! :)

Farrago said...

Excellent reminiscence!!

It just goes to prove that kids are people, too, and they get frustrated and upset and angry just like adults, do. When a kid is being mistreated, he/she needs to speak up.

Maggie said...

Farrago- thank you!

And I agree with you completely. Sometimes I think experiences like these make me patient in listening to teenagers because, back in the day, I could relate!