April 1, 2009
Am reminded today that it snowed on April1, 1964, not a blizzard by any means but snowed, sort of remarkable for snow that late.
Forty-five years ago, I was working for less than a dollar an hour and gas was thirty-two cents a gallon. Two years before I was also working; I arose at 4:30 AM to go “downtown,” meeting my cousin to assemble for delivery Sunday morning newspapers, stuffing Sports into Business, into Fashion, into Comics into the section of front page, then folding and banding them so that they could be tossed onto porches and stoops. The New York Times and the Washington Post were too bulky to fold; we hated them because of their chunkiness and for their paper being so thin that a simple tossing would rip the outer pages. We had to lay them down carefully because all subscribers to either of those two hulks of news would call our aunt in an instant complaining about the least snag on any page. Fortunately, my home town was pretty much satisfied reading more svelte papers.
As I remember, and am sure that I am forgetting, we packed: Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Baltimore American, Salisbury Times and another Philadelphia paper that I cannot recall. I do not remember a News Journal or Delaware State News. Usually when we pulled in at 4:45, the bound sections of papers were already delivered and a few arrived while we were collating; we had to note any sections that were missing (holy box scores the grief our uncle, the boss, would catch if we delivered a paper short a sports section). Any shortages required that one of us call our uncle so that he could try to track down the missing bundle or locate enough extras to get us by. Luckily for him, this was uncommon.
So, we would each take all the bundles to a paper, break them open and stack them side by each. Then grabbing a section from each stack, we would work all the sections into a paper, fold and band and stack it in another pile. By the time we had worked our way through each edition and had piles of newspapers surrounding us, our uncle would show up with his two toned, light-over-dark blue Mercury with running boards. I don’t know what year it was only the color, the running boards, and that it held enough papers in the front and back seat to do exactly one half of the town, Mercury engineers being most savvy in those days. With our uncle's help, we corded the papers by edition into the back and front seats of the Mercury, some editions piled to bottom of the windows, New York Times, Washington Posts, and two Wall Street Journals had special spots in the floor of the front passenger side.
With my cousin on one running board and me on the other and our uncle crammed in behind the steering wheel, off we went usually by 6 AM to get the news to the town. Delivery was the fun. If one can’t imagine the exquisite joy of standing at the side of a moving vehicle, chunking, tossing, and firing the news at porches and steps, then one missed being a kid. Hanging onto the door frames, we cruised east to west on every street. We reached into the car, selected a paper, and tossed it. Naturally, this was hectic for the houses came at about 80 foot intervals, and, since the papers were stacked by editions, each of us had to cover both sides of the street and be proficient at overhand, side-arm and backhand throwing. Accuracy was a must; we had to get the proper paper where the client wanted it or there would be hell to pay. Also, if we missed a target or fired off the wrong paper we had to dash of the running board and get the paper where it had to be. There was no slowing of the delivery rate, if my cousin had to race to correct an errant or inappropriate delivery; I fired his papers and mine. This tripled-pleasure, double tossings at targets plus howling insults at the others misfortune, made the extra work worth it.
Spring, summer, and fall were a snap, rain and wind being the only enemies to our work. One windy, late-spring morning, I threw a high, hard Inquirer that the wind caught (this remains my excuse, and I am sticking with it) and directed into a tall rack of potted petunias, clay-potted. Hit by the pitch, the rack sprawled of the top step to the sidewalk, pansies, pots, and paper ruined. I worked for little that morning; we had to pay for misadventures deemed not an act of God. I say my uncle had an over-wrought admiration of my pitching ability and should have covered the floral disaster from the exorbitant 5 cents and issue he was making on each paper, damn capitalist, always keeping the worker down.
Winters were not much fun, cold, windy, miserable. Snow and slush demanded many more hand-deliveries as wet papers were most unwelcome. Fingers ached, noses ran but we got the job done. The only good thing about winter-work was that on occasion, my cousin, being the more sensible one, would decline work for the comfort of a warm bed. On those infrequent mornings, I got his work plus his pay and would be in fat city. As I remember it we got there about 4:45 and worked to 8:45, worked with all the nasty chemicals in the ink, risked death at every turn of a corner, and suffered rotor cuff injury (maybe) all for five dollars. And what a lovely five bucks it was; three gallons of gas = .96 cents (more than ample for a weekend of cruising); two movie theater tickets = 2.00; 2 fees to the drive-in = 1.00; sodas, popcorn, etc. both nights = 1.00; savings = .04 cents. Life was bountiful.
Am also reminded today that my cousin left us too soon; that Steve-McQueen-looking-drag-racing-Winston-smoking buddy died way too soon.
Am further reminded that 45 years ago, on April Fool’s Day, my eldest son was born, and today, I celebrate that with him.