Paperboy

Going back to my hometown is less about visiting a physical place as it is a journey through time. I never would have thought of these banal streets again. And they play tricks with my head triggering scenes I’ve long forgotten. But none of the scenes are real to anyone but me. And I sit behind the wheel like a phantom trying to put myself back in time, flickering in and out.

There is the street corner where they used to drop the newspapers when I was a carrier, a paperboy, in the 80s. It was my first real job, a place I needed to be every day. It meant no sleeping in on weekends and starting my daily route before dawn. I had a good hundred papers on my route and carried them in a sling I wore around my shoulder. Everything was covered in ink, my jeans and jackets, my hands, I looked like a boxcar hobo.

I was almost 14 and our neighborhood was OK but still city. We were an hour from Philadelphia in a place called Allentown and they’d just put in a large mall that was killing the downtown. If cities die from the inside out then we were in one of those inner rings, a series of thin interconnected houses they called row homes. As a paperboy, I could deliver a hundred papers in 20 minutes just by walking across the front porches of those homes since they were all attached. Everyone had screen doors so I just opened the door and slipped the paper inside. Or if I was feeling cocky I’d give it a toss and make it land on the door mat.

At Christmastime I’d go to everyone’s house with a form trying to get them to renew their subscription. And I’d give them a free calendar, which was really a prompt for my annual tip.

It was that girl by the field where we used to play Wiffle ball who made a mark on me though. Beyond the ink on my jeans and the getting up early on weekends, there wasn’t much else I remember. But that girl was older than me, a cheerleader for the varsity teams. She was always with the west end kids (whose parents had more money) so I was surprised to see she lived right around the corner from me. In our neighborhood we were all lower middle class (or standing outside the arena of middle class, waiting to get in).

I was surprised she lived in my neighborhood but more so that she recognized me. It wasn’t anything she said but an exchange we had in the eyes and the way she nodded and smiled, an acknowledgment. It was just her and her dad in the sitting area and it was cold out so I stood in the vestibule and then they waved me inside to close the door.

I had never met or seen the people who lived in the houses I delivered to, but here was this girl I’d had a crush on and now I knew where she lived. And it was odd she made eye contact with me and even smiled, she’d never looked at me at school.

Her dad said something to her in one tone and then another thing to me, something about the checkbook, and then she looked at me and flicked her head. She flicked it at an angle so fast I wasn’t sure it happened. It was that same gesture when you want to leave someplace quick, you signal without saying it, “let’s go.” And she’d started halfway up the narrow steps already and I was supposed to follow her.

It’s funny when you go back to relive a time in your past because every time you do the memory changes. It could be like the photos we took in the 80s that fade and turn peach-pink, they literally disappear over time. So it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what happened in that minute I was in her parents’ bedroom and she reached around me, she entered my personal space to close the door, and I could hear the two-part sound it made as it first met the frame and then clicked shut. And then she just smiled.

And that’s where I’d like this story to end to keep it nice, but that’s not all that happened. She didn’t touch me or say anything but she let a part of her chest come out of her robe when she bent across her parents’ bed and did it as a kind of show or pose I think, she meant to do that, and later I learned that’s called exhibitionism. And it was like she enjoyed watching my reaction and just tilted her head and flicked it like I was supposed to follow her back downstairs, so I did. And that’s all there was.

I thought about that scene often, being relatively new to girls and eager to understand everything. Was it a fantasy or real? I know I tried hard to figure out which window was hers from the street but her parents’ bedroom faced the front and hers must have been in the back and it was tricky finding the right window without looking too obvious. But I didn’t care about looking like a creep back then because no one seemed to notice me as a kid anyway.

And that’s how it felt sitting in my rental car at the traffic light now many years later, an anonymous observer to a deeply intimate scene. A voyeur, in a sense. I don’t even know the girl’s name to look her up or if she’s still alive. We never exchanged any words I remember. Yet I can see her face, her eyes, the color of her hair, I can remember her in her cheerleading outfit at school.

The place here isn’t the same anymore. The best we have is the time we put into it and that too is fleeting. We’re a part of it and then we’re removed. Real for a time, then less so.



Categories: Memoir, writing

Tags: ,

23 replies

  1. Ah, the memories of my days as a paperboy. Walking my neighborhood, pre-dawn, the eerie silence. A strange yet comfortable loneliness. Hints, I guess, of my introversion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A strange yet comfortable loneliness is my new phrase for the week now Carl, from one introvert to another. Thanks for that…and for reading!

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  2. My Dad made me a ‘horse’ a wooden frame over which paperboys threw a hessian sack. It had pockets for newspapers.
    130+ for my round, and each folded into a roll to insert into the paper box whilst riding past. Sparsely spaced houses, an hour on a big-news day. Saturdays, buns from the woodfired bakery, sitting in the sun in a vacant lot, six happy boys. And always the hope of a glance from a girl somewhere on the round.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Forgot to say deliveries on bicycle.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I can see that horse configuration David! I also used a hand truck, or a trolley thing. Good first job, that. Funny you have such a vivid memory of it too eh?

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      • Yes Bill, the memories are clear and mostly fond ones. Some Christmas holidays were spent with a friend who lived in inner city suburb. One year we divided 14 rounds between us to cover boys on leave. Made a small fortune, which we spent living the high life, particularly around BlackRock beach, (Summer here) showing off with ciggies lollies, chips, burgers and soft drinks etc.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Showing off with ciggies, lollies, soft drinks…sigh, days of innocence for sure.

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  3. When you go back to relive a time in your past, do you find that its power fades with repeat exposure? When we moved back here, the first several months were a whirlwind of memories and rediscovery, highly charged for a while and then … not. Same thing going back to visit Ohio after being here for a few years. The first trip back (by myself) was powerful, like going back in time. The second trip back with the girls, not so much. Just a trip. And what of the split on this one? 90/10? 70/30? 50/50?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it fades with repeat exposure as you say. I really tapped all the charge out of the first apartment we lived in, the sensory experience going back there for the first time in 20 plus years. Was really something, but again, so singular and confined to my POV, so weird somehow something so intimate like that is also arguably not altogether real. I’ve been playing with the split, as you say. Pushing the limits and all that and again I stretched pretty far here. But it’s fun cherry picking the real and reassembling into some Mr Potatohead thing you know. I bet you can relate yes? The inspiration behind that Pavement record you’ve written about. The Crooked Rain one.

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      • I love that, the going back, soaking up the charge. Saddened when it’s all used up though. And I can most definitely relate. I’ve written some 90/10s myself. The Pavement one, though, was not a tinker job. That’s pretty much a straight 100 there, true story. All the relationship stories are. It’s the horror ones for me that are malleable. Excorcising the inner demons, starting with a kernel of truth but otherwise without much regard for fact.

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      • Yeah I can see that, tossing the baby over the bridge right? That was good. I’m trying to force myself to change a bit which is always hard but can be rewarding. There’s other places we can go back for the charge, it all just shifts. I can’t imagine the sense it’s going to be when we leave this house we’re in now and then wander by this road again in the future. Though I’ll be old enough or dead by then I truly will come back a ghost. And then need it for a charge so I can keep flying around and spooking little kids and high people.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Those indelible memories of the forbidden. The shock stays. And then we wrestle with it–is this something to embrace or repel?

    I delivered the afternoon paper for a while — feels like I did it a long time but I bet it wasn’t even two years. I would pick up the papers every day at a seedy store where the goods were behind the counter and you had to point and ask for it. It was also a bottle redemption depot and a hangout for men with no gainful employment. Pete Poirier’s Store. His brother John was the Official Town Drunk. There were lots of drunks around but he was Official. my indelible memory is one day Pete asking me to help John do up his belt. I wish it had been a cheerleader’s boob.

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  5. I’m starting to notice a culture shock when I go back. The culture has evolved since I left (things like acknowledging the land didn’t even exist). The place has changed so much that I only get glimpses of the Vancouver of my youth. Yet still, it still feels like coming home.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A vivid photograph,, Bill, expertly taken.
    Thank you for a wonderful glimpse through your eyes. Everything fades, and even the words we swing like nets to catch the fluttering images seem more phantasmal than real.

    Liked by 1 person

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