Yesterday my co-worker said that her husband started a paper route. At first, I have to admit, I giggled. Then she did too. We joked about her big, burly husband riding a bike with a basket flinging papers.

Nowadays most paper routes are mainly a gig for grown ups – a way to make some extra dough in the wee hours of the morning. But back when I was a wee lass a paper route was THE way for a kid to earn a dime.

When I was about 13 or 14 I delivered The Hudson Dispatch. There was another paper, The Bergen Record, you could work for as well, which oddly enough, my husband delivered. But the Dispatch, unlike the Record, required that you tend to your route in the early morning, and I preferred my afternoons off.

I can’t recall how in the world I obtained that route, but I remember meeting a girl on the corner in front of the Banner Deli in good old Palisades Park, NJ to be shown the ropes. After we walked the route once, she handed me the ring of collection cards and bid me a fare-thee-well.

For some reason I was petrified those first couple of days. I obsessed over whether or not I was skipping someone’s house by mistake, but within a week or two, I had my rhythm down and delivered my papers with confidence and ease.

It was a great route – very convenient to my house and an easy walk. My brother had had a route back when he was a teen, but his took him up and down steep hills, and he had to be driven or ride his bike – it was too far away for him to walk it and be home in time for school.

I had a lot of apartment buildings on my route. It’s amazing the smell an apartment building can acquire – almost like a finger print. Each building had it’s own unique aroma. Some buildings smelled like cooking; I can recall the smell of cabbage that wafted through the lobby of one brownstone.

Each Wednesday I would go collecting. This was when you actually met the residents of the dark and quiet homes you deposited a paper at each morning at 6 am. I remember one woman who was pregnant. She wore a shirt that said “baby” and had an arrow pointed to her belly. I’ve actually thought about her from time to time over the years, wondering if she had a boy or a girl. Whichever it was, the child is older than 30 now, and here I was a skinny little girl staring at it in it’s mom’s belly each Wednesday night. Weird.

There was also an old couple that lived on the 4th floor of an old apartment building. By the time I was rounding the stairs on the 3rd floor the smell would hit me. Perhaps their apartment didn’t have running water. Or maybe they didn’t have any soap. In any case I dreaded collecting from them because once the door opened a very acrid, pungent cloud would float out into the hallway and go clear up my nostrils.

The husband/man would always be in his undershirt and slacks. He was always smiling, and always paid. The wife/woman would be sitting at the kitchen table laughing. Ok, it was actually more like a cackle. The hallway was always dark and always deserted with the exception of these two. Really fix that scenerio in your head for a minute. Bad smells, cackling old woman and a dark, damp hallway on the 4th floor.

Creepy. I’m glad I hadn’t read any Stephen King books yet.

One fine Wednesday evening, I was treated to the experience that is the hallmark of paper boys/girls and mail carriers alike.

I was bit by a dog.

In the ass. Which made it humiliating as well as painful. It was just a nip. Nobody was home, and I guess the homeowners had left the dog in the yard. He was not happy that I had entered his fenced-in domain and snapped his teeth right through the seat of my Levi’s. I was mortified, but thankful that there didn’t seem to be anyone around to witness this dishonor to my dairy aire.

I had that route for less than a year. Once winter came those early morning treks up and down the blocks of Pal Park became more of a chore than my $20 a week was worth. Come to think of it, most of the jobs I had as a kid didn’t seem to be worth the crappy money you earned. But how else was I going to afford the latest issue of Tiger Beat?

Ah, a great segue into a new post…my first real job. Stay tuned!

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