He stood in front of me with a newspaper wrapped in plastic that was held together by a green rubber band. He wasn’t afraid of me but I can’t say I wasn’t afraid of him. “Is this yours mister?” At first I had no idea what he was talking about but then I remembered the days gone by when all news was carried by a young man who made sure everyone got their newspaper so they could go on with their lives. I was once one of these your men.
The year was 1962. Everyone was happy to be living in a nation of prosperity and hope. We had just elected Camelot and my mother was proud to wear what looked like an upside-down box on her head in order to align herself with the wife of John F. Kennedy. My father spent much of his free time watching the little black and white television that had become the center of our universe. Sunday afternoon was his time because the New York Giants were finally going to defeat their archrivals The San Francisco 49ers. This made total sense because everyone knew that New York was the Empire State and all this talk about California taking over the country was hogwash. At least that is what my father used to say.
I liked watching football with my father as he used to tell me that I was destined to play the sport. This was probably true because I was an oversized 12 year-old kid. My mother used to call me husky. My friends always called me fat. I didn’t care back then because, in those days, being big was in. Dieting was a term one never heard of and nobody had heard of anorexia nervosa. It snowed pretty hard in the winter of 1962. I heard later it snowed more in our upstate New York home that year than in any other winter that went before. I didn’t care because I was warm and cozy at home and, literally, had no place I had to go; except for the paper route I had to complete. Back in those days anyone who was anyone had a paper route. You could judge your proficiency by how many papers you had to deliver, compared to the other kids. I was proud to say I was responsible for 83 houses getting the news of the day.
Every morning, before the sun rose, I would wake up and wrap myself in every type of sweater and scarf known to mankind. I would wear my favorite Roy Rogers stocking cap with a picture of Trigger in front and slide into a full-body snowsuit made of some space age synthetic which repelled anything that closely resembled something wet. Under the snowsuit I would wear a couple of pairs of pants and one of my favorite Howdy Doody sweatshirts that had a big picture of the famous redhead waving hello like he did every day at 3:30 pm. After I had wrapped myself in enough protective gear to ward of a nuclear attack I went downstairs quietly so I would not wake up my parents. I knew my mother was always awake because every now and then I would see her peek into the kitchen as I put on my boots. Even though I was tough and didn’t need her help anymore I let her check up on me because I knew it made her feel good. The hardest things to put on were my boots. This was probably true because, with all the layers of clothes I was wearing, I couldn’t bend down to reach my feet. Being overweight didn’t help either but, after a couple of minutes of wheezing and huffing, I would get my boots on. The rest was real easy because they closed with five black small clamps. I knew they were secure because they would make a sharp snapping sound as I bent the black metal over the clasp. I was now ready to save the world by delivering the news to my customers that would assure them Communism was evil and the American way was destined to prevail.
The toughest part about my paper route was it was a couple of blocks away from my house. Ralphie the Snotter owned the paper route that my house was in. Nobody dared ask him to trade because if they did he would put his slimy, mittened hand to his nose and show you why he was called Ralphee the Snotter. Everyone also knew for a fact if any of Ralphie’s slime ever touched any part of your clothes they would immediately sizzle off. This is the primary reason I didn’t mind the walk to my route. It took me about 10 minutes to get to the corner where my papers were stacked. They were tightly wrapped in a wire so they would not blow away. In my paper bag, made of a gray canvas that had the faded name of the paper on its side, I always kept my wire cutter. The wire cutter was the most important tool any paperboy could have. I only forgot it once and because of this I was damned to unravel the wire so I could free the papers. This, of course, left deep cuts in my fingers because there was nothing that could keep me from delivering the news to my clients.
My route was interesting because it looped around the four streets of that particular neighborhood. The papers were delivered at the corner where all four streets met. Because of this I was able to load up enough papers to deliver one street at a time and not have to backtrack. Sometimes, if the papers were small, I would carry a couple of streets worth of papers together and cut through a yard that also connected the streets. On this particular morning I decided to do just that. Back in those days the classic image of a paperboy was a skinny, freckled kid on a bike throwing the paper so it landed on the front porch. I was not that kind of paperboy. I tried riding my bike once, carrying the papers in my bag, when one of the straps that held the bag got caught in the wheel and over the handlebars I flew. I later found out I had just demonstrated Newton’s First Law of Motion. I also never attempted that routine again. I preferred the hands-on approach. I would go up to each door, carefully open the storm doors and slide the paper in between the storm door and the main door. This may sound easy to the unprofessional mind but one had to flip the paper at exactly the right velocity so you could close the storm door and trap the paper. If you were off by even a microsecond you were condemned to chase pieces of the paper down the street or get a call from one of your ex-clients because they had to chase the paper down the street.
On this particular morning, after I cut through the wires holding the stack of papers together, I noticed this issue was rather thin. Since it was a bit chilly outside and I was getting hungry, like I did every time I took a breath of air, I decided to double up on the papers and cut through the yards that separated the streets. At the time this seemed like a sound idea. I ran through the route for the first street and then started to walk across the lawn that separated me from the rest of my route. The snows that covered the yard looked as though no one had walked on them. They also made the yard look like it had a huge mountain range right in the middle of it. In fact, where there had once been a bit of a valley now stood a drift that made me think of the big hit movie of the year, `Lawrence of Arabia.’ I loved that movie and I hoped one day I would look like Peter O’Toole.
In my minds eye I imagined I was attacking the evil Turks over the big dunes that separated the good guys from the bad. In my bag was a secret that would eventually save the world but first I had to defeat every Turk who ever lived. I then decided to not simply walk between the yards but to run like every American hero is supposed to do. I couldn’t believe what a great life I had. I was not only having fun but also making enough money to buy toys. Then gravity took over. I discovered the snow on top of the drifts was softer than I expected. It was so soft it engulfed both my boots to the point where they stopped but my head continued to move. I started to curse Isaac Newton. Gravity struck back and I sank slowly into the snow drift until it had swallowed my entire body.
The first thing I should have thought about was never seeing my parents again because I would die in that drift only to be discovered in May by whoever it was who replaced me as paperboy for the neighborhood. But what actually came to mind was how I was going to save my papers? I immediately grabbed hold of the bag that held the papers and pushed up with all my might so the papers wouldn’t get wet. I thought I must have looked like some sort of modern birdbath with my arms straight up above the snow holding a bag that had the name of the newspaper printed on its side After a few seconds of looking up into the now brightening skies I made the decision to fight for my life instead of fighting for the survival of my papers. I threw the bag aside hoping that after I freed myself from the carnivorous drift I could work out a way to get my papers back. I tried to force my body to roll. I figured with all the weight I had I did not have a chance of righting myself so I would do the next best thing. At first I couldn’t move but then I heard the snow give way and my body actually started to roll out and down the drift. My rolling body made the sound a giant snowball makes when it is being used to build a snowman. I wondered if, at the end of my journey, some kid would find me wrapped in a giant ball of snow and stick a carrot in my face.
I then made the decision I didn’t want to become a snowball, but there was nothing I could do about it because gravity had once again taken over and kept me rolling down the hill. All I could do was scream. I though maybe someone would hear my cries even though it wasn’t yet seven-o-clock in the morning. Then I stopped rolling. At first I wondered if I was dead but I looked up and saw the silhouette of a large figure. Could this be God, I thought? Then why did he look like one of my customers?
“Is there something wrong with you kid?”
That didn’t sound like something God would say, especially to someone terrified of dying inside a giant snowball. As soon as I shook the snow from my eyes I saw the figure that had stopped my death fall was old Mr. Butler. Definitely one of my favorite customers even though his Christmas bonus consisted of an old card somebody else got him with a dollar bill stuffed inside. He picked me up, shook the snow off me and asked where his paper was. I pointed to the middle of the snowdrift in his yard. He looked down at me and shook his head with an expression, I have to say, I have seen many times since. Then, he went to get his shovel to dig out the paper bag because nothing, not even being turned into a human snowball, could stop the news getting through.
I’ve always had a problem with my weight and then again I’ve always had a history of attempting to take it off.