Extra, Extra!

It must have been around 31 — 31! — years ago that I had my first job. It was late in the year, and as a young teenager I was looking for a little extra money and getting a tad old to get by on a mere allowance.

I should preface this story by mentioning that I’d already loved newspapers by this time. I recall being in seventh grade and bringing at least two newspapers to school every day, often taking an extra quarter from the glass of change designated specifically for school lunches. Most of my newspaper reading came during Industrial Arts class, in which over the course of 20 weeks I successfully completed a mere wooden horse. (I may be worthless in a wood or metal shop, but I went on to edit a daily newspaper!) There’s also a picture of me at 9 with a New York Times in my hands, and I’m sure my mom must have a copy or two of the one-page “Ryan Times” I banged out on a manual Smith-Corona at an even younger age.

So, I suppose it was only fitting, then, that my first job was being a paperboy. I started, I think, in mid-fall, getting up in the dark and having the requirement of completing my Albany Times Union route by 7 a.m. On Sundays, there was an 8 a.m. deadline, which I confess I was horrible about making. The Sunday papers, filled with multiple sections and even more ad circulars —and the color comics section was always at the very front — made for multiple heavy loads. And my dad, probably for the purpose of instilling personal responsibility in me, never once offered a ride. I was either on foot, or on my bike.

I can’t recall exactly how long I had the route, but I have to say that in reflection it was probably a high-burnout job. The winter was long, and snowy, and cold. I was often “shorted” papers, meaning someone would have to miss their paper on a given day. (For some reason, I will always remember the name Doug Varcoe, who I imagine had the district manager title at the TU.) There was arguably the ugliest dog in the world at one house, a mutt so unattractive she became nicknamed Medusa. On the contrary, there were the cute college-age women at one home that I always looked forward to seeing when collecting (now there’s a blast from the past!) on a Sunday night. And, there was memorable “me” time, I suppose, just cruising around on my old, well-worn green bike with my Walkman and my sack of papers, workin’ for a livin.’

There was also a Lesson to Be Learned. One afternoon, playing a game of one-on-one basketball in the driveway we shared with our neighbors/landlords, I was finding myself on the short end (as I often did) of the score. Finally, after being torched yet again for a layup by a kid my younger brother’s age and size, I snapped, heaving the ball from underneath the hoop in the air and toward the street — and directly into the radiator grille of the neighbor’s car.

Well, of course, I knew I was in trouble. I told Dad right away, and the course of action was immediately resolved: I would go next door, fess up and offer to pay. Much to my chagrin, the neighbor quickly accepted this arrangement, and the next several weeks saw my earnings going straight to the neighbors. Though this episode did in no way become the final time I lost my temper at an inopportune occasion or place, I have always remembered the importance of taking responsibility for my mistakes.

This past Saturday, I noticed in a full-page ad, was National Newspaper Carrier Day. (And yes, it seems like there is a national day for everything.) I’d like to think today’s carriers have their share of stories to tell, and like being the ones who personally deliver the news to their customers. As a first job for a young person, I would whole-heartedly recommend it.

I should quickly note, however, that my shiny perspective might be jaded somewhat by the responsibilities of my second job — washing dishes and cleaning toilets at a local Irish pub. I would be stunned, after all, that if among all those national days of you-name-it, there was a National Toilet Cleaner Day. Given the absolutely dreadful nature of the work, you know, there really should be.