Collecting and Delivering
September 15, 2007
My first real job as a young lad required me to fold and deliver about sixty newspapers in the wee hours of morning. I would start about 4:30AM and finish up an hour or so later. Of course the newspaper is put out every day which meant that my job needed to be done 365 days out of the year. There are plenty stories to tell of life before the sun rises but for today I’m going to focus on the other part of the job: collecting money from my customers.
A good portion of my customers paid their bills through the mail but the other half paid directly to me. I couldn’t rightly expect them to have their money ready at 5AM so I would go by their houses in the afternoons and evenings to collect four dollars every two weeks. I don’t know how many of you have ever gone knocking on doors of people who are not expecting you. In my experience if you do it for some time you will see some things that may surprise, delight or frighten you. Women or men half-dressed and looking groggy, dogs barking ferociously through a very thin screen door, young kids scurrying around the house with no adult in sight.
Delivering newspapers was easy, collecting from the households required my intrusion into strange lives. For a shy boy of fourteen I was acutely aware of the awkward exchanges, the bills that were months overdue and still they would not answer the door (I know you are in there!). Walking up to a front door and seeing an adult video playing on the TV and silently walking back to my bike (I’ll collect from them next time).
I did have nice exchanges and the Christmas-time collecting was pure joy. Tens and twenties were handed over (Keep the change!) and my pockets bulged in thanks for a year of service. On occasion I would get invited inside and asked about school and sports, pleasantries that would transform the money exchange into a personable meeting. I learned a lot about myself during these times, my first glimpses of adulthood and responsibility — relationships I would cultivate that involved neither school nor family.
Amazingly enough I answered that morning alarm for three and a half years. The money I collected helped to fund my other collections: music and baseball cards. Soon after I retired my bicycle they started requiring all customers to mail in their bills and the days of collections ended. Now they no longer allow newspaper delivery from boys on bikes and have moved it to adults in cars. Too much risk involved, too many untrustworthy characters in the night. An opportunity lost for young men to hone the interpersonal skills required of the collector. Evenings spent going door-to-door in search of owed money with eyes wide open to the strange occurrences of other people’s lives.