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.


16 Responses to “Collecting and Delivering”

  1. lissa Says:

    These days, I don’t think anyone would be interested in delivering newspaper especially kids. Is this a true story? Sounds like it. Very well written.

  2. awareness Says:

    My father always had a rapport with the paper boy in the neighbourhood, especially the one who arrived in the wee morning hours with the Globe and Mail……since my Dad was an EARLY morning riser, he would often greet the kid and they’d chat about sports at 5 AM!!! This occured right next to my bedroom window! 🙂

    I bet it was a trying task to collect money……but it surely helped you overcome some aspects of shyness? Interesting take on this week’s prompt, Matthew. I enjoyed reading it.

  3. Jo Says:

    Hi Matthew. I enjoyed this very much…..especially the last few lines!

  4. Tumblewords Says:

    Nice post. Collector, in this sense, didn’t occur to me but the memory of being on both sides of that experience is forefront now.

  5. Matthew Says:

    Lissa-they may not be interested in delivering newspapers before dawn. And yes it is true although with 16+ years since then it is more impressions than anything.

    Hi Awareness! I’m so glad your father talked to the paper boy–I always appreciated those that took the time to say hello. Yes I do think that I had to battle with my shyness all the time during those years. Sometimes I would have no problem approaching the door and completing the transaction. Some people made me a little nervous and I’d “accidentally” miss their house and collect double the next time.

    Hi Jo-Thanks!

    Thanks Tumblewords, I almost wrote about my baseball card collection and then these memories floated into my head. Funny how that happens…

  6. MissMeliss Says:

    Oh, I loved this. I always wanted a paper route when I was little, but my mother refused – she knew I was NOT a morning person. But my first “boyfriend” (as much as one can be at the age of ten) was the local paperboy. I remember helping put the rubber bands on, or the plastic sleeves, on rainy days. Ahhh, the scent of newsprint in the morning.

  7. Matthew Says:

    Yes MissMeliss you’ve captured the textures perfectly! I’m sure he appreciated the help-I always loved it when someone would wake up with me and help deliver on those early mornings.

  8. Collecting money. That seems a difficult thing to do, even in adulthood.
    Thanks for sharing your childhood in such a well-written post!


  9. Matthew Says:

    Thanks Jenn, To this day I’m not a big collector of money…I much prefer direct deposit!

  10. sister AE Says:

    Nice remembrance. I think it is a shame that they don’t let kids deliver papers anymore. I think the opportunities for them to learn responsibility grow harder and harder to find all the time.

    And it reminded me of the year or so when I was in high school when our paper boy was in my class at school. My mom would send a check in to school with me. Some kids were afraid to ask what I was paying him for when I handed it over!

  11. Matthew Says:

    Thanks sister AE, I think it is a shame as well. We offer some opportunities for young people here at the library but does not involve the independence inherent in a paper route. I wish some of my collecting could have been done in school. I hope you kept them guessing about the payment 🙂

  12. gautami Says:

    Somehow I find your posts very endearing. You write with that childhood abandon. One gets to the feel of it.

    Hope I am making sense.

  13. Matthew Says:

    Thanks gautami for the touching comment. Makes perfect sense to me:)

  14. patois Says:

    A joy of a string of recollections. I’m glad your thoughts of your baseball collection drew you to this account. I remember my older brothers doing the newspaper routes for a couple of years. My mother used to get so disgusted at the families who would never pay. The newspaper — the Washington Post — used to make the kids make up out of their earnings what the deadbeats failed to pay.

  15. Matthew Says:

    Yes the same thing happened to me Patois-the collections were my income, if someone shirked their duties I was left with that much less cash. The process was so fluid that many times it was impossible to tell exactly how much I was making (or losing).

  16. awareness Says:

    Hey Matthew………..I tagged you……….it’s a book meme.


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