I used to deliver papers. It wasn’t a childhood thing. I was a grown man, a very poor grown man. In my life, I have experienced extreme levels of poverty, being homeless at one point, living in a car. I have also experienced extreme levels of middle class, living in a nice house with a microwave and a woman who admired how ‘solid’ I was.
Both existences fucking sucked–although I noticed it was far easier to be depressed in a nice house. I mean that in the most literal way. When you are trying to find something, anything to eat, you don’t have much time to ponder how no one understands you. When you are extremely hungry, you and the whole universe you inhabit makes complete sense. You know exactly what needs to be done: GET SOME FOOD.
But anyway, I was terribly poor one time and took a gig delivering papers. I took on three separate routes, which was approximately a hundred and twenty papers.
I am remembering this because it’s the end of the year and I was doing it then, at the end of the year, in the freezing cold and endless dark of an Upper Midwest American Prairie winter.
One New Year’s Eve, the truck didn’t come. Papers, you see, go through a hierarchy of deliveries. I deliver it to your door, but someone delivers it to me, in a giant stack, on the sidewalk of the centrally located pharmacy, it so happened.
So the truck didn’t come. They’re supposed to be there at 3:30 AM and here it was 5 AM and no papers. There was another woman who picked up her stack at the centrally located pharmacy, too, a middle aged woman who drove a silver car and had glasses. And, boy, was she pissed.
I had bumped into her a few times before, in the middle of the night when I was getting my stack and she hers, and we exchanged pleasantries. This time, though, she was fucking pissed.
Her cell phone was attached to her ear and she was screaming into it. “Where are the papers?!?! You expect us to deliver them by 6:30 and how in the hell can we do that now?!?!”
I heard her call the other person on the line “Tiffany”, which meant she had the big boss on the horn–and was screaming at her.
It was at that moment that I realized I didn’t care about papers at all. This was just a gig, for a few (very few) bucks. Here this woman was having a coronary before my very eyes about it.
Finally she got off the phone and suggested we picket the paper. I’m serious. She started talking unions and strikes and fuck this shit and fuck that shit.
I went to my ancient car and got a beer and started drinking it right there on the centrally located pharmacy sidewalk. “Want one?” I asked her.
“I wish I could,” she said, “But I have to drive.”
I had to drive, too, if the papers ever got there. She knew that and I wondered if it was a subtle dig at me.
Again she got on her phone and started screaming, this time at Dave, the northern routes manager, which is where we delivered, the north side. Dave was a sub-boss to Tiffany, so I figured she was working her way down the ladder. Next thing you know, she’d prolly be calling herself: “What the fuck? Where are the papers? I don’t know, that’s why I’m calling!”
I finished my beer, leaning against my ancient car, freezing. I had a headlight out and a taillight out and no money to get them fixed, despite a glove box full of warnings to do so from the cops.
I left her there at the pharmacy freaking out and drove back down to the mission. I curled up in my car because they wouldn’t let you in if you blew anything on the breathalyzer. I slept till 10 AM, wrapped in dirty flannel shirts, and went in, my one beer having cleared my breath, and had a shower and a peanut butter sandwich. Life, I knew instinctively, was pretty damn good.
The next day, I delivered my papers like nothing had ever happened and so did she. I ended up winning it all, though, because, Jesus fuck, woman, it’s just a paper route.