Thursday, March 20, 2014

On the Decline of America

For all its chest-pounding and goose-stepping, the Third Reich only lasted a dozen years.

The sun rose on the British Empire, but then a few hundred years later it set.

The Greeks and Romans had their fair share of success, but they too did not stand the test of time.

Similarly our American experiment will eventually fall. And when it does, historians will look for clues and begin casting blame.

I'd like to short circuit that process and save them the trouble.

Our inevitable descent began the day that kids across the USA stopped delivering the newspaper by hand.

I'm dead serious about this.

As you might have expected, I had one of those character-building paper routes.

I got my first newspaper delivery route when I was 14 years old. Everyday after school, I'd load up my canvas bag with 35 newspapers, strap them to my aging bicycle, and tool around the neighborhood delivering the goods. None of this tossing-the-paper-while-riding crap either. That was some twisted Rockwellian fantasy.

No, I parked the bike, fought off snarling dogs, and responsibly placed each paper under the doormat to protect it from the elements. And in upstate New York, there were plenty of elements: rain, sleet, snow.

Those damn postmen get all the glory, but we newspaper delivery boys walked the same beat.

When the kid in the adjoining neighborhood couldn't take the pressure and abandoned the job, I swooped in and grabbed his territory, effectively doubling my route to 75 houses.

It was hard, tedious work. And the pay was miniscule. The only thing that kept me going was my father's command to keep at it and the pubescent fantasy that one day one of these lonely housewives along the route would come to the door in a negligee, invite me in and slip me a truly memorable Christmas tip.

That never happened.
Nothing even remotely close.

Nevertheless the enterprise taught me some valuable lessons about discipline, adversity and fortitude. The kind of characteristics that are in short supply these days.

If I had my way, I'd make both my teenage daughters secure themselves a job delivering newspapers. Of course either by willful ignorance or the rise of technology, nobody reads newspapers anymore.

Addendum: One day while working my route, I was driven off the side of the road by a passing car. The bike was totaled and I broke my wrist. The doctors said I lost 15% of the turning ability in my radius bone. Weeks later at a workers compensation hearing, the judge asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Though I am inordinately squeamish and have all the musical talent of a leaky faucet, I followed the commands of my father and told him I wanted to be a Brain Surgeon or a Concert Pianist. The judge awarded me $2000 for college funds. That was more money than I had ever earned schlepping the papers. America, what a country!


George Tannenbaum said...

I was a paperboy, too, Rich. I had 41 houses and made 7 cents/house/week plus tips. Usually netted about $25/week.

I think it was the best job I ever had.

Tony Mariani said...

I remember on collection night I would treat myself to a bag of salt and vinegar chips and coke for 25 cents.

Rob Siltanen said...

Wonderful. Love it. I laughed out loud. You, my friend, are an exceptional writer. Thanks for sharing your stories. They're priceless.

Christopher Gyorgy said...

No one reads newspapers anymore, but lots of people read well written blogs, like this one.

Rob Hatfield said...

I, too, was a paperboy. I also had the pubescent fantasies. We had to collect once a month, and one lady would always greet me at the door in just a slip and bra. It both excited and made me feel uncomfortable at the same time. She would ask me in and take an unnecessarily long time to fumble in her change purse to get my money. All the while observing me out of the corner of her eye. And swaying a little. I think she just enjoyed watching me squirm. Oh, how naive is youth! That was over 40 years ago,but I still think about her...

glasgowdick said...

Thanks Rob S., appreciate it.