Being a paperboy in 1961 was challenging for a nine-year-old boy as we had to get up at 4:30 am every day. Sometimes it felt like there were eight days in the week. During the winter, it was cold in Phoenix, so we wore two pairs of pants and double jackets. We (my two older brothers and me) used socks on our hands because we did not have gloves. Getting ready included an early morning wrestling match with our clothes. I can remember jumping up and down to get my second pair of Levi’s to go over the first pair. Good thing there was no pencil pants (skinny jeans) back then.
Our first paper station was close by at Buck’s Market on 19th avenue between Hadley and Tonto. Back then all the kids had to be home when it turned dark outside. That first time I rode my bike in the dark was eerie because everything looks so different in the dark. I’m glad that darkness cannot remain where the Light of Heaven falls. I welcomed the daylight like a rooster that crows before the sun comes up. The daylight got rid of all the shadows behind cars and in the alleys. Once the sun came up, I was able to pinpoint where the owner of the bark was located and how big of a dog it was.
At the paper station, we had to prepare the newspapers for delivery by wrapping a rubber band around each one. It was more strenuous on Sunday’s because of all the ads and the comic section. I still appreciate my brothers, Raymond and Richard, helping me get my newspapers ready when I was still a rookie. They showed me how to wrap the paper bags around the handlebars and how to place the papers into the bags. They sent off with a shove of my bike as I awkwardly made wobbly adjustments for balance.
We worked with a pair of twins named Tommy and Ray that lived in the Sherman Parkway Barrio. Ray's nickname was "Fahtoo" because when he came to our house he yelled "FAHTOO!" instead of knocking on our door. Ray and Tommy both looked like the Hispanic version of Fat Albert. Both of them were somewhat corpulent and always hungry. We always called each other paper punks instead of paperboys. I used to like to go to the store with Fahtoo because he could not count change, so he would always buy me something for helping with his transaction.
One morning when Fahtoo arrived at the newspaper station, he was so excited he could barely talk. He stuttered as he told us, "Cah-cah come l-l-look qui-quick! The p-p-pie truck driver got in a wreck and can't get out of his tr-tr truck!" He took us about a block away to the one vehicle accident scene. He proceeded to jump into the back of the disabled pie truck. Fahtoo was like a human bakery production line as he handed us fresh pies. The helpless pie truck driver, who had a back injury, was moaning as loud as he could, "Help! They're stealing my pies!" We were out of there in a matter of seconds. That morning we had ate a variety of pies for breakfast without forks or napkins. We salvaged a couple of pies by stashing them in the telephone booth for dessert after our morning delivery run. We justified our pie pilfering by convincing ourselves that no one would have bought day old pies that had been involved in a vehicle accident. We laughed and filled our pie holes (old term for mouths) that morning.
We weren’t really bad kids but we always had something tell the priest at confession every Saturday. I’m glad I don’t go to a priest to confess anymore. I’m not implying that I no longer sin. I have established a personal relationship with Jesus and go directly to Him when I sin. Reading the good book taught me “There is One God and One Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 2:5
We worked hard to deliver our papers on a daily basis but the real chore was collecting in the hood. There were times when I would have to go several times to a house before getting paid. Each paperboy had a ‘collection book’ that was mounted on two large rings with the customer’s name and address. Each customer page had dated, perforated small squares that you tore off and gave to the customer as a receipt for weekly payment. It was an at-a-glance method to keep records of who was current. When customers became delinquent in payment for more than two weeks, our station manager would go to their house to request payment. Sometimes customers paid in advance and I had to save this money separately as most of the payment went back to the station manager.
On one occasion, I was with my brothers when we were collecting at a trailer park near 17th Avenue and Buckeye. An old man named Charlie, probably about as old as I am now, did not want to pay. He was outside of his trailer drinking beer with another man. As we approached and asked to be paid, he yelled, “Git out of here, you little meskins!” in his Southern drawl. The other man, Paul, who was also a customer, jumped to his feet and delivered a beautiful one-punch knockout as we clapped and cheered. He pulled out Charlie’s wallet and gave us what he owed plus a dollar tip. It ended up being a good day at the office.
There were times when dogs chased me so I started to take my dog “Champ” with me to fend off other dogs. Champ was a boxer that was very protective of me. I got in trouble once because Champ went through a screen door to teach a yappy Chihuahua a lesson. The little dog was being extra brave as he had the security of the screen door. It caused lots of commotion in the house as I had to get Champ to let go of the dog and pull him out of the small house. Champ interrupted an elderly lady from making tortillas as she yelled, “Aye! Dios mio!” There were also three small kids watching Wallace and Ladmo that were frightened when Champ dashed past them in front of their television. My father had to repair the screen door and the little dog never bothered me again. The man (husband) that owned the house sometime later told me it’s about time someone shut that dog up.
The above story is paraphrased from Chapter 8 called Paper Punks in Barrio Walk: Stepping Into Wisdom.
Barrio Walk is about life in the late 1950s and beyond while living ‘south of the tracks’ in Phoenix. It is my first of three Christian books that are all written to encourage the readers to examine what they believe.
Life is short, make good choices. The best choice is making Jesus your Lord and Savior.