Earlier this week I was indirectly spurred to reminisce, which at my age requires a serious rewind back in time. The incentive for such an excursion was inspired by one of my bosses, Mr. Jim Krumel, the current editor of The Lima News.
Somewhat random in its origin, an idea came his way to solicit stories from any who became gainfully employed for the first time by taking on the job of newspaper carrier.
Now, as any Putnam County locals would know, there is only one “Pollitz” listed in the phone book, a typical indication one isn’t from these parts.
Fearing I might be disqualified from submitting any contributions through normal channels, not being native to Ohio, I figured I’d attempt an end-around and bypass any of the “red tape,” so to speak.
As a youngster growing up in the “beautiful boonies” of northwest Chicago in the 1960s, I had no love whatsoever for “lima,” especially when they came in the form of beans hiding in a plate of my mom’s mixed vegetables.
With no disrespect to this formidable publication, I earned my stripes in the newspaper business, following in the pioneering footsteps, or shall I say, tire treads of my older brother, delivering the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. Of no surprise, these two periodicals commanded the highest circulations in the greater Chicagoland area.
Both morning papers, the Tribune uses a rather big and bulky broadsheet format and the Sun-Times came in the form of a tabloid. Coupled together, they were tenuously bipartisan with the former leaning right, politically speaking, and the latter, left.
My essential tools of the trade came in the form of a balloon-tired beater-of-a-bicycle with a monstrous metal basket attached out front, the size of a small wheelbarrow. This enviable vehicle-of-choice included the added bonus of bringing extensive comic relief at the elementary and junior high school bike racks whenever I strolled in each morning. Talk about a great conversation starter!
Raking in serious money for my timely delivery services, calculated at a penny a paper per day, I could fetch somewhere in the neighborhood – which by the way is where I plied my trade – of nearly $20 a month. Payment had a young boy’s liquidity, too. Payday arrived monthly in a sealed envelope containing “cold hard cash” and affixed to the morning bundle.
For a job well done, and with no pink customer complaint slips in my pay envelope, occasionally a bonus of a few bucks was added to my “hefty” salary.
Not much of a people person at the time, I was extremely grateful my job description didn’t include having to go door-to-door each month and collect from customers!
Thankfully, both publishers appeared to have some religious sensitivity, too. The Sabbath was a day of rest for us juvenile carriers. Somehow the voluminous Sunday paper – with the much-anticipated color comic section – still found its way to every doorstep. My hunch is they left this important delivery to the professionals!
As a budding piano, baseball, tennis, and basketball player, it didn’t hurt that I was regularly supplied with a sizable bag of thousands of rubber bands. No matter the day, the weather, or the volume of inserts, every paper had to be rolled up and rubber-banded. Though it regularly gave me ink–stained hands, I came away with a firm handshake given my preadolescent age!
Even long before “Black Friday” became popular, Thanksgiving Day papers were the most dreaded. Some carriers even had to make two trips given how the inserts and ads ballooned the paper rivaling the size of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”
Up and at ‘em by 5:30 a.m., my pops appreciated the perk of getting the “first edition” right to the kitchen table and next to his coffee, or at times, to the bathroom vanity next to the toilet, if you know where I’m heading!
Something of a quid pro quo, whenever a Chicago blizzard would sweep through the windy city thereby making bicycle navigation treacherous, I could usually interrupt my father’s morning ritual to begrudgingly drive me on my route in the family station wagon.
Regardless of my groggy mental acuity in the morning, each game day I had to be razor-sharp having previously memorized the critical and unalterable details of which patron took the Tribune and which, the Sun-Times.
Not always spry and limber, my suburban deliveries had to be deftly launched from each driveway to a feathery landing on the front porch. Loft, wind velocity, distance, angle, rotation, and the paper’s weights were all precisely calculated internally and on the spot, to ensure every periodical-projectile reached its intended destination. Such landings were routine and almost as clockwork for me, with only a couple unforgettable exceptions when I forgot to wind the clock.
Sadly, I still have recurring dreams about those two tosses scored as a wild pitch, or shall we say, a pass-periodical. Each one landed on the porch, but not before hitting and breaking large picture windows first.
These days I can still imagine hearing a young boy on the street corner yelling, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” The front page headline would read, “No bonus! Broken windows!”
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at email@example.com