Ed Pasko’s carp stories

CARP FISHING STORY #4

Unlike the preceding stories that had little to do with fishing, this story has absolutely nothing to do with fishing. Now that I have your interest, read on.

This story is about “The Paper Route from Hell.” I ran this route for 3 years, starting at age 11. The year was l950. I think you had to be at least 14 years old to have a paper route. My older brother Jim got the route, and I used to help him now and then. Well, after several months, Jim wanted out for “some reason.” I was only 11, and too young to have a paper route (or brains, ) but when the Gazette boss found out Jim was quitting and I knew the route, he said I could keep it. In reality, he knew that he had trouble keeping boys on this “route from Hell” and was glad for an easy fix.

Now here’s how this thing worked, or was supposed to work.

This was a morning paper route, so I had to get up at 3:30 six days a week, get dressed and walk down to the Bellevue Dairy on Lower Broadway, where my bundle of papers were dropped off. I then carried the two heavy bundles into the back of the dairy where they were bottling milk for delivery. One of the old men who worked there made a deal with me. I gave him a free paper and he let me prepare my papers out of the cold and darkness. He also would give me a small bottle of chocolate milk to drink. I would break open the bundles and put the papers in two shoulder bags. Some I pre-folded, but most I folded as I walked.

Now, it’s off into the cold, dark, windy, rainy, or snowy morn. Sometimes two feet of unplowed snow awaited me. I had the barest of boots and winter wear. After two hours of marching and delivering the papers, I would get back home, undress, and pop into bed for a few minutes before I had to get up for school. Yup, another three miles through the snow, and yup, uphill all the way. It was downhill coming back home.

The reward for this valiant effort:

5 cents/paper x 72 customers x 6 days = $ 21.60

2 cents/paper (my share) x 72 x 6 = $ 8.64 WOW!

My weekly bill to the Gazette = $ 12.96

The Gazette boss showed up at the house once a week to collect his share. What was left was all mine. The first week I had $3.35 left. I told the Gazette boss my problem. He said, “Son, that’s business.”

Most of these people on my route were so poor that they couldn’t pay. I remember one cold water flat where this poor woman would open the door, barefoot and disheveled, holding a baby in only a diaper with two toddlers standing near her in only diapers. “My old man didn’t leave me any money,” she said, and slammed the door. After I paid my paper bill all that was usually left was $3 to $4. The rest was out on the route – still is for all I know.

Along my route were six bars, all customers. On Saturday mornings as I “collected” my money, the bars would always ask me if I would like a soda, orange of course. I drank so much orange soda back then, it was a wonder my complexion didn’t change to go along with my orange mustache. On Broadway there was an old three-story hotel with a popular “black” bar downstairs called “Detroy’s Chicken Shack.” This was right on its sign and window, with a colorful rooster. We kids always heard that this was also a “whore house,” very popular on the weekends with blacks and whites. One Saturday morning when I was in the bar collecting my money and drinking my orange soda, I decided to sneak up the stairs and check out the rooms. Now this is the God’s honest truth; all of these rooms were “empty” except for a mattress on the floor. No chairs, no tables, no dressers, nothing. I figured these people were all business.

Right across the street was a grey building with a business, “Dick’s Glass Shop,” on the street level and a flat upstairs, both of them my customers. When I collected my money upstairs, this well-dressed older woman (to me) would open the door and “gush” all over me. She would give me a big kiss and say, “You the cutest colored boy ever; you are colored, aren’t you?” I don’t know, maybe it was the orange mustache; but as long as she kept giving me a big tip, I was her little colored boy. I did have a dark complexion from being outside all the time. She would open the door and say, “Girls . . . look at the cutest boy.” Well, now looking through the door into the room, I saw a dozen good-looking (to me) black women, sitting and standing around, drinking coffee and chatting. They were wearing only bras and panties, or slips and nightgowns. They looked in my direction but didn’t seem to be impressed by my orange mustache and big smile. Well! I’m a Polish kid, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that these were the working girls from across the street at “Detroy’s,” and my “honey” was the Madam. The first time this happened, when I got home my mother said, “Edward, how did you get all that lipstick on your face?” Like I said, she was a good tipper, so I played my part.

Weaver Street and Broadway had a lot of old wooden three and four story tenement houses. Some had no outside doors, and in winter the wind and snow would blow right through the halls. These were cold, desolate living quarters. I would leave my bags outside and take as many papers as I needed and walk up all the stairs to leave the paper in front of my customers’ doors. In one building on Weaver Street, when I reached the fourth landing a cat would shriek and run down all the flights of stairs and across the bottom and out the door. You could hear him running and watch down through the stairwell opening and see him scoot across the bottom. I used to take a snowball up with me and try to time it as I dropped it down through the stairwell. I could hear him running and came close to hitting him. The one day I caught him on the rump as he went scooting by. This didn’t hurt him, and I proved my point and didn’t do it anymore.

In a two-story tenement house on lower Broadway lived this big well-dressed black dude. He lived by himself and was usually dressed to the hilt, including a bowler hat. He was friendly enough, but seldom home. I thought he was some kind of romantic gambler. I would stop on the bottom landing and throw his paper up the stairs to his landing. Well one Saturday when I went to collect, all the week’s papers were still on the landing where I tossed them. This went on week after week after week. I was just planning on dropping him from my route and taking the loss when I climbed the stairs for the last time. Alas! All the papers were gone. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again, harder. I heard a mumbled yell on the other side and shortly the door opened. There stood “Diamond Jim,” looking all rumpled and beat. He must have been coming off a good bender, as his eyes were as red as blood. He said, “Who are you?” I told him I was his paper boy and that he owed for eight weeks. He just stood there staring down at me with those red eyes. I was getting nervous and just about to turn and run when he said, “I had a good week; how ‘bout flipping double or nothing.” I was young and naive back then and wasn’t sure what he was talking about, so I just nodded my head. He took out a coin, mumbled something and flipped it. He then looked at it and laughed, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a big wad of bills, peeled off two fives, handed them to me and laughed again. I began digging in my pocket for change, but he smiled and winked at me with those red eyes and said, “It’s all yours Lucky.” I thanked him and started down the stairs. I didn’t know what had happened here, but I just made more money than I usually made in a week. As I think back to so many years ago, was he a real honest gambler, or was it the “orange mustache.”

I got a new customer in a two-story house on Weaver Street. This house looked to be in better shape than most. It was jammed in with all the run-down houses. I delivered upstairs. The first time I collected, a well-dressed white woman answered and asked me in. There was a young boy playing on the floor and a well-dressed white guy sitting on the couch. The first thing I noticed was that this place was furnished like a palace with fancy rugs and furniture. What was it doing in this neighborhood? The woman paid me and the guy just sat there staring at me. Anyway, about 45 minutes later, further up my route, I had another second floor customer. She was a very pretty, well-dressed young white woman (no kids.) She opened the door and went to get my money. I looked in and there was the same guy I saw earlier sitting on the couch. This time he looked a little nervous. As he got up and came toward me, he hollered to the girl that he would get it. Now the guy was wearing a nervous smile. He gave me a big wink and handed me $5.00. I reached for change, but he said ,”keep it,” and gave me another wink and a nod. I gave him a wink back and took the fiver and left. I noticed there was a big Cadillac sedan parked outside. I only collected there when I saw this car there. I was learning fast. A few years later I found out that this guy was a partner in a newsroom and soda shop on Crane Street.

Another new customer lived in one of the last houses on my route, another two story. There was only one apartment up the stairs, so I folded the paper and threw it up the stairs. Wow! All Hell broke loose. The big old dog had been sleeping up there; and when the paper hit him, he jumped up barking and howling and charged down the stairs. Lucky for me it was at the end of my route, and my paper bags were near empty. I took off down the sidewalk with the old boy right behind me. After a couple hundred yards he ran out of gas and gave up. We repeated this scenario every morning for the rest of the week. Saturday came and I had to collect my money. I was very leery of going up there; but anyway, up I went. No dog on the landing. I knocked on the door and an old man let me in. He went to get my money, and I stood there wondering where the dog was. Grrrr! I turned around slowly, and there was the old boy right behind me, growling. He was very old and grey, stiff-legged and blind in one eye. I decided to make friends and extended my hand for him to sniff. Bad move. That old mutt got about four chomps on my hand before I could withdraw it. The old man came back with my money, saw the dog and said his old buddy used to be quite the watchdog. I said he only lost a step or two as I kept my mangled hand behind my back. We kept this up (except for the chomping) for the rest of my route days. I should have charged the old man extra for exercising his dog.

This paper route was a real learning experience for me. I met a lot of different kinds of people. I found that most people will treat you as you treat them. I remember one sweet old black couple that lived in an isolated house on Van Guysling Avenue. The little old lady gave me an extra dime every week. She said she wouldn’t give me a Christmas tip because she’d rather give me something every week. Come Christmas week she gave me my dime plus a little gift-wrapped box. In it was a really nice necktie. That was 60 years ago. I still think of that sweet old lady.

Yes, it’s been 60 years since I walked that beat, but not a week goes by when I don’t think of that poor, but generous, old black woman or Big Jim and the others and how they helped shape my life. That route did more for me than put a few coins in my pocket.

Ed Pask

portraiture

I wrapped up my graduate studies this week, which means I’m now officially done with my master’s degree. I won’t actually get my diploma until after next weekend’s ceremonies, but in my mind, it means that I’m now the proud recipient of a master’s of science in journalism with a certification in media management. Kind of a mouthful, no?

In honor of this milestone, I want to show off one of my most recent attempts at portraiture, one that I’m actually really quite proud of. I was lucky to find a great subject. I have struggled throughout the semester with going up to strangers on the street, getting their permission to photograph them and then saying, “okay, just act natural!” As someone who is notoriously un-photogenic, I understand only too well the implicit irony in telling them to just “act natural” as I’m hovering around in their personal space with a large camera. Still, when I spotted Juan sitting outside a tire repair center in Wicker Parker, I knew I wanted to try shooting him. I loved the contrast of the red writing against the black wall and I knew that, along with his black shirt, would help his face “pop” out from the background. Thank you again Juan, for being such a patient and excellent subject. 

civil unions in Chicago

Last week, on June 1, Illinois’ civil union law went into effect. To celebrate this move, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn and other elected officials arrived in Chicago’s Millennium Park for a mass civil union ceremony.  A total of 36 couples were united in civil union in front of their friends, families, supporters and reporters on that day, June 2. I went down to document the day, which was such an amazing moment to behold.

For me , it held special significance from a career standpoint. The first national news I ever got to cover was a mass same-sex marriage ceremony. I was a junior in college, the managing editor of my college newspaper, when our town’s mayor made the very controversial decision to solemnize more than a dozen same-sex marriages. The action shot him and our town into the national spotlight, and before long, I found myself covering the story alongside the likes of reporters from the New York Times, CNN and a number of other national media outlets. Needless to say, it was a pretty pivotal moment for me. It was also the moment that cleared up any lingering doubt I may have had about what I was going to do with my life. And so, to cover a similar story nearly eight years later on the cusp of the completion of my graduate degree, well, it just seemed fitting.

Adventures in Krakow

In September of 2009, I went to Poland by myself and it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. I met wonderful people, saw beautiful architecture and explored a city with a painful history and an inspiring amount of hope. Nearly two years later, I’m still sorting through photographs and other bits from the trip, but I’m working on creating a more comprehensive slideshow. For now, there’s this.

Still life with chayote squash


My photojournalism instructor had us take photos of fruits and vegetables recently. The assignment was to give your chosen item of produce personality. In other words, our instructor “needs to care about that apple! Make me care about that banana!”

I’m not sure if I totally captured the true personality and essence of my chayote squash, and I certainly can’t hold a candle to the works of Edward Weston, but I gave it a valiant effort. This was one of my favorites:

I liked this one too.

I also took a lemon on numerous photo shoots and when I found this little rotting apple sitting forlornly on the other side of the fence, well, I decided to have my lemon join it.


Dear Chicago,

I posted this on my food blog but I think it’s worth posting here too. It’s just something I wrote off the cuff, that I’m playing around with. Here goes:

"Oh great white city I've got the adequate committee Where have your walls gone? I think about it now Chicago, in fashion, the soft drinks, expansion Oh Columbia! From Paris, incentive, like Cream of Wheat invented/ The Ferris Wheel! " - Sufjan Stevens

How do you put into words the feeling of falling in love with a city? The initial sense of being enamored, the ups and the downs, the triumphs? In so many ways, it’s like a traditional romance – it starts out confusing and new and then as time progresses, things become a little more complicated. There will be the moments when you want to be anywhere else, but at the end of the day, there is no embrace you crave more.

I moved to Chicago for graduate school, foremost, but also because I needed to get away. I’d lost my job, I’d lost my great love and I’d lost my direction. I had my friends, my family, my hobbies and my newest love but still, Albany had gained a rusty coat I couldn’t quite get rid of. I needed time, I needed space, I needed newness. And Chicago held promise. I’d visited the Windy City a few years ago and stayed with my friend Sam and her now-husband. I was headed to the Midwest solo, leaving my then-bachelorette apartment and new boyfriend behind, ready to shake the bad feelings left by the end of yet another relationship. I suppose it’s sort of funny then, that Chicago would be the city where I ran to shake the bad feelings of the boyfriend who’d been such a new acquisition at that time. Life is cyclical, no matter how we fight it.

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How I learned to drive, sorta

I’m going through some things and found a copy of a narrative feature I wrote back in my undergraduate years. I think I was 20 or 21 – so it’s quite old.  I’ve always liked this piece though, so I’m resurrecting it. I’ve made a few punctuation/grammatical tweaks but for the most part, it’s as raw as the day I turned it the professor.  The assignment was to write about either something mechanical or something natural, preferably in a more narrative way. Here we go:

How I learned to drive, sorta

The 1991 Oldsmobile Delta 88 sits solemnly in the parking lot, a maroon steed grazing in a field of asphalt; JR, my boyfriend Kevin has nicknamed it. I approach JR’s driver side door cautiously, and mount the seat. The four-door sedan houses a 3.8-liter, V-6 engine underneath its beat-up shell. All of this means nothing to me. I have not been in the driver’s seat of a car in four and a half years.

We are in the parking lot of my alma mater, Greenville High School, the site of my crushing defeat: failing driver’s education the summer before my senior year. I was just shy of 17 and had the disadvantage of being taught by the aptly named Mr. Carr, a middle-aged hairy misogynist who wore polo shirts and Bermuda shorts. Continue reading