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.