"Bartender, make it a whiskey sour!"
That was my usual order at the Little White House Bar and Grill on the corner of Hallock and Bound Brook Road. I usually stopped in for a drink before work.
I climbed up onto the stool at the end of the bar, and slapped that day's edition of the Courier News down in front of me. The after-work crowd had just started to drag in, and the stools were filling quickly. The room smelled of stale beer and solitude.
"Here you go, mister," said Mr. Baker, the grizzled old suds-slinger, as he placed the Dr. Pepper in front of me. He took the newspaper and set it down behind him.
"Got any extras?" asked a reptilian-looking construction worker as he took a pull off his bottle of Schlitz.
"Yep, sure do." I handed him a copy, and he gave me fifty cents. Cool, a quarter tip. I finished my Dr. Pepper, and headed out.
"See ya tomorrow, Mr. Baker."
"Yeah, be careful out there kid," he replied, as I walked out the door.
I slung the canvas newspaper bag over my shoulder, climbed back on my beaten up Huffy with the crooked back rim, and started to make my daily rounds. The bar was my first official delivery, conveniently located right across the street from where I picked up my batch of papers each afternoon. I always enjoyed a quick Dr. Pepper, and I could usually pick up a couple extra bucks peddling my extras.
Armed with sixty or so papers and a bag of rubber bands, I'd work my way down Runyon Avenue rolling, banding, and slinging that day's edition onto various porches (or, upon customers' request, putting it in their mailbox).
Wednesdays were always a pain in the ass, because that was the day that the Courier News included an extra section of advertisements. The Wednesday paper was a lot thicker, and sometimes I'd have to load up half my inventory, deliver those, and then go back home to pick up the second batch. And I'd really have to crank up my arm to reach the porches, which tended to affect my accuracy. One Wednesday, for example, I took out the screen in Mr. Wagner's front door, which took a chunk out of my profits for that week.
Yeah, Wednesdays sucked.
The route started on the corner of Runyon and Pond Avenue. The first major challenge was at Old Man Schmitt's house. Mr. Schmitt was an ancient German immigrant, and very particular about where his paper ended up. Top step, center. He could get a little cranky when it ended up somewhere else.
"Hey! Paper boy! Ve don't vant zee paper in zee hedges, ya? It goes right here on zee top ztep! Got zat?"
"Ya, I mean, yes, Mr. Schmitt. I'll make sure to put it there tomorrow."
"Zehr gutt! Dankeshoen."
Hey, be thankful your screen door's still intact, I thought.
Most of my customers were pleasant and generous. Mr. McMaster, for example, gave me a dollar tip every week. Since a weekly subscription was a buck twenty five, an 80% bonus was nothing to sneeze at.
Mr. and Mrs. Van Wyck, on the other hand, would always seem to be "away" on collection Fridays. They fell so far behind on payments that I considered calling my dad's co-worker Paulie Bonafacio to encourage them to be more diligent with their financial obligations.
"'Scuse, me, Mr. Van Wyck. Ah, a friend of ours says dat ya seems ta be a bit, ah, slow wit' da payment. I t'ink we might need ta have a talk..."
Perhaps the next day's edition of the Courier would have a fish wrapped in it.
And then there were the Robinsons, with their Satanic Rottweiler named Bruno.
Bruno presented a challenge all his own. He was fenced inside the front yard, but despite Mrs. Robinson's assurance that the dog would NOT, in fact, rip me limb from limb should I open the gate and put the paper on the porch, I was not willing to take such a risk.
So my task was this:
I had to throw the paper from the sidewalk, clear the yard, and land it on the front porch. Of course, if I came up short, Bruno would treat the afternoon edition like a wounded squirrel and rip it to shreds. I remember one Wednesday when it took a few tries.
First attempt: Wide right. Chew toy.
Second attempt: Short. High fiber dog biscuit.
Third attempt: Hit Bruno. Pissed him off. Wet my pants.
Fourth attempt: Landed on the front porch. I got the hell out of there.
Final score: Bruno 3, Porch 1.
After a few months on the job, I'd saved enough money to buy myself a royal blue Schwinn Varsity, the Porsche Carrera of ten-speed bicycles. I passed the clunker Huffy down to my brother Eric that same afternoon. Having two circular wheels sure sped up my daily rounds, and the classy new ride made me the envy of the neighborhood.
Which turned out to be a very bad thing.
One afternoon, I went to the garage to get the Schwinn and start my rounds. I raised the garage door . . .
. . . and it was gone. Someone had broken in, cut through the chain, and stole my bike. I still had my papers to deliver, so I went to my brother and borrowed my ex-Huffy. But before I started on my route, I had to go drown my misery.
"Bartender, make it a whiskey sour . . . "
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010
"Bartender, make it a whiskey sour!"