500 Words - Day 9: Write about your first job.
If you grew up in the 80's or 90's there's a very good chance one of your first jobs was delivering newspapers. That was a long time ago and my memory is a little fuzzy on the details. I remember that I helped a neighborhood girl deliver the route in the apartment complex we lived in and I think I took it over from her when she quit. At some point on took on a second route at another apartment complex that was a little further away, probably in the hopes of making a little bit more money, that was a long walk with so many papers and the hallways smelled weird.
While my memory is failing around the details of this first job, there are plenty of things I do remember. I can remember the stack of papers, bundled in white twine, waiting for me when I walked in the door to our apartment after school. The hope was always for good weather because then all I had to do was roll them and wrap a rubber band around them. I skipped the rubber band a few times when I was in a hurry, probably from spending too much time after school talking with friends or flirting any girl that would bother to pay attention to me, and people would be so mad you would have thought I'd set the building on fire. Without the rubber band the Courier Times, when quickly flung between the screen door and the front door of the apartment, would become more a swirl of advertisements and other recyclable material than a readable periodical about the life and times of New Castle, Indiana. In hindsight, that would have frustrated me, too. I apologize.
When the weather was a bad, meaning any chance precipitation, the rolled newspapers had to go inside a plastic bag to keep them from getting wet. Yes, there were times when I skipped this all important step in the name of something better to do in a pre-pubescent boy's life, but to my credit the papers were always delivered dry. They just might not have been in that condition when the reader retrieved them. Again, my apologies.
Once the papers were ready they would go into a canvas bag with a single, bright orange shoulder strap. The canvas, like my fingers and some of the walls in apartment, were stained from the newspaper ink. I can smell the papers in the bag, sometimes still warm from the press, the aroma of ink and paper mixing with the canvas, and I can appreciate the innocence of it.
I was probably twelve years old, doing what other twelve year old boys before me had done for generations. There were no smartphones or even cell phones. Our cordless phone had only recently replaced the one with the cord that was long enough to stretch from the dining area, into the kitchen, and all the way into the living room. When someone else picked up another phone they could hear your conversation. TGIF with shows like Family Matters, Full House (anyone else have a crush on DJ Tanner?), Perfect Strangers, Step by Step, and Boy Meets World was on ABC on Friday nights from 8pm-10pm, not on demand. There was no 24-hour news cycle. The news came on at 6pm or arrived when I delivered the paper.
It could be 104 degrees in the summer or 15 degrees with snow a foot deep or everything covered in ice, and I would trudge out the door with that canvas bag on my shoulder to walk the circle of Stonegate Apartments, delivering the news, good and bad, to those eager for it. It's not possible that I appreciated the simpleness of the task or how nostalgic I would one day be for those ink-stained fingers. But I know the work taught me responsibility. It taught me some self-reliance and how to care for something that was no my own. It taught me that work can be fun but also unappreciated (try collecting payment for newspapers when you're 12 years old). It taught me that work itself is a good thing, that we crave purpose and connection and meaning, and our labor can be a part of how we find those things. But looking back, I think that first job has mostly given me fond memories of my youth, expressing my independence, knowing my parents would there for me to help when I needed it, and joining others in a right of passage in which so many have taken part.