County Lines by Bob
Even if the booze and the broads hadn't been part of it, my life
as a paper boy was an adventure.
Up at three every morning. Pedal into town. Help unload the bundles
Insert the family and sports section into the local and the front
section. I loved the smell of fresh newsprint. Still do.
Insert the advertisements. Fold and secure the newspapers with
rubber bands if the weather was clear. Shove them in plastic bags
if not. Stack the papers in the basket on my bike.
Whiz along my route, tossing papers here and there. Sometimes hitting
bull's-eye at the front door. Sometimes not. Occasionally landing
one on the roof. Bummer. Throw another. Be careful, you only have
a few extra for that kind of stuff.
Kicking at chasing dogs slowed me down during the first few days
on my route. But that stopped after a paper boy who'd been at it
several years explained how to solve the problem. "Get a water
gun," Kenny said. "Fill it with ammonia. When one comes
at you, shoot it in the face."
"I don't know about that," I said. "Someone put
my dog's eyes out, I'd get mad."
"Don't worry," Kenny said. "Stuff's like tear gas.
It wears off."
I know some people think dogs can't talk. But after I squirted
a few, the entire canine population on my route steered clear when
they saw me coming. "Hey, Spot, don't chase that paper boy,
he'll spray you in a heartbeat."
I only had to stop and get off my bike at one place on the route,
the Edmar Apartments, a four-story building that served as housing
for the elderly. Many of the residents were dying of cancer.
I smelled death for the first time, walking down those hallways,
delivering papers. Death is a smell you never forget.
After finishing my route, I'd meet several paper boys at a small
bakery downtown. We'd eat doughnuts fresh from the oven and wash
them down with chocolate milk.
The thick aroma of bread baking made me feel warm and content,
like I didn't need to be anywhere else. If heaven does exist, I
wouldn't be surprised if it smells like early morning in a bakery.
The longer I worked at my job, the more proficient I became. I
inserted 100 papers before most of the other paper boys inserted
I built my route from a few more than 100 to almost 200. When my
customers got out of bed, their papers were dry and next to the
front door or nearby.
Unlike the paper boy before me, I delivered to the Edmar Apartments
first. Most of the people there didn't sleep much if at all. For
many of them, getting the newspaper was the highlight of the day.
My reasons for delivering there first weren't completely unselfish.
For as long as I can remember, when I've had a job to do, I've completed
the most difficult part first.
In my mind, delivering to the Edmar Apartments was the hardest
part of my route. Back then I thought death was catching. Death
was a frequent visitor there. I was afraid death would get me if
I lingered too long.
Delivering newspapers on the rest of my route was fun for the
most part. Collecting was something different, like two steps forward
and three back.
Collecting door to door was an educational experience. I learned
the working class tip the best. I learned that most rich people
are cheap. I learned that many people who aren't in mental institutions
One afternoon while I was going door to door, a woman in a black
nightgown invited me inside. She must have been at least 25. Back
then I thought 25 was old. Now it seems young. I've changed, 25
is still the same.
"Sit down," she said. "You want something to drink?"
Being 13, I figured I'd give it a try. "Got any whiskey?"
"You want that on the rocks?" she said.
I'd seen enough cowboy movies to know how real men drink whiskey.
"I take mine straight," I said.
She handed me a glass about a quarter full. I tilted my head back
and poured the whiskey down my throat. Liquid fire exploded in my
stomach. I choked back the vomit. Cowboys must be tougher than I
"Want another?" she asked.
Catching my breath, I said, "One's my limit. Got any beer?"
I was downing number four in a six-pack, when I noticed a picture
on the wall. "Who's that man?" I asked.
"My husband," she replied. "He's at work."
A headline flashed in my mind: Jealous Husband Shoots Paper Boy.
"Gotta go," I said.
"I thought you wanted to collect," she said.
"Later," I said.
The alcohol hit me as soon as I stepped outside. Everything started
spinning. I felt woozy and sick.
When I got home, I fell on my hands and knees in the yard. Vomit
gushed from my nose and mouth. Things came out I never saw before
or wanted to see again.
"Quit playing," Mom yelled out the window, "and
come inside. Supper's ready. It's your favorite: pickled okra, liver,
I put my hand over my mouth to stop it. But another slush of vomit
oozed through my fingers.
I never saw the lady in the black nightgown again. Some said she
ran off with the plumber. Others said the milkman.
Regardless of which one she left with, she still owes me for a
month of newspapers. I doubt I'll ever get paid for that.
Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570