When I was all of eleven, I had a paper route. If I could have delivered papers that actually paid pretty good money like the Colorado Springs Sun or Gazette Telegraph, I would have been a regular paperboy. But in those days, you had to be at least twelve to deliver the real papers. And a boy.
Rather, this gold mine was a little weekly rag of about a dozen pages with more advertisements than anything worth reading, like comics. The paper was called The Eastside Mailer. Subscribers paid a whopping $1.25 per month. The publisher got a dollar, carriers got twenty-five cents.
My two older brothers got me the gig. So, I followed them to The Eastside Mailer office, which was in the basement of a strip mall, under an ice cream shop. The place was almost large enough to house a printing press, a desk, counter and the publisher. The man was huge, bald and as pleasant as a dingo. If he’d had any more affection for children, he’d have tossed them into traffic. But he controlled his urge feed us to truck grilles so he wouldn’t have to deliver his papers himself. Who knew what his name was? I just called him The Ogre, but only because I was taught to be nice.
With his press pounding in a disco rhythm behind him, he leaned over the counter and demanded to know why I wanted a route. “B-b-because, I want to make some money,” came my bold reply.
“Come back tomorrow, and I’ll see if I have a route open, you little s–t.” He said, turning back to his thumping, clacking, hissing machine.
“Okay!” I imagined a route bursting at the seams with at least a hundred subscribers. At a quarter each per month, it would be a nice haul for an eleven-year-old, and not a whole lot of work. Easy cheesy as a pie of pizzey, as they say. Or would, if they had the poetic gift, too.
The next day, I got my subscription book, instructions on how the papers would come to me on Tuesday afternoon for an evening delivery and when and how to collect each month. Nothing to it.
Really. Nothing to it. I had a whopping twelve subscribers over a ten-block route. Well, whoever said you could make a living in journalism, anyway? It would do for allowance augmentation, if nothing else.
So, week after week, I trudged up hills, dropping one paper on a porch per block. Then, turning left at the corner, I’d trudge up hill again, drop a paper, turn left at the next corner and trudge up hill some more, turn left again and continue up hill. It was like finding yourself trapped in an Escher sketch.
I heard once that great minds had tried to crack the paradox of how a paper route in Colorado Springs could be all uphill coming and going. Nikola Tesla was the first, but he ended up fleeing to the east coast and going mad. Then Einstein, who used to have suave, black hair, took a swing at it. After years of frenzied equation chalking, erasing, re-calculating and scalp pulling, he is said to have exclaimed, “Ach, du lieber! Mein kopf can take no more!” So Stephen Hawking, that virile giant of a man, swaggered up to the challenge. After expending every last firing synapses on the conundrum while getting no closer to the answer, it left him deflated like a day-old party balloon.
At any rate, collection time finally rolled around. Woo-hoo! I was going to earn a year’s worth of allowance money in one month!
Who knew that $1.25 was such a princely sum that people couldn’t come up with the money? At the first of the month.
When EVERYONE ON EARTH GETS PAID.
After several nights of effort, I scored about a 90 percent collection rate. And my number of subscribers dropped by that final 10 percent. The only upshot was that my cat, Felix, tagged along, skulking from foundation shrub to foundation shrub as if I couldn’t see him. My big, golden tomcat pretended to be my guardian angel. It was adorable, I thought.
Disappointed with the job as I was, I kept at it, even when The Ogre dropped off a hundred papers, ordering me to deliver to every house on the route. Would I get paid for the extra deliveries? Oh, heck no. “But,” The Ogre snarled, “you might get some more subscribers.” There’s nothing like hope to crush a young girl’s spirit.
There was a house on the route guarded by the ugliest dog in the galaxy. This animal was the size of a plucked turkey, had bulgy, red-rimmed eyes; stiff, curly gray hair on its back; patchy, smooth black hair on its sides; brown spots like chewing tobacco spats; and ears that bent backwards with pieces missing. Its muzzle was gray and locked in a dreadful grimace.
The first time I passed the house, the monster waited around the corner until I began to cross in front. Then it charged like a bat out of a black mass, muzzle blazing with explosive canine profanities unsuitable to repeat here. Leaping and barking, sneezing and grinding, the possessed creature made rabid badgers look like St. Francis of Assisi.
Shocked, I slapped at its head with a paper as it vaulted to the height of the fence hoping to clear it. My instinctive defense only increased its rage. On one whirling bounce, it snatched the paper and proceeded noisily to make confetti of it, never taking its protruding eyes off of me as I ran away.
Fortunately, the owner of The Antichrist wasn’t a subscriber. Every time I passed by the house, the beast would track me down the fence line while contorting in every unnatural way, trying to pierce the chain-link and reduce me to a pile of sausage. Its evil, raspy bark and howl sent chills down my spine. Because it was apparently too stupid to climb the fence, nobody had shot it yet. For subsequent deliveries, I made a point of passing that house in the street. Bringing holy water would have been a good idea, too.
I called it The Antichrist.
The third time The Ogre dropped a mountain of papers on me, it was a freezing, breezy afternoon in November. Alas, my shoes and coat were inadequate for the amount of time it would take to make every delivery. My feet quickly became icebergs, and since my collection success rate had decreased in proportion to my efforts to get paid, I was in one foul mood.
As I approached the house of The Antichrist, a warming light bulb blinked on over my head as I realized what I must do.
As usual, the demonic brute burst from his hiding place on cue as I neared his lair. Taking aim, I pitched the strapped bundle of papers over the fence where they landed squarely on the monster’s head. Briefly stunned, I thought I’d gotten the best of the creature. But it quickly recovered and commenced shredding the papers with the zeal of a Cuisinart. By the time I reached the other end of the fence line, a regular blizzard of newsprint swirled about its dusty yard. The Antichrist was happily occupied shredding me in effigy and I was rid of my extra burden.
Collection time rolled around again. I set out to do my duty, hoping I might collect from at least half the subscribers I had left. Discouraged, I shuffled along, cold, depressed and not noticing that I had come upon The Lair until it was too late. The Antichrist jumped into action. Misplacing a paw, the atrocity got himself stuck in the fence. In its ferocious struggle to free itself, it managed to work its way, butt first, to the top of the fence whence it tumbled over backwards and hit the sidewalk.
I froze to the concrete as The Antichrist sprang to his feet, dazed. As calm as I’d ever seen him, he peered about, blinking, astonished to see himself on the outside for perhaps the first time in his miserable, degenerate life. Then, lowering his head, I swear, he pulled his lips back in an evil, sly grin, and locked eyes with me. I crossed myself and almost wet my pants.
In the next instant, the devil launched himself like a missile. I screamed like a banshee, certain I would die that day. But, out of nowhere, a streak of golden brown lightning collided with The Antichrist and body-slammed him into the fence. Felix!
They rolled away from each other as they landed. Once back on their feet, though, they squared off. The Antichrist sniffed the air, and Felix rotated his ears. The Antichrist nodded and chuffed a snide greeting as if to say, “So, we meet again.” Felix whipped his tail in response. Clearly the furcoats knew each other. And this appeared to be a grudge match.
They crouched and circled, waiting to see who would strike first. I slowly backed away, afraid The Antichrist would make kibble out of my precious kitty, but unwilling to come between them. Breaking the Mexican standoff, they attacked simultaneously and became a blurred ball of screeching, hissing, snarling biting, scratching fury.
I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t stop it and I felt this couldn’t possibly end well for Felix. I fled the carnage and ran home. Breathlessly, I pantomimed to my parents about the conflagration. Dad and I jumped in the car and returned to the battlefield, but all that remained was tufts of hair and copious amounts of blood and spit drying on the sidewalk. Felix and the Antichrist were nowhere to be found.
Later that evening, after shoving my dinner around my plate, listening to my siblings chatter about what could have become of Felix, I abandoned the food altogether. Taking my plate to the kitchen, I heard a scratching at the back door. I slung my plate on the counter and ripped open the door.
There sat Felix with a self-satisfied smirk on his whiskered face. Covered in spit-slicked fur, missing a few patches, and a little bloody, he sauntered into the kitchen and made for his food bowl like it were just another evening. Boy, was I happy to see my feline champion!
Since I hadn’t finished my collection rounds, I set out again the next day. As I prepared to dodge into the street around The Antichrist’s house, I noticed that he was sitting quietly in the middle of his yard. His inverted ears appeared more tattered and he certainly had less fur all over. Once he spotted me, he struggled to his feet with a meek yelp and limped sheepishly around the corner of his house and out of sight.
I’d had enough of the paper route and quit the next day. Babysitting was the new gig. I saw neither the Antichrist nor The Ogre ever again. And that was fine by all of us.