I was in bed in the dark, yet the light that came in under my doorway was so bright. It was all I needed to keep my anticipation level high. It was so different to be trying to sleep so early, so soon after dinner. It was only eight o’clock, but it was time to try and get about four hours of sleep before going with Dad on his paper route.
My dad had taken a job throwing papers. He had lost his job, and it was time to do anything to bring in more money. At first it was a little strange that he was throwing papers - a grown man. But, those are the people who bring the big Sunday paper to your door. Not a boy, riding his bike, earning coins and tips, like in the cartoons, but actual men who need to find a way to help feed their family.
I wanted to see what it was all about. I thought that maybe he needed company. I thought that maybe it was a lonely thing.
I always thought that maybe I could try to make something better.
When we drove out to the area where all the paper throwers gathered, we waited for the big trucks that brought the papers. The people – so many people! - stood in the empty parking lot under the glow of streetlights talking and laughing with each other. Dad said “hello” to many of the others and exchanged small talk here and there. A truck/cart near all of the other vehicles sold coffee. They held the steaming cups in their hands grateful for the warmth. Although it was Phoenix, it was the middle of the night in the desert, always chilly.
As we waited for our delivery, a woman with deep lines in her face, a missing tooth, and a warm, cackling laugh called out to my dad. “Who’s that pretty lady with you tonight?”
My dad introduced us. “You gonna throw some papers tonight?” she asked with a smile.
“Yes,” I said and smiled up at my dad.
“Well, it’s good to meet ya,” she said, winked and walked off, calling to her friends.
The rigs came with the deliveries of paper. All the paper throwers lined up and gathered their sections of paper. They would take huge stacks to their vehicles and go back for more. It was our job to sit in the hollowed back of our old, white Chevy van and combine all the different sections – life, entertainment, sports, ads, coupons – into one large Sunday paper. Because it was a night that could see rain, we had to put the whole paper into the plastic bags provided for just that possibility.
Our hands were black. It took over an hour to get all the papers ready for throwing. It was harder work than I expected, but we were warm in the small space of the back of the van.
“You know that lady who had the missing tooth? She’s been doing this for fifteen years! Can you believe it? She knows everyone here. She brings food sometimes for everyone,” Dad said as we worked.
“Really?” I said. “What about that man you said hello to after we talked to her. Do you know him?” I asked. I had thought the man was strange and was interested to know interesting facts about this community of workers.
“No,” my dad said quickly. “He’s new. I don’t know him.”
By his tone, I could tell my dad didn’t like him. There was something “off” about the man who jumped around telling stories and talking loudly while in line to get his papers.
No matter how “off” anyone was, I supposed we were part of them. We were here, doing a job that many people never considered doing themselves. Most people wake up and find the paper on their driveway. Or they find it in their neighbor’s lawn and curse the paper-throwing fucker for missing the target. Again.
It seemed a very long time before we were ready to actually drive and throw the papers, but I pushed that tiredness away and prepared for what I thought would be the most exciting part of the night.
We drove through neighborhood upon neighborhood, dark and sleepy with no signs of life. It seemed we were the only ones awake and alive, doing a job in the still of the night.
It was difficult to get the paper to the right spot. There was a sure rhythm needed in the speed of the van and the toss of the arm. There were many homes to get to, and the route was long. To save time, we threw from both sides of the van on both sides of the street as we drove. My reach and aim were poor, but my dad did not seem to mind. He had his daughter with him. If someone had to walk a few steps for their paper, well, that was okay in his world.
The end of the route was mostly apartment buildings and a retirement community. At the apartments, we had to park the van and run around to various doorsteps and drop papers. The grass between the apartment buildings was wet with dew and the only light to work by was from streetlights and the moon. We saw no one.
We saw no one until we hit the retirement community. By this time, it was approaching four am. The sun would be rising soon. Old men sat on porch chairs in their driveways waiting for the paper. An elderly lady, waved from her doorway. One man, sat outside with an electric shaver, shaving his face in rhythmic circles.
I could not help but laugh and laugh about this. How silly! My dad said that this man sat like this every time, waiting for the paper and shaving his face.
When we had thrown the last paper (my arms were so sore!), we stopped for donuts at a convenience store. Bear claws were always my treat of choice, with milk.
I was tired. So tired. I fell asleep fast and hard upon reaching the house when the world began to wake. I would sleep all day, but I would not join him again on that route. It was hard work. It was hard work for my dad. Eventually, our family dog would accompany my dad in the back of that old van. And then, the experience would be used as punishment for my brother (and his friend who lived with us) when they had been suspended from school. (“You’re going to throw papers with your dad for the Sunday paper!”)
But at one point, it was intriguing. And I tried to be there in some way.