We all have that moment where someone says to us “HEY! You are really good at making tiny miniaturized chain smoking sea turtle robots. You should make a business out of that!”
“HEY, Iove that sandwhich you make. The one where there are 2 friend chicken cutlets and in the middle of that is a hamburger patty, salt, pickles, onions too. You should make a business out of that!”
In some ways, I’ve always been a business owner just didn’t realize it. I’ve had people say similar things to me like the above. When I was 11, a few buddies up the street had their own paper route and my Dad thought I was capable enough of running my own route because he did when he was a kid. Meanwhile, I was about as disorganized and disheveled as you can get. If you ordered me in a store, I would come 100 pieces, no directions, a shelf would splinter when you forced it into place and I would fall apart after 2 weeks. I think that store makes billions with bendy shelves, it’s called Ikea. Back to paper routes!
What’s a paper route, you ask? Friend, why, it’s child labor! How did paper routes come about and what’s a “paper”? A paper, or the regional pronunciation “Paypa” is a newspaper. That’s something like the infamous “Failing NY Times” Or the “Jeff Bezos’ Wash Post” or an informative paypa like the “NY POST”. What’s in a Paypa?
Well, all sorts of stuff. Like words and pictures and ads. Some Paypas have more pictures than words. Some have all ads and big words. Some have no ads and little words. Also, Paypas tell the story about yesterday and all the things that happened yesterday. Years ago, this was the only way people could find out about yesterday.
“What happen yesterday, dear?”
Dad, crosses his legs has he opens the “paypa”. Smoke emanates from his mouth as his cigarrette dangles from his lips. A lady, in an apron, serves him a stiff drink that she lays next to him on the table. Ice hits against the glass with a cold clang. Two small, laughing kids with Davy Crocket hats on run through the cigarette smoke and a small dog runs by as well. The B&W TV is off and everything looks all 1950’s black-and-white.
“Well dear, looks like some criminals are in the big house and some coppers got ’em. Tell you what, I’m gonna go down to the Gin House and meet the boys for some drinks.”
“That’s nice dear.”
And that’s how people got the news.
What about today? Do people read about yesterday today?
Well, no silly. We read about today, now.
Well what about yesterday? How do we find out about the past?
We can find out about yesterday now.
Sure! All you have to do is look up yesterday right now on your phone and you can read all about yesterday and the day before. Plus all of the yesterday’s before yesterday.
Wait, you mean that I can read about today and yesterday and all of the days before yesterday right now? BTW, who are you talking to?
Ok! Does a Paypa have today on it… today?
Sadly, no. Just yesterday.
Is everything true?
Nope it’s all fake news
(and that’s how you kill an industry)
So, what’s a paperboy? Oh, that’s an 11 year old boy that distributes papers on a Paper Route.
A Paper Route is where our story begins.
If you do a quick search on “origins of paper routes usa”, you get all sorts of interesting articles, websites and historical factoids of this noble child profession. Let me give you my version of it. Paper routes started with the “boy” on the corner yelling “extra, extra” read all about it and then after The Great Depression, these kids, were pushing “Paypas” on every street corner for a Nickel. This is a roundabout way of saying for many years even before the Great Depression, men in suits figured out that paying “paypaboys”was good business.
(What’s a Nickel? )
(Shhhh listen to the story)
Let’s fast forward because let’s face it, the story isn’t that exciting and the facts are blurry. My dad used to tell me about his “paypa route” in New Milford, NJ. How he had approximately 60 customers, how they would tip him handsomely and how his route was the envy of the town. It was a great way to save money.
Fast forward again now to about 1986. The kids up the block from me, entrepreneurial bastards, had a paper route… and money. They would talk about all the things they would buy with money. Well, I wanted in on that! (Maybe a chain smoking turtle toy business would come later)
So my parents set it up. The guy that was the boss of the route was set up for an interview with me and I couldn’t wait. My friends said “he was a jerk” but I was such a nube, it didn’t matter to me.
I’ll never forget it. At the time of the interview, I anxiously awaited his arrival and he didn’t dissapoint.
Zooming around the corner, like an 80’s badass from a John Cusack movie screeched a red Iroc Camaro Z28 with lightning bolts on the side and T-tops. Loud mufflers screamed “my penis is so tiny!” as he pulled across the street revving his engine. 80’s music blared from the t-top roofs as a driver sat in the its seat contemplating something. He was late, and from the looks of it being late and owning a paper route was cool.
That is until he stepped out of the Camaro 5 minutes later.
The small man with the most tiniest of penises shut off the engine and daintily got out of the car. His grey Members Only jacket, white converse and tight acid washed jeans moved him across our lawn up to the steps. He had magnificent tinted RayBans on that just barely showed his eyes as he got closer. His grey toupée was hastily arranged over his stupid looking face. He lumbered up the steps, thinking he was the hottest shit in the toilet.
He rang the doorbell.
My mom answered with her usual wonderfulness and sing songy hello. He introduced himself, grunted and walked in.
The next is part is blurry, so I will give you the summary: As you could imagine, he was a complete jerk. He gave me the rundown of my responsibilities:
My responsibilities: deliva’ the paypa and collect.
If I messed up anything it came out of my pay.
So bear with me for a second and let me explain this job. (remember, I am 11) The small pouched Mr Eif gave me a stretch of land not to far away from my house. Much like the Dutch bought Manhattan for $24 from the Lenape Indians, I was given the luxury of a stretch of land and it was “my route”. I would deliver “paypas” to about 35 houses every day, 7 days a week. Then every Friday, I would go to each customers and “collect”. This meant, ring the doorbell, say “collecting” and the nice person would come to the door and pay me.
Simple right? What could possibly go wrong?
Well for starters, I had to get up at 5:30 am before school to put the paypas together. Lumbering upstairs to my front door, I would bring the satchel of paypas inside and begin my rubberbanding. 1 paypa, 2 paypa, 10, 34 OUCH (rubber band snapped and pinched me).
With my fingers dirty with newspaypa ink, I would scratch my nose and forget the ink stain on it. Then I would throw them paypas into the Daily News bag Mr Eif gave me and strap them on my super-fresh silver Mongoose. Like Pee Wee Herman, I rode past the burning car on the side of the street by the fields and on my way to 60th Ave. Getting to the top of the route, here is where the work begins: Aiming your throw.
On a paypaboy’s best days you hit every stoop. In 2 years of my route that happened about 1 time. What you wanted as a paypaboy was to ride past the house and like a magical movie moment, hit the stoop just as Mr American Dad was coming out in his PJ’s and pipe. He would then wave to you and say, “Thanks Son!”
The paypa boy would then continue on and deliver the news to his customers right on time, right on their stoop.
This wasn’t my experience.
It was cold, dark and I was scared. Since it was October, it didn’t get light out until about 6:30 but I had to get ready for school so it was important for me to get the route done by 7, eat, finish the homework I didn’t do and such. I don’t think I showered until I was 14 so I didn’t have to worry about cleaning myself. Ah, to be a little boy again! There was dirt on top of dirt.
In my element, I would throw a paper from my fast-pedaling bike, a wind would take the paypa behind a customer’s thorn bush. I would stop my mongoose, sigh, get off my bike. Then other paypas would spill out of the bag and I would reach behind a thorn bush and rip my face in half.
Or I would ride my mongoose, throw a paper and the rubber band would break sending it in a thousand pieces all over NYC or their front stoop. I would heavily sigh, get off my bike, the rest of the paypas would spill out the bag and the wind would take them down the street where cars would run over them. Running up the customer’s steps, I would hastily arrange the paypas on the step then run after the other wind-swept paypas like an idiot. It must have been funny to watch.
Or, my favorite, I wouldn’t watch the weather or “plastic bag” the paypas. Then as I am riding I would throw each one on their step only to end the route with the skies opening up and each paypa getting soaked.
Collecting, I would hear it from the customers. “My paypa was soaked” or “I never got all of my paypa” or “you never delivered it” or “it was funny watching you run like an idiot after paypas” or whatever.
Then Mr Eif would arrive on a Sunday to get his paypa whore’s money. That’s what he was, he was a “Paypa Pimp”.
He would show up the same every week “vroom, door slam, doorbell, toupe, jerk, raybans” and lecture me on how bad I was at my job and dock my pay.
Imagine that! If you mess up, meaning, if the collections were off, he would take money away from me!
As a boss today, this is unconscionable. I mean if I was given this superpower and it was acceptable today, do you know how much money I would be able to take from people not doing tasks in their job? I would be a ga-billionaire. But alas, I didn’t drive a camaro or have a toupe so I was not allowed in the Eif hall of management shame. Back to the story:
It never got better. I just didn’t have the where-with-all to do this job right. First, I was 11. Second, I was getting completely ripped apart by this guy (my boss). It just didn’t help.
My parents saw the effect the man had on my work and also recognized that this man was a thief. He would dock all my pay some weeks. They tried to catch him several times in his thievery but he outsmarted them somehow every time. I don’t remember how.
Thing is, the route taught valuable lessons. I saved $500 in 2 years to buy a RAD electric guitar that I had wanted and an amp. I look back at my comic book collection and baseball card collection and remember the cash in my hand from collections and the smell of the burning it was doing to my rubberband-smacked hands.
I learned the value of a dollar. I learned responsibility. I learned people can be really hard on you. I learned about mistakes and their effects. I learned that I didn’t like it when people treated others with disregard which I could have never learned if I didn’t experience it. I also learned what it was like to have people rely on you.
At 11 years old.
Now, I was very bad at this job- I am not pretending that perhaps Mr Eif’s sternness wasn’t unwarranted at times but there is a difference between effective management and just being a turd. He was a turd, he took advantage of kids and knew it.
Thing is, I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
I look at my kids and I don’t want them to get hurt like I did. That’s the number one parental ideal that we all have. What my experience tells me, from one paypa boy to you:
Let them get hurt. Let them fail. Let them learn from complete failure.
Guide them, protect them from injury and anything that is inappropriate but those early mornings of experience taught me lessons that I could never forget. The American value of working hard and achieving what you want is disappearing fast. It’s gone because of people like Small Pouched Mr Eif and millions of people that took advantage of workers only because of power. It’s disappearing because when there is a perceived value but no one believes in it anymore, then it will dry up and go away.
As an employer today, it is virtually impossible to justify Mr Eif’s actions. Government intervention in the workplace because of people like him makes it harder to just let the workers work and it’s because of people like Small Pouched Mr Eif. Neither of these things are good for the workplace. The bottom line here is that there are lessons to be learned from strife. I’m not suggesting that we surgically keep things like harassment in place or god forbid racial injustice or even unequal pay. Working your way up, overcoming steep obstacles, responsibility and true critical thinking is drying up in the workplace. Common sense is certainly not common either. What we don’t need is more sleep stations so 31 year old Timmy can get some num nums and his blankey before his TPS reports are done.
At a very simple level, you have to admit that the most difficult things that you and I experience in life help us grow as people. That time I was nearly kidnapped as a child? Even writing that makes me wince, but it made me street smart and painfully aware of my surroundings; forced me to understand human nature. Do I want molesters walking the street freely and accept that my kids need to experience the same thing? Hell no. Do I now know what exists in the world? Possibly. That time I failed Biology? It was my fault, I went to summer school. My parents didn’t call the teacher and scream at them for my mistakes. That time I didn’t make the team? I didn’t perform well enough to make it, it wasn’t the coaches fault. That time I got fired? I didn’t do my job well enough, it was my fault.
It’s my responsibility to learn from my own mistakes. Papers flying down the street and all.
Experiences make the person. Artificially removing the potential for experiences to happen removes the potential for learning. That’s a hard thing for people to understand, but it’s true. I am sure that in the “biggest, fairest city in the world” fantasy that certain people have in leadership, they are trying to do the right thing because there are really awful circumstances that need to be addressed.
Let’s just treat the world’s issues top to bottom, not just treat the symptoms with drugs that don’t work.
I finish this blog post as the country burns and yearns but keep one thing close to heart. If a nation’s youth can do anything, it can learn from their parents mistakes but most importantly their own. So when an enterprising young man or woman wants to do something, let them. We can all sit back and watch as they run down the street chasing after the newspapers that fell out of their bag knowing that those are lessons that will stick with them forever.