Southern Legitimacy Statement: I live in Virginia, along with most of my family.
The year was 1995. The internet was still brand new, and cell phones hadn’t become mainstream. Social media had yet to make people antisocial, and fake news was limited to the tabloid section at the grocery store. I still remember my favorite headline: Bat with Human Face! The weird creature on the front of the magazine looked like Uncle Fester from The Adams Family except it had sharp teeth and pointy ears. This was the most legendary piece of journalistic fiction since they first discovered that Elvis had been abducted by aliens.
But most people didn’t read that kind of stuff. They read the local newspaper. They even paid to have it delivered to their house. This provided me and my brother with a steady job, and earned us the title of “Paperboys.” It was meager pay, but twenty bucks a week was a lot for kids who were only ten and fourteen years old. Of course, my brother got the larger share because he could do more papers than I could. Capitalism didn’t seem to work in my favor back then.
Every day at three-thirty a lady driving a station wagon would drop a huge stack of newspapers onto the dirt driveway of our mobile home.
“C’mon, Phil! It’s time to go to work!” My older brother Rob would say.
We were partners in crime. Well, more like he was the boss and I was his gopher. But I didn’t know any better and they say that ignorance is bliss.
We hand folded all 127 newspapers and stuffed them into little plastic bags. Then we put on some giant canvas sacks that fit over our heads. The sacks had two pouches, one in front and one in back. After stuffing them full of newspapers we both looked like a couple of giant marshmallows.
I started to put on my bicycle helmet. “I need some help.” I said, fumbling with the chin strap.
Rob came over and tightened the strap for me. He then patted the top of my helmet and looked me in the eye to see if I was satisfied.
I gave him a nod.
We were ready for war.
“Don’t forget the hot dogs!” Rob said.
“Oh yeah!” I replied. I reached into the fridge and grabbed a bag of Oscar Mayers. These things were gold. Not only did they taste really good, they were also lifesavers on the job.
At that time both my brother and I were under the impression that cheap, processed foods were a blessing. Especially Oscar Mayer hot dogs. Of course there was that one time when we accidentally left the hot dogs in one of the canvas sacks for over a week. That was really gross. If you’ve ever smelled a rancid wiener, you’ll think twice before you do it again.
But the ones we pulled from the fridge were pretty fresh, so we both jumped on our bikes and raced to the nearby suburb.
We were pretty good at tossing newspapers. There was an art to it. With just the right arc, you could land it perfectly onto someone’s front porch. Of course, some people preferred that we put them into the little plastic boxes provided by the newspaper.
On a good day, we could finish the entire route in about an hour and a half provided there wasn’t any trouble. But on the paper route, trouble could happen anywhere.
“Hold up.” Rob said suddenly.
I put the brakes on my bike and looked around. “What is it?” I asked.
“Mr. Newman’s Rottweiler is outside.” He said. “Are you ready?”
“Yes.” I replied.
We both scanned the house and driveway, looking for any sign of the hairy beast.
“He must have gone around back.” I said.
We both really wanted to just drop the paper off at the edge of the driveway and be done with it, but Mr. Newman always insisted on having the newspaper brought to his porch. The porch was really far from the driveway, too.
“Why can’t he get a newspaper box like other people?” I asked.
“I don’t know.” Rob replied. He paused for a moment. “I’m gonna try tossing it.” He said finally. He held the newspaper loosely between his fingers, readying for an underhand throw.
I watched him with great anticipation.
With a magnificent arc, Rob threw the newspaper farther than I’d ever seen. Time seemed to slow down as I watched it come in for a landing. Much to our dismay however, it fell short and bounced off the edge of the porch into the grass.
Rob heaved a terrific sigh. “Mr. Newman will be furious if we leave it like that.” He said. “We’re going to have to go in. You ready?”
We both snuck up the driveway, keeping a watch out for the large canine. When we reached Mr. Newman’s parked SUV I stayed put, afraid to go any further. But Rob gingerly crept into the grass to pick up the fallen newspaper.
Suddenly, we both heard a deep growl and looked at each other with wide eyes. I felt my stomach take a nose dive. Coming from the neighbors yard, we saw a dark brown flash of Rottweiler bolting toward us. Rob quickly chucked the paper on to Mr. Newman’s porch and sprinted back down the driveway. “Hurry, Phil! Hurry!” He shouted.
The Rottweiler was closing in. I started to hop backwards as I reached into my pocket for the hot dogs. Then, with all my might I started pelting Mr. Newman’s Rottweiler with the wieners. The dog’s snarling teeth suddenly disappeared as he lost interest in us and began sniffing the ground for the little bits of processed meat.
Rob was already back on his bike. I ran over to mine while keeping an eye on the giant mongrel behind me, busy devouring the delicious Oscar Mayer hot dogs.
“It worked!” Rob said. My brother reached over and gave me a tremendous high five.
“Hot dogs save the day again.” I said.
“Do you have any more?” Rob asked.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out one last hot dog.
My brother broke it in half and gave me one piece. With an air of triumph, we both stuffed the cold, delicious frank into our mouths and pedaled home.
“That was the last one.” I said.
“That’s okay.” Rob replied. “We can always get more back home.”