Saturday, October 1, 2011
This piece was written for the Daily News in Los Angeles on the occasion of the paper’s centennial.
I will never forget flying through the dawn. In many ways, those mornings in the eastern San Fernando Valley delivering the Daily News shaped my entire life.
I started my delivery service when the paper published on selected days of the week. By the end of my time, the Daily News was a seven-day-a-week publication with a unique valley slant. There were no mornings off for us carriers. I pedaled my ten-speed furiously through the neighborhood, racing the sun to get all my papers delivered and get back home to get ready for school. My salary helped pay for my Catholic school education and relieve the financial burden on my working class parents.
My daily journey was an adventure, fraught with a hint of danger and full of hidden secrets in the darkness.
There was the vicious mutt that stalked me. He ran loose in the neighborhood and would lie in wait to launch himself out of the dark shrubbery to attack me with gleaming fangs and horrible snarl. His teeth nipped at my frantic legs, and once he had a hold of my jean cuff, he tried to tear me off my bike. As a twelve year old who had just read about Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles, I feared being torn apart by this beast. In a last ditch effort to survive, I loaded a plastic squirt gun with ammonia, and when the dog leaped at me the next morning, I managed to nail him in the face. He slid away into the darkness, never to harass me again.
There was the body on the sidewalk. I nearly ran over him and thought he was dead. Staring down at him, my chest heaving, I heard him moan and realized, as my nose registered the stench, that he was only drunk.
There were the mishaps, mostly due to my bad aim and weak throwing arm. The guy who demanded his paper on his porch or he wouldn’t pay me received a slamming wake-up call every 5 AM as I furiously hurled his paper against his screen door. Until I developed some skill, papers landed on roofs, in flower beds, and one time, through an open window with a crash of broken dishes and who knows what else.
Little did I know, when I returned home smeared with ink and smelling of newsprint, those days of delivery, in rain, cold, heat, and dust would lead me to a life centered on words as a writer and English teacher. But they did, and I would not trade the memories for anything.
I’d like to think that somewhere in another dimension of time and space, that twelve year old boy is still pedaling his way through another blue morning. In that place, people still read newspapers, children feel safe at school and on the streets of their neighborhoods, and a child flies through the dawn’s early light, launching a bundle of newsprint through the air to land on the front porch to inform the world.
Photo: Getty Images