All Blog Posts

Tons of...Fun?

November 12, 2014


Like most kids growing up, money burned a hole in my pocket. If I found a nickel or dime I’d spend it as quickly as possible, usually on candy bars. Unlike most kids on the street where I grew up, my brother and I weren’t given an allowance; our parents (my mother) didn’t believe children should be paid to do household chores.


Some summers my brother David and I would cut apricots at an orchard owned by one of Mom’s cousins, but for the most part we had to make do with Christmas or birthday money. When old enough, athletic David had a paper route; with an arm honed on many a little league pitcher’s mound, he could throw papers with remarkable precision, landing the daily news on doorsteps every time. Once when David was sick, I tried to deliver his route, but too often my papers landed in bushes and on rooftops.


One summer I caught wind of another way to strike it rich. Households didn’t recycle back then; people tossed out newspapers with the garbage. If I devoted my summer to gathering discarded newspapers and bundling them, I could make a fortune selling to the recycle center on the outskirts of town.


My parents didn’t approve of newspapers filling our garage, making it necessary to exile our car to the driveway, but they were unwilling to crush my enthusiasm for a project that would keep me outside while providing exercise. So one summer in the early Sixties I prowled the neighborhood on my bike, ringing doorbells and begging for newspapers.


I wasn’t the only kid trying to make a fortune gathering newspapers. Competition was fierce. Fortunately, there were lots of papers to be had, like prairie buffalo before the arrival of the white man. Today, news is readily available on the Internet or twenty-four/seven TV news outlets, but in the Fifties and Sixties nearly everyone subscribed to the local paper. Most people were more than happy to have someone take unwanted stacks off their hands.


Occasionally, a mother lode was discovered when a retired couple opened a garage door revealing stacks higher than a kid could reach. Legends of great newspaper finds ran rampant, like tales of The Lost Dutchman Mine or King Solomon’s Gold. These tales were pure fabrications, but they compelled me to pedal harder and faster and farther to find heaps of precious newsprint. Sometimes we newspaper hunters would gather at someone’s garage, where we’d throw back glasses of Kool-Aid and exchange whoppers about huge newspaper strikes.


By the end of summer my garage was nearly stuffed to the rafters. My best friend Ricky Delgado helped with the bundling, provided I let him keep all discarded Playboys. When I’d collected all the papers our garage could hold, Dad helped load them into Uncle Manuel’s pick-up truck. It took several trips to deliver all the bundles, which weighed in at several tons.


I was bursting with pride when the man at the recycle center had me sign a document transferring ownership of my mountain of papers. It had taken all summer; I’d turned down swim parties at the public pool and trips to Cabrillo Creek to find elusive albino tadpoles. I’d forfeited days of lounging beneath the sycamore tree in our front yard, reading books from the Bookmobile parked a few blocks away. Instead, I’d worked hard, and now I looked forward to my reward. My brain raced with all the cool things I could buy; maybe a car! Kids would drool with envy even though it would be years before I’d be able to drive. I was glad Dad was with me because it would be dangerous for a kid to be walking around with pockets full of cash.


The man handed me my earnings. I blinked in disbelief. I’d traded my summer, ridden my bike until my chubby thighs were redder than a fire hydrant, begged for papers until I was hoarse, and for what? Seventeen dollars and eighty-three cents!


The words slipped out of my mouth without me realizing it, “What a fucking gyp!”


Dad looked at me curiously. “What did you say?”           




“You better not have said what I think you said.”


I kept my mouth shut, but I almost let loose another colorful epithet when I told my mother how much (how little) I’d received.


She smiled and said, “Good, that money will help pay for your back-to-school clothes.”









oh, the dream was crushed...hard!
By: TexWisGirl on November 12, 2014
I used to think your mother was nice!!
By: fishducky on November 12, 2014
What an awful way to learn a lesson!
By: mimi on November 12, 2014
Yeah. You got screwed. And not in a good way.
By: Al Penwasser on November 12, 2014
booooooo, I hate stories with icky endings. Bless your heart, what a terrible summer, misspent. And not in a good way. School clothes.......ughhhhhhhh
By: Oma Linda on November 12, 2014
That is a very sad story -- but so typical of the time!
By: The Broad on November 12, 2014
Back to school clothes!! Oh the humanity! I remember paper drives for the boy scouts. Truck load after truck load of paper. Never knew how little the payoff was.
By: Cranky on November 12, 2014
I have to say I agree with your instant epithet completely.
By: Catalyst on November 12, 2014
A pittance for your efforts. A hard lesson, but a good one too.
By: Daniel LaFrance on November 12, 2014
Ouch! .. for the small return and for the fire hydrant thighs.
By: Hilary on November 12, 2014
So it was a tough time to be a kid.
By: red on November 12, 2014
Oh the humility. Thank goodness I didn't let my brother talk me into to a similar project. That could turn one off of work for life.
By: Akansas Patti on November 12, 2014
Oh, I sympathize. Life can be cruel. I don't think I knew that particular word until I was in high school. I hope your mom didn't really make you pay for your school clothes. I didn't believe in giving my kids an allowance for doing chores. They helped out because they were part of the family. They also received an allowance because they were part of the family. I didn't believe in tying the allowance to a specific action. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on November 12, 2014
Too bad Ricky Delgado couldn't hot-wire and drive a mail truck. You two could have loaded it with pop bottles and headed to Michigan for the 10-cent deposit.
By: Val on November 12, 2014
Bet you wish you still had the Playboy mags too.Double bummer.
By: Robyn Engel on November 12, 2014
Well, since she is your mother, I should be respectful. So, I will be thinking of how awesome your dad was to balance things out.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on November 12, 2014
Mothers - who'd have 'em, eh?
By: Mike@A Bit About Britain on November 13, 2014
How disappointing after all that hard work. Great tale!
By: John on November 13, 2014
OH NO! You had to use that money for school clothes? That really was not fair ....good thing you didin't repeat your words! whew!
By: Kathe W. on November 13, 2014
Boy I'm glad my mom always gave me an allowance!
By: The Bug on November 13, 2014
'Oh Fudgeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee....' 'Only I didn't say fudge.. HAHAHA!! I LOVE your stories... I was telling a friend about your blog the other day... Truly a great one!! Thank you for your kind words... things are going to be ok... Always... ~shoes~
By: Redshoes51 on November 13, 2014
What a hard lesson in the world of economics! I love the scene of the newspaper hunters gathering in a garage and knocking back shots of koolaid and swapping stories!!! Delightful.
By: Tom Cochrun on November 13, 2014
How heartbreaking!
By: Pixel Peeper on November 13, 2014
The return of Ricky Delgado here reminds me a little of "Leave It to Beaver" minus the cuss words of course. Ward and June would hit the ceiling!
By: Michael Manning on November 14, 2014
What a superb childhood story! I got all nostalgic empathizing with your plight. And despite the poor return, you were clearly showing the signs of entrepreneurial skills at an early age.
By: Bryan Jones on November 16, 2014
lol, makes me think of the scene in "a christmas story" when ralphie finally uses his decoder for the first time....or when he spills the hubcab full of lugnuts. oh what bitter disappointment.
By: lime on November 16, 2014
You had to help pay for your back-to-school clothes? What a fucking gyp.
By: Mitchell is Moving on November 24, 2014

Leave a Comment


Return to All Blog Posts Main Page

RSS 2.0   Atom