Arizona Daily Sun (23)
Know your worth
I secured my band t-shirt and bought some junk food. High living for at least a week, however, I needed to make more money and babysitting was out. I kept watching the poster board in the main office and the laundry room, but nothing obvious came up.
After school, while bombing my favorite hill, I saw a kid who was younger than me on a bicycle tossing newspapers from their bike at people’s doors. Well, crap, I could do that. I had a bike, and I could learn how to throw things. So, I pulled out our “Yellow Pages” book. You see, I didn’t have Yelp, Google, or anything like that, so you had to pull out a book and go to the appropriate page and find a phone number and call it. There weren’t websites. Life was harder. People these days have it so easy. Seriously.
The person who answered the phone was delighted that I called because they had an opening for a delivery kid one neighborhood over at another family housing unit.
“Can you start tomorrow”?
Naturally, the answer was yes. I have a habit, even to this day, of jumping into things I know nothing about and figuring it out along the way. This was one of those moments where I had no idea what I had just signed up for.
In the morning, while I was getting ready for school, I heard a loud thud outside of my door, so I looked outside and saw a giant trash bag. That had to be the papers. So, I pulled the bag inside, and it was so incredibly heavy. To my surprise, I discovered unrolled papers, a pack of plastic sleeves to slip the rolled ones into, and a print out of addresses where they belonged. There was also a canvas apron that said “Arizona Daily Sun” on it that was my official delivery bag where all the papers would eventually fit around my waist. I was annoyed about rolling the papers because it hurt my hands. My hands were incredibly dry afterward and covered in ink. How was I going to do this every day?
I loaded up everything and got onto my bike, and started heading down the hill to the housing that was close to the highway. I don’t remember the place's name, but I know it was nicer looking than where we lived. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all downhill. There was a steep hill to get to the apartments. I wasn’t in shape for this yet, so I had to get off and walk my bike. Eventually, I put the bike down because I couldn’t figure out how to be on the bike and throw the papers. That skill would have to come later after being able to conquer that hill. Things were going pretty well, and I was getting some good swings in. I liked hitting the door with the papers, so I’d see people come out and wave at me. Some were dressed in pajamas and still sipping their morning coffee.
However, one person wasn’t thrilled. She opened the door on her second story, and walked out to the railing, and said,
“You are late, you little asshole”!
What a miserable person. I vowed to be late for her every day. No matter where in line she was to get her paper, she would get hers on my way out. She needed to relax. What was so important that she had to have her paper at 7 am and three minutes later wasn’t good enough? Not only was she going to get her paper late, but I was also going to hit her door with the paper extra hard.
With my first day down, and my bag empty, I rode back home to drop off my bike and bag. I still had to get to school, and I didn’t take the bus, so I had to walk several miles to get there and somehow not be late.
On the way to school, I pondered this decision I had made because I was sore all over. How was I going to do this in the snow? How can I keep this up every day? I visualized a pile of money and where I’d go out to eat, which made the decision clear and obvious. I had to figure out how to make it work.
That night I passed out right after school. I didn’t have any energy to skate.
Every day, I challenged myself to ride my bike with a full bag of papers up the hill. Sometimes I’d make it a bit further, but it was a game I’d play to push myself a little bit harder than the day before. It would somehow pay off, and if nothing else, it would pay off in my mind as a personal accomplishment.
Then Sunday came. I didn’t realize that Sunday papers are twice as big and bulky because they have extra coupons and the “funnies,” a series of comic book strips. That first Sunday trip nearly broke me. I came home and ran into Ramont and Eddie, who said, “Hey, look, it is the proverbial paperboy.” I’d never heard the word proverbial before, so I paid attention to what he was saying, and I found it perplexing. I waved at them and headed home because I needed to pass out and take a nap.
Paperboy? Come to think of it, all of the people I had ever seen deliver the paper were boys. Was this that unusual? Somehow, this gave me a sense of pride. I was breaking boundaries and showing the world that a paper delivery person can indeed be a girl. I’d have to work out more, so I could get up that hill with the Sunday paper. I could do it, somehow.
I did this route for a few months and became more robust, and then the call came from my manager that they had another route that I could pick up in my neighborhood if I wanted it. No more hills! I was ecstatic. Also, maybe nobody would yell at me. The rude lady took to yelling at me every day, so I chuckled because I knew that I was the one in control of when she got her paper, and all she had to do was be nice and I’d deliver it on time. Guess that thought never crossed her mind because I was called some expletive every day. It kind of made my day. There was power in it.
Along with my new route came collection day. Every three months, you’d go out and collect checks and tips from people, and that’s how you got paid. I couldn’t wait. I’d been at the job for quite some time now, giving up every morning and several hours on the weekend to make sure that my neighbors received their daily news. I knew my hard work would pay off and that I’d be able to see a movie, go out to eat, hit the grocery store, and maybe even buy some other things if I’m lucky. I sat down and did the math around 100% payment, and my take-home was an easy $300. That was more money than I’d ever had. I couldn’t wait.
So, I took my clipboard with amounts owed to each apartment on my list. To my surprise, not a lot of people were home when I knocked. This means that I’d have to do collections every day to reach 100%. I never made 100%. I did collections in the morning and after school. People would tell me to come back and that they didn’t have the money for the paper. People claimed they never signed up for the paper and didn’t want it anyway. Some people just never opened their doors, no matter what time I showed up. So, I called my manager and asked her what I should do, and I discovered I don’t get paid until I’ve cleared the base owed to the Sun. I’m only allowed to have what was “on top.” I had an outstanding bill, and with everything I collected, I was $11 short. I didn’t have $11. My mother certainly wouldn’t give that to me. I was pissed.
I had allowed myself to be exploited. The next morning when I heard the thud, my heart was sad. I wrapped up the papers on auto-pilot as I did for three months prior, and then I headed out the door. I got to my first door that I was supposed to throw a paper at and remembered that person had yet to pay me, but they were still on my roster. Something in me just said, “fuck this.”
So, I took off my bag, filled with papers and my route sheet, and threw it in the street, and rode to school. I wouldn’t have any money after all, and I was out of ideas of how to make more.
When I got home that night, my answering machine, filled with messages from my manager about the complaints they received from undelivered papers, blinked red. I called her back, and she started to lay into me about what I’m supposed to do if I can’t deliver due to sickness or whatever, and I said,
“Go fuck yourself.”
I told her where she could find her bag, leftover papers and assured her she was never getting the $11 from me ever. I also told her she was a predator.
This was when I started to form the idea of knowing my worth and voting with my feet. While I didn’t have anything else lined up and no clue what was next, I knew I wasn’t going to be taken advantage of like that ever again. I wrote down everything I did wrong and how I would avoid it in the future. It was my fault for agreeing to something without knowing how it all worked. In the future, I’d ask more questions.
Know your worth.