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Mom and the paper route

John Calia

We start to figure out what money is when we’re about five or six. We can’t wait to get our hands on it—and spend it! Baseball cards, Almond Joy, Orange Crush soda, and just about anything that slides out of a vending machine were my obsessions. Pressing my quarters into the slot and getting rewarded was nirvana. At that age, money came from Mom and Dad. I got an allowance—twenty-five cents to start. When my grandparents came to visit, there was a bonus. My grandfather would always slip me a buck when no one was looking. If Mom caught him doing it, there was hell to pay.


To get a real job, you needed what was euphemistically called “working papers.” You became eligible on your fourteenth birthday. But there was a loophole. You could work delivering newspapers when you reached the tender age of twelve. Not only did this job pay commissions, but it also offered bonuses in the form of contests. Every month, you could earn a prize if you added three new subscriptions (and endure an uncountable number of doors slammed in your face). My first trip to Yankee Stadium was the result of one such contest. They played the California Angels, if I remember correctly. I sat behind a steel girder and had to lean one way and then the other to see each play.


Mom and Dad were proud of me for taking the initiative to earn my own money. But, at some level, Mom wasn’t prepared for her oldest child to have the responsibilities of a real job. At twelve, she didn’t think I should be left on my own. So, if she wanted to load us all in the car for a day at the beach (thirty minutes away), the paper route became a problem. I won the argument with her on the first such event. The second time, she ordered me to abandon my responsibilities, don my bathing costume, and get in the damn car!


My customers were not pleased when I showed up with their morning paper after five p.m. One of them joked, “It’s not news anymore; it’s history.” Others didn’t display such a warm sense of humor.

My boss—not her, the other one—was not pleased. The next day, he came knocking on the door. He and Mom had a knock-down, drag-out argument. I was in shock. I had never seen her stand up to a man before. And she showed no fear. Frankly, I was surprised she let him in the house. He had long, greasy hair, and his personal habits were not the best. At one point, she handed him an ashtray, so the ashes from his dangling cigarette didn’t end up on the wall-to-wall carpet. The ashtray was conveyed along with a disparaging comment.


So ended my first job. I barely spoke to her for a week. After expressing pride in my initiative, she treated me like a child, and I paid the price.


Of course, a twelve-year-old is a child. So, when Mom and Dad went out on Saturday nights (which was often), they would hire a babysitter. I think it first struck her that I was outgrowing my childhood when a babysitter that showed up was about four inches shorter than me. That poor young lady looked shocked.


But that occasion solved my income problem. How? Well, I became the babysitter, and I got paid to boss around my younger brothers. Perhaps because she felt guilty, she then became my agent. She found me jobs painting houses and tutoring my peers in subjects they were failing at school. Oh, and babysitting at other households.


I was an independent contractor. And I loved it.

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