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The Paperboy by Mike H.

Humility helps us to be teachable and flexible. To continue growing and avoid relapse, humility must be constantly maintained from King Baby written by Tom Cunningham.

“You want me to do what?”  Mark almost screamed at his sponsor.    “I want you to take over a paper route.  It is all arranged.  You start tomorrow night.   Remember, Mark, you promised to anything I asked when I agreed to sponsor you.”   “Yeah, but a paper route?  How will that help me?”  Mark asked.    “Hopefully, you will figure that out,” his sponsor replied, “The job is about more than just delivering newspapers.”

Mark reported to the substation as directed and introduced himself to the district supervisor.  After completing his paperwork Mark was introduced to the business of news delivery:  At work by 1:00 a.m. to pick up all paper sections and bring to workstation by 1:30 a.m.;  Collate sections, fold and insert in plastic bags;  Load car;  Leave by 3:00 a.m.;  Complete the route by 7:00 a.m.

His supervisor said, “I’ll ride with you tonight and tomorrow, then you are on your own.”  He hooked a flip-card file over the rearview mirror in Marks car.  “These cards have the addresses of each stop and are in order.  Just follow the cards, your route is mostly businesses and apartments so there won’t be a lot of driving.”

Mark had envisioned driving along throwing newspapers out of the car window onto driveways like he had seen in the movies.  “Not on this route,” explained his boss, “Some of these condos go up ten stories-you have to cover all the floors.  Park the car, fill your carry bag, and cover the building.”   After his third night, which he didn’t finish until almost 9:00 a.m. and prompted several irate phone calls from subscribers to the office, Mark was ready to quit.  He called his sponsor but was reminded of his commitment.  And so, he kept at it and after several weeks he was completing the route on time and without hardly looking at the cards.  He began to figure out shortcuts and ways to save time.

At the very end of the run was an old motel that had been converted to condominiums.  There were 24 units all on the ground floor and Mark could deliver his eleven customers by throwing out the car window.  Easy!  One night as he drove slowly through the lot he heard a voice, “Paperboy.”  Mark kept going.  “Paperboy!” he heard the voice again much louder.  Mark stopped and looked behind him. An old woman stood outside the door to number eighteen looking at Mark.  “You, paperboy,” she said, “over here.”  Mark flushed with anger at being addressed like that.  “Who in the hell did this old biddy think she was talking to?  Paperboy! I am forty-eight years old,”  he thought.  Mark approached her and realized it must be a customer.  “Yes,” he said.  The woman replied, “I want you to place my paper on this chair by my door.  I have trouble bending over to pick it up.”  Mark swore under his breath and said to himself, “I would like to tell you where you can put your paper.”  But he checked his anger and replied, “Yes, certainly.”  He drove away muttering to himself about the extra work and the time lost because of the old lady.  He was particularly upset because he felt chastised at being called a paperboy.

Mark continued to work the route as the summer turned to fall.  He was introduced to another responsibility of the route, which was to collect past due accounts.  He didn’t have many but once a month he would have to go out on the weekend, during the day, to collect monies due.  One day he found himself in front of number eighteen, Sunrise Condominiums.  “Oh great,” thought Mark, “my favorite, the chair lady.”  Mark rang the bell holding in his hand a bill which said Steiner, $14.60 past due.

This was the first time Mark had ever seen the building in the daylight and he noticed how rundown it looked.  He knocked on the screen door, which was in need of paint and a new screen. The elderly woman appeared at the door clutching a tattered bathrobe to her chest.  “Yes,” she asked.  “I’m from the Times,” Mark replied, “your bill is past due.”  “Oh, my,” the woman said as Mark handed her the bill, “let me get my checkbook.”  She returned quickly and began to write but stopped with a look of alarm.  “There is a problem–,” she began, looking fearful.  “Look, maam,” said Mark, “Why don’t you just keep the bill and mail it in when you get a chance.”   “No, no,” the woman replied, “you just wait.  I will take care of this.  I have to have my paper, it is all I have in the morning.”  She went back inside while Mark waited.  After a few minutes he began to pace up and down.  He looked through the kitchen window and saw the old woman seated at a kitchen table covered with coins.  She was counting out her bill.  Mark saw how barren the condo looked;  the holes in the linoleum floor, and noticed the only food inside was a small can of tuna fish and some individually wrapped saltine crackers.  As the old woman started to get up, Mark walked quickly back to her door and was waiting when she handed him a heavy bag.  “I hope you don’t mind taking some change, I just needed to get rid of it,” she said.  “No problem Mrs. Steiner,” replied Mark.  As he drove away, her words echoed in his head, “it is all I have in the morning.”

Finally it was December and Mark’s job of delivering newspaper was nearing completion.  Toward the end of his run one night he heard a familiar voice, “paperboy, over here.”  Mark walked up to number eighteen and was handed an envelope.  “Thanks Mrs. S” Mark said and went on his way.  “Well, I won’t have to go out and collect that account,” Mark thought.

That Saturday morning Mark was cleaning off the top of his dresser as usual when he noticed the envelope.  “Darn,” Mark thought, “I forgot to turn in that payment.”  He opened the envelope but saw it didn’t contain a payment–it contained a Christmas card.  On the cover it said “Seasons Greetings.”  Mark opened it and written in the shaky scrawl of an older person was a personal note, “Thank you for your prompt and courteous service. Mildred Steiner.”  Enclosed was a $5.00 bill.  As Mark stared at the money, visions of tuna fish, a worn kitchen floor, and coins on a table flashed through his mind.  Tears welled up in his eyes and from deep inside his chest a sob escaped.  As if from a great distance, he heard his sponsor’s voice saying “The job is about more than delivering newspapers.”

Epilogue:  The two young men ran to their car eager to get to a restaurant and get something to eat.  “Pretty good meeting tonight, huh,” said the first one.  “I liked that story the guy told about delivering newspapers, but I am not sure if I understood what he meant at the end when he said he hadn’t delivered for years but he was still on the route.”  His friend replied, “I think I know what he meant.  When they passed the coffee can, I saw him put $5.00 in it.”  “I invited him for coffee, but he said there was something he needed to do.”

Mark drove slowly down the street trying to find a street sign.  He glanced at the open newspaper lying on the seat next to him to check the address he was looking for.  As he looked at the article he thought to himself, “there is no such thing as coincidence.  I was meant to see this notice in the paper today.”  Mark finally found the address he was looking for and pulled into the parking lot.

He entered the building and a man in a black suit rose to greet him.  “May I help you,” he asked.  “Steiner,” replied Mark.  “Ah, yes, parlor three.  That’s all the way down the hall to your right.”  Mark signed the guest book and walked inside the room.  A small group of people looked up at him expectantly.  One woman came forward with her hand outstretched.  “Welcome,”  she said, “are you a relative?”  “No, no maam,” I am not a relative.  “Oh, Well how did you know Mildred?”  Mark hesitated slightly, as a warmth filled his chest.  He smiled and said, “Well, um, you see…..I was her paperboy.”


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