By Jim Schneegold
Psychologists would tell you that, as an adult, the way you view the world is shaped from childhood experiences. When I think back to being a 9-year-old paperboy, I realize two things: I avoid confrontation and don’t like being taken advantage of.
Back in the ’60s, delivering The Buffalo Evening News to 32 customers wasn’t hard work, but it taught me responsibility, commitment, cash flow and, most importantly, human behavior.
Although my weekly collecting profited me less than $10, I liked the idea of being a paperboy, seeing my customers, saying “hi” and moving on to the next house.
I collected every Thursday evening. I liked people who were ready with their 55 cents and collection card. There were customers that even gave me a 10-cent tip. They were obviously millionaires.
In the winter, some customers let me come inside their homes and gave me hot chocolate to keep me going. I liked that. And then there were customers like Mrs. B.
Mrs. B was never happy. She was always yelling at her dog and constantly giving me a look like I was an intruder. But the last straw came one cold, winter evening. I was sick the Thursday before so I collected two weeks ($1.10) from everyone on my route.
Everything was going fine until my knock on Mrs. B’s door. When I told her what she owed me she said, “What do you mean $1.10? I paid you last week. I only owe you 55 cents and that’s it.”
When I told her I didn’t collect the week before she barked, “Well, I know I paid you last week so I’m not paying you for two weeks.”
When she handed me her collection card, last week’s date was not punched. “See, Mrs. B, I didn’t collect last week.”
She grumbled a little, then promptly told me I should keep better records if I wanted to be a paperboy. I stood there weighing my options. Mrs. B was a friend of my mom but at that moment, I didn’t care. I was cold, tired and now Mrs. B was questioning my honesty. Either I could stand there arguing with her or give in and lose 55 cents. I reluctantly punched two weeks and took her 55 cents. I made no eye contact and left without saying goodbye. I shook my head in disbelief as I marched through the snow to my next customer.
When I got home, I thought of telling my mom. But this wasn’t her problem, it was mine. By that time I wasn’t mad. I was hurt. It wasn’t the money. She had questioned my intelligence. I didn’t like that.
The next morning I had no doubt what I wanted to do. I called The News and canceled her paper. If she called me to complain, I’d talk to mom about it then.
I never heard from or saw Mrs. B again. Every time I delivered my papers, I proudly marched right by her house. A part of me prayed she’d come out to question me. But in my lifelong pursuit to be liked, I’m glad she didn’t.
I guess what I learned as a child was that there are nice people and not-so-nice people in the world; and that I could choose to associate with the good ones and spend less time around the questionable ones. What I take with me as an adult is that respect and honesty mean a lot. And tipping my current paper boy a dollar makes me feel good. Besides, he thinks I’m a millionaire.
Jim Schneegold, who lives in Cheektowaga, enjoyed being a paperboy for The Buffalo Evening News in the 1960s.