Wednesday, January 14, 2009

i was allergic to newspaper ink, i think, so i reeled a little when i'd open a sealed package of fifty fresh newspapers at 5:30 in the morning; they were right off the truck, and it was a corner of our neighborhood in suburban pittsburgh pennsylvania, mt. lebanon near the castle shannon edge of it. i got the route on dec. 27 of maybe the year i turned twelve; the route took me through our neighborhood, down by a retirement home at the bottom of a hill, and over into a little enclave of resort houses in a kind of hideaway neighborhood; one of these had fresh vine-grown grapes on the porch. though the newsprint had a strong, distinctive odor, there were lots of other things going on at 5:30; morning dew, flowers, deer, and birds; all kinds of things were already awake, and just a little surprised to see me. i learned how to fold up the pittsburgh post-gazette so it would throw better, way up onto porches and the like, but occasionally i'd miss and would have to crawl through bushes or into high grasses where i'd get wet or dirty. generally it was me and the wildlife; nobody else was up except a few dogs that would bark until their owners told them to shut up and went back to sleep.

when i first got the papers, i'd count them, and put them in a bag that went over my shoulder. then i'd open one up way into the middle to see if the indians won; they rarely did. actually pittsburgh was big on the pirates, so i usually knew whether the pirates won too, but i cared more about the indians. knowing that, i'd slip into a kind of dream state, but nature really ruled my walk; there were deer, other little animals, thousands of birds, and a huge range of kinds of weather, from rain to snow. once i saw a silhouette of a man's head and shoulders and stopped dead, shocked; who could it be- that would stand still, absolutely still? it turned out to be that snow had landed on a stone and decorative lantern in such a way that its shadow fooled me, even woke me up with a start, yet it was just fresh snow, pure water, which soaked me to the bone. i was up long before anybody could shovel, but they would begin to come out around the time i quit and came home; lots of people were stirring by 7:00, when i got home and took my shower. on weekend evenings i would go out collecting and get 42 cents from each household for each week; this was difficult, but at the retirement home they'd give me a lump sum and that would make my job easier. people would occasionally throw in 8 extra cents as a tip. one christmas i got a set of hand-carved chess pieces as a christmas present also; i still have them. in the end i bought a cello with the money i made; i still have the cello.

but, as i said, nature truly ruled the whole experience. in the darkness i'd hear crickets, locusts or birds and get used to them; as the sun came up it would become more intense. my walk was a kid's shuffle, a little uneven from the weight, much lighter after i finished the retirement home. once, my brother, who had another route nearby in a different valley, was out at camp or something and i had to do two paper routes for a couple of weeks; this meant i got up at 5, maybe, and walked a little faster. but as i came back up from the valley i noticed that the sky was full of shooting stars. not twenty but hundreds, maybe thousands, all over the sky. i stopped and looked up; they didn't let up, or go away, they increased. i looked around, but there was no one to share the experience; the night was silent except for me and the crickets, as usual. the stars flooded the sky; i considered lying down to take it all in, but decided against it because i was on a clock. after the sun came up i went home and told everyone about it, but nobody else had seen it; it was gone by dawn. when i went to pay my bill on the weekend, one other kid knew what i was talking about. it was called a meteor shower; they'd seen them every once in a while, and i should have brought my camera. the meteor shower was like the experience itself: it receded into light, and silence, and my memory, as it reaches back over the years. one night, when the sky was completely, totally full, and alive with the moving light of the stars, but, it was a transitory thing; it was gone, not only the next day, but even the next hour, as i finished my route, went home, and peeled off the newsprint-smelling bag, and clothes, to take a shower and start another day.


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