When I was 12 I had a paper route, delivering Herald Examiner newspapers from my bicycle. The Examiner came out in the afternoon while the Times was L.A.’s morning paper. In 1967 there was a strike at the Examiner, which lasted for a decade. (That’s a serious strike.) The Examiner never recovered and closed in 1989.
These days, the future of newspapers is grim, except, of course, for the Daily Press. But when I was 12, it was booming and I was a newspaperman. OK, a newspaper boy. My motto: have bike will travel.
Every day after school I’d bike to the corner where my boss, Mr. Braswell, dropped off the papers. I’d fold and rubber band each one, and stuff it into my saddlebag. Mr. Braswell was old, grumpy and creepy. (Other than that, he was great.) It’s odd that I even remember his name, and yet, on some days, I can’t remember where I put my keys.
As I approached a house on my route, I’d reach back, grab a paper from my saddlebag and send it flying. The art was to get it as close to the front door as possible, that is without breaking a window. I’m proud to say I never did. I hit a cat once, but it ran right into the flight of the paper, so I still consider myself blameless.
All these years later I continue to have a paper route, of sorts. Some of my neighbors at the Shores know my column runs every Friday, and a couple have asked if I’d drop a paper off at their door. (I ask you, does Maureen Dowd go door-to-door?)
Over time the list has grown. When I was 12 I delivered 80 papers. These days I deliver 15. But, sadly, tomorrow I’ll be down to 14. My very first “customers,” Beverly and Walter, are moving to a retirement village on the beach in La Jolla.
For years now, each day Walt leaves me the sports page in front of his door. (Hopefully, we’re saving a tree somewhere.) If I’m up before he is, he’s given me permission to take the sports section out of the paper. I still worry a neighbor, not knowing the arrangement, will call 911 to report grand theft sports section. In return, every Friday I leave him and Bev my column. Clearly, I get the better of the deal.
Walt immigrated to the U.S. after WWII. He met Bev in a chemistry class at Rutgers and, for lack of a better term, they had instant chemistry. They’ve been married a mere 56 years, so I’d say it’s worked out pretty well.
A handsome couple, Bev and Walt should be on the cover of Senior Living or AARP Monthly. They’re also undeniably charming. Often they invite me over for ice cream and liqueur, and the portions are generous, especially the liqueur. Sometimes I’ll even get a little buzz but, thankfully, I have only one flight of stairs to go home and there’s no such thing as WUI (Walking Under the Influence).
Bev and I often go for walks at sunset, usually with Oscar, our Golden Retriever buddy who belongs to another neighbor. We generally walk to the Ink Well plaque, just south of Casa Del Mar, and back. For those unfamiliar, the plaque describes a time when blacks in Santa Monica were only allowed to use that narrow, roped off section of beach. This hideous discrimination ended in the mid-1950s, which is shockingly recent when you think about it.
Walt doesn’t join in on the walks, but he regularly uses the gym. He even belongs to Gold’s! He also rides his bike to the chess tables by the pier. The rumor is he hopes to become a master before he turns 90.
Over the years of writing columns, I’ve encountered many people with powerful stories, making my own pale by comparison. Along with a brother and uncle, Walt is a survivor of a concentration camp. Once liberated, he finished his schooling and became a doctor. I’d say that’s pretty powerful. (As for me, did I mention I never broke a window on my paper route?)
Bev and Walt’s new retirement complex will provide more services. And of course, they say change is good, and a natural part of life. Frankly, I’m not crazy about it. After six years of a wonderful friendship, this Friday I’ll be dropping off my last column. If by habit I do it next week, the new people will probably use it to line their birdcage.
I will miss Bev and Walt terribly. Fortunately, they use e-mail, so we’ll stay in touch that way. But I fear it won’t be the same. And somehow I doubt the birdcage people will be inviting me over for ice cream.
When he’s not busy with his paper route, Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.