Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Unpleasant Memory: Paperboy

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I had a ridiculous bicycle. It was BMX-type, with a suspension system that is popular now on larger bikes--large shock absorbers rather than forks in the front--but the technology, such as it was, had not yet been perfected. For instance, if a sharp turn was attempted, you were likely to get your foot caught on the large springy shocks, resulting in a nasty spill.
Nevertheless, my bike--painted in a harsh primer gray that exhibited a reckless attitude to the opinions of others more concerned with appearances--was a source of screw-you pride. I loved riding around the neighborhood, carefully negotiationg sharp turns, of course, but feeling special for the uniqueness of my conveyance.
But my neighborhood was full of teens and tweens, full of children whose hormones and nurturing mandated they express their dominance, and I was nowhere near the top of the heap, notwithstanding my cycling pretensions. One kid, a couple of years older than me, 13 maybe, exerted a certain bullyish charisma over us all. His name escapes me, but let's call him Mark. Mark had a sweet paper route that wended up and down the boulevard. He recruited me to sub for him for a week, owing to the fact that he had broken his arm. His arm was encased in a heavy cast that had been duly signed by all the local girls in thick black marker.
He gave me his heavy canvas shoulder bag and arranged for me to pick up the papers. I was to deliver the Dayton Daily News, which was the afternoon paper (in those days, 1980, 1981, not sure which, we had a morning paper and an afternoon edition). Besides delivery, I was to make the weekly collection.
I mucked it up somehow; missed deliveries, missed collections. Mark confronted me on Daleview Avenue. He faced me, he astride his bike, I astride mine. He menaced me with harsh words and fixed stare. Suddenly, his casted arm, hard and heavy, swung at me and hit me square in the nose, not quite knocking me out, but stunning me and causing a shocking nosebleed. I let my bike fall to the ground. I stumbled across the street and cut through the neighbor's backyard and into mine, where I lay and wept, helpless and reeling, not so much from pain as from confusion--what to do? It was, I think, the worst thing that had ever happened to me in my life. At that point.

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