I remember never having to worry about cars driving down Mazeau, because it was a small street. It started at Grand and 57th Avenues and ended at the Long Island Expressway, and at the end was the Long Island Press newspaper office where all the older kids worked preparing to deliver the Press. They all had paper routes. Having a route was a big thing to many of us little kids, because it meant having a job, and money, but most of all it meant not being considered a little kid anymore.
One day while riding my bike back from Juniper Valley Park, I came off the overpass and stopped at the Press office to watch the guys getting ready for their dedicated mission to deliver the paper. The paper was a big deal back then and a main source of news for many in Maspeth. I can remember my mom and other neighbors getting into a tizzy when it wasn’t delivered, and balling out the paperboy. Some didn’t go as easy as my mom, I later found out.
The L.I Press office was on the first floor of a two-family house that had been converted for commercial use. It had big glass windows left and right of three old flimsy wooden steps that led into the office where all the noise was coming from.
The noise was deafening, and could be heard from a distance. It was the guys folding the paper and banging it onto large wooden tables specially made for this task. The fold was everything, because without a good tight fold the paper couldn’t be thrown, and would unravel. The guys would fight for bragging rights to the tightest fold, and who had the biggest route.
While I was watching this magnificent machine at work, the manager came out and asked me if I wanted to deliver papers. His name was Mr. B (well that’s what he said). Mr. B asked me to come inside and gave me papers for my parents to fill out and sign. He said once this was done, I could be a paperboy. I thought to myself, “A paperboy, wow! That means I’m a big kid, and would have a job, a job!” What the hell did I know, I was twelve. I raced home as fast as I could to present my mom with the papers that would make me a man, and no longer a kid.
Well these papers did introduce me to adult thinking when I had to deal with mom and all her reasons for why this could go wrong. She was tough and protecting, but I was tough also. I was her son, and had help from my grandfather, aunt, and her side of the family. After a few days of back and forth, I finally got the papers signed, and rushed them to Mr. B who was delighted to have another working stiff on board. Mr. B told me the only route he had was kinda small, and didn’t pay much, but it could be worked into something big. Some guys laughed and said that it was a waste of time, and wouldn’t amount to much, but Mr. B put them in their place quickly, and had them show me the fold and bang. I got the hang of it real fast, and now I was a part of a team, “a paperboy.”
I quickly loaded the twenty papers into the regulated and issued cloth bag given to me, and carried them to my new basket mounted in front of my bike that let everyone know I was “a paperboy.” I rode off to 69th Street and to my first block, and first house which was on Jay Ave. The moment of truth. Will the paper stay folded when thrown? I reached into my bag, while rolling past my first house, trying to look like a pro. I had the paper well in hand, and with a mighty swing, threw it toward the front steps, and missed by a mile. Well, at the end of that day, and loads of exercise getting on and off my bike to fetch papers, I finally got the knack, and a respect for the trade.
As time went on, I got to know the people on my route. Some were nice, some gave me Kool-Aid, some I never met, and some were very pretty. I also got to know the guys in the office, and how some guys are cool, some not, but I learned how to deal with them, and how to deal with customers, and what they need. Some people didn’t want the paper on the front stoop, they wanted it at the side door, and some wanted it hidden behind something. I learned real quick what customer service was all about, and how it can affect how much money I made. I did everything they asked for, all with a smile, because that’s what my grandfather told me in his Italian broken English, “You do-a what day aska you, anda no give a da puss, cuz day paya da money.” I did what he said, and my tips got bigger. I wasn’t doing bad for a tiny route.
I also put the paper in plastic bags when it rained, and that’s what started the word of mouth. The route grew, and so did the tips. I kept it for under a year, and learned so much about people and business. I gained respect from Mr. B along with some of the guys, and most of all my grandfather, and mom. This tiny route that nobody wanted turned out to be a learning experience that has stayed with me throughout my life.
Paul DeFalco grew up in Maspeth.