Paso Robles: Three Cents for Every Nickel, Paid

I hated collecting
past due bills
on my paper route
for the Paso Robles Press

Knock on the door
and a St. Bernard
or a pit bull
charged the screen door
shaking the house trailer
“It’s the newspaper kid”
“Tell him later”
what could I do?

The route paid two cents
(the paper cost five)
but selling on the street
paid three

Jerry and I
worked the streets
after pushing the little kids out of business
(three or four papers bought them candy bars)

We could sell one, maybe two
at three cents per

He took half the papers through the stores:
Rasco’s, Ideal, and Kramer’s (our three 5 & 10s)
the Mercantile, J.C. Penney’s, Monkey Wards
Smith’s Sporting Goods, the Bakery (delicious smells!)
R. C. Heaton’s, Daniel’s Drug & Fountain
Bickell’s Stationery, Orcutt’s Market
Purity Store, Safeway , Firestone, Western Auto
Gus’ Gun Shop, Bank of America (the only bank)
Hotel Taylor, Taylor’s Shoes, Paso Robles Inn
Squire’s Men’s Shop, Cockrell’s Appliances
[why do those names stay in my memory
so many years later?]

Camp Roberts served
as basic training for the Korean War
and what space the local ranchers left
in the bars and card rooms on Park Street
was crammed with soldiers

I sold my half of the papers 
in those two blocks, door to door
on Liquor Lane

Paso Robles is hot in the summer (105° more or less)
and the outside walls of the bars were bright white
and the bars were pitch black and cold
and smelled of cigarettes and stale beer
and leather and sweat and sometimes puke
and I could always sell out
in no time

Jerry’s little brother Tommy (seven?) was useful
— give him six or seven papers
tell him to trip and fall down in the bar
wait for the laughs to die down
as he came out, snatch the gob of tips
and give him his dime

Jerry and I would meet at the Laundry
where we’d sell our last fifteen or so
to people we had watched sweating
pulling sheets from huge revolving drums for folding
rubbing their foreheads from sweat
which they put into the next sheets out
and they mostly fanned themselves 
with our last Presses of the day

A buck fifty to three bucks each
was a lot of money then