I was a paper carrier when I was 11 years old. I had a route of about 40 customers and I had to get the papers out before 6 a.m., even on holidays. I trudged through snow, bypassed trick-or-treaters, was bitten and chased by large dogs, and was even once solicited by a gross man in a car.
I liked to name the papers and talk to them as I went from house to house, promising them that they’d find a good home. “Bye, Burt! We’ll miss you!” I don’t know why I felt the need to personalize inanimate objects, but, well, that’s how it was. And people were rarely even up or awake to hear me singing to my friends.
Nor was anyone up to see the clothing I’d wear. One of the best parts of the “game” was in pretending I was someone else – a hippie, a homeless person, goth, whatever. I’d put on crazy outfits and makeup and clip-on earrings from the Dollar Store. I could hardly wait until it was cold enough to use candy cigarettes. I really got a charge from pretending to be another, tougher kind of person. Strange what the early morning can do to a person. Then I grew out of the paper route.
When I was 13, I used to walk to basketball practice at 5:30 a.m., while it was still dark, on chilly fall mornings.
It was about 10 blocks to the armory where we played, so there was no sense in getting anyone up to drive me. Sometimes I’d ride my bike, but mostly I’d walk. I liked how quiet it was, crossing over from Tracy Avenue to Willson, then going south down the hill toward Main Street. I liked it when the Methodist church left the lights behind their stained glass windows on. And most of all, I liked how clearly I could see the stars in the stillness. At that time of year in Montana, you can see Orion perfectly. I used to make three wishes on the three stars in his belt, every day.
Then, my lovely quietude would be shattered as I got closer to the armory and prepared to be yelled at. I’d cross Main Street and hold my breath as I ran by Miss Kitty’s Adult Store, as if I’d be infected with something awful if I breathed. One more block, then I’d be inside the gym. Mrs. F would usually be yelling already, “Ten suicides! Now!” or whatever else she felt like. “You play like losers!!”
Mrs. F usually coached boys. She had braces on her teeth that made her slur her s’s and spit a lot, plus she wore a leg clamp that squeaked when she walked. Her daughter was on the team and got most of the playing time, but even she didn’t like being coached by Mrs. F. It wasn’t that Mrs. F was a terrible person… she just wasn’t cut out to be our basketball coach. And, honestly, I wasn’t cut out to be a basketball player, even though I enjoyed wearing black and teal and running out on the court when my name was called over the loudspeaker as a starter.
The summer before college, I worked at a donut shop, and I had to be there sometimes as early as 3 a.m., often staying 12 hours. I rode my bike because this job was farther from home. The first few days I thought would kill me… but then I got used to the routine again. I liked working alone, watching the sun rise, listening to our alternative radio station (which played a lot of Eminem and Bush) and selling donuts.
I could have floated away on the coffee I consumed. And now, I’m a real donut snob – please, nothing from gas stations, because I used to deliver to them and I know the donuts are usually at least a day old. They get all soggy and juicy, like little round corpses. Ick. Anyway, my favorites were these old fashioned donuts with chocolate icing. I never see them ANYWHERE, and even that old donut shop in Bozeman is now closed. But it was good times, and a great cash-paying job right before I left the state indefinitely.
At AU, I started really doing the early morning coffee shop thing before class. When I heard they were putting in an espresso bar, I actually went down to the CAB office and said I’d volunteer to work there, just because I loved the idea so much. Mocha Joe’s evolved into something great, where I could sit and do homework with Dan, play my mixed CD of Chicago and the Eagles and Alicia Keys, gossip with Amanda Carney, challenge Tucker to a game of checkers or pool, debate with Nathan Myers, or chat with any number of professors. Our non-student regulars inlcluded a 40-year-old we deemed “the Pool Tool” and a super scuzzy janitor we called “Dan-the-Mullet-Man.” White Rabbits were the most popular drink. Mornings were great there, too.
I rarely get up before 8 now. Occasionally for Starbucks – I’ll be doing that tomorrow – but I never take enough time to really steal a moment of the day’s dark honesty before pushing it away with work. Maybe it’s time to be a silly kid again.