It was a setup from the getgo.
The Regional Distribution Manager (his caps) sat in our living room weaving a tale of wealth and riches. The folks knew this guy from church. Our neighborhood needed a new paper boy and it seems I was a likely candidate.
I could pull in as much as 25 bucks a week delivering newspapers. In 1971, that was some serious coin for a seventh-grader. To earn it, the Wichita Eagle needed to be on the front porches of Pleasant Valley by 6 a.m., seven days a week. The Wichita Beacon by 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
And if I learned a little about responsibility along the way, all for the good.
My first morning on the job was a Sunday. Up at 4 a.m. with my brand new front-and-back white canvas bag emblazoned with bright red lettering: WICHITA EAGLE-BEACON. MORNING-EVENING-SUNDAYS. The thing was friggin’ huge. It damn near swallowed me up and this was before I loaded it up with papers. At 13, I was not exactly a hulking specimen. The growth spurt was a couple years away.
Approaching the street corner where the papers are dropped, my eyes get bigger and my heart pounds faster. Anxiety creeps in. Panic close on its heels. Standing before me are four stacks of newspapers. Each up to my chin. Turns out the combined Sunday edition of the Eagle-Beacon is a behemoth, as dailies go.
Later, I got up even earlier and using my bicycle, strategically positioned the stacks along the route where I could re-supply without having to backtrack.
Effective and efficient.
Back then, paper boys were actually in charge of physically picking up the subscription fees. Door-to-door. “Collecting,” in the parlance of the trade.
Get up. Throw the Eagle. Go to school. Throw the Beacon. Eat dinner with the fam. Collect. Repeat.
One little old lady on the route with rapidly fading faculties was a predictable chronic pain.
“Collecting for the Eagle-Beacon.” My standard line, while leaning on the doorbell.
“What? Who’s there?”
“It’s Mike Matson, your trusty neighborhood paper boy, and I’m collecting for the newspaper.”
Every week the same thing. “Manson?”
Every week I had to convince this lady that I was not a crazed California killer with a cult-like following bent on starting an apocalyptic race war. Just a 13-year old white boy from the ‘hood tryna earn a buck.
Helter Skelter, lady. You owe me two-fifty.
I threw papers for a couple of years and then moved on to higher-paying gigs. Passed the paper route on to my brother.
All yours, David. Tell the old lady over on Carlock you’re Manson’s kid brother.