Teddy Allen: Paperboys are gone — (except yours…)

A young Smithsonian Magazine staffer named Chris who is working on a piece about the history of bicycle newspaper carriers contacted me by email this week. Being a paperboy was his first job, back in the late 1980s, he told me. 

If you lived in town big enough for access to a newspaper, being a paperboy or papergirl was almost a rite of passage, definitely a job coveted by your classmates and friends. At daybreak in towns across America, the paperboys were the modern-day Pony Express, saddling up their bicycles and throwing papers onto porches of their dentists and teachers and Little League coaches. 

As American as Paul Harvey, apple pie and Easter bonnets. 

“No one seems to be able to tell me if this profession still exists,” Chris wrote. “So, I’m writing you to Ask the Paperboy… about paperboys. Or girls.” 

For years now, this column has been a spot where you could send your questions to the Paperboy, who I know personally. I have a few of your requests stored and will try to crank out an ‘Ask the Paperboy’ in the next couple of weeks — if I can get Paperboy to answer his phone. 

We’ve written more than a year’s-worth of these in the past three decades, and they usually go something like this. 

Dear Ask the Paperboy, 

I’m all fired up about this weekend’s release of Water For Elephants at the picture show. Tell me, when was the first Bearded Lady? I love the circus! 

Hairy in Homer 

Dear Hairy, 

Short answer: too soon. By the way, did I ever tell you about my toughest interview? Ever? It was with the Headless Woman. She’s a tough quote. I said “Huh?” a lot. 

Or …  

Dear Ask the Paperboy, 

If you see a turtle outside his shell, is he homeless or nekkid? 

Slowly, Kurt in Fordyce 

Dear Kurt, 

At that moment, both. And probably cold. And wondering where he’s going to keep his keys and wallet. 

Or … 

Dear Ask the Paperboy, 

It is the 50th anniversary of the Ken doll. Do you have a favorite?  

Gated Community Barbie 

Dear Barb, 

Probably the Talladega Ken, who comes in blue jean cutoffs, a straw cowboy hat, is tattooed by Office Depot and smells like 30-weight. Pull his string and he says “Nice viscosity!” and “My trailer, or yours?” 

As I told Chris, readers often ask me things and I don’t know the answer, but Paperboy does.  

And he knows enough to answer Chris’, who asks, again… 

Dear Ask the Paperboy, 

No one seems to be able to tell me if this profession still exists. So, I’m writing to Ask the Paperboy. Some of my friends say there is no Paperboy, that you can’t see him so he’s not real. Please tell me the truth: Is there a Paperboy? 

Chris at Smithsonian Magazine 

Dear Chris, 

Most papers these days are delivered by what are called ‘newspaper carriers,’ adults in cars. And more and more newspapers are now being delivered digitally. But …  

CHRIS, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Chris, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little in this great universe of ours. 

Yes, CHRIS, there is a Paperboy. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Paperboy. It would be as dreary as if there were no Chrises. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. Only those things, only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain of the unseen world to view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. 

No Paperboy? There is! He lives, continuing to make glad the heart of reader hood. Oh Chris, there IS a Paperboy — and you owe him $43.18, counting the leftover balance you forgot to pay last month. See you on collection day Saturday. 

Contact Teddy at teddy@latech.edu 


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