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the paperboy

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Now that the concept had been proven to work (and on its very first attempt, at that!) Mark and his now gratefully amused cohort, proceeded to apply the scam to all of Mark’s ‘previous’ customers.  One-by-one, Mark walked his collection beat as he had done many months before.  Armed with his well-worn, chunky two-ringed binder of card-stock customer invoices, he meticulously solicited customers based on a linear proximity map.  All the while, keeping in mind the goal.  To purchase enough weed to sell and smoke for the weekend!  As he collected more and more money, Mark reminded himself that he (and other ‘Newsies’, newspaper delivery boys) would normally only keep a pittance of the total monthly take.  The Newspaper Entity themselves, he imagined even as a youth, should get the Lion’s share, then the Distributors, and their sub-distributors, and then him; the Newsie.  So the fact that he would get it all, made it that much more Grand a Hustle!  He had no precedent of emotion to describe how it felt to ‘hustle’ adults as a 14 year old kid, he imagined he was setting those now.  Tales to recount later, he thought.


They (or rather Mark) took in $122, including tips, in a little under 3 hours. Given that the National Minimum Wage at the time was $3.35/hour, it was a pretty successful morning for the 14 year old.  Since it was practically Noon and lunchtime, they headed for the local Pizza joint for a ‘slice’ and a soda (Mark’s treat), before catching the bus to the East-Side to purchase an Ounce (an ‘O’) of marijuana.  Nothing unusual here, just two young teens, copping some weed to sell on the streets of Baltimore.  It literally, happened all the time.  But this would be Mark’s first attempt at selling weed.  He had taken his first hit from a joint at 12, and was getting full-blown ‘stoned’ at 13.  Now, at 14, he was ready to take it a step further.  Things moved fast in Baltimore, in 1981; Everyone was looking for things to happen ‘in a New York Second!’, even off-Broadway as it were.


The pre-cursor to the Hype (that would eventually become the 80’s) was taking shape all across the Country by now.  In Miami and New York, Detroit to Seattle and Los Angeles, and yes Baltimore, Maryland.  No one would be immune to the 1980’s.  It was a time, for its time.  Nothing more could hold it.  It could hold nothing more.  We embraced it simply as the ‘now’.  Unfettered by what would be its Legacy; The continuation of ‘The Age of Aquarius’, where femininity would spread across boundaries of acceptability, evident in Popular Culture of the time (Think lipstick-laden Glam-Rockers and ‘Boy-George’, Michael Jackson and the Iconic ‘A-Sexual’ Character of Annie Lennox of the Euro-Pop Band ‘The Eurythmics’). It was if the whole Western World was A-Sexual for an entire decade, and no one cared.  This was all Equalized, of course, by the Musk of Masculinity that was the Pentagon and the Kremlin, and the Cold War.  Bolstered, surely, by survival of an attempted assassination, Ronald Reagan (the leader of the ‘Free World’) would go on to convince said World, that Communism and the ‘Wall’ that separated East and West Germany, but more significantly, the Political and Economic World Ideologies, was wrong. The 1980’s then, was a testament to what Humanity could, tolerate of each other.  But for the average Westerner at the time, if the 80’s could be summarized in two words, they would be; Credit and Cocaine.


But, for now at least, Marijuana was the order of the day for Mark and Kevin.  After Lunch, Mark had stopped-by a phone booth to call ahead to his friend, Penny.  He knew she would be able to get him some weight.  Penny lived on 33rd street, in East Baltimore.  Not far from his Grandmother’s on 25th street, his cousins on Tivoly Ave. and right in the heart of his youthful territory.  He knew people in East Baltimore, which made it both comforting and dangerous.  Can’t get complacent in the City.  Folks, even kids, would eat you alive.  He always kept this in mind, even as a youth.  Especially as a youth.  Predators seek out the weak, the old and sadly the young.


So, after disappointing his back-alley salesman by bringing a hand-held scale (Kevin, trying to earn his keep) that read less than an ounce no matter who held it, Mark was satisfied when the boy returned with another ‘ounce’ of weed.  This time the scale read proper, and the boys were off to Penny’s place to get high. After dropping a little weed on her for the hook-up, and getting some fresh nickel and dime bags from her (she and her people often sold as well, and had fresh stacks of crisp hand-sized manila envelopes used to hold and sell weed on the street then), the two were off again to Northeast Baltimore, to bag and sell.  But not on the streets, that’s not how it worked there. You needed a proper place to do business.  You needed a, Stage.  And what better place than school?  If they could get back to school (Northeast Middle) before it let out for the day, they could secure the business from all the kids looking to cop for the weekend!


It was brilliant, and Mark needed only to get it bagged and ready for them. All he needed was a little, time.

The Paperboy | © 2021 Mark Wilson
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