New Driver on an Old Route Poem by Donal Mahoney
According to the anchor on the News at Six, Olaf Parker was shot dead at dawn this morning delivering newspapers in his van. His body was found on the front seat, a cigarette burning near his feet, when police responded to a call from a resident who heard his van crash into a utility pole.
Mr. Parker wasn't robbed. There were a few newspapers on the seat next to his body. These were the last papers he had to deliver on the final block of his route before going home to tend to his dying wife, according to his supervisor. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Mr. Parker had started delivering the route just three weeks ago. Most of his customers had never seen him or the man who had delivered the route before him, Ygor Kazinsky.
Mr. Kazinsky had delivered the route for 30 years before retiring. Many customers in this quiet neighborhood had been getting the paper for all of those 30 years. Most of them were retirees.
The neighborhood, like its residents, was old and stable. People seldom moved. They aged- and finally died- in their little bungalows behind perfect lawns. Any weed that sprouted was treated like a terrorist and quickly eliminated.
One customer explained later to a television reporter that prior to Mr. Parker taking over the route, residents knew, almost to the minute, when their paper would arrive on their lawn, barring bad weather. Snow or sleet could mean the paper would be late by an hour or so, something every customer would understand. What they had trouble understanding, however, is why Mr. Parker did things differently than Mr. Kazinsky. Since Mr. Parker took over, every delivery had been complete chaos from the customers' point of view.
Mr. Parker had indeed made a very significant change to the way he delivered the route. Much to the distress of many customers, Mr. Parker had started his delivery of the route where Mr. Kazinsky had ended it. He did this because he would finish closer to home and he liked the shorter drive. But this meant folks who used to get the paper at four in the morning now got it at six and those who used to get it at six received it at four.
'Ass backwards, ' as one irate customer used to scream from his front porch when Mr. Parker would finally throw his paper on the lawn at 6 a.m.
'Take it back, you doofus, ' Mr. Carmody would add. 'By now, it's yesterday's news.'
The outspoken Mr. Carmody was one of the customers who for years had received his paper at 4 a.m. He wanted to read it then and get on with his day. Retired for years, he liked to hunt and fish. Unlike most in the neighborhood, Mr. Carmody had enough money to take trips abroad. He loved to join an annual safari in Africa in pursuit of wild game.
'I like shooting leopards in the morning mist, ' he once told a neighbor.
It was the early risers like Mr. Carmody, who used to get the paper early, who had trouble adjusting to Mr. Parker's change in delivery. Most of them acquiesced after the first week or so, but a few of them pressed on, calling the delivery service and threatening to cancel the paper if the new driver didn't deliver it by 4 a.m.
Those who called to complain were mainly people with few obligations in their day. What little they had to do, however, had become important to them. Their daily routines kept their minds off the aches and pains age had brought and helped them ignore the specter of death which hovered over all of them. They resented the way their lives had been altered by some newcomer.
Some watched the news on television but that wasn't the same as reading the newspaper. Only murders, rapes and other major crimes were reported on television and not, for example, the passing of normal folks like their friends and acquaintances.
That's one reason why the newspaper was so important to Mr. Parker's customers. Almost to a person, they read the obituaries first.
Mr. Flynn, almost 80, called the obituaries the Irishman's Racing Form. He said that in front of Mr. Schneider at a neighborhood block party once and that was the only time anyone had ever seen Mr. Schneider smile.
'That's a good one, Flynn, ' Mr. Scheider said. Flynn, of course, knew his remark had been used by others many times before him.
The obituaries were important for practical reasons as well. They enabled readers to prepare for wakes and church services and reminded them to send condolence cards. That's why many in the neighborhood still wanted their newspaper at four in the morning. They wanted to be prepared for the inevitable.
Another reason was the sports scores. Some folks were big fans of their hometown teams, even if they despised the editorials in the middle of the paper that consistently called for changes to the mores of life they had always revered.
'Why all the changes, ' Mr. Flynn once asked of no one in particular. 'Life is tough enough as it is.'
As reported on the News at Six, Mr. Parker was shot and killed on the last block of his route around 6 a.m. The news anchor did not mention that for 30 years this block had been the first block on the route to receive papers before Mr. Parker had succeeded Mr. Kazinsky.
Nor did the anchor mention that customers on that block had grown to expect their papers delivered no later than 4 a.m.
Apparently no one had interviewed Mr. Carmody, who would have been happy to bellow about the inconvenience the deceased Mr. Parker had brought into the lives of Carmody and his neighbors.
According to the news report, however, there was no cause for alarm. The killing of Mr. Parker, the police said, appeared to be a random act. As Mr. Flynn would say later, that might indeed be the case.
'Maybe so, but I don't know, ' is the poetic way Mr. Flynn put it to the ever silent Mr. Schneider. 'I wonder what Mr. Carmody thinks. It would be good to get his opinion. He's not shy.'
The police investigating the case were a much younger group than the people in that neighborhood. They seldom read a newspaper and had little use for obituaries. They caught their news on television or from the wife when they got home.
It took almost two months for everything in the neighborhood to settle down. An interim driver took over the route for several weeks. More chaos ensued and more people threatened to cancel delivery of the paper.
Then Mr. Yazinski's oldest son lost his job as a swimming pool salesman and offered to take over the route. In a matter of days he was hired. His father accompanied him the first day on the route and told him everything he needed to know. He showed his son precisely when and where the route should begin and where it should end.
'These are the keys to your success, ' his father said.
In short order, people who once received their papers at four in the morning found them on the lawn at that time once again. Except for Mr. Carmody who was in Africa that week seeking leopards in the mist.
'Mr. Carmody will be pleased to learn things are back to normal, ' Mr. Flynn said, 'once he gets back.'
For the second time Mr. Schneider smiled at a remark made by Mr. Flynn.
Donal Mahoney's Other Poems
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