When I was 8 I had a paper route. When I was 8 I was also a latchkey kid, which was a term that was coined in the 80s. Latchkey kids were ones who had a key to the house. We let ourselves in after school. We were supposed to do our homework. But instead we watched after school specials on TV. (Don’t bully Jellybean! She doesn’t know what she’s doing! She’s not like the rest of us!)

I was the youngest of 5. And my older siblings were in and out of the house at different times, sometimes they were home sometimes they weren’t. Margaret, the oldest, finished college and was waitressing. Sometimes she worked nights, sometimes she worked days. Walter, the second oldest, was in high school and usually went to Dad’s shop to work after school. Christine and Kaz were in junior high had sports, sometimes. They also had the rest of the paper route. The further houses. They got home an hour before I did, and were already well on their way delivering their routes.

The key was hidden in one of those magnetic boxes with the lid that slid off the top. It was super obvious, it said “Hide a Key” on the lid. (There’s a Polish joke in there somewhere.) It was hidden in the little door on the back of the house where we were supposed to shovel out the ash from the fireplace. Only we didn’t have a fireplace, we had a woodstove. So it was the best place for our super obvious hide a key.

I would get off the bus, walk around the side of the house, grab the key, unlock the doors, put the key back in its spot. Grab a small snack, and head out to work. The papers got delivered in a bundle, left on our driveway. If it was raining they were wrapped in plastic. Kaz and Chris would open the bundles and count out enough for their houses, and leave me 13 in the garage for the 13 closest houses. I had a blue tote bag tied to the handlebars, it said Doubleday books on it, and had a few tiny spots where bleach had somehow gotten onto it. My bike was a badass black and yellow BMX bike. I’d call to Penny, my corgi, and we’d head out.

First next door to the Fords, then across the street to the Burnhams and the Lavoies. The Lavoies had a dachshund named Brandy who could push a tennis ball with his nose. I’d find a ball in the bushes and get him to do it. Then back to my side of the street for Griffin, Boisvert, Carlson. Then around the corner for… shoot… Warner? They had a cool German Shepard that Penny liked to play with. And the Morrells on the corner. Then to the Pomeroys. The Pomeroys bred beagles, and I loved it when there were puppies. Sam would show them to me. One peed on my foot and I felt the warmth of the pee through my sneaker. Then back past my house to the Bulders and then to the drug dealer’s house.

Everyone thought they were drug dealers. They bought the old Freidman house and were fixing it up. They tipped very well. On Fridays I had to collect the money for the paper. It was $1.50 per week for the paper, and I’d usually get a few bucks per house. Mick Jagger, the guy who bought the old Freidman place, tipped me $5, when everyone else tipped $1. He looked like Mick. I loved the Stones, so my mouth always ran dry when Mick answered the door.

Mick’s friends bought another house down the road next door to the Lavoies. One time I was pushing my bike up their driveway, as I delivered to them too, and they sang “Now don’t fall in love… she’s a beauty… one in a million girls…”* to me as I walked up the driveway. Mortified, I braced the paper under their mat. But I remember that day every single time I hear that song still.

The drug dealers didn’t live there long, maybe a year or so. Over the course of that year Mick tipped me $250. I think I bought Atari games with Kaz with that money. One of my mom’s friends from the school bus yard became a real estate agent, and she was showing the house. She told us all about the Jacuzzi, the modern kitchen and the high tech alarm system. “Well, you know he needed that alarm because of his… um… line of work.”

I don’t remember Mick’s real name, so I can’t google to find out if he ever got busted due to his… um… line of work. But I wonder if my parents were freaked out that there were drug dealers living on Scantic Road in little old East Windsor. When I was a teen driver they warned me not to go to Hartford because “Drugs are in Hartford.” (Say that with a Polish accent as you read it, for maximum impact.) Yet they let me, at age 8, deliver a paper to drug dealers two houses away. Were they living and let live? Were they just hoping we wouldn’t get mixed up in drugs with these people? Or did they even notice?

*She’s a Beauty by The Tubes

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.