Up until recently, the Significant Other and I subscribed to two major daily newspapers. Every month, each paper would make a sizable charge to our credit card account. In exchange,we would wake up to find newspapers sitting on our driveway, just in time to read over breakfast.
At least that was the concept.
This is the name I will use for the man who started delivering our newspapers about 18 months ago.
We noticed early on that timely delivery presented a challenge for him.
Our two newspapers guaranteed delivery by 6 a.m. each weekday morning. Mr. X perhaps never got this message or perhaps never took it to heart. Very occasionally, he would deliver the papers as early as 7:30. More often, they would arrive after 8 a.m., usually between 8:45 and 9:15.
Once I called the lead newspaper’s circulation department and tried to explain why late delivery might not be a winning strategy for the company.
“Our town is a commuter town,” I said. “Many people take their newspapers to read on the train. They leave early, and the parking lot at the train station fills up by 7:15 every morning. If their papers haven’t arrived by the time they leave the house, these people are going to cancel their subscriptions.”
The circulation employee seemed to listen very carefully. She promised to contact the distributor and also to forward my message of concern to a supervisor.
At least Mr. X got the message. The next day, at the usual hour, our papers arrived on the lawn just after the sprinklers had finished running.
Then there were the weekends, when the newspapers’ ostensible delivery times were later, 8:30 a.m.
Here too, Mr. X marched to his own drummer. We speculated that he had a full social life including late engagements on weekend evenings. Our papers would arrive sometime between 9 and 10:30 a.m. Once the Sunday paper came just before 11.
I know I sound like a grouch. I grew up reading newspapers and then working on newspapers and I got pretty used to perusing at least one of them with my morning coffee. I still prefer reading an actual newspaper to getting one online, but Mr. X was teaching me that I have to get over it.
Then there were the many papers that never arrived. Given the casual adherence to arrival times, I got into the habit of waiting until 11 a.m. or so to report nondeliveries.
Every time I called, I would be reassured that a fresh copy would be sent to our house pronto.
There was never a redelivery — pronto or slow-o.
One time I called to say, you know, that paper you promised to send yesterday never arrived. We got credit for the day’s papers.
The next day, Mr. X delivered our papers on his usual schedule. About 8:30, we noticed them sitting on the grass out front.
Slowly we learned that this was the new normal. Late papers, occasional delivery, lots of back and forth about non-delivery. I started swinging by the grocery store in the afternoon to pick up papers on days when none had been delivered.
At one point, I asked a circulation clerk if I could call the distribution manager for our area and discuss my concerns.
“Oh, no. We only communicate with them by email,” the agent said.
“Fine. I’d be happy to send an email.”
“Oh, no. We can’t share that,” said the agent.
“Why not? It’s just an email address.”
“We’re not allowed.”
“This has been going on a long time. Could you at least explain this to the distributor in an email?”
The next morning, late, Mr. X flung our papers on the wet lawn.
Then came mid-December, when newspaper delivery people thoughtfully send greetings in self-addressed envelopes to make it easy for subscribers to send monetary gratuities to the deliverers’ homes.
Mr. X was scrupulous about this nicety.
One day in December, no papers arrived. The next day the papers landed — on the driveway — at the usual midmorning hour. Tucked into one was a holiday greeting card in a self-addressed envelope.
A few days later, the second paper contained a self-addressed holiday card. On the day after that, no papers were delivered.
I am not making this up.
Traditionally, we have sent small gifts of money to the people who deliver the newspapers. Their job cannot be high-paying, even at the prices newspapers now charge their luckless subscribers, and we appreciated the small luxury of a morning paper.
Last year, however, I was unsure how to proceed.
“How large a tip do you think we should send to Mr. X this year?” I asked the S.O.
“The only tip I’m giving that schmuck is to get a different job,” he replied.
Perhaps fortunately, the SO and I are spending much of this year in another state. Instead of putting our newspaper subscriptions on hold, we decided to cancel them and decide whether to set up new accounts when we relocated.
The SO insisted on making the phone call to notify the circulation department that we were canceling. I overheard his end of the conversation, which had a spirited tone and continued for a rather long time. He seemed more at peace after he ended the call.
On the last day of our subscription, the papers arrived around 9 a.m. We found them sitting on the wet lawn.
Like most youthful residents of Portland, Ore., I read the children’s books of Beverly Cleary. She was esteemed in my neighborhood because many of her characters lived on Klickitat Street, two blocks from my home.
I remember particularly a story about Henry Huggins, a boy of 10 or 12, who delivered afternoon newspapers (there were such things at the time of the story) every day on his bicycle.
One time, when the weather was rainy, Henry stopped his bike and walked each paper up to each house’s front porch because he did not want the papers to get wet. He didn’t like it, but he did it. (Now, of course, all papers come out of the printing plant bagged in carbon-derived plastic bags.)
It turned out well for Henry. For this, a grateful subscriber sent a letter to the editor praising his work. The letter was published in the newspaper.
Granted, this story was fiction. But it was not science fiction.
Sometime, not that many years ago, children on bikes delivered daily newspapers reliably and on time.
Today, higher-paid grownups with cars cannot be bothered to apply anything like the same diligence.
Mr. X is no Henry Huggins.