Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Confessions of a Newspaperboy

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As a prologue to some of the memories that follow in what could become a series of flashbacks, my newspaper career began way back during World War II on the streets of North Bay, 220 miles (350 kilometers) north of Toronto.

It was a busy Northern Ontario railroad town just shy of 18,000 people when I became a newspaperboy selling the North Bay Nugget on the street at time when home delivery was not the norm. I was 8 years old.

My education began then, after being a rural rube all my life. We moved into town on New Year’s Day 1943 and I started selling papers in the spring after the snow and ice finally went south. Or maybe they went north. I would run the dozen blocks downtown from St. Rita’s School. Home was on the way so I dropped off my books and picked up 22 cents to buy 11 papers. We bought them still warm off the presses for 2 cents each and sold them for 3 cents. Paydays were great because a lot of buyers would flip us a nickel and let us keep the change. The paperboy price later went up to 3 cents and we sold it for 5 cents. Not as many tips then.

We fought for first place in the line at the press-room doors on Oak Street behind the Nugget that was housed in what was then the St. Regis Hotel at the west end of downtown where Algonquin Street angled off Main Street. When I got my papers, I’d scramble up one side of Main Street. They usually sold within the first two blocks. (I managed to pick up a few steady customers among the merchants.) Then I’d scramble back and buy another 11 and scoot into the pubs at the east end of Main and wrap up my sales day. Why I bought them in elevens, I don’t recall. Maybe that was all I could handle at first, but I began buying two dozen at a time before my three-year stint ended when we moved to the east end of town.

As I hustled around the eight blocks of downtown commerce peddling my papers, I used to see the Nugget’s reporter Ben Ward (he later moved on to a lengthy tenure with Canadian Press) talking with people all over: elected officials outside City Hall (it became a city in 1925), the cop on the corner, owners of the Arcadian Restaurant over a coffee, the postmaster on the steps of the Post Office. THAT’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. As it turned out, I got lucky and did “that” for several decades in such fun towns as Toronto, Sarnia, Kitchener, Windsor, Detroit and San Diego.

What turned me to thinking about those glimmering days was a recent medical visit to check a blockage in my nose. It turned out to be minor but the doctor asked me, “When did you break your nose?” I said I never broke my nose but he said I must have because of my deviated septum and other scarring. The thought clung to my skull for several days until I finally figured out when it must have occurred.

It was the third or fourth day after I became a newspaperboy. While we were horsing around waiting for the presses to rumble and roll, a 13-year-old burly bully named Maurice (Mo-Mo) Bedard walked up to me and said, “Gimme your money.” I was easy pickings because I was a slight kid, but I said no, not just because it was my money but because my mother would slap me silly if I lost my dough. So he grabbed my shirt, punched me in face and took 22 cents out of my pocket.

I recall bawling (don’t know if it was from pain or the loss of the money) but I couldn’t have been injured all that much because the nose didn’t bleed all that badly. I know that because there wasn’t much blood on my clothing — I threw away the hankie I used to soak up most of any mess and the rest didn’t show much because I was wearing a red-checkered flannel shirt — and nothing was said about my appearance when I got home. But that’s the only time my nose was ever smashed.

Billy Larochelle, who was a little guy like me but a heckuva lot more wiry and quicker and athletic and tougher and had a gravel voice that scared people, gave me enough money to buy my papers that day. I went back for a second and third batch so I could pay him back and still have enough money to show my mother when I got home.

The episode has an epilogue that bolstered my standing among my paperboy peers. A couple of weeks later, Mo-Mo, who didn’t sell papers but just hung around to steal money from kids, aimed  his eyes at me again and started making his approach. I happened to have a packet of matches on me (we used to share cigarets while waiting for our papers) and the only thing I could think of was to light a match and throw it at him. As it turned out, the entire packet erupted into flames so I tossed it at him.

The gods were on my side because that fiery package flipped neatly into his shirt pocket. He began hopping around and flailing and slapping at it and cursing and swearing and had to rip off chunks of his shirt, all of which made him look like an idiot in front of the 25 or so kids waiting for papers.

He never bothered me again. Nor did anyone else because the word spread not to screw around with that Scaglione kid because “He’s crazy.”

— Cecil Scaglione

Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 20, 2015 at 9:40 am

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