Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Archive for March 2015

Confessions of a Newspaperboy Book IV

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School was never my best subject. My real education is rooted in my time peddling papers on the streets of North Bay. It branched in earnest about a decade later when I became a young reporter asking everyone and Boy_Smokinganyone question after question after question.

While I only sold papers for about three years, what I saw and heard shaped me into a pavement kid and honed survival instincts that served me well during my eight-plus decades. Among the memorable moments was a piece of advice given me by Nate Rivelis, owner of a Main Street ladies’-wear shop, one of the many Jewish merchants lining the  ‘Bay’s eight-block commercial core. He became one of my first regular customers along that commercial strip. He told me later it was because I was reliable. That is, I always used to enter his store about the same time of day every day and ask him if he wanted to buy a paper. None of the other paperboys had done that before. It taught me to ask for the business. It served me well in picking up several other downtown customers.

(An aside:  It also helped me as a reporter, too, because I would drop by regularly to talk with the police chief and city clerk and desk-duty sergeant and mayor on my rounds because, for whatever reason, most other reporters didn’t take the time for such a nicety. As a result, I established reliable upper-level contacts and sources.)

Anyhow, among the memories that pop into mind when I picture Mr. Rivelis is a question he tossed at me one afternoon. “How much money do you have in your pocket, Cecil?” I told him I had about 20 cents. He shook his said and said, “No, no, exactly how much money do you have in your pocket.” I said I didn’t know. And he said: “Cecil, if you don’t know how much money you have in your pocket, you’ll never be rich.” Well, I never became rich but, to this day, I always know how much cash I have in my pocket.

Shortly after retiring from selling papers on the street, I launched my Main Street shoeshine venture. I quit peddling papers because we moved to the east end of town, which put me several blocks farther from the Nugget that was at the west end of downtown and I would have wound up getting my papers after most of the prime selling section was saturated by a swarm of two to three dozen other paperboys. And home delivery was beginning to take hold.

There were a few shoeshine shops in dry cleaners and pool rooms and barber shops along the main drag but I could under-price them because my overhead was low: no employees, no rent to pay, no equipment to maintain. I carried three cans of shoe polish – black, brown and oxblood – two brushes and several soft rags in an empty wooden butter box that also served as a foot stand so I could burnish the brogues. My competition was a half-dozen or so other street shoeshine boys cluttering the entrances and exits of the handful of beer parlors sprinkled around the commercial core.

Pubs were divided back then: men on one side and another side for women. Men could only enter the women’s doors accompanied by a female. They opened at noon, closed at 5:30 (to make sure men went home for supper), reopened at 7 p.m. and closed at 1 a.m. weekdays and 11:30 p.m. Saturdays. All those blue laws crumbled in the late ‘50s. The best shoe-shining times were payday, Friday and Saturday afternoons and early evenings because we’d catch guys going into the pubs – especially if they were with a lady – and coming out to head for a night on the town. I kept a copy of the Nugget for the customers to read while standing there getting his – or her, because a few women did stop now and then — shoes buffed. I also had a half-dozen papers to sell to shoeshine customers. I always stopped to ask Mr. Rivelis if he wanted a paper and I’d pick up one for him.

On these stops early on, I noticed people would look into the windows of his store and nearby shoe stores and then glance at their shoes to see if they looked as nice as the ones in the window. A lot of the times, a guy would wait outside while his wife or girlfriend was shopping in Mr. Rivelis’ store. So I set up my sidewalk shoeshine shop in front of his shop.  Business boomed. While foot traffic was good at the beer parlors, many of the guys were usually in a hurry to get in for a couple of cool ones or rushing out to get somewhere and didn’t take time for a shine.

When my father saw that I was heading downtown regularly to make a few nickels, he made me a compact wooden shoe-shine box. It was about the size of a lunch pail. He fashioned a couple of blocks of wood to look like a footprint where the customer placed his (or her) foot while its shoe was being shined. Very professional. And he added a shoulder strap so I could carry it more easily.

One day, Mr. Rivelis, who used to get his shoes shined regularly, looked at me and said, “Cecil, if you’re going to keep on coming back here, why don’t you leave your shoe-shine box in the store.” And that’s how I got to maintain a downtown shoeshine venture for another couple of years that grew out of networking while I was selling papers on the street. On the way downtown, I would put together a couple of bunches of radishes or onions or beets from our garden and knock on a few doors to sell them before I got to my shoeshine stand. There were also mornings when I rode with the local milkman and his horse-drawn wagon or the bread man on his route to earn a buck or two before attending to my downtown business.

Other gigs garnered during my shoe-shining career included part-time phone-answerer and dispatcher for a cab stand, a parking-lot attendant (I just sat in the entry/exit booth to hand out tickets when cars arrived and collect money when they departed) and a behind-the-counter server at a downtown diner. The folks would come to my shoeshine stand to get me when they needed me. I kept the shoeshine business going for a couple of years until I reached my mid-teens and was old enough to get summertime work on the railroad. I broke away from hard labor after a couple of summers when I got a full-time job as day manager for a lunch counter followed by a lucrative summer as a hotel bellhop. These all stemmed from my stint as a newspaperboy.


Written by Cecil Scaglione

March 29, 2015 at 12:18 pm

A major problem with aging is . . .

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. . . old friends keep dying off before you can make new ones.

— Cecil Scaglione

Written by Cecil Scaglione

March 22, 2015 at 8:59 am

Posted in A Musing

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More From the Newspaperboy III

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Growing up in metropolises like New York, London, Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles, Houston or Sydney is more challenging than maturing in a small town. But prowling the streets of a little city like North Bay offers the lessons of gotham without the concomitant perils.

Boy_SmokingAnd my times were different. Downtown dangers were not as brutal as in the Big City. There were plenty of guns in town, but they all huddled at home greased up for hunting season. Get into a scrape and the cop kicked your butt – hard. If a shop owner caught you shoplifting, he or she slapped you silly and then the cop kicked your butt – hard. If you got into enough of these, you were dragged home – dragged – and the cop kicked your butt – hard – before you got a licking from your parents.

But the things that went on in the alleys behind Main Street were a microcosm of – they just didn’t happen as often as —  what occurred in the after-dark recesses of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Tijuana. It was exciting and exhilarating for a nine- and 10-year-old kid running loose along these streets. Billy Larochelle and I used to get free gawdawful soup to warm us up during sub-zero midwinter from the elderly Chinese couple that ran a sleazy and smell-of-vomit restaurant on Oak Street, North Bay’s slums draped around the edges of the Canadian Pacific Railroad station that was just a block and a half off Main Street..

I have no idea what kind of soup it was. I didn’t even like soup, and I never asked because it probably would have made me sick. The chairs and stools in that place were stickier than the floor with grease, grime and layers of dirt. But the old couple were as comforting as their lumpy soup was tasty as we sipped it slowly to let the freeze leave our fingers while the frost on the window kept the dark outside. Keep in mind, the winter sun goes down real early that far north.

One summer afternoon I heard a muffled boom from the CPR station and ran down when I saw some smoke coming out of everywhere. When I got there, I saw the men’s washroom smelled odd and looked like it had been stepped on, so I poked myself in. There was blood, bone and gore splashed all along the walls and packed solidly into the corners and crevices that worked their way up to the ceiling. I was the first person on the scene, which earned me a hard kick in the butt by cop who got there right after me.

I read in the paper the next day, a guy had sat down on a toilet, lighted a stick of dynamite and held it to his chest to blow the top half of himself all over the walls and ceiling. His bottom half was still left sitting on the can. I saw his boots sticking out under the battered bottom of the toilet stall.

That was exciting.

In the alley beside the Chinese couple’s restaurant, I watched Big Mary put on a show one evening. Her name was Mary Commanda and she was a large – over six feet six inches – raw boned Indian who just drank a lot. She could have been 20, 30, 40 or 50, had a gravel voice that was unmistakably hers and a glistening heart of gold. She always told me that if she ever got money to buy a paper, she’d buy it from me.  One late afternoon, during the beer-parlor closing hour, she was seated against a wall beside a pile of garbage behind the Chinese couple’s restaurant and using a beer bottle as a dildo while laughing raucously and merrily challenging any and all of the bums around her if they could match that.

That was funny.

There was the time we were almost on site when a guy we knew – everybody knew everybody in the Bay — pulled off something I could never have done. He was a clerk of some sort (timekeeper, I think) with the CPR and was walking through the morass of tracks when his boot got stuck in one of the frogs (a frog is an X-shaped chunk of rail that’s used in switching yards). As is always going on, locomotives were shunting tanker, freight and flat cars here, there and everywhere to assemble them into trains heading to the proper destinations. And a couple of the multi-ton cars had been shunted right at this guy. All he could do was lean over and let the loose-running freight cars run over his ankle and amputate his foot.

We – co-newspaperboy Eddie Walker and I – didn’t see that nor did we hear him scream but we did see him being carried to safety. His face was a white color I hadn’t seen before.

That was chilling.

 – 30 –

Written by Cecil Scaglione

March 14, 2015 at 10:33 pm

When I wanted to loosen up …

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… in the good ol’ days,

I’d just go out and get tight.

— Cecil Scaglione

Written by Cecil Scaglione

March 5, 2015 at 5:26 pm

Posted in A Musing

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