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The Paper Route
Terry had his first taste of alcohol at Timmy Wilson’s house between bounces on the trampoline. Timmy used his nana’s blender to make coffee ice cream milkshakes with a few glugs from a bottle of Baileys Irish Cream. It tasted like a normal milkshake with a hint of cough medicine. Terry took a few gulps and went back outside for a jump. He was dizzy and had a headache 20 minutes later. It was not pleasant.
He spent the next few years sharpening his skills by drinking Bacardi Limon mixed in Sprite bottles in the basement of a cousin’s house. They’d eat pizza and giggle as one of their pals made prank phone calls. Some nights, Terry could find his way to a mellow buzz and other times he’d roll through the stop signs and end up ralphing in the bushes or all over a guest bedroom.
In high school, Terry was with his friend Carl every weekend. When they weren’t hanging out in rinks, they logged a lot of hours shooting pool in Carl’s parents’ basement while making plans to get to second base with girls.
The night of Terry’s paper route started this way.
They played a few games and made a plan for the night. They walked upstairs and said bye to Carl’s folks and hopped in Carl’s sparkly gold Buick Century (with the seat belts that automatically rode around the door frame) and hit the road. Their first planned stop was a house party in West Roxbury.
Carl and Terry didn’t want to be the first ones there, so they dipped into the Tahiti in Dedham. Chinese restaurants in 2001 were made for fake IDs. They slid into a booth and shared two scorpion bowls (a decorated ceramic fishbowl of cold brandy and rum soup garnished with a flaming shot of 151 proof liquor) and an order of teriyaki meat on a stick before hopping back in the car.
In addition to Chinese restaurants, they had a tried and true list of mom and pop package stores that were lax ID checkers (Guliano’s in Quincy and Ray’s in Canton were two good ones). They rolled up to one of their regular spots in West Roxbury, they combined their crumpled up bills, and Terry headed inside. Carl and Terry often supplied booze for parties since most seventeen year olds couldn’t walk into a store and buy booze. Terry never got comfortable flashing his false ID, but it helped that he started shaving at 13. He walked into the store with his heart thumping and tried to act like he owned the place. He fetched a two wheeler dolly and dragged it into the cooler. Once inside, he stacked six 30 racks on it and then wheeled the tower of cases over to the counter. This was a professional move that he learned from another high school punk. The idea was that an underage kid would never be brazen enough to locate the store’s dolly and methodically load it with cases of beer. At the counter, he added a couple pints of schnapps. He handed over the cash and wheeled the beer out to the car. He wasn’t carded.
High school house parties were a funny thing. It took a certain type of kid to invite piles of kids over when their parents weren’t home. Some were careful and limited the party to a small number of trusted friends when their parents were out of the country. Others would throw a three hundred kid bash anytime their parents went to get groceries.
When someone was throwing a house party, parking was always strategic. You couldn’t park 30 shit-boxes in front of a single house. Dead giveaway. The cars needed to be sprinkled around the neighborhood. You’d also want to park in a spot that you could sprint to and quietly slip away in the event of a surprise ending.
They parked and made a couple trips lugging the beer down dark bulkhead steps into a basement that had Nelly blasting from a boombox in the corner. They wasted little time in deleting a handful of beers. The party was fine but missing a key ingredient. They were there for sixty or ninety minutes before dashing off to a different party that was happening in South Boston. They heard there were girls there.
Carl and Terry lugged their personal cardboard suitcases of beer outside and hopped in the car. This is where the night starts to fade. They must have been at the second party for a couple of hours. Terry can remember flirting with a blond city girl but couldn’t remember any of the conversation.
He didn’t remember the drive back to Carl’s and he wasn’t sure that Carl did either. On a night like this, Terry would typically just pass away on a couch in the basement, pop up in the morning and sneak out before having to answer any questions about the evening. This night was different. Carl would later recall that Terry inexplicably decided to make the short drive home.
[I want the reader to get the sense of a long pause here. Hours have passed.]
Terry’s next memory is waking up to his old man blasting his bedroom door open with the cordless home phone smothered to his chest (so the caller couldn’t hear). The door rebounded loudly off the wall. Dad’s face was a mix of fear and rage.
“What the fuck happened last night?” He whisper screamed at Terry.
“Huh?” Terry wasn’t coherent yet. He was in a deep fog, still drunk from the night before with the early indicators of a monster sized headache.
“What the fuck happened? I’ve got a police officer from Whitman on the phone and he wants to talk to you.”
Terry starts scrambling out of bed, tossing the blankets and sheets off his body and working to get his bearings.
“You STINK like booze. What happened?” Dad demanded.
“I don’t know,” Terry said quietly. He didn’t know.
Without another word, his old man is shoving the phone at him with a “figure it out” shrug of the shoulders.
“Hello?” Terry says into the receiver.
“Terry. This is officer Watson with Whitman, PD. How ya feelin’ buddy?”
“Fine, I guess.”
“Ya? You wanna tell me what happened last night, pal?”
Panic chemicals start racing through his body. His breathing shallows. He’s scanning his dad’s face looking for a life raft that doesn’t exist. He’s also running through last night’s slideshow in his brain trying to honestly answer the question. He obviously drove home pie-eyed.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he finally says.
“You sure about that?” Watson asks.
“Really. I don’t know!” Terry pleads.
“Aw-right. Since you wanna be a bullshitter, have your pops bring you down to the station for a chat,” he says. Click. He’s gone.
Terry slowly hands the phone back to his old man. “What’s going on?!” Dad asks.
“We have to go down to the Whitman Police Station,” Terry responds sheepishly.
“You’re fucked, Dad says. “Get in the shower and clean yourself up.”
Terry hops in the shower and scrubs himself hard under screaming hot water. He does a second round of lathering in hopes that it might help. He brushes his teeth twice but it’s no use. He’s got beer and 151 leaking out of his pores as soon as he’s dry. He smells like old Bud Light. On the way to and from the shower, he can hear his parents down the hall anxiously trying to figure out what to do.
They get in his Dad’s car and make the 14 minute drive to Whitman PD. The drive is silent. Terry counts fingernails on the car mat between his feet.
Before they left the house, he glanced at his car. He’d parked with two of his wheels off the driveway and had rested the front bumper against the trunk of an oak tree. The left headlight and blinker were dangling from their housing, hanging on by electrical wires.
They found a parking spot in the police department lot and walked towards the door. Terry walks slowly, eyes down, with both hands shoved into the kangaroo pouch of his hooded sweatshirt. He pulls open the front door and approaches the safety glass around the dispatcher’s penalty box. He mumbles through some kind of greeting and the cop says to wait outside without looking up from the morning paper. They stand on the front walk. Terry kicks a few little pebbles, wishing that the earth would open up and swallow him.
The door swings open and the cop who must be Watson exits the building and starts walking towards them. He seems pretty pleased with himself. He’s holding something in his hand.
“Terry?” he asks.
“So, you ready to tell me what happened last night? I can see you had a rough night.”
“I don’t remember,” Terry admits.
Watson seems like he spent an hour rehearsing his delivery. There are dramatic pauses, eye contact with Dad, eye contact with Terry. He’s the type of cop who relishes these moments.
“Well, here’s what I think happened.” He hitches his pants up. Cuffs, keys, and sidearm bob up and settle back down.
“My guess is that you drove home last night after having a bunch of drinks (pause).
While driving, you hit a mailbox and then further down the road a row of bushes in Sally Jones’ yard (another pause).
You finished by hitting a giant bundle of Whitman Town newspapers that were waiting to be delivered this morning. When you smashed into the stack of papers, your license plate fell off at the scene which is where I found it (hands Terry what he’s been holding. It’s Terry’s dinged up license plate. He’s been waiting for this mic drop moment). You then dragged and scattered papers most of the way back to your parents’s house. Any of this ringin’ a bell, boss?” (Another cocky hitch of the pants).
At this point Terry is wide eyed. He can’t believe this happened. He doesn’t remember a second of it. His Dad is trying to melt him with his eyes.
Officer Watson continues, “I could arrest you for driving under the influence right now.”
Terry’s standing there like an asshole holding his license plate. Watson pulls out a pad from his pocket and starts writing a ticket. Driving to endanger. Reckless Driving. Marked Lanes Violation. He doesn’t add anything about alcohol. He rips off the ticket and sends them on their way. Dad and Terry turn and trudge back to the car.
Dad figured it made sense to do a little recon. They left the police station and retraced Terry’s drive home the previous night. Sure enough there was a stack of newspapers that was pulverized into confetti and scattered across town lines. It didn’t take much effort to find the mailbox that he flattened. Before making a U-turn and heading for home, they slowly rolled past the bushes that Terry drove through. He hit the row of bushes so cleanly that there was a perfect outline of his car, just like in cartoons.
Weeks later, he’d sit through some driving classes and scrape together the money to pay for the newspapers and the shrubs (his parents had cut a check). It took a long time for him to register how lucky he’d been.
Terry never had another paper route.