Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Paper Route

When I was a kid, I inherited my brother’s newspaper route when he got sick of doing it.  Every day after school, there would be a bundle of flat evening papers to roll up, rubber-band, and stuff into the canvas carrier pouch that was nearly as big as I was.  Then I’d walk the neighborhood, tossing papers onto my customers’ porches or stuffing them into the mailboxes of the student apartment complexes on my route.  I had to deliver Mrs. Crevat’s paper to her door directly, hand it straight to her every day, and politely refuse the invitation to come in for a snack.  If I didn’t follow this exact procedure, when I got home there would be a call that she didn’t get her paper, or that I’d thrown it up onto the roof or something.  I was very important in my Toughskin jeans and my fastest Zips sneakers.  I had a job.  And my job was to bring people the news. On Sunday mornings, the papers came to our door when it was still dark outside, and they were thick with comics and advertisements and much harder to roll up and carry.  In my memory, it is always raining on those dark Sunday mornings.  A frozen, sleety rain that stung my face as I tossed the papers in their slippery plastic weather-proof sleeves.  Sometimes my mom drove me if the weather was really bad.

In those days, paper carriers collected checks or cash for the month’s delivery service, then passed those on to the newspaper we worked for.  There were usually tips included in the checks.  I see now in my own children that the amount of the tip is not important.  Sometimes my ten year old comes and helps me polish silverware and reset tables at the end of my lunch shift at the restaurant.  Sometimes a customer sees her working hard and gives her a little tip. She’s always so grateful for the gesture.  It’s not the money.  It’s the gratification of being rewarded at all for the effort that makes her happy.

I read this morning that Newsweek is going to stop the presses next year.  They’re going all digital.  Sad news for lovers of print publications, like myself.  I love the feeling of a glossy magazine in my hands.  I like newspapers.  I like the way they smell, the smudges on my fingertips, the bulky inconvenience of them.  I see the news a little more like literature when I can feel the weight of the human effort in it, can hold it in my hands.  And they remind me of childhood.  My first job!  My first experience with the gratification that comes with being tipped.  But I get it, why it has to change.  And I’m rolling with it.  I know it seems like a lot to ask someone to sit down and read an article, in print or even pixels.  It’s a lot to ask you to read this blog.  Apologies accompany a link to an article of two pages.  Sorry, I know this is long, but it’s a really good read...   We’re busy.  We don’t want to commit to ten minutes of reading and processing information, thinking critically about the words on the page in front of us, conjuring our own images to compliment them... why would we, when we could wait for the meme?

Oh, the meme.  A new word!!  Less than fifty years old.  I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it because you only ever see it, you don’t actually hear people say it.  Is it meem?  Or may-may, like a fancy french pronunciation?  Okay, no, it’s meem.  It’s an abbreviation of the word mimeme, with roots in ancient Greek meaning something imitated...or mimicked.  It was first used in 1976 by an evolutionary biologist named Richard Dawkins (not to be confused with Richard Dawson, the sloppy tongue kisser from the Family Feud of the same era) and he used it in a discussion involving how cultures transmit ideas and information through imitation.  The spread of ideas through mimicry, like how to build a keystone arch or the phrase Ermagherd.  Things that stick, even if only for a while (like Richard Dawson's spit on Aunt Rita's face) and how those play into the evolution of technology, of language, of culture.  Like dna replication of thoughts and ideas.  

In social media, the meme is a quick way to spread an idea.  Much faster than asking people to read something bulky and cumbersome like an article or some lady’s blog.  A meme can pass through the collective consciousness of an entire generation in hours.  No more waiting not-so-patiently with your morning coffee while you listen for the thud of your newspaper hitting the porch.  

The problem with the meme is that the idea behind it must already exist in the social consciousness for it to have any relevance at all.  If people aren’t already talking about it, it doesn’t mean anything.  Binders of Women, for example...  within hours of Mitt Romney using the phrase Binders of Women during this week’s presidential debate, the internet was teeming with memes.  Hilarious ones, at that.  

This one was my favorite.  RIP Johnny Castle!
I was entertained by the notion of binders of women, but there was another sound bite from the debate that was ringing in my ears, one in which the candidate described his policy on immigration, on children who are brought illegally to this country, and how they might earn their citizenship when they come of age through service in the military.  What’s that?  I thought.  Conscription?  Indentured servitude?  That can’t be right.  That can’t be what he meant.  I went to Mitt Romney’s website to see for myself.  Oh.  That is what he meant.  “Mitt Romney believes that young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children should have the chance to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens, by serving honorably in the United States military.”

My mind raced to wrap itself around this idea.  What does that even mean?  What are we talking about here?  I’m not saying anything derogatory or in defiance of the military, per se, I’m only saying that using residency as a threat, forcing someone who is 18 years old (still a child in his mother’s eyes, I assure you) to either serve or face deportation from the only country he’s ever called home, rings of enslavement to me.  By threatening deportation to a country he can’t even recall, by threatening his stability, security and ambition, the government would have the power to ask anything of these children, and could compensate them any way they see fit.  They wouldn’t have the same rights or recourse as true citizens who serve in our military.  Don’t like it?  Get the fuck out.  Would we be counting on people to do the right thing, not to take advantage of the vulnerability of such non-citizens who want to make this their home?  

This idea is nothing new.  Slave armies have been operative (and successful) for thousands of years.  The premier dynasties of the Muslim world nearly all depended on slaves in their military, from the Umayyads in the 7th century all the way up through the Ottoman Empire.  In recent years in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Uganda, children have been conscripted as soon as they’re big enough to hold a gun.  By the time they’re soldiers, they forget they’re slaves.  I guess I have to give Mitt Romney credit for planning to wait until they’re 18 to hold them captive.   He’s not taking all his cues from Joseph Kony.  But the premise of forcing someone to pick up a gun and fight for the right to simply exist within the borders of a country is inhuman at best.  At its worst, it could be monstrous.  

Listen, I’m not trying to convince anyone to vote any certain way.  Use your voice.  Vote your conscience.  I’m just asking you to think about this specific policy submission, because I can’t come up with a may-may that presents the issue clearly... because no one grabbed onto that sound bite.  It just slipped through, drowned out by Binders of Women - those loud mouth bitches.
I tried...

...but no one gets it because no one is already talking about it.  Also, there seems to be no way to make it funny.  I can’t make it funny, because it’s not fucking funny. It won't race through the interwebs or become part of our collective social dna.

So instead I'm doing this. I had to take the long way... roll up this thing to think about, and drop it on your doorstep. You don't even have to tip me!


  1. I heard this too and thought the same thing. I am from the Deep South and it made me think of the rich folks who would pay $200 for some poor kid to take the place of their rich son in the war.

    With all the Hunger Games hype out there I wonder if a mee-mee (may-may/meem)could be made to bring out your point. (Brown people being forced to make "tribute")

    I think both long form and short form attention needs to be paid. Thank you!

  2. In light of the fact that under Obamacare, the illegal immigrants are the only ones who dont have to pay for their health insurance while all legal citizens will have to pay,
    and all the other free assistance given to them under the
    plan that has nothing to do with health care, maybe it would be a good idea for them to serve the country that has taken care of them and given them so many free things all these years as a way of saying thank you. What I heard said was that would be "one way" of becoming a citizen. That would be the choice of the person if they chose to do that. There was nothing said that indicated that was the only way to become a citizen.

    1. "Mitt Romney believes that young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children should have the chance to become permanent residents, and eventually citizens, ***by serving honorably in the United States military.***"

      Maybe there are 'other ways' that aren't spelled out plainly enough for me to understand them? He can fill us in on those later.

  3. Anonymous, I encourage you to read an overview of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, prepared by the non-partisan Consumers Union, at

    None of your statements is based in fact, and you really should be sure you speak the truth before you commit to print.

  4. That statement didn't stand out to me, but now that you've mentioned it, I remember hearing it. I wasn't listening very closely and thought it was simply an option he mentioned. I did find that quote on his site, along with several other things.

    This whole thing just exhausts me, honestly. I dig a well-played meme. Hey Girl

  5. One of things that struck me tonight while watching heavily-accented Detroit ballplayers being interviewed after Detroit swept the ALCS, was how easy it must be for someone like a Cabrera to get into this country -- to play baseball, for God's sake. While we make it almost impossible for minimum-wagers to come harvest our food and stay here legally.

    And Mitt wants to punish their kids with a "conscription or eviction" dictum?

    "Anonymous" -- give me a goddamn break.

    Meg's Dad

    1. Oh, and Anon - at least come out of ID hiding if you want to venture an opinion on the 'net. I can't stand a frikken' coward.

  6. Thank you for publishing this-good job!