The Good News
What I Learned And Didn't Learn On My Paper Route
“All behavioral traits are heritable.”
“Cherche la femme, yes, but cherche la famille.”
Once upon a time I was a paper boy. In my more religious, ridiculous youth I saw this is a form of delivering if not the good news, well, at least all the news that the Patriot Ledger saw fit to print. The pocket money didn’t hurt though I find then as now I find that there are too few things worth actually buyinglet alone owning. I don’t think one ever really owns anything. Do you? Well, you’re entitled to be wrong. We are but stewards. My grandparents taught me that.
In any event I had that sort of thing that they talk about in the self help books – “grit” or what a more Victorian time would call “will” – and I delivered the newspaper in conditions that could only be described as New England. Worse yet, I liked it. It got me out of the house and out and about. I’ve come to believe that many Uber drivers or Task Rabbits just want to avoid being couch potatoes.
The makings of my empire grew quickly as the other boys folded up shop, driven indoors by the beginnings of video game addiction — the crisis of my generation and I mean that! — or other remunerative pursuits – bagging groceries, flipping burgers, mowing lawns, the sort of jobs they tell us Americans won’t or can’t do. To complete my appointed rounds I pressed my friends and brother and yes, my parents, into the task. On especially cold or hot days my parents drove me around and I would run house to house, catching snippets of NPR or talk radio when my mother or father was driving. But on weekends my late grandfather would drove me. We’d listen to classical music and say nothing as I’d say and he would methodically check each house off the list. “110 Blue Hills Parkway.” “Confirmed.” “180 Elliot Street.” “Delivered.” And so on.
Then we’d get breakfast and he’d tell me about the olden times as he read the real newspaper – The Boston Globe or the “rich people” newspaper, The New York Times or Wall Street Journal, which we’d purloin from the unsuspecting stoop of a house that most certainly didn’t get nor want the Patriot Ledger, thank you very much. These rich surbanites had better things to do with their time than read the papers they paid for.
My grandfather taught me how to make a gin & tonic and one of my happiest accomplishments was to make him a very strong breakfast one before I introduced him to Rupert Murdoch – his beau ideal of an evil man and the rest of Fox News – and I won an award at News Corp. “If you sell out, make sure it’s at a high price, little one,” he’d say.
LTC Carl Lundquist had been an intelligence officer – he had majored in Russian – and he served in the Navy and later in the Army and for other services that we aren’t allowed to talk about. His travels included sojourns in Germany, the Sinai, and in Pennsylvania where he ran the largest Vietnamese refugee camp. He took the Army seriously and believed that his commitment to country didn’t end when he hung up his uniform.
That was not where I found him, though. He had done all that in that glorious past which seems both so far away and so close at the end of one’s life. I’d catch him napping with his beloved cat – Eleanor – never too far away or tending to his garden where he tended the most scrumptious tomatoes that we later learned had too high a concentration of lead. Grandpa read John Le Carré and Graham Greene novels – and of course, marriages, obituaries and the “funnies” in the papers. He bought and sold coins on eBay and we spoke often about what things were “really” worth—good training, if ever there were for venture capital or appraisals. You can always be “penny wise and pound foolish.”
He kept his city block clean from both Beast – “clean up after your filthy dog!’ and Man when all other blocks were strewn with garbage. He defended his turf and fought hand to hand with the neighbors when he caught some teenagers tagging a mail box – “the people’s mail box.” Blood was shed on both sides. Grandpa kept his flag flying notwithstanding his hatred of George W. Bush and Cheney and we would sit on the porch and watch the garbage men come and go. Only assholes buy Jaguars, he’d say, and so when he died I went out and bought one just to remember him. His favorite color was sky blue pink and with the top down in the autumn I think of him.
It was he who convinced me that all of life is written in a kind of code that can be deciphered with the right sort of key. “Everything you read everywhere was put there for a reason. Everything.”
Find the reason it’s there and you unlock a doorway. The courageous among us walk through it without looking back.
It was my grandfather who most strongly objected to me going to work for Alan Dershowitz, a man he quickly spotted as a “stinker.” Later I learned he had worried about me working for someone he knew to be working for spies. Still, sometimes you got to meet evil early on to recognize it for the rest of your life. When I close my eyes I can still hear Jeffrey Epstein’s voice at the other end of the line asking for Alan.
Grandpa was proud of me, yes, but he wondered whether my entry into an elite world of prep schools and country clubs might bar me from being the sort of civilian leader that he imagined I might become. He didn’t want me to think I was better than anyone else even as he celebrated my accomplishments in essay contests which attested to just that mastery.
As with so many young people who are in a hurry I rebelled from my Boston environs and became a conservative, a Magatard avant la lettre. In the quiet hours I listened to replays of Sean Hannity on the radio and attended pro-war events and speeches. Grandpa fretted that I might become a Republican and my support for the Iraq War (on humanitarian grounds, naturally, as if a war could ever be fought on such terms) and later for Trump became a source of profound disappointment. We never talked about it but I know he knew.
I explained to my grandpa, with all the confidence of a 17 year old that working for Dershowitz would help me get into Harvard and Harvard was where my father – his son-in-law – and my uncle had gone. I even toured the campus where I met a young Pete Buttigieg and Elise Stefanik, both of whom were dating. Harvard is a strange place.
“I can do more for others if I get that degree,” I’d say.
“There’s more to life than Harvard,” he’d say.
And so this would continue until I got that thin envelope.
I didn’t get in. I was too white, too middle class, of course. There’s something wonderfully humbling about tutoring the kids who get int your dream school. It’s a profound humiliation which stays with you as so many early disappoints do. Of course thank God for unanswered prayers. Not getting what I’ve wanted has been the secret of my success as it with so many.
“Their loss,” he said. Of all his grandchildren my sister and I were the only ones to call him often and update him on our lives. Among his last acts on this Earth was writing me a heartfelt letter bemoaning how we hadn’t stayed in touch. He met his one great grandchild – my daughter – and we snapped a photo. He was wearing his tomato sweatshirt and in his wheelchair and she smiled.
At his core he believed that there was something fundamentally wrong, something compromised that had happened over the course of his lifetime to American institutions and to American life. He detected this everywhere.
He was right, of course. The rest of my life will be about sorting it out.