Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Early Toil–Paperboy & (120) ARTSY–Riff

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Early Toil–Paperboy & (120) ARTSY–Riff


I used to pretend I was involved in various sports.  It would vary by the season.  How many of you have sports fantasies when you’re doing things?  You come into the office and you take this piece of paper and crumple it up and zap, “Shepherd cans another one!  Wilt Chamberlain to Shepherd at the center line…. There’s a real playmaker, that Shepherd!”  If it was springtime Shepherd was always making these spectacular throws from third, picking off a runner—what a play!

These various fantasies are part of the day-by-day life.  I wonder if anybody’s ever written a major philosophical treatise on the daydreams of ordinary work.  The little satisfactions that carry us through our daily life.

When you’re about eleven years old and you’re delivering papers, you are almost at the mercy of everybody.  Because they don’t take you seriously.  So  then, the greatest satisfaction of all—and this is possibly why I turned out to be such a sneaky person—is out-euchring the great, unwashed, slob-public.  They are the ultimate enemy of the paperboy.  It took me about six months to realize I was being had.

There is a certain kind of customer, and you find this guy a lot in life.  Here it is Saturday morning, collection day.  The guy who hides behind the curtain is the guy who isn’t going to pay at all—he’s the deadbeat.  But I’m referring to the sharpie.  Sharpies are another thing, which is not exactly the same as being a deadbeat.  So I would come up to this door, like any other door.  I’d knock and the guy would come out.  “What do ya want, kid?”  He sounds hung-over and I smell stale beer.

“I’d like to collect for the paper, please.”  I have my little book out.  “You owe eighty-six cents.”

“Just a minute, kid.  Hey listen, all I got is a ten dollar bill.  Ya got change for a ten?”

When you’re making eighty-six cent collections you’re not going to have change for a ten.  And he knew that.  That’s why he did it.  “Sorry, kid, all I got is a ten.”  So there you are.  What are you going to do?  You couldn’t collect so you go peddling on.  Sometimes this would go on for a month.  What he was doing was seriously not paying.





Early Image of Bill (Riff)

My close intellectual friend for over 30 year was known as Riff. We met as designers at a commercial exhibit company, and immediately knew we’d discovered someone special–with intellectual interests in books, art, music, dance, film. For decades we would meet Friday nights and see some foreign film, then walk to MacDougal Street and chat for hours about intelligent, artsy stuff while having coffee at Reggio’s. Riff admired steadfast defenders of the arts they practiced, such as Maria Callas and Frank Lloyd Wright. He took the day off from work to attend the opening of New York’s Guggenheim Museum so that he could see Wright in person. Together, Riff and my good friend Dick and I visited Wright’s Falling Water masterpiece.

Typical of Riff’s way of thinking and responding was where we both worked as designers, a carpenter complained that he intensely disliked his own first name because it gave him the image of being a country hick: Homer (as in “Homer and Jethro”). Riff immediately disagreed, pointing out that Homer is the name of the renowned, ancient Greek poet of The Iliad and The Odyssey. One of Riff’s favorite sayings was, “If you get a lemon, make lemonade.”

Usually, when we met, Riff would be carrying a bag full of newspaper clippings for me on artsy subjects I liked—in addition to the comic strip pages. At a memorial gathering for him, I found out that he did similar thoughtful service for numerous other friends of his I didn’t even know. He never created great art, but he was a constant encourager of myself and others in whatever our efforts, artistic or otherwise. As he often said to me: “If you don’t write, you’re wrong.”

Riff was one of the best parts of my life.

Riff Didn’t Like Having His Picture Taken,

So Here’s His Drawing of Me,

Made Soon After We Met.

(I was driving an MG-TD at the time.)

I Believe He Would Have Liked My Artsy Fartsys

and Encouraged Me in Doing Them.



1 Comment

  1. Tom says:

    This piece brings back some painful memories of my own stint as a newsboy and the creeps who thought nothing about cheating a 14-year-old kid not only out of his three center per paper profit, but out of the twelve cents he had to kick up to the newspaper company. And to Joe “Hai Karate” Randazzo in Apartment F-17, yeah, that was me who smeared the Limburger cheese on the muffler of your Porsche in 1974 – you skinflint low-life!

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