Swap Meet: Another Smith Place Story (Part 3)
As the truck started and we left Smith Place I got the sight of Roberta coming out to her front yard. When she saw me, she let out a yell, but we were moving, and her yell was drowned out by the low gear shifting of Roy’s truck.
I pretended I was in jail and at first started rattling the two-by-four fencing that picketed the tail gate. The cars behind me started to honk, thinking I was in trouble. When we turned onto the Pacific Coast Highway I settled onto my back and started enjoying bouncing on the newspaper mattressed bed.
Any time we would hit a bump and I would fly a few inches into the air. The first time it happened I thought I’d be thrown from the bed. But after a while each bump was like being thrown, infant style, into the air.
We reached the docks, and I could feel the downshifting gears announce our stop. The dock worker was checking each vehicle for its intended sale: moving cardboard sellers and bottle sellers to different lines. When he came to check Roy’s truck, he yelled what the hell is this kid doing here. Get him out before I call the cops.
Roy told me to climb out, never bothered to remove the fencing on the tailgate and so I jungle gymed my way out by climbing up one side of the fencing and down the other.
When the dock worker saw that I was fine, he looked over the papers and told Roy to go to the scales.
It turns out they weigh the paper by weighing the truck twice: once with paper in it and then again with the paper out. I had been wondering how they would weigh the paper. I thought they were going to make us empty the truck into a scale container and that I was going to be the one doing the work for several more hours, so I really liked the weighing twice idea.
There were lots of trucks in front of us and Roy kept the truck running because turning it off was always an adventure and restarting sometimes a hit or miss proposition. It was hot that day and luckily Roy was not stingy with the water, but Three and me kept having to jump out and go behind a dumpster to relieve ourselves throughout the hour we waited.
When our turn finally came, they motioned us to a newspaper mountain pile and told us to toss the papers there and then go around to the pay station to settle-up. Roy did not move an inch and told us they were our papers and that we should go dump them out. Roy then opened his lunch pail and started chewing on the first big sandwich he found.
Three thought he was going to stay in the cab with Roy, but Roy gave him a look that said this time you help out. I laughed at Three as we jumped out and he just called me a punk and came around the back. We lifted off the fencing on the tailgate and started throwing papers onto the mountain the truck was abutting.
As with any chore I made a game out of it. I climbed to the top area of bed near the cab slid down the newspaper grade, taking a layer of papers with me and landing on the mountain side next to the truck. When Three saw me do this, he got into the act and we slid those papers off the truck in less than an hour.
Three and I were streaked in newspaper ink, but we did not care. We were about to get our hundred dollars. We would be the richest kids on Signal Hill. When the final accounting was done, we received disappointing news. All those newspapers only brought us $25 dollars. Roy took the five-dollar bills and put them in his pocket. I immediately yelled what are you doing?
Roy wanted no scene at the docks and told me that we would do the accounting back at his house. Accounting, what the heck is an accounting. I looked at Three and asked him what he had arranged, but Three just sat mute trying to disappear into the truck’s worn bench seat.
When we got back to Smith Place, Roy took us to the kitchen table and laid out the twenty-five dollars. He then said: Like I told Three I would rent you the truck for five dollars and hour and you would pay for gas. So, door-to-door this job took three hours. I am not charging you for the time you took to load the truck because that would add two more hours. He said it like he was doing us a favor.
He said: the gas to get to the docks and cost another two more dollars. And then move fee for driving there is another three dollars. Roy then took twenty dollars and move them to his pile and then moved five dollars to Three and I’s pile.
Three then said since I made the deal with Roy, I get three dollars and he pushed two dollars onto my pile.
I saw right then and there that Roy was training Three to be a Roy and that I was the sap who slaved all day for two dollars, something I could have made just selling papers one day.
I took my two dollars, but I learned lots about business that day and that is the lesson I paid for in so many ways. I was not mad. I was too tired to be angry. I just did what all slighted businesspeople do: I made sure to remember what Roy and Three did to me for an opportunity that would come another day.