One advantage of having ADD when you work in the business that I work in — the news business — is that I have this archive of unfinished columns I can turn to whenever I want to write. For every column I have published over the years, I probably have 10 that I started and never finished that are just sitting there on my laptop, dormant, like old bears hibernating through the winter, waiting for spring.
Most of the time, I am able to pick up where I left off. Unlike the real professionals who crank out copy on a daily basis — real journalists like Hatcher Hurd — I almost always wait to be inspired by something before I write. So, when I go back and review all those unfinished pieces, the inspiration or idea is almost always still there in some form.
I wandered through some of those old half-finished columns this morning and renewed my acquaintance with an old friend — actually two: my admiration for our newspaper delivery folks and the physical and emotional experience found in the act of delivering newspapers. The latter ties in nicely with one of the more current topics that I write about these days — how overwhelming life is now because of technology, complexity and disconnection.
It has now been a few years since I have gone out and delivered one of our newspaper routes. I used to do that when one of the carriers would call in sick or went on vacation or when the economy was tanking, and we needed to cut expenses.
Delivering newspapers is not rocket science, although it does require a set of functions and requirements — like endurance — that we do not normally exercise in our day-to-day lives. We deliver the newspapers to the same neighborhoods every week. We almost never change that.
Because the papers are free, the default is to deliver a newspaper to every house in the subdivision. The exception is when a resident has called or emailed or occasionally aggressively and loudly shouted at us — every few years, with a weapon in their hand — requesting or demanding that we not deliver the paper to their home. Seriously, I could tell you stories.
When that happens, we add the address to our “no-deliver” list and cease delivering to that home. We have now maintained that list for 29 years. Of the almost 75,000 papers we deliver weekly (actually 93,000 when one counts the Dunwoody Crier), there are roughly 500 (about a half of 1 percent) on the no-deliver list.
So, most of the time when one is delivering the papers, one enters the subdivision and simply starts turning right every time there is a road to the right and keeps tossing the paper out the passenger side window. Most of the time you can navigate the entire subdivision that way and not miss a single home — toss, toss, turn right, toss, toss, toss, turn right etc. Occasionally there are subdivisions where that doesn’t work, and one has to double back many times and reverse direction many times. Seven Oaks off Sargent Road is an example and Martins Landing in Roswell is another.
So, delivering a route forces one to focus on the road in front of you and at the approaching driveway at the same time — and keep watch in your peripheral vision for the house numbers for the next no-deliver address. You grab a paper from the bag (without taking your eyes off the road) in the seat next to you, then toss it accurately out the passenger window — again not really looking — aiming for the middle of the driveway or, if it is supposed to rain that day, for the closest patch of grass adjacent to the driveway. Then again, and again, and again.
I usually drove in the middle of the night starting around 11 p.m. and finishing sometime before 6 a.m. Typically, I was listening to classical music — the great symphonies, or when I tired, sometimes some CCR or Stones. Time would pass without notice. The car (or in my case, truck) became like a bubble, isolated from the rest of the world. All that existed was the road ahead, driveways, music and right turns.
My mind would wander. I often had conversations with old lost friends or my dead parents. I went back to the past and projected to the future. I reviewed the day’s school stories from my kids — Hans and Amelia or Carl. I would drift aimlessly in my mind. Throw, throw, throw, turn right.
The most surprising thing would occur when I threw a route for a couple days. My brain changed — literally. My memory would, like magic, improve dramatically. And it’s not like I went from pre-dementia or anything to semi-normal. I went from more or less normal to something akin to memory on steroids. I mean, everything became retrievable. Every time I needed to remember something, it came to me, instead of ending on “I just can’t quite remember, I’m sure it will come.”
At first I attributed it to some sort of fluke, but later, after repeated amazing feats of memory recall, I finally decided that whatever was going on was real — or, as my son Carl likes to say, “a thang.”
Then it occurred to me that the same thing happened — and more — when I hiked the Appalachian Trail. My memory gains were almost supernatural. But in addition, after the hike, my involuntary reflexes became lightning-fast as opposed to “adequate.”
It almost became absurd. At one point I actually started counting the number of times I would sort of see something falling or sliding off a counter and rescue it in mid-air — with no conscious mental decision on my part — like David Carradine snatching that fly out of the air.
So I have milked that partial column enough — probably too much already. Yes I may have a couple of cures for dementia, but one is a bit harder than the other. If you want enhanced memory and lightning-fast reflexes, you’ve got to take six months off and hike the trail. If you’re OK with just getting your memory back, all you’ve got to do is call and I’ll put you on the back-up substitute list for down routes. I’ll warn you now that the pay ain’t great, but you’ll get to have some great conversations with dead friends and you’ll be able to impress everyone at the bar when you show them how good you are at catching flies in mid-air.
You can’t make this stuff up. I promise.