Paper shacks—places of bad habits, bad language, and bad influences. All the questions about growing up can be answered by the guys at the shack. Stay low, watch, and listen and you’ll learn the latest curse words and how to string them together; what girls go all-the-way and what all-the-way means; how to be tough, cool, and strike a match and light a cigarette using only one hand.
He’s ten years old. He needs answers.
The shack serves as a depot where the truck drops off bundles of the daily newspaper. The guys are the carriers who deliver the papers to subscribers on their routes. Shack one-oh-seven is located on the edge of a vacant lot at First and Nanaimo, behind the B&B Grocery.
He helps the teenager who delivers the paper on his street.
Only carriers are allowed in the shack, so he loiters at the open door. Peering into the murky gloom he catches glimpses of his heroes, thumbs hooked in jeans, jacket collars up, vaselined waterfalls and ducktails, packs of cigarettes tucked in the sleeves of tight-fitting t-shirts, wisps of smoke curling from their nostrils.
Finally, he gets his chance. For two months he’ll deliver a route for a carrier during summer holidays. He’ll make two dollars and fifty cents a month, but more importantly, he’ll be allowed in the shack every day to get the papers.
He tells his parents. That’s nice, they say. Don’t get into trouble and be sure to be home for dinner
“Who let the shrimp in?” someone asks the first day he enters the shack.
He slinks into a dark corner and climbs on the bench. The structure is the size of a single-car garage with no windows and one door. The interior is lit by a naked, forty-watt bulb and only in the doorway or underneath the light can things be seen clearly. The rest is in shadows including the faces of the teens who sit on the benches built out from the side and back walls.
His fingernails pick at the petrified gum on the underside of the varnished two-by-eights. His eyes focus on the motto “East Van Rules” carved into a support beam beside him. The thick air smells of newsprint, stale cigarette smoke, and Juicy Fruit. He takes a breath, a deep one, to suck in the aroma.
He sits there, legs dangling, in awed silence, listening while eighteen older boys smoke, curse, and talk about sex as they wait in the stuffy twilight for the truck to arrive.
Does it get any better than this?
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