Monthly Archives: November 2015

Door to door to door

This past year I delivered a slightly-more-than-monthly newsletter in my community. I was asked to do it by the coordinator. It has what I believe would be referred to as nominal pay, or a stipend, or some other word that says “a little something for your trouble.” You don’t do this for the money. I didn’t realize it immediately but mine is the biggest route of the several that cover the area. After I took it on, it became more or less obvious why that particular route, with almost 200 houses, was up for grabs. It’s a bit of a task. A lot of walking and short steps to climb & descend at each home. And like the mail, it gets delivered independent of weather conditions. Snow, hot, cold, etcetera. You have to be in good shape or else it would take a lot longer to get the job done (or maybe you’d do it over the course of 2-3 days).

I never had a newspaper route or anything I consistently delivered as a child or later on in life. I’ve done the occasional one-time-only delivery of one thing or another; at least I think I have. Let’s say if I did, it was long ago. I never sold anything door-to-door. My mother wouldn’t have allowed it when I was a kid or teenager and I was disinclined to do anything like that for work, ever. Merely dropping off a newsletter is different. It’s supposed to be hung on the doorknob, inside the storm door if there is one. (I’ve noticed that not all the carriers follow that particular directive but I’m a goody-two shoes girl who follows instructions so I do.)

I now have NO IDEA how mail carriers can stand the tedium and repetitiveness of their work, let alone dealing with whatever weather conditions are afoot, quite literally at times. And I say this as someone assigned to delivery way, way, way less often. The bags they carry packed with annual reports, catalogues, and packages are heavy, unlike the slim newsletters I carry. It’s a good thing mail carriers earn a decent living. In recent years I’ve seen a few local mail carriers blabbing away on cell phones while they deliver the mail, no doubt to make the time pass quicker, but I can’t help but think they probably mess up their deliveries more often when they are distracted like that.

I started when Christmas lights and decorations were still up from 2014 and that was nice, getting to see what people had done in their yards or to spruce up their doors. It was festive and I like festive.

Typically delivering during the day, I don’t often run into people which is fine because I’m making tracks, baby. No time to dawdle. Certain things struck me. Since I think photos would be an invasion of privacy, I’ll do my best to describe a few of the notables.

I love the house with the gunmetal/silver oval shaped doorknob. Oval! I just had never seen such a thing. I thought door knobs had to be round. Oval seems fanciful. I dunno, like something from Alice in Wonderland.

One house has rickety steps leading to a rickety tiny front porch that, peculiarly, has white interlocked tiles set on top of the wood planks, except that they’re not really interlocked and slide about. What the??? I can’t make heads or tails of this set-up. Are the tiles meant to cover up rotting wood? And exactly how would that help anyway? When it was winter and icy, I gingerly stepped up onto the porch, hoping not to plummet through or slide off. As I turned to leave, I took hold of the wood support beam at the corner of the porch to steady myself, only to find that it swung freely! It wasn’t attached to the porch at the base.

Dogs are naturally part of my delivery experience. At one house I thought the barking dogs sounded awfully loud as I approached. I had quite a surprise when I swung open the storm door and saw two livid, barking, growling dog heads thrusting out the main door. All the glass was missing from the window panes on the top half of the door so the dogs could stick their heads right through.


They were not at all pleased to be receiving their newsletter. From one delivery to the next monthly one, I would forget little details about the route, but not this one, not this one. I didn’t open that door again. (“What’s behind Door Number 3? Let’s not find out!”) I am happy to say eventually the door was replaced with a solid one….

Handwritten notes appear on some doors. These are interesting. One advises NOT to ring the doorbell. I guess the dogs inside (which I hear/see) about lose their minds when the doorbell chimes. Another asks the mail carrier not to use the mail slot in the door as their dogs routinely chew up the mail. I bet that was a real treat to regularly come home to find bills, greeting cards, and checks shredded about the floor. Another homeowner substituted a box for mail while birds temporarily nested in their mailbox, with a sign posted to that effect. Yet another home’s note strongly insisted that workmen not enter when the resident is not present. I’m pleased to say that I can’t recall any particular fire-n-brimstone notes (I’m thinking of an old neighbor of my own who had a handwritten note on his door mentioning the four horsemen and the Apocalypse).

There is a real intimacy to coming so close to people’s homes. I am enchanted to visit the house that has all the pretty chimes hanging from its large front porch roof. It seems so friendly and inviting, although I do wonder if the neighbors love all those chimes the way I, effectively a passer-by, do.

I don’t like the white-painted “ghost bike” chained to the front fence of another house. If I was a neighbor, I would not like having to look at it every day either. Not sure what it accomplishes. Memorials to dead loved ones have their place but I don’t think that’s one of them, i.e., in your front yard, permanently.

A life-size dachshund statue with realistic eyes stands sentry at one house. I have to say the fellow gave me a start the first couple times we met but now I remember he’s there. My kind of dog. Quiet, mannerly.


There weren’t that many vegetable gardens this past summer. Perhaps more of them were in the back yards where I wouldn’t have seen them, and then again, the many full grown trees are counter-productive to raising sun-loving vegetables. And if you work full-time and/or are raising a family, a vegetable garden probably seems like too much work/trouble. I thought about this because I live in a pro-nature community and would have expected to see more food-producing yards.

Since I’m swinging open storm doors if they are present, I often smell different things emanating from inside the houses. Sometimes it’s cooking scents. Occasionally they are delicious! Not always. Stale cigarette smoke greets me in a couple homes. Or pet aromas.

I startled both myself and homeowners on two occasions when I swung open the storm door expecting to hang my newsletter on the inner main door only to find that door was open and I was staring into the home at a resident! Ooops. Each time I apologized and hurriedly closed the storm door, leaving the newsletter on the outside.

A pet owner leaves their door open for the cat that I’ve seen leashed out front a few times. I scare it even when I don’t mean to and it runs fearfully back inside, dragging its rope leash behind it.

One house seems abandoned except I’m pretty sure I saw some people headed toward it once. It looks creepy, unkempt and overgrown on the outside and even odder, when I approach the front door, I can see clear through the house to the wooded area behind it because either there IS no back door or it’s been left wide open. Don’t wildlife tend to come inside when a door is left open for a long time?? I don’t know the story on this place but I’m sure there is one. If I ever turn up missing on my rounds, that’s the house that should be checked first.

I love, love, love “the breakfast nook.” This house has a small, three-sided addition on the front, with windows on all sides. In it is a round light-colored wood table and chairs. It’s adorable. I can so see myself sitting in there having coffee and reading the paper, perhaps having a chat with a friend, whiling away the morning. It’s just big enough for the table and chairs setup but the three sides of windows make it open and airy, not claustrophobic. I have never looked in and seen anyone in there (nor evidence of coffee cups or newspapers) but I like to imagine the scenario. Did whoever had it built have that in mind too?

One storm door is the old-fashioned, glass-slatted kind I associate with beach houses (which these are most certainly not). For that reason, I feel fondly toward it. It’s rare, among the standard, run-of-the-mill storm doors. I think this type has a crank which allows you to open or close the glass slats. (I’m not sure why they’d be a beach thing except perhaps glass is less inclined toward rotting in the salt air than is wood?)

Certain of the storm doors I encounter are locked and I make a game trying to remember which ones they are from one month to the next. One house I thought had a locked storm door doesn’t in fact; I just need to use a lot of strength to yank it open. I can’t help but think it must be very irritating to its owners, trying to wrestle into their own home every time they come home. Another home is missing a door knob on its storm door and in its place is a string to pull, which I gamely do.

A couple houses have so much crap piled up in front of their doors and along the walks leading to them that yet again I consider the poor mail carrier or other delivery people who have to wend their way through all this stuff to reach the mailbox or porch. The temptation to kick some of it must be great (or is that just me?!). I am nimble and have yet to knock over a clay pot or smash a figurine that’s blocking egress. But I want to ask the homeowners: What are you thinking? Why is all this crap out here? Can’t you move it so delivery people can get through?


I don’t typically encounter homeowners but when I do they are usually friendly. Only one was kinda unpleasant, snarling about deliveries. And another let her unleashed growling dog block my way, even after I took pains to go around it. I did wonder about one fellow who, for a time seemed to almost be waiting for my monthly delivery, popping out of his house with a grinning hello like clockwork as I passed. I didn’t know him. I am friendly but keep moving. As I say, there is an intimacy to this delivery business but a respectful distance is in order too. I try not to look inside people’s homes for more than a glance. It seems too personal. Homes reveal a lot.

I’ve thought about how I feel when the shoe is on the other foot. I cannot stand any kind of door-to-door canvassing, politicking, selling, or proselytizing. I feel quite different about people delivering mail, packages, or information I’m expecting or want. If I happen to encounter said deliverers I say hello and thank you. There’s an awkwardness to unexpectedly meeting one another that a bit of friendliness can ease. Funnily enough though, I don’t feel all that awkward or imposing when I’m delivering my newsletter because I’m supposed to be there. I’m expected, however infrequently.

Young, middle, old

I have a theory – which is almost certainly not original in that while I did think it up, it’s likely well-documented or at least considered in social psychology tomes – that as we move through life we pay the most attention to our own peer group. So, when you’re a kid, you notice other kids. When you’re middle-aged, you notice other middle-aged people. And when you’re elderly, you notice other elderly.

I remember how much I zeroed in on other children when I was a child. Anecdotally, I was so excited when we got new neighbors and I saw little bikes being unloaded off the moving truck. Children! They have children!! Children to play with! As I type those words now, they seem bizarre as I consider what my reaction would likely be if I saw the same scene today.

Then, however, everywhere I went, I was pleased when I saw other children at hand. Which is not to say encounters with other kids always went off so swimmingly. Still, despite unpleasantries I remained optimistic about them as a group.

As I got older, my focus stayed generally with my peer group. I know I’m not alone in this. I watch people all the time and like tends to stay with like. When people cross generations (aside from relatives) in their friendships and relationships it stands out. Others notice.

(I think the internet has facilitated crossing generational – and other – divides between adults because it places the focus on what people have to say over how they look.)

Interacting with children one is not related to has become so fraught, I almost entirely pay little mind to children as a group. Since I don’t have children of my own, I don’t often find myself around kids. I almost never speak to a child beyond a brief hello unless their parent or guardian is there and then I am casting looks at the adult to signal my benign intentions and make sure everything is copacetic. Aside from these rare times, I mostly notice kids when they’re being obnoxious.

When I was younger, I really didn’t pay much attention to elderly people, except if they were related to me. As I think about this now in middle-age, though, it occurs to me that there weren’t as many elderly when I was a child. Not like now. Plus I just didn’t see them out and about, unless it was at church or something.

It’s been recently, I don’t know, the last decade or so, that I became more aware of my inattention to elderly as a group. Maybe I was sort of afraid of them when I was younger. I didn’t “get” them. And believed, from how I was raised, that I had to be wildly deferential toward them. That they were beyond reproach. Realizing that idea was nonsense and that elderly people weren’t special or entitled (independent of how they acted) changed my thinking.

I’m always good about helping older people when they need or want it but that’s no different than my approach to everybody. When I see an elderly person, especially one with a cane or other aid, approach a door, I’m quick to hold it open. My height makes me useful in stores for reaching up to nab an item off a shelf for what is usually an elderly lady. What a pain the ass that must be; when you can’t reach up to get the stuff on the top shelves or bend down to fetch the ones on the bottom shelves. Resigned to a diet of eye-level foods.

Most elderly people I see in public are in the background, not doing anything to draw attention to themselves. They are focused on their task. Do they lack the energy for anything else? Did just getting out take up their reserves? Or is it a defense, hoping that going unnoticed will keep them from harm? Does everybody look like a potential enemy when you can’t physically defend yourself? (Hmm, I guess you could say the same about kids, except that mostly I suspect that generally kids don’t know how the world can hurt them. And/or they count on being able to run away.)

There have been times I’ve engaged in conversations with elderly people and regretted it for one reason or another. To be fair, I could again say the same of people generally. And while I’ve never been openly rude to an elderly person, I don’t feel any obligation to hang around to listen to monologues, diatribes or ugly talk.

I’ll tell you what specifically started me on this thread now. Yesterday I was in a drugstore and an elderly man walked through, his hands tidily grasped together behind his lower back, the body language of someone feeling casual and at-ease. You don’t often see people walking around like that any more, have you noticed? It’s more the gesture of a man than a woman – a woman in public is more likely to have her arms at her sides or in front of her. And or clutching a purse or bag.

Anyway, I also considered that the man might not be quite okay either. See, I caught myself ignoring him initially, as if he didn’t warrant a look. And I thought how shitty is that? So I made a point to look up and make eye contact when our paths crossed a second time in the store. His expression was a bit blank, possibly confused, i.e., not engaged and friendly. Nonetheless, I thought, does it kill me to make eye contact? To acknowledge a person, even if there’s no reason to do anything more?

I don’t like being so wedded to my “group,” to the point I barely acknowledge those significantly younger or older. I’m not certain there’s a whole lot to be done about it, other than staying alert and not limiting my attention when possible.