I could lug all the papers
slung over my shoulder
in my big-canvas-news-paper-bag
on weekdays and Saturdays
But on Sunday mornings,
New York City had too much
to say to itself
and too many newspapers
to say it in,
especially for a ten-year-old-body to heft:
The New York Times;
The Daily News;
The World Telegram and Sun:
The Herald Tribune…
So, I’d deliver what I could carry
to my first block,
refill my sack,
deliver the next block,
race back home, refill, deliver…
till I delivered all their papers
to my customers.
I had an eight-city-block-square to deliver
so I’d start early on Sunday morning
and finish late
and my customers complained a little
about their Sunday-morning-breakfasts
with their late-arriving papers,
but I guess we all figured,
“What the Hell, better late than never…!”
Until I discovered a maybe-almost-solution
leaning against the old clapboard house
of a costumer,
a Mrs. Finley,
a widow lady who owned her house and property
in the middle of my route.
A rusting, painted red shopping cart
from some unidentifiable grocery store,
forgotten by its previous owners
and resting on its side in Mrs. Finley’s back yard.
I was sure it could hold
that mountain of Sunday papers,
but how could I get it?
How could I accomplish this first
of my budding business career?
It’s amazing how much
how much Machiavellian plotting
can wind through the mind
of a ten year old!
How to ask?
How much to offer?
Does the old lady ever use the cart?
Does she even remember she has it?
Could I just steal it?
Was it worth the risk of JUVY
and a life of crime?
For two weeks I connived.
For two weeks I worried.
I shredded Mom and Dads patience
with proposed tactical scenarios
and sinister stratagies…
Finally, I just knocked on her door.
is it collection day already?
I am not sure I have the cash!
Will you take an IOU?”
“No! No! Mrs. Finley!
I’ve come to make an offer
on your cart.”
(so much for agonizing forethought…)
(and in for a penny….!)
(I was ready to go to fifteen,
but negotiations have to start somewhere…)”
“Oh, that red shopping cart?”
She looked up into her door jam and said,
“See Charles! I told you it would come to this!”
Then she stared at me.
“My late husband stole that thing
from the A’n’P parking loton Main Street.
He snuck it home in our old Ford truck.”
He painted it red in the garage.
He waited two years before he brought it outside.
Then he used it to carry
wood for the fireplace
and flower pots
and the like…”
I’ve felt guilty about
that Damn thing for twenty years
but Charles always said,
‘The AnP will never miss it!’
but he died
and I didn’t know what to do with it!
I made an anomymous phone call
to AnP headquarters
but it had been gone for so long
they weren’t even interested!”
She sighed and smiled at me.
“I’ll give it to you, young man.
It’s been a scarlet wagon
hanging on this house for too long!”
I want you to say something…
‘I forgive you.
Though your sin be scarlet,
it shall be like snow”
“Ego te absolvo.”
It’s hard to talk when your brain is frozen.
“You mean just say that and it’s mine?”
It’s not complicated.
I will write it out for you if you need…”
I did like she asked
And the cart was mine.
I walked home, pushing my prize,
my pearl of little price.
A decade later, in college,
I read THE SCARLET LETTER.
Then I understood
Mrs. Finley’s delima and relief.
I know now that Dimsdale’s abound.
I’ve played that role myself.
We all have rusty, red shopping carts
hanging from our hearts
if we’re blessed,
we find a priest.
we get to be one.
I don’t think God minds a bit.