The Paper Chase

As an old newspaperman living in a digital age, I am often asked if print will survive. My answer is yes, and for a very important reason: You can't wrap fish in a website. Besides, what are you supposed to do, housebreak your dog on an iPad?

That's why my columns, aside from their obvious benefit of being a cure for insomnia, are so valuable.

If one thing has irrevocably changed, however, it's newspaper delivery, which used to be done by kids on bikes. Now it's done by adults in cars.

In my never-ending quest for column material that can be used by puppy owners to keep their carpets clean, I recently rode with Lucille Marshak, a newspaper carrier whose best delivery on a dark and stormy night wasn't the newspaper but, fittingly, a dog.

I met Lucille at a gas station at 3:45 a.m. and climbed into the back of her 2011 Kia Sedona, which already has nearly 200,000 miles on it and was filled with hundreds of newspapers that Lucille unfailingly delivers, every day except Christmas, through rain, snow, sleet and gloom of night.

On this gloomy night, it was rain that Lucille had to drive through.

I told her that my younger daughter used to deliver our hometown paper, The Stamford Advocate in Connecticut, when she was about 12 and that I once took over for her on a Sunday morning when she was sleeping at a friend's house.

"It was murder," I added. "I had to lug those heavy papers in a bag around the neighborhood. And I didn't even have a bike."

"Kids don't do that anymore," said Lucille, who is 61 and for the past 25 years has been delivering Newsday of Long Island, New York, where I now live.

As we made our way through the wooded back roads of Lucille's long and winding route, which was eerily illuminated by the headlights of her car, a dog suddenly appeared out of the fog.

"I spoke with the owners earlier," said Lucille, who began at 1 a.m., "and promised I'd be on the lookout for the dog."

The dog apparently was on the lookout for Lucille, who pulled over and, at my suggestion, opened the back door. The pooch, a beautiful husky, hopped in and shook herself off, giving me the shower I didn't have time to take.

"Do you have to go to the bathroom?" I asked the dog. "We have plenty of newspapers."

The grateful canine, who didn't take advantage of my offer, for which I was grateful, slobbered me in kisses.

When Lucille pulled up to the dog's house, her sibling owners, Chris and Jenna Dooley, both in their 20s, came running out. Their father, Charles, stood at the door.

"I was walking on the wet road in a pair of socks, calling her in the rain," said Chris, adding that the dog's name is Dakota and that she's almost 2 years old. "My friend was over and when he opened the door to leave, she scooted out."

It was now 4:15, way past Dakota's bedtime.

"Come on, Dakota, let's go inside," said Chris. But Dakota didn't want to leave, preferring to snuggle with me. Eventually she relented and went with Chris, who put her on a leash. "Thank you so much," he said.

"Aren't you forgetting something?" asked Lucille, who extended her hand out the driver's-side window and said, "Here's your paper."

For the next four hours, Lucille regaled me with stories, like the one about the woman who came out to get the paper naked, and the one about the angry guy who chased her in his car and tried to run her off the road because he didn't want an advertising supplement.

She also showed me how to make a perfect hook shot, left-handed (she's a righty) and over the roof of the car, to get the paper to land in subscribers' driveways.

Then there was the Stolen Paper Caper, which occurred on the route of Lucille's husband, Ron, who co-owns the family delivery service, which has included their three now-grown children.

"Two women were arrested for taking papers because they wanted the coupons," Lucille recalled. "Ron and I were interviewed on TV."

Ironically, a guy in my neighborhood has been stealing papers, including mine, while he walks his dog.

"Maybe the dog isn't housebroken," suggested Lucille, who has two dogs of her own and plenty of canine friends on her route.

"If it will help," I said at the end of a fascinating night in which I saw how hard Lucille, Ron and other newspaper carriers work, "I'll give the guy copies of my column. His dog will be greatly relieved."

Stamford Advocate humor columnist Jerry Zezima is the author of three books. His latest is "Grandfather Knows Best." Visit his blog at www.jerryzezima.blogspot.com. Email: JerryZ111@optonline.net.

Copyright 2016 by Jerry Zezima