Anyone who knows me, knows I’m a straightforward, matter-of-fact guy. I don’t like playing games. However, if someone insists on playing games, I’ll usually find a way to win.
Like a lot of Americans, when I was younger, I had a paper route. As far as jobs go, if you can call a paper route a job, it was fairly simple. I spent an hour each day, Monday to Saturday, delivering the papers. I tried not to be one of those paper boys who just threw the papers haphazardly somewhere near the house, choosing to pay attention to each of my customers likes and dislikes. Some of them wanted the paper in the box, some preferred it to be placed inside the screen door, others didn’t want it rolled up, and a few of them had some bizarre requests; like hiding the paper inside their car or under the doormat. I figured it was my job to accommodate them all - and I did.
So far, so good, right? The problem came in at the end of the month. Collection time. The way the system worked was; I received a bill from the newspaper, stating how much money I needed to collect and what amount to forward on to them. The rest was mine. What this meant was any shortages by the customers came out of my pocket. While most customers paid promptly with no objection, a few of them routinely tried to avoid me, or make excuses in order to delay the inevitable. Sometimes it took a week or more to receive all of my money, but with a little persistence I usually did get it. One particular lady however, was a bit more difficult.
From the beginning, it was a chore to collect from her. I learned to be creative in my mission to extract my money from her pocket. No, I didn’t resort to stealing it, if anyone is wondering. I would show up at unexpected times, knock on a different door, or try to catch her outside. This went on for several months with her grumbling each time she actually had to pay for her paper. Then one day she informed me she wasn’t going to pay and to not come asking for it again. I politely (almost) told her she would need to call the newspaper office if she wished to have her subscription stopped, but meanwhile, she still owed me for two months’ papers. Her answer was that she did not want to cancel, but she still refused to pay. Well, I had a simple solution for that. I stopped delivering her paper. I didn’t think it was my responsibility to pay for her to read the news.
A couple of months later, I was informed by the circulation manager that it indeed was my responsibility to deliver her paper - even if she did not pay. I was told we have to keep the customers happy or we would lose subscriptions. Apparently, newspapers owners place more emphasis on the number of subscribers than on their profit. Or not. Turns out, she and the circulation manager were somehow related and he had been delivering the paper to her for the last two months.
“So, if she doesn’t pay can I deduct it from the amount I owe?” I asked.
No, I was told. Collecting was part of my job and I had to pay the full amount on my bill. Furthermore, I was not allowed to stop delivering someone’s paper for non-payment.
I had a better idea. Taking the papers from my bag, I laid them on the counter and told the manager to deliver them himself. And walked out.
It took three weeks for him to call me. He had been running my route but it was taking up too much time. It seems he couldn’t find anyone who wanted a paper route. He then asked if I would consider taking it back.
“Sure,” I said. “But here’s the deal; I get my money first. I’ll give you a list of those who do not pay and you can deal with them.”
Apparently, the man really was busy because he agreed. For the next several months, at collection time, I made one, and only one, stop at each house - even if the customer wasn’t home. Then, I took out my money and gave the newspaper what was left - along with a list of those who hadn’t paid, just as promised. As I said, I don’t like games but when forced to play, I do play to win.
About two years later, after I’d moved on to bigger and better things, I was talking to a friend who still delivered papers and was happily amused by something he told me. Some of the other paperboys had gotten wind of the deal I’d struck and had demanded the same. Eventually, the newspaper had revamped their billing system. The paperboys no longer collected. Customers were sent a bill each month. And... the best part... if the bill was not paid, their subscription was suspended! After two months of no payment it was canceled!
Now, where had I heard that idea before?