When I was eleven or twelve, all three of the children in the Wilson household had paper routes. Distributors dropped bundles of the Kitchener-Waterloo Record outside our house and Dad lugged them inside to organize the loads. Since the Record was an evening paper, we delivered the news after school and before dinner.
My route started three blocks from home and wound through a turn-of-the century neighbourhood and on to the semi-commercial section along the main street. Part of the block held larger, statelier homes; the rest were functional workers’ cottages. Buildings in the commercial section were converted homes with businesses on the main floor and apartments up. The tenants were students or elderly gentlemen. I delivered papers to a funeral parlour, a florist, a nursing home, and a couple of real estate agents.
One of the families hired me to babysit, another offered me my first kitten. I was bit by a dog for the first time, too! (Nasty nippy yippy thing!) The florist’s smelled of incense, and the students apartments of wacky tabacky. The kitchen belonging to the two-hundred-year-old German couple was always steaming hot and smelled of sauerkraut.
In those days, it was up to the carrier to collect the subscription fees, usually every Friday evening. Sometimes, if the customer was home when I delivered the paper, I’d get paid then. But most often it required a separate trip.
Most of the customers paid on time, and some tipped generously, especially at Christmas. Mr. Costello, one of the elderly gents was a favourite. He always wore his fedora, even indoors. He was kind, and I felt safe with him. I cannot say the same for the gentleman who lived above the real estate office on the corner.
At first there was nothing unusual about Mr. BVD. He was old, thin, and grey, and a bit hard-of-hearing, but otherwise no bother. Sometimes when I came by to collect the fee, he had left the change with the receptionist in the real estate office on the main floor. That was nice – saved me a trip up a steep flight of stairs.
But then things got weird.
One Friday evening, when he opened the door, he was naked except for his briefs. That was off-putting. Next week, the same. Briefs and a peculiar smile.
The third week, he started to change it up a little. It took him a long time to answer the door. I thought he was out, so I made my way down the stairs. Then I heard the door open. I turned around and there he was, in all his grisly, hairy … desperation. He was still in his briefs, but he rolled the waistband down and the legs up to fashion a hideous bikini bottom.
It was pathetic and frightening and made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I almost refused to accept the money in his outstretched hands. But fear of failing my duty trumped my fear of him.
I told my parents about it. They told me to pay him no attention, he was harmless. My brothers made some wisecracks about “The Underwear Salesman.”
The next week, I took a girlfriend with me. At first she hesitated to come along. Whether it was because she had better things to do on a Friday night, or she was just as worried as I, I cannot recall.
That time, he did not come to the door. Instead, he hollered, “Come in!”
Janet and I conferred outside his door. “Don’t do it!” she hissed. She turned to go back down the stairs.
“Wait!” I pleaded.
She stopped. I opened the door, and called out, “Hello? Mr. BVD?”
“The money is on the kitchen table.”
There it was, three steps inside the door. I held my breath, grabbed the pile of change, and bolted.
There was no “next time”. He either moved out or died.
Perhaps he was ill with dementia. Maybe he was arrested! I don’t know.
I do know that this story exemplifies perhaps one of the first times I let myself down. Because there was no protest, his bad behaviour was reinforced.
I suppressed my discomfort. Why? Because, I was good girl! Adults are safe and will do the right thing! I had an obligation to the newspaper company!
Was I that naïve? Yes, I was. I had very little understanding of sexuality in the first place and even less of sexual abuse. Of course I had heard of “dirty old men” but didn’t connect the dots to Mr. BVD. My parents’ “he’s harmless” answer made me think that I was over-reacting.
On the scale of perversion and sexual abuse, Mr. BVD with his naughty boy act is almost laughable. I even hesitate to call it “abuse”. The greater harm done in this scenario, I think, was when I did not listen to my inner guide.
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I have illustrated this story with Google Streetview images. What a transformation!
The commercial section, on the opposite side of the block has also undergone a change, but in typical, large urban center fashion:
The nursing home where my grandma stayed has been transformed into bar, “Club Abstract”. One of the real estate offices is a finance store featuring easy loans “Astral Finance, Inc.” with the words “The Mortgage Store” cut out of card stock and glued to the window.