MITCHELL’S MUSINGS: Delivering good news

Columnist Glenn Mitchell reflects on Steve Martin and delivering phone books

“The phone books are here. The phone books are here. The phone books are here. The phone books are here.”

– Steve Martin in The Jerk

OK, maybe this quote and scene from the classic (in my opinion) movie from the ‘70s doesn’t have the emotional impact for you that it may have for yours truly but I couldn’t help but think of it as I picked up my new version of the phone book this week.

Perhaps I can shed some light on why it brings a smile to my face.

First the scene. Steve Martin’s character is living in the back of a gas station/garage when he receives his phone book and excitedly dances (as only he can) through the gas pumps while exclaiming the above quote.

You see, he explains, his dad told him you’re finally a somebody when your name appears in the phone book, thus the excitement on his part.

Sooooo, here comes the personal anecdote to flush out the meaning of the scene for, hopefully, your amusement.

Back in the early ‘80s I was just getting over some surgery and recovering at my parents place in Kamloops and needing to get back into the job market. So, scanning the classifieds I noticed the ad for people to deliver the new phone books that were coming out.

Hey, I delivered papers for five years as a kid, so I was qualified, and I needed to get out of the house and earn some money and get some exercise so why not?

Well, it was only for a few days and it turned out it didn’t pay much and apparently phone books are heavier than newspapers so you can’t exactly do it on your bike or by foot so I needed to utilize my car, and my gas and my….

But hey I was up for it and life is an experience, right, so make the best of it.

So I drove my four-door green, with a white roof, Valiant Brougham (that I bought off my dad, yes, I was a happening guy) from way out in Westsyde to the motel room/office in Valleyview (a long ways), loaded up the trunk and back seat with books and drove back to Westsyde where my routes were, and got to work.

I tried not to think about how much money I was making and focus more on the fresh air and experience of the moment.

However, it was winter time and I believe the temperature was around -20 Celsius (although that could be a slight exaggeration for effect, but it was damn cold).

The sun was shining though and as I parked the car and started delivering the books I tried to put on a brave face and at first I was OK.

I was getting exercise, delivering something people wanted and used to their doorstep, and I wasn’t at home feeling sorry for myself, wondering where life was going to take me next.

However, it was damn cold and I had to leave the car running all the time, leaving me wondering if I was actually going to make any money at all, and fatigue and frustration were leading to a feeling of failure and I was in need of some inspiration.

That’s when that scene rescued me and brought a much-needed smile to my face. I wasn’t just delivering phone books, as I pictured Steve Martin’s excitement in my mind, I was spreading joy throughout the land.

I was letting people know they were somebodies, after all. I was the Johnny Appleseed of phone books, I couldn’t stop now, people were depending on me, I was changing lives……

Well, you get the idea. It worked for me and kept me going through a difficult few days and I’m sure there was the odd recipient of a phone book who was wondering why I was so happy, even giggling on occasion.

So thanks Steve. And, ironically, here I am, 30 years later and under different circumstances, still letting people know “the phone books are here, the phone books are here….”


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