Iím pretty much immune from letting little things get under my skin.

Iím pretty much immune from letting little things get under my skin. For one thing, thereís not much room under it since my body uses up about all space available.

I had another wet newspaper in my box this morning. It happens way too frequently.

But my gripe has less to do with a newspaper and more to do with the business overall. Newspapers are imbedded in my cultural DNA.

I canít exactly figure out why I need to mix a paper with my Cheerios every morning. It canít be the national news articles. I already know whatís going on because of 24/7 cable.

I suspect my appreciation of the industry stems from what newspapers did for us American youth back in the "day." This country owes a huge debt of gratitude for the spectacular benefits newspapers bestowed on kids before society got so haywire.

Running paper routes were standard rites of passage when I was growing up. None of us thought about feelings of self-satisfaction we got from earning our own money but it certainly produced a special tingle.

Oh my, what delivering, collecting, dealing with customers, paying for "product" and fixing complaints taught us? I learned about margins and profits and losses. I learned about accounts receivable and inevitable "bad debts." I learned about hard work.

But I suppose first and foremost, I learned the practical meaning of responsibility. I learned that my obligations to my customers and to my publisher werenít trumped or negated by bad weather or a runny nose.

I learned marketing, expanding my route by giving good service to "clients" and signing up the neighbors. I believe I learned more useful and practical hands-on lessons about business by delivering papers than comes out of colleges.

"Experience is the best teacher" is more than hollow homily. I and my fellow paperboys grew into responsible and productive "businessmen" before we could even spell it.

I ran routes in California at El Toro and North Carolina when Dad transferred to Cherry Point. I recall how black my hands would get from printerís ink after folding my routeís bundle.

I can still fold and tuck with some speed, although my throw has suffered. I used to hit the porch, today Iíd probably miss the whole yard and wreck my bike.

Iíll always be grateful for the opportunities newspapers gave me that have translated so well over the decades. Itís sad that young folks today have been denied those same opportunities. Itís our loss.

I donít blame anybody in particular for the death of paperboys. Itís just one of many sad sacrifices weíve made upon the altar of "progress."

As to my wet paper this morning, this paperboy wouldíve put it in plastic because I knew rain was coming. Thanks Skip.

Otis Gardnerís column appears here weekly. He can be reached at ogardner@embarqmail.com.