The Post of Saturday, Aug. 29, weighed precisely 1 pound, 9.5 ounces. At 5:46 a.m., the Post carrier, at a distance of 10 feet, hurled the folded newspaper onto the porch of the Paske household in Fairfax City. It bounced once and slammed into the bottom of the aluminum storm door, purchased three years ago for $90 during a sale at Hechinger's.
Those, so far, are the undisputed facts. Established, too, is that there is now a heavy dent in the aluminum panel of the storm door, which has so distorted the frame that it is no longer airtight. With winter coming, this could mean higher fuel bills. Anne Paske wants a new door.
In contention is whether the dent was actually caused by the impact of The Post and whether the paper that day was heavy enough and thrown with sufficient velocity to make so deep a dent in what one assumes was a superior product, purchased as it was at a Hechinger sale.
The carrier, who has requested anonymity -- because, as he says, we are talking here of property damage, and that wouldn't sit well with his 10th-grade teachers -- spoke freely about the incident. He doubts that the throw-weight of The Post could have caused that much of a dent. The lad volunteered that, three months ago, he did plump a massive paper on the porch of another customer, which made a slight dent in his storm door. The owner had it straightened out for five bucks, which the boy deducted from the next newspaper bill. But 90 bucks is a little heavy, especially because he has serious doubts about his culpability.
It should be mentioned that I had no intention of getting involved in this dispute, but when Mrs. Paske phoned and opened the conversation by saying her Post was delivered to her every morning on her porch and there was a problem, it got my attention. After a year of being inundated with phone calls and letters from folks pleading to have their Post delivered at least within commuting distance of their front doorsteps, you can understand why I perked up. Mrs. Paske explained that they have a wonderful carrier -- 15 years old, he has been delivering their Post before dawn every morning since he was nine. But there was this broken door.
The only previous time I'd heard of a daily newspaper accused of being a lethal instrument was three years ago, when a Hollywood actress charged that a Los Angeles Times had landed on her 14-year-old terrier, which died the next day. But you can't believe any story with a Hollywood dateline.
So I phoned William Parke, associate professor of physics at George Washington University, and asked for help. I asked what information he would need to do his computations on probable impact velocity. He said he would need to know the wind speed at the time of the incident, the exact thickness of the aluminum, the depth of the dent, how the panel was mounted and its length and width, whether there was a seal between the storm door and the main door and -- if the seal was airtight -- the volume of air trapped between the two doors.
I made an effort to collect the additional data, but everybody clammed up on me. The carrier did not want to discuss the matter any more. His job is pretty important to him: he is saving up in an interest-bearing account the income he has left after buying his clothes and soccer equipment. He plans to buy some land near water -- not near the ocean, but next to a small stream. He would like to build a house there some day. He delivers The Post every weekday to 70 customers before going to school. On Sunday, he has 90 customers, and his 12-year-old sister helps. He said he's never missed a porch yet.
If Post Publisher Donald Graham and John Hechinger, who runs the hardware company, have an ounce of community responsibility -- and from what I've heard, in these men it comes by the pound -- they'll visit the Paske household, assess the damage and make a determination. If they agree the storm door should be replaced, Mr. Graham might keep in mind that Mr. Hechinger can get it for him wholesale.