By Arthur W. Dolan
On December twentieth, in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Sixty Five, while Mike Quill (the Old Irish rebel that he was) ranted against the Cities treatment of
his beloved transit workers, your humble author was sworn in to the New York City Police Department.
Eleven days later, "The Quill", as his loyal union members called him, made good on his threats
and pulled the TWU out on strike.
So, with the barest of training, my comrades and I, Rookies all, were sent out from the Police Academy to assist in the Herculean effort of controlling an almost
uncontrollable situation. That we succeeded, for the most part, is one of the small miracles that make up the history of New York City and it's Police Department.
Off into the sprawling city we marched.
Whistles at the ready (we were all assigned to traffic control in Manhattan) our gray Rookie uniforms creased to a razors edge, convinced that surely the good citizens of New York would welcome us, and if truth be
known, take a certain amount of piety on us. Amazingly they did.
You see, New Yorkers have the uncanny ability to come together during crisis situations and work toward the common good. This behavior
includes taking piety on the underdog. In this case the aforementioned Rookies.
This story, however, is not about our collected trials and tribulations. It is rather a story about a somewhat embarrassing
incident that took place on the corner of Fourteenth Street and Fifth Avenue.
Neil Donner (He whom I would have named the Devil, had I not known that he was a skinny Jewish kid from Brooklyn) was my
classmate and occupied the seat next to mine at the Academy. Neil seemed to be perpetually in a state of confusion and during class would constantly call upon me to direct him to the proper page in the Rules and
Procedures or the Penal Law.
"AAADEEE," Neil would plead, in what to him I am sure was a whisper, but to the rest of the class was a window-rattling bellow. "WHAT PAGE ARE WE ON?"
It wasn't so much Neil's constant questions that bothered me or the volume at which they were asked. No, rather it was Neil's exceptionally nasal voice that wormed its way into my psyche and threatened to destroy my
very soul. Neil had a voice akin to the sound of that Styrofoam packing material that shrikes its protest as you unpack your latest electronic gizmo. You know what I mean. A kind of fingernails on a blackboard sound.
The others in the class took great pleasure in my suffering. They would giggle and at times out right guffaw, as with the control of Job, I would answer in a whisper that we were indeed on page 97 or 63 or
whatever. The answer would for the most part be preceded with a deep sigh and an "Ah Jeez Neil."
Happily back in tune with the rest of the class, Neil would favor me with a broad smile. Our
Instructor Sergeant Gallagher, who also seemed to delight in my agony, would then proceed with the lesson.
It is my firm belief that the Gods of Policing are tricksters my friends. Given the slightest
opportunity, they will thoroughly embarrass you. Oh I was cautious, but who, as the ancient Greek Heroes well know, can fight the Gods?
I was assigned to traffic control on the corner of Fourteenth Street and
Fifth Avenue. My partner would be, you guessed it, Neil Donner. As we walked to our post I calmly and, even if I do say so myself, rather clearly delineated what would occur for the next ten hours.
"Neil, here's what we're going to do," I said in a clear and controlled tone of voice that belied my outright terror. "One of us will direct traffic in the intersection for an hour and then the other
will take over." Neil smiled his goofy smile and nodded. "That way we both get equal experience and a chance to grab a cup of coffee or whatever." Again the smile and nod from Neil. "That's what
Sergeant G meant when he said 'break it up'."
"Cool," said Neil.
I must admit that it was all going quite well for the first few hours. We managed to keep traffic from becoming hopelessly
entangled and avoided being crushed by any of the large eighteen wheelers hauling produce to market. Then it happened.
I was in the middle of the intersection when I heard his voice.
"Oh Jeez," I muttered, deciding to ignore him.
"AAADEE." His voice had risen several decibels higher.
"Shit," I said, and turned to see what could possibly be bothering him.
Do you remember the first time you were allowed to ride the roller coaster all by yourself? Do you remember the feeling, when,
as you plunged down the first incline and your hart leaped into your throat and you just knew that you would be contributing your lunch to the surrounding amusement park patrons? Well my friends that was the exact
feeling I experienced as I turned to see Neil standing on the corner, a huge smile on his face, beckoning to me and pointing to a woman standing next to him. The woman was also gesturing toward the sidewalk with a
staccato motion of her right hand. The look on her face was one of concern commingled with the authority of "She who must be obeyed." I knew that look well. The woman was my mother.
As I walked
toward the sidewalk, Neil's smile grew broader, until I thought that surely the top of his head would break away from his scull just where it intersected at the mouth. It would just take a small flick of my finger.
Resisting temptation I addressed my mother.
"Ma. What are you doing here," I pleaded.
"Well, I was just going to get some lunch," (She worked at a nearby office) and I saw you there
in the middle of the street. This young man was nice enough to get your attention after I had called to you any number of times."
Neil's smile grew broader and again I resisted the urge to flick his head onto the back of his shoulders.
"Mom, we're working," I said with all the earnestness of a four-year-old trying to talk
some sense into his parent.
"I know dear," she replied in her best motherly tone, "but it doesn't seem very safe. I mean being out in the middle of traffic like that."
"Mom," I replied using every bit of self control I could muster, " I'm a Cop. This is what Cops do. They direct traffic. The best way to do that is where everyone can see you. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE
STREET!" The last sentence rising in volume despite my gargantuan efforts.
"Well I know." My mother said, with a hurt look that made me immediately regret my last statement. I fully expected my
father to appear, cuff me on the back of the head and say, "Don't back-talk your mother."
I glanced at Neil and he had taken on my mothers hurt expression, nodding in commiseration, emphasizing my
"It's very cold Arthur. Are you dressed warmly enough?"
Neil's expression turned to one of concern as he, along with my mother surveyed my attire.
I glared at Neil. Do
you know the expression "If looks could kill"? If that expression were true Neil would have immediately fallen to the sidewalk, dead before he hit the concrete. But alas it was only an expression and Neil
continued to live, to what at the time was my great disappointment.
"Have you eaten, Arthur? I could get you a sandwich or some nice hot soup," the mother went on relentlessly as the hated smile
came back to Neil's face.
"Mom, we have designated meal periods and we're not allowed to---- Oh my God!"
It was the air horn of an Eighteen Wheeler that brought me back to reality. I turned
and saw what to my panicked eyes seemed to be the largest traffic jam since the invention of the internal combustion engine.
"Ma, I gotta go! Oh Jeez!"
" Well alright dear, just be
careful," I heard her call as I fought my way to the center of the automobiles and trucks that seemed to be welded together.
It took us an hour to straighten out the mess.
That night, as I
paced back and forth in my living room, in what I am sure was as close to hysteria as she has ever seen me; I related the story to my wife, Rosemary. She sat on the couch, her lovely lips pressed tightly together,
fighting desperately to remain in control. Finally, when she could stand it no longer she burst into laughter, rolling to he side, tears streaming downs her cheeks.
Try as I would, I could not convince her that
this was not funny, and that I would never be able to show my face at roll call the next day. She got up, took me in her arms and held me gently.
"Don't worry my love," she said soothingly, "I'm sure they all have mothers."
As I sheepishly entered the sitting room the next morning, I was greeted by my comrades, who, in unison stood
and applauded. Vowing silently that I would kill Neil Donner, I was led to a table. There I was presented with two gifts.
The first gift was a jar of what appeared to be home made chicken soup with a note
that read "So you shouldn't be hungry!" The second was a thick red flannel shirt. The note read "So you should stay warm!"
The presenter of these gifts was Neil Donner.
I am long since retired from that job that taught me so much.
My Mother left us years ago and is now, I am sure, in charge of looking after God's angles.
My dear wife joined her recently, but every
so often, when I become much too concerned with some minor problem, I swear I can hear her laughter and feel her gentle caress.
I have lost touch with my friend Neil but I'm sure that he is out there somewhere being a nudge.
One thing remains to be said. Something, in my embarrassment I failed to say many, many years ago.
Thank you Neil.
Copyright © 2001 Arthur W. Dolan 2001
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