Sunday, December 11, 2011
Reunion II: Old Men Packing Heat
I look across the cavernous hall, past the line of aluminum chafing pans full of the usual steaming Ziti Parmigian, Chicken Fransesse, fish-in-a-white-sauce, limp iceberg lettuce salad with flagons of creamy Italian, next to mounds of fresh Italian loaves – lined end to end on the long Bingo folding tables like silver birds in single file about to take flight. I see Louie is surrounded by old cops pumping his hand, touching, laying hands on him in that way men, genuinely moved by emotion, will do, while ever alert to the dangers of losing control.
The glad-handing cops know of the drugs and Louie’s bit in federal jail, but it doesn’t matter. All that matters is our shared past on the streets where it counted. Louie had your back; testified to the truth of any cover-your-ass story events required you to tell in Court or to the Bosses; and never, ever ratted you out to the IAB Secret Police (except in John Super Cop’s case, of course, but we’re a forgiving lot). Race never mattered. It was You, the Cops, black or white, against Them, the Criminals, always black or Hispanic, on the streets and in the houses of Bushwick, where some of us died by ambush.
All that night, the flickering flames put me in mind of that scene in ‘Gone With the Wind’, the Burning of Atlanta. Only cops, firemen and looters were abroad on the streets. By dawn, we were allowed to make arrests. The riot had lasted a night and a day. By its end, the 133 prisoners who wouldn’t fit in the 83 Precinct’s cellblock were penned in a gated courtyard outside the station house. Later, the Borough Chief in charge of Brooklyn North boasted that no cop had fired his weapon during the riot. Willie ‘S’ of the Eight-Three demurred, “Where the fuck was he, Hawaii?” Perhaps. the Chief was misled by the presence on Brooklyn Streets for days after of men with bandaged heads suggestive of an invasion of turbaned Sikhs. The final tally for the Blackout Riots throughout the City: 1,037 fires, 1616 looted stores, 3,776 arrests, the worst riot in the City’s history.
In 2003, the journalist, Jonathan Mahler, came to our Reunion to research his non-fiction book, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005), A Profile of the Year 1977. He included our stories of that Night and a Day. I forget if Louie was there to tell his, or John. I like to think that next Reunion – if Louie shows up again and John, who never misses – they will forget the bad old past, sit down to break Italian bread together and remember the Good Times.
Part one of this story