Dad was crushed. I was disappointed, for I had really wanted them to get back
together. I'll say this for Dad: when he loved a woman, he loved her forever. He
was still trying to win Mom back when he died in 1974.
When Mom finally divorced my father, I elected to live with Dad. Mom wasn't too
keen on my decision, but I felt Dad needed one of us, that he shouldn't have to
live alone, and I persuaded her. Dad was grateful and pleased. I have never
regretted the decision, although Dad probably did.
Life with Father was a whole different ball game. I spent a lot of time in some
of New York's finest saloons. Businessmen, I learned, not only enjoy
three-martini lunches, but they belt out a lot of boilermaker brunches and whack
out scores of scotch and soda dinners. Politicians, I also noted quickly, had a
better grasp of world affairs and a looser lid on their pork barrels when they
were attached to a bourbon on the rocks. Dad did a lot of his business dealing
and a goodly amount of his political maneuvering close to a bar, with me waiting
nearby. My father's drinking habits alarmed me at first. I didn't think he was
an alcoholic, but he was a two-fisted drinker and I worried that he had a
drinking problem. Still, I never saw him drunk although he drank constantly and
after a while I assumed he was immune to the juice.
I was fascinated by my dad's associates, friends and acquaintances. They ranged
the gamut of the Bronx's social stratum: ward heelers, cops, union bosses,
business executives, truckers, contractors, stock brokers, clerks, cabbies and
promoters. The whole smear. Some were right out of the pages of Damon Runyon.
After hanging out with Dad for six months, I was street-wise and about
five-eighths smart, which is not exactly the kind of education Dad had in mind
for me, but it's the kind you get in sauce parlors.
Dad had a lot of political clout. I learned this when I started playing hookey
from school and running with some loose-end kids from my neighborhood. They
weren't gang members or anything like that. They weren't into anything really
heavy. They were just guys with a screwed-up family situation, trying to get
attention from someone, if only the truant officer. Maybe that's why I started
hanging out with them. Perhaps I was seeking attention myself. I did want my
parents together again, and I had vague notions at the time that if I acted like
a juvenile delinquent, it might provide a common ground for a reconciliation.
I wasn't too good as a juvenile delinquent. Most of the time I felt plain
foolish, swiping candy and slipping into movies. I was much more mature than my
companions, and much bigger. At fifteen I was physically grown, six feet and 170
pounds, and I guess we got away with a lot of minor mischief because people who
saw us abroad thought I was a teacher shepherding some students or a big brother
looking out for the younger crowd. I sometimes felt that way myself, and I was
often irritated at their childishness.
What bothered me most was their lack of style. I learned early that class is
universally admired. Almost any fault, sin or crime is considered more leniently
if there's a touch of class involved.
These kids couldn't even boost a car with any finesse. The first set of wheels
they lifted, they came by to pick me up, and we weren't a mile from my house
when a squad car pulled us over. The jerks had taken the car from a driveway
while the owner was watering his lawn. We all ended up in the Juvenile Hilton.
Dad not only got me out, but he had all mention of my part in the incident
erased from the records. It was a bit of ward-heeling wizardry that was to cost
a lot of cops a lot of sleep in future years. Even an elephant is easier to find
if you can pick up his trail at the start of the hunt.
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