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.
Excerpted from Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding Copyright© 2000 by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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