Anthony*, a retired New York City police officer and detective, drives smoothly along the back roads, both hands on the wheel, all the time telling me stories of the city. He lives in the country now, but still visits his old neighborhood in the West 140’s where his grandfather began to build a little empire of restaurants 60 years ago. He tells me that his grandfather kept his distance, but that the mob guys loved his food. That is where he learned to be wary.
As a kid his father also took him to Freedomland, an amusement park made up of attractions that tried to render parts of American History, a place I had only heard about in Richard Price’s novel of the same name**. He loved its openness and all the rides that had to do with the West.
When he was a beat cop, he was often assigned to work Yankee Stadium during home stands. He came to be a familiar face to the players. He knew the Yankees in the era of Mantle and Ford and Maris and now spoke of his mementos, signed balls and scorecards, including one baseball enclosed in a glass dome that bore the signatures of Ruth and Gehrig alone, a treasure his father had bestowed upon him. Standing guard over all this are his two dobermans, who obey only his wife, his daughter and himself and his Smith and Wesson which protects all of them.
He watched Mantle when he was young and said even after his terrible knee injury that he was the best player he had ever seen. He occasionally took the el to Brooklyn to see the Dodgers but never saw Jackie Robinson.
He loved the New York Giants and remembers seeing Willie Mays play there in 1956 and hit one home run in particular that left the ball park 400 feet away in left center field. But when the Giants went west, and when the Yankees tore down the old stadium, well, then, it was time to “fuggedaboutit”; in Anthony’s mind, they had betrayed the fans.
He worked and tested his way to become a narcotics detective during the Serpico years, spending some of that time undercover. He said he knew of other detectives who regularly showed thick envelopes filled with cash, but that he could not do that himself; he didn’t trust the dealers or other cops. He said, “You could never know who might be setting you up.”
He loves to fish, and on our short cut, he pointed out spots on the Schuylkill River where he knew he could always find small mouth bass and perch. He sees enormous carp or suckers, three or four feet long, come under his boat, gliding and silent. He will not eat the catfish. “They need to clean up the river more before I eat them.”
He fly fishes for trout in north central Pennsylvania; “it’s so far away that there’s nothing up there.” “I pack heat,” he said, wherever he goes, and last spring he was glad he did when he and his friends were attacked by feral dogs along the stream bed. Many dogs had been abandoned by their owners when their jobs left during this recession. The survivors came together in packs and run down deer. A big black lab came after him, teeth bared and “foaming, he was dripping from his mouth.” It began to stalk him, body lowered, tail down, eyes fixed. He threw a rock at it. It kept coming. He shot it. He hated doing this, but he said,”I wasn’t going to let it bite me or my friends.”
*I changed his name.
** A wonderful writer, gritty, unromantic. You can buy his books at the Wellington. Help keep independent book stores alive.