The following is a true story as told by Patrick Flynn, who grew up in the Bronx.
I wasn’t a bad kid. No worse than any other kid growing up in the Bronx. I was in a Catholic middle school about 20 blocks from my apartment building. I always walked the long way home. Instead of going on the regular streets with the stores, I went out of my way to walk by a large factory.
The factory was an old-fashioned red brick building with hundreds of windows. I was never really sure what they made in the factory, but to a kid like me it seemed exciting. Machine noises and whistles came from inside the building, and large tractor trailers pulled in and out of the loading docks day and night.
I mentioned one day to my dad that I might want to work there when I grew up, and it surprised me when he got angry. “I’m not paying extra money to send you to Catholic school so that you can end up in a Bronx factory. You’re going to go to college like I should’ve.” That was the end of that conversation. My father was not the type of man you argued with.
There was a chain link fence around the factory but there was a hole in it large enough for me to slip through. The property just inside the fence had a lot of large piles of dirt. I would climb up on them and pretend I was climbing mountains. Sometimes I would get piece of cardboard and try to slide down the dirt pile like I was on a sled.
One day I climbed up a dirt pile and at the top there was a rock just about the size of a baseball. I can’t really explain why, but for some reason I suddenly wanted to see if I could throw it far enough to hit one of the building’s windows. I had nothing against the factory. I loved that factory. I just wanted to see if I could hit the window.
I stood on top of the dirt pile. I threw the rock, and to my amazement it sailed out of my hand and shattered a window on the second story of the factory. I didn’t get any time to admire my handiwork, since right after the window shattered I heard someone yell. I turned around and far down the street on the other side of the fence was a New York City Policeman. He was on foot. In those days, there were still foot-Patrolmen in The Bronx.
I ran as fast as I could to the hole in the fence and made my way through. The cop was running towards me, but I was able to duck in and out of narrow places he was too big to fit through. It felt like he chased me for hours, but in retrospect, I realize it was only about 5 minutes before he gave up.
I did not go back to my apartment right away. I hid in an alley for a long time to make sure the cop was gone. Also, I had to wait until I stopped panting and sweating. I needed to go into my apartment like nothing unusual had happened that day so that my parents would not get suspicious.
I was feeling pretty smug about myself by the time I got home. I was calm and ready to just walk into the apartment. I opened the apartment door, and sitting at the kitchen table were my parents drinking coffee. There was a plate of cookies in the middle of the table too, which was unusual. My parents were using the good cups and plates since they had a guest. Sitting at the table calmly having coffee with them was the Policeman who had chased me.
As I came through the door, the Policeman got up, shook hands with my father; tipped his hat to my mother and left. I hated to see him go. I was much more afraid of what my parents would do than I ever was of the police.
Now days the police patrol in cars with all sorts of radio and computer equipment that supposedly keeps them connected with what is happening. But when I was a kid in The Bronx the police kept connected a different way. They walked on the streets and knew the people. They knew where people lived and knew the names of their kids. No computer can ever replace that.
I won’t say how my parent’s punished me. Let’s just say it was appropriate. My father did get his wish. I went to college. However, I still was fascinated with factories and machines, so I ended up studying Engineering.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to that Policeman. I wonder if he ever understood just how good he was at his job. He and the other beat cops never acted like they were patrolling an area. They were simply part of the community. They always took the time to shake hands, and they always tipped their hats to the ladies.