An outlaw comes home


Sunday, January 15, 2012


Not everyone is lucky enough to have a mythological journey in their lives or even recognize it when it occurs.

Sometimes, you don’t get to realize just how important an event is until long after it ended.

I recognized mine right away, but didn’t appreciate its value until later.

Today’s cold brought it back because it was a similarly cold day in January 1972 when my journey came to an end, and I returned to New Jersey.

After three years on the run from the police, I had decided to turn myself in, although I needed to meet with my family first, since they were the victims of the crime.

I remember calling up the old phone number and hearing my uncle’s voice on the other end.

“Where are you?” he asked.

“Here, in New Jersey,” I said. “I want to come home.”

Only I didn’t want to have my friends dump me off in front of the old house in Clifton, and suggested that I meet the family at some neutral ground, and when I found that the boat show was underway at the Coliseum at Columbus Circle in New York, I suggested we meet there.

My family owned a boat store and put on a display at the show each year.

My friends agreed to accompany me to the meeting, fearing that my family might shoot first and ask questions later.

After my disappearance in 1969, my uncles had made East Village history when they stalked the streets in search of me, since they knew I hung out there most weekends, and had mistaken some other poor fool for me, realizing their mistake only after they had chased him for blocks and tackled him.

The fool, seeing the weapons my family carried – mostly left over from the Korean War – he did not call the police.

My family had also followed my friends, especially Frank, who worked at the Little Falls Laundry and lived on East 6th Street in New York. Every day, their cars trailed the bus back into New York, and were waiting in the front of his apartment building when he came out in the morning. Once, only, had they actually come into his apartment in search of me.

After a few months, even my thick-headed uncles must have realized that I had really taken off this time. Uncle Harold, the savviest of them, had checked with some mob friends he had about my possibly traveling to Colorado. But since I went to Denver via LA, lingering in the Latino quarter for a few weeks before going back to Denver, his friends missed me, too.

Now, almost out I came home, weary from hiding all the time and living under names that were not my own. I had actually dreamed of growing old and having the police show up one day to haul me away.

So my friends drove me to New York, and walked in with me to the coliseum, where we stood as if in the OK Coral as my uncles came towards us across the sales floor.

It was Frank who suggested we push my girlfriend and our one year old child in front of me.

“They won’t shoot if they see the baby,” he said.

They hadn’t intended to shoot, and when my uncles saw me, they nodded, and came towards me, their faces filled with that strange awe and anger that is born only out of years of worry and love, a confused pack of outlaws, who shook me first, then hugged me, and the later took me home, telling me “We’ll have to settle all this with the law, you understand. But it’ll be all right. Really it will.”

And though I didn’t know it at the time, it really did turn out all right.


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