The Waste

This a repost of a comment I made earlier today on the NPR web site . Their space limits truncated my text, so the full the version is posted here.

I was 14 years old (1947), living in a Jersey City housing project near the place where the PATH train goes underground to other JC and Hoboken stations, then further on, under the Hudson River, to Manhattan.

It was summer and the PATH workers went on strike. My best friend, Bobby O’Brien, was another kid without a father at home. He and I took a dare and walked that trainless tunnel.

We planned to exit at the Christopher St platform and take the ferry back to JC but there were pickets at the top of the stairs at street level so we went back down and returned to JC the way we had come. On the return, we mis-read a fork in the tunnel and found ourselves in Hoboken.

We retraced our steps back to that turnoff and exited where we entered. All in all we must have been down there two or more hours. When we got back to the projects, bragging of our grim, urban Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer adventure, we were called liars.

So, a few days later, Bobby and I took the loudest skeptic, Sonny Lundberg, from the 3rd floor, along with us. By then the trains were running but we detected them by air pressure changes long before they arrived in sight, slipping to the parallel tube through one of the frequent portals.

This time we came out on what is now Marin Blvd, just east of the Grove St station, by climbing steep metal stairs of the emergency exit and pushing open the sidewalk door. we were now heroes in the projects.

In early 1950 Bobby was sent off to the Army as the alternative to reform school after he was caught during a burglary. He had talked about becoming a cop like his long lost father. But in the last few days of June or the first days of July, he was captured and assassinated at age 17 in Korea, with his hands wired behind his back, within days after the “police action” started.

He died while I (just turned 18) was off on a two-week vacation in the Catskills, in my own V-8 Ford, all paid for by money I stole from coats hanging in closets in Wall Street offices I visited while I worked after school as a messenger.

A few months later, I was “scared straight” by the arrest, savage beating and rape in jail of a fellow messenger who also was stealing stuff. I was eventually drafted into the army but as my good luck happened, the fighting stopped while I was still in Basic Training.

By the time I came out of the Army a few weeks prior to my 21st birthday, I was a married father of a beautiful boy, the first of what eventually became 5 gorgeous  intelligent and successful kids who were raised in the best best suburban homes anyone could have.  Along the way, I became a businessman  made a lot of money and lived “the good life,” made deals involving millions of dollars and trading partners around the world. I rode First Class to Europe and and Asia. Became widely-published travel writer, built a business on the Internet and now, in my late 70s, am in great shape.  I was lucky.

Sonny? He had dreames of becoming a Forest ranger, living on top of mountain somewhere, watching for fires. I was told some years later that when Sonny was 19 years old, was sentenced to decades in prison for murder during a street robbery and beating of an old man that netted less than $5 each for the four muggers.

I know that neither Bobby nor Sonny ever drove a car, never ate in a restaurant with a white table cloth, never saw a Broadway show or an opera, never traveled to any interesting place that needed more than local car fare and never kissed a girl.

The waste; the waste; the waste.

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