(Reading time 5 minutes)
Why boys need Mommies
It was the afternoon of December 31, 1940. I was 14 years old, 5’10”. Tall for my age, I was all ready for New Year’s Eve in Times Square, New York City. I was with my cousins, ages 17 and 19. It was the first visit to the Big Apple for all of us, so we were exploring the city before the celebrating crowd converged on Broadway. I followed my cousins, walking behind by about 10 paces. We stopped outside the Hotel Astor, where guests were already gathering behind windows in their rooms. They were ready to view that madness and gaiety that was to shortly follow after dark.
As we walked past a small passageway between the buildings, a man ran out of the alley with what appeared to be a large black carryall bag. He stopped for a split second, looked behind him and then both ways, jammed the bag into my arms, and then disappeared into the crowd. I heard a woman scream, “Stop that man!” I heard another man’s voice yell, “Stop thief or I’ll fire!” I froze in my tracks at which time I heard a crack, then felt a burning, sting sensation just at my belt line, and a warm feeling which seemed to be hot water running down my leg. I glanced into the black carry all bag, and there was a brand new tiny baby, smaller than a cat, sleeping through all of this and just now started to cry. Before I could say, “what the heck happened”, two policemen grabbed me, and took the bag. Then a woman came running from the alley screaming, “That’s not him! It was the big man in overalls.” She shrieked, “He took my baby in that bag and gave it to this guy,” meaning me, “then ran and disappeared into the crowd.”
Wow, all this in 10 seconds and I was now in handcuffs. Fourteen years old, my first trip to New York City, and I felt as if I either wet my pants or the baby peed on me, and I was probably going to jail. My cousins came running back to find me, and there I was, in handcuffs. They also were restrained by cops with billy clubs, who ordered them to stand back. My cousin shouted to me that there is blood all over my trousers. The Mother, still screaming, “My baby, my baby, is she OK?” A quick look at the baby assured everyone that baby was OK, but what about the blood. The cops examined me and sure enough, it was my blood. A bullet from somewhere (I think from one of the cops who said stop or I will fire – or from the runaway perpetrator) was responsible, but they were sure that it must have been the purse-snatcher, who was the culprit firing back from his get-a-way flight path. The bullet destroyed my belt buckle, but a fragment merely tore into the flesh, about an inch just above the belly button. Lots of blood, little damage! The police removed the handcuffs, and had the paddy wagon take all three of us to the hospital for my clean up and patch up. A large Band-Aid did the trick. We then were transported to the police station, where we spent the next two hours filling out reports and answering questions before we were released. I didn’t have a driver’s license for an ID, but my cousins did. The police left, but returned with another handcuffed person. We were released.
As a special favor, since it was News Year’s Eve, the police took us back as close as they could with the huge crowd of revelers, to within 3 blocks of the Astor. We were just in time to force our way through the pack and ring in the New Year, under the Marquee of the Hotel Astor. What a day, with a baby in a bag and a bullet. Wow. I planned to go to Times Square the next year too. But that next year would be December 1941. The Second World War had just started, so it didn’t happen.
I never told my Mom about this incident either. “How did you get that blood all over your pants?” she asked. “Oh, someone in the Times Square crowd cut their hand on a broken bottle, and I helped get him to a first aid station.” “That was nice,” she said. “So, I’ll bet you had a good time didn’t you? Isn’t New York exciting”, she asked, “especially on New Years Eve? You just never know what’s going to happen next.” I responded, “Yeah Mom, you’re right.”