It was Nov. 1, 1955: my first tour of duty as a policeman. I had been assigned to the 15th Precinct, in midtown Manhattan, to kick off Operation Cross-town, a scheme devised to expedite the flow of vehicular traffic through one of the busiest sections of the city. My boss, Sgt. Moore, was a kindly man, with no known vices, but did everything strictly by the book. Those of us on this post were instructed to stay out in the road, walking up and down, to better see how the traffic was moving, spot the double parkers and, when necessary, pull the traffic through the street. However, on 38th Street, I soon discovered, to do this was to court suicide.
That morning, as the city began to come to life, the traffic seemed to be expediting itself, so as we had been instructed earlier to say hello to folks, I went to make friends and influence people. I had just completed the north side of my post and was waiting to cross the road to continue my goodwill tour on the other side when I spotted my supervisor, Sgt. Moore, coming my way, walking the in road. Creeping along behind him was a truck, followed by a line of cars. It appeared that my boss was so far out into the roadway that the truck couldn't get by. It looked like a parade with Sgt. Moore as the Grand Marshall. The driver finally blew his horn, whereupon Sgt. Moore nearly jumped out of his socks. He leaned up against a parked car to catch his breath and compose himself, then came over to me. I saluted. "Good morning, Sergeant."
"What are you doing up here on the sidewalk, Brady?" he said, still a little breathless. "You belong out in the road, expediting the traffic!" He stepped back into the road and waved on a few cars, showing me how. I joined him out in the road.
"Fasten that collar, Brady."
"Yes, sir." Single file we started walking to the far end of the street.
Later that morning, I headed down to the corner telephone box to make my hourly ring to the station house. I stood there on this cold, blustery morning, pressing the phone to the side of my head for a full five minutes, trying to get through.
Finally, with frostbite setting in, I gave up and found a telephone in a coffee shop. I was on my way out when who should be going by but Sgt. Moore.
He nearly fell over when he saw me. "Brady, Brady," he moaned, "What are you doin' in there?"
"Sergeant, the call box ..."
He shook his head in despair. "My God, son, this is your first day on the job. What'll you be like later on?"
I pointed at the call box on the corner. "Sir, I was standing ..."
"Brady, at this rate, you'll never make it. You'll wash out." He beckoned me to follow him out into the road where he continued the lecture. I gave up trying to explain.
"Fasten that collar, Brady!"
It was about an hour before the end of my tour when I got my first taste of action. A man came out of a building followed by another man, yelling, "Stop Him!"
This is it, I thought. Keeping my hand near my holster, I took off in pursuit. "Stop! Police!" Then, in the hope of enlisting the aid of public-spirited citizens, I cried "Stop that man!" Forewarned, people along the sidewalk, wishing in no way to get involved, parted like the Red Sea, thereby facilitating the man's escape.
When I finally ran him down, I held onto him until the other man caught up. "OK, what's this all about?" I demanded, taking charge. Both men began talking at once. Not to me, however, but to each other - in Greek.
A crowd had begun to grow, and it became clear that if I didn't come to grips with the situation soon, 38th Street would come to a standstill. Determined to make an impression, I said, "Listen here now, if you two ..." Suddenly the men started to grin. They embraced, shook hands and a few people in the crowd began to applaud. Arm in arm, the men headed back to their building.
Standing there, feeling somewhat inadequate and anxious to restore my dignity, I set about breaking up the crowd. "All right, move along now. Nothing more to see." They were almost all gone when I turned to see Sgt. Moore coming at a trot, out in the road as usual but keeping well to one side, letting traffic slip by.
"What's going on here, Brady?" He was nervously looking around.
"Ah, it was nothing, Sarge," I replied breezily. "Just a bit of a disagreement. I took care of it."
The Sergeant's eyes narrowed suspiciously and after a moment he said, "You handled it, then?" I detected a note of incredulity in his voice. Evidently I had impressed him. He seemed to be thinking that maybe this officer wasn't totally useless after all.
I can't say for sure.
But right after that he started calling me John.
Having failed to bring crime under control in New York City during his 20 years of service, Lt. Brady retired in 1975. Now living in Florida, he says he spends much of the day dodging skin cancer and planning his arrival at the Early Bird Special before the parking lot fills up.