Monday, January 11, 2010

Book "Em Danno

Those of you under 50 probably can't relate to the title of this post. Allow me to explain. There was a TV cop show called "Hawaii Five-O" that ran from the late Sixties to around 1980, and the star, Jack Lord, would end many episodes by saying to his younger sidekick, Detective Danny Williams, as they were about to arrest the bad guy: "Book 'em Danno". Attitudes toward cops have changed in the past twenty years, with headline media frenzies every time a cop goes bad. Back in the day, cops were respected, or at least feared. If a cop spoke to your father about something wrong you had done, woe to you. Today the parent would sue the cop for traumatizing their baby.

Anyhow, it was a healthy respect for law and order that led to my early career on the school safety patrol. From the fifth grade on at Our Lady of Lourdes, boys were eligible to join the school safety patrol. (Sorry ladies, this work was just too dangerous for girls.) The standards for acceptance were high. Applicants needed to have a good record scholastically and behaviorally before pinning on the silver badge. This was probably a mistake when you think about it. They should have put the less bright, more troublesome kids out there to dodge traffic, so that if one got taken out, the local gene pool wouldn't suffer too much. But I digress.

There was a pecking order in the ranks of the safety patrol. New members with no rank wore plain silver badges, while more experienced Sergeants wore badges with a green background. The next rank up was Lieutenant, whose badges bore a bright red background, signifying they were men of action. Finally, there was the Grand High Exalted Mystic Ruler of the safety patrol, the Captain. There was only one Captain, and his badge background color was a regal blue. Badges were worn on a white canvass harness that draped diagonally across the chest from shoulder to waist and clipped behind the back. It's no secret that safety patrol members, especially those holding higher ranks, were chick magnets. Oh yeah.

The duties of the safety patrol consisted mainly of standing in the intersections near the school and helping young kids cross the street. These assignments were handed out at a morning meeting and referred to in military terminology as "posts". Less experienced troops were placed on quiet posts like DeSales Place where they could learn the ropes. Veteran eighth graders were assigned to busy streets like Broadway or Bushwick Avenue where they confidently took matters in hand under the admiring eyes of blossoming eighth grade girls. At the end of a shift, the Lieutenants would make their rounds, even stopping to assist a newbie as required. When the shift was over, every safety patrol member removed their canvass harness and rolled it up the way they taught us in boot camp, so that the badge came out on top.

Besides helping little kids, safety patrol members also walked old ladies across the street whether they asked for help or not. We were also instructed to help teachers cross, a service I'm sure they really appreciated, as if they were too frail to make it on their own. This act of kindness was callously forgotten later in the day when that same teacher got her revenge by repeatedly whacking that brave safety partoller on his outstretched hand if he forgot why God made him. ("God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and the next."). Catholic schools used a simple method to teach...stark terror. I can still recite my Baltimore Catechism even though I occasionally forget my wedding anniversary.

I'm proud to say that through hard work and dumb luck, I rose to the rank of Captain. It was an unforgettable day indeed when Brother Jude, who ran the safety patrol, spoke those memorable words to me: "McAvoy graduated, you're Captain". The mantle rested heavily on my shoulders. How could these fifth graders be expected to handle a "219" ...kid crossing against the light! A lot of them just want to cut and run, but it's my job to get them to stop that green Chevy so little Tommy can make it safely to the sidewalk. I must confess, as I made my rounds and saw those young, plain silver badge-wearing kids dragging little old ladies across the intersection, that I got a lump in my throat. By God, they were going to be all right. Book 'em Danno.


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3 comments:

The Whiner said...

Captain? Too bad Mom was not your Mother...she'd still have your white canvas band and badge.

joe del broccolo said...

Is that a drawing of a certain old first grade teacher I remember?

Jim Pantaleno said...

Yes, and that's me standing in front of her waiting for my ass whupping.