Friday, November 20, 2009

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Lawrence – My Hometown

Phony Names

By Richard E. Noble

We periodically changed the location of our “Corner” by request of the local police department. But after a series of YEARS it got a little bothersome. And besides, we had used about every corner in our neighborhood at one time or another.
At first, when we were just little guys and the cops drove up in a cruiser, we just ran. We all had our favorite hiding spots. I was always rather partial to a backyard garbage can.
The old garbage cans were 50 gallon drums. Most of them had lids on them. And there was sometimes a handle welded on to a lid. I would jump into a garbage can that was more or less empty, or only a quarter full. I would grab the lid by the handle and then pull it down on top of my chosen garbage can. The handle was now on the inside – with me.
If and when I heard someone prowling around the area outside my garbage can, I would lift my feet off the bottom and then hang from the handle. I don’t remember what I weighed in those days, maybe 70 to 100 pounds, but it was enough to prevent any curious oppressor from peeking in on me. It always worked. I never got caught by anybody while hanging from a garbage can handle inside a 50 gallon drum, garbage can.
But as we grew older, things started changing. Along with puberty there were other rites of passage and running every time a cruiser pulled up to the Corner passed rather early on. We got to the point where we just sat there and stared back at the cops.
In the beginning the cops didn’t really know how to act. They were used to pulling up and having us all scatter. When we didn’t they were somewhat confused as to what they should do. Was this action on our part and insult to their authority? Were we defying the system? Would we fight if they approached us? What was going on here?
Their first notion was that a more severe threat was necessary. The cruiser was no longer threatening enough for us little criminals. A further show of strength was needed. They would have to increase the pressure.
The cop would stare at us for a moment out the window of his cruiser – building tension. We would all stare back. He would then pick up his microphone or walky-talky and pretend to be doing something official. He would get out of his cruiser, pull up his trousers, adjust his gun belt, check his hand grenades and flamethrower and then swagger across the street – John Wayne style.
The first time a cop went through this ritual, I remember feeling a little antsy and asking myself why I wasn’t running. But then as time passed and this experience grew in its repetition, the fear subsided. I imagine George “Machine gun” Kelly felt similar after his first engagement with the FBI.
“Okay” this cop on this particular occasion said, pulling a pad and pen from his shirt pocket. “You,” he demanded pointing the butt end of his pen at one of us ten year olds. “What is your name?”
We had no idea what he was up. We gave him our real names.
After he wrote down all of our names, he folded over his pad and clipped his pen back onto his pocket.
“Okay,” he said. “I am going to be patrolling this area all day. I am going to come by this corner every so often. I have your names. So I know who each of you are. The next time I come back, if I find any of you guys on my list here again, you are going to be in for some real trouble. Now get moving and I would advise none of you to be back here again today.”
We got up from our places and wet meandering off for a walk around the block.
Well the fact that this flatfoot had to write down our names indicated to us that this particular cop didn’t have much of a memory. We only had to see him once and we knew who he was. But he needed to take names.
We walked around the block and then returned to our designated squatting area. If he came back we all agreed that we would just give him a phony name.
Sure enough an hour or two later our buddy with the bad memory was back. He pulled out his pad and pen once again. He looked us all over closely.
“Okay you,” he said jabbing the butt of his pen in Jack Sheehy’s direction. “What is your name?”
“My name is Petrobi Patsaiba.”
“How do you spell that?” Jack spelled out something and the cop looked at him seriously for quite some time. Jack said nothing but stared him back in the eye.
He then pointed his pen at me and repeated his question.
“My name is Lance Guibe.”
The cop put on a very nasty look. He knew by the strange silence and peculiar looks on our faces that something was up.
“Where do you live?”
“I live at home.”
“Yeah, yeah … I’m sure you do. Where the hell is your home, smart guy?”
“It’s on the other side of town.”
“What’s the name of the street?”
“I don’t remember.”
“You don’t remember the name of the street that you live on?”
“I don’t have to remember. I know where it is.”
The cop glared at me.
“You!” he said pointing to Jimmy Costello. “What is your name?”
“Francis DeSissy.”
He then went to Russ Brown.
“What is your name,” he asked Russ.
“My name is Richard Noble.”
We all turned and looked at Russ in shock. What the hell was he doing? We had all agreed to give a phony name. Why was he giving the cop my name? Was he coo-coo or what?
“Noble, huh. I have your name here from the last time I was here. Where do you live, Noble?”
“I live at 32 Chelmsford St. It is just up a couple of blocks and to the left.”
Russ, my good buddy, not only gave the cop my name but my address also – and then he went on to give directions to my house.
“Okay Richard Noble,” the cop said returning his pad and pen to his shirt pocket once again. “You are in trouble. I will be contacting your mother and father and tell them what you have been doing. Now all of you scattered. And I don’t want to see any of you back here again today.”
We all slowly sauntered off as the cop returned to his vehicle and drove away.
“What the Hell! Why did you give the cop my name, Russ? I thought we all agreed that we would give the cop a phony name?”
“I did give the cop a phony name. My name is Russ Brown.”
“Yeah, I know your name is Russ Brow, but my name is Richard Noble, you butthead.”
“I know that. I couldn’t think up any good phony names like you guys did. All that I could think of was Richard Noble.”
“Couldn’t you have at least given him the wrong address?”
“I suppose, but all that I could think of was 32 Chelmsford St. It didn’t seem right to say that you lived on Spruce St. when I knew that you lived on Chelmsford St.”
“Well, that’s real good, Russ. But I’m going to tell you something. The next time that cop comes back – if he ever does – you can be Richard Noble if it makes you happy but I’m going to be Russ Brown who lives on Arlington St.”
“You wouldn’t?”
“Oh yeah, watch me!”
“In that case,” said Jack Sheehy. “I guess next time he comes I’ll be Jimmy Costello. Jimmy, you can be Jack Sheehy. We’ll really screw this guy up.”
“Man, this is great! I love it,” I said. “Nothing like hanging out with a bunch of guys with a plan. Tell me Jack what is the exact street address of your house, I wouldn’t want to mess this plan up. It’s a good one.”

Richard E. Noble was raised in Lawrence, Mass and is now a freelance writer. He has published several books. Two of them have Lawrence as their setting, A Summer with Charlie and Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother. A Little Something is a book of poetry - parts of it inspired by life in Lawrence. Hobo-ing America is a workingman’s tour of the U.S.A. The Eastpointer is selected pieces from his award winning column about life in a sleepy fishing village in the Florida Panhandle. Noble Notes on Famous Folks is history with a sense of humor.

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