This story begins with a neighborhood friend, a studious looking fellow of slight build with tortoise shell glasses, a cutting-edge nerd whose appearance belied the "bookworm" stereotype.
One day, we decided to borrow my brother’s BB gun and see what kind of mischief we could create. Now in my youth, I never actually owned a BB Gun as I was far too irresponsible as you will soon see. I suppose my parents were thinking I would shoot my eye out and given the chance, I’m sure I would have. This Daisy "pump action" weapon of mass destruction would do just fine! It would hold about 50 BB’s in the magazine and would be a great source of fun and trouble!
The Stage is Set
We decided to go off to the "pits" where we often found some kind of mischief. For those who are unfamiliar with the "pits" it was the Steers Sand and Gravel Pits where the concrete ingredients for much of New York City were strip-mined. There was lots of cool stuff there, like a conveyor belt that we could walk on.
On the weekends, it was always idle, but it was fun to imagine the danger that it could be switched on at any given time and we could be swiftly swept into oblivion with a bazillion tons of sand and gravel, only to become concrete aggregate and a permanent part of a New York City highway, building, or bridge. Then there was always the danger of being caught by the watchman which kept us "walking on the edge."
The "pits" offered all kinds of entertainment with it’s different topographical
features. In the "flats" at Bluff Point Road, we played many a game of baseball.
That was when we were not in the mood to find trouble. Then there were the sand
cliffs that were so loose and unstable. We tried to create avalanches there, but
were never successful. Next came the plateau area which was rather large then.
It offered machinery, steam shovels, bulldozers to climb on, scattered large
tools and equipment here and about, and, of course, the famous conveyor belt.
Then there were those large piles of illegally dumped trash, that could be
found nearly everywhere. "It don’t get no better than this!"
The vastness of this Long Island dust bowl enabled us generally misbehave and to smoke, visually undetected, or so we thought.
In reality, I don’t think anyone cared. Our smoking array included cigarettes, corn
cob pipes, cigars, cigarillos and tea-gars (our own homemade blend, using paper
straws and loose tea). This place was a veritable wonderland of trouble that had
our name on it!
Proceeding eastward, the plateau gave way to the "bowl" where
there was a single asphalt road named Steers Avenue, with limited access to
Ocean Avenue by way of a locked chain barrier. That is where sanctioned drag races were held around 1958 or so. A local hot rod club called the "Torque Masters" would drag on weekends from the Asharoken end of the road, using the hill for deceleration at the end of their run. In attendance were some of the fireman, ambulance, police, etc. Actually, it was a great opportunity for the young
testosterone charged machos who wanted to abuse and destroy their vehicles (or
their parents vehicles) in acceleration speed trials. These young drivers were
The "bowl" was also the site of the fireman’s fair which was held each year in the summer and that is where the Police Shooting Range was located, which brings us back to the Daisy pump action BB gun.
By now, a picture of the pits should be emerging as our personal playground for the not-so-rich and infamous; a badlands for bad boys. The Orlons later sang "meet me on South Street, oh, yeah. Hurry on down". Well, the hippest place in town for us, was the pits.
It was a cold windy March day in 1958. I was in the 7th grade. My accomplice with the tortoise shell glasses was in the 6th grade and we were veritable men of the world as we readied for a little "shooting practice."
Setting up a few beer cans on the target range, we picked them off with deadly accuracy but this soon became BORING! I guess we figured there must be more challenging targets. There was a storage shack down there at the shooting range that I guess the cops used for storing their shooting equipment. That looked like fun!
We zeroed in on the brass keyed door lock with the idea of trying to hit the key slot. We did hit it many, many times. Enough to destroy it for use. Then, we decided to look through the door glass which had some hardware cloth over it for protection against guys like us. I took the barrel of the gun and "bumped" it against the hardware cloth which promptly gave way to glass breakage! Oh, man, we had done it now! Broke a window at the cops shooting range! The answer was...run! And we did!
In unraveling the reality of our caper, that night I mused, "hey, this was a vast wasteland of sand and gravel with no one for miles. Kind of like the desert in California we had seen on TV, where the likes of The Lone Ranger and Hop-along Cassidy were filmed in their weekly TV episodes. Who could be the wiser?" Who could have seen us? Figgetaboutit!
Monday, Monday (can’t trust that day)
The following morning, stopping at Craft’s Stationery on the way to school, as we often did to buy cigarettes, with another trouble-making buddy, I chanced to run into a celebrated man that knew me a little better than I thought.
We all knew him as Police Chief Percy Erwin. He greeted me with a "Good Morning, Mr. Bruyn" (those were his exact words). He asked me if I was on my way to school, to which I answered in the affirmative. He then said that he would like me to stop by his office after school for a "little chat." For me, it was Black Monday. I sat in those old wooden desks at the Laurel Avenue School all day, just thinking about the trouble I had created and how I would have to deal with it when school was out.
Surely, I had painted myself into a corner, but how could he, or anyone have known? The pits were vast! Who could have seen us? Oh, boy, that was the Monday from Hell.
Can’t Fight City Hall
In those days the cop shop was across from the old library in an old wooden building which once housed the Fire Department. It now was the offices of City Hall, the Building and Zoning Department, the Jail and the Police Athletic League, of which I was a member.
There was a long wide flight of creaky wooden stairs in the center of the building which led to the cop shop upstairs and ultimately to the Chief’s office. The climb up those creaky old stairs that afternoon was like climbing Everest. When I addressed the desk sergeant and announced that I was there to see the chief, he asked me if I had an appointment. An appointment, I thought? Uh...Yes, I guess I did. I was seated in Mr. Erwin’s office and the Chief commenced to scare the Hell of me. Someone had in fact seen us misbehave in the "pits," and we were busted!
Can You Say Restitution?
Now, I was busted and would certainly be branded as a "JD," would have to get a "JD" card (whatever that was) and maybe be "sent up the river." My life was done! I was barely 12 and my future was toast!
The Chief really did paint some dismal pictures for me and I cracked under his investigative pressure. Ratting out my accomplice, I told him that I was sorry and I would never do it again and I really was a good boy and please, please, please, don’t tell my parents!
He did tell my parents, I was made to pay for my part in this destructive little caper and I had to serve a penalty at home, my accomplice serving similar penance. I suppose this might today be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
Hail to the Chief
The lessons learned that afternoon ended my BB gun career and, 55 years later, I am grateful that Chief Percy Erwin did the right thing and made me responsible for my misdeeds. In spite of myself, I did not shoot my eye out! Sometimes in life, people unwittingly enrich you in some subtle but lasting way, and if you are reading this, you too may still have both of your eyes! I couldn't see it at the time, but I can see clearly now.