My grandfather, Thomas J. O’Connell, was a New York City cop for 36 years. He went on the job in 1936, when he was 31; a bit long in the tooth for a recruit, but during the depression everyone was desperate for a civil service job. Notwithstanding his age, he finished # 1 out of a class of over 100. Consequently, he was awarded the Bloomingdale Trophy, a .38 caliber revolver, by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, the “Little Flower”. He would retire, many years later, as a Captain.
After a stint in the USMC, my father, Thomas J. O’Connell Jr., followed his father’s footsteps to the NYPD. Dad was decorated with the highest award the NYPD bestows upon a member, the Medal of Honor. He also retired as a Captain. There is a saying that after Captain, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Meaning there are no more civil service tests to earn promotions. Dad and Grandpa had MANY years on the job as Captains. Make of that what you will.
After I graduated from 8th grade at St. Bernard’s School in Levittown, Long Island (the ostensible boyhood homes of both Bill O’Reilly and Billy Joel) we moved from Nassau County, east to Suffolk County. I was pissed. Very pissed. Too long a story to go into detail at this time. (I had been the leading candidate for the new “General Excellence Award” from SBS’s first graduating class, 1967. The nuns so advised my father halfway through the year. Quite an honor – which I did not end up receiving. Talk about pissed! I thought he’d kill me. Another long story. Hint: puberty.)
In any event, because I was so pissed, I was a pretty mediocre student throughout High School. I also began to act out a bit. Maybe more than just a bit. However, I still held my father and grandfather in the highest esteem. I think I just assumed I was going to be a cop, so what difference did grades make?
Problem: bad economy at the time I graduated, 1971. No PDs were hiring. I hadn’t even thought about college. Long story short, got a call from the wrestling coach at Suffolk Community College, attend for two years, then got a scholarship to UMass.
I liked UMass well enough. Wrestled and graduated magna cum laude in 1975. Problem: cops still not hiring in NY.
Screwed around at an Estee Lauder warehouse job, then at their factory – as in where they make huge vats of perfume and other goop. Rows of old ladies worked beside conveyor belts all day, assembling various components of beautifying shit into attractive packages. Tedious, to be sure. But there was a worse job. Lineboy. When they ran out of something, they would yell “BOY!” and we would be expected to sprint like dogs to retrieve whatever it was they needed. Moreover, the stink of this crap gave me massive headaches.
My plan to blow off steam at night seemed sound. I would resume my amateur boxing career, which had stagnated at 2-0 (1 KO). Unfortunately, this involved sparring with a very large Golden Gloves Champion named Gerry Cooney, who could hit like a mule. A nice kid, he would go on to give Larry Holmes a hell of a fight for the World Heavyweight Championship in 1982.
Back to me. Did I mention the headaches, or that getting punched in the face repeatedly by Cooney after work made them worse?
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The only game in town: law school.