Corrigan's bar was on the corner of 237th and White Plains Road in the Bronx. It's now a Dominican market. The last time I was there, I was 23 and drinking with the Bronx boys. I was shipping out to Vietnam in the morning.
“One more round, Joey boy,” my friend Pete said. We raised our glasses and declared, “Bronx boys forever!”
That was the last time we were together. The war, suicide, drugs, alcoholism and murder took its toll on the old gang. Life in the Bronx was never the same.
Earlier this month, we followed one of our daughters, Sabine, and the La Cañada High School orchestra and band on an amazing journey to New York City. Directors Jason Stone and Kyle Smith, assisted by chaperons, gave the students a remarkable experience.
I wanted to see Manhattan through the eyes of the students, but I was on another mission. I hoped to find some answers. Why do I always feel the magnetic pull of home? Why do I remember each detail of my childhood? For someone who had taken so long to grow up, why can't I let go of the past?
The LCHS orchestra performed at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue in Spanish Harlem. While walking to the cathedral, I peeked down 120th Street, trying to catch a glimpse of myself playing stickball with the boys from the projects in '63. All I saw was congestion and the faithless masses trying to find a reason for being. We walked past storefronts that once were bars. I remember buying liquor there a few days after the Harlem riots in '64. There was no sign that I was ever there.
The orchestra shined in Saint John the Divine. It was an amazing experience to watch them play in a national treasure.
The young musicians also played at New York University and participated in a master class there, learning from virtuosos. I went back to my old neighborhood. I should have stayed with the orchestra.
My neighborhood was a slum, a church now stands where my family's deli was, and Saint Frances of Rome, my elementary school, was closed. My high school, Mount Saint Michael, looked worn and tired. “The House that Ruth Built,” the old Yankee Stadium, was gone. There were no signs of the Bronx boys, pitching pennies against the deli or singing doo-wop in the street.
There are two things you can't do in life. The first is something I learned in the monsoons of Southeast Asia: You can't beat water. The second, I learned this month: You can't go home again. When you go back home, you find it wasn't home that you missed, but your childhood.
You can't go back home to your neighborhood, to your family, back to your childhood, back to romantic love, and back home to a young man's dreams.
I was happy to rejoin the LCHS band as it played marvelously on the deck of the USS Intrepid. The Intrepid is now a museum, but she once provided close air support for my Marines in Vietnam.
LCHS was all over Times Square, Little Italy, the lower Eastside, the World Trade Center, the Village, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty. Their leaders, Smith and Stone, had them seeing and experiencing everything possible. On the last day, the orchestra and band performed in the plaza at Lincoln Center. It was euphoric. My buddy Brad Schwartz, another La Cañada dad, remarked, “What a great experience for these kids!”
I had one more stop to make, so I headed to Forlini's restaurant, on Baxter Street in Little Italy. I hoped to see Kathy Forlini, my first crush. Her brother, Joe, was there.
“Hey Joe! Where's Kathy?” I asked.
“Joey boy, Kathy died 10 years ago,” he told me.
Peace is the knowledge that everything must change. That evening, I was glad to go home to La Cañada.