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I remember clearly us kids in the ’40s and ’50 being impressed by Hollywood movies where the hunted hero reaches the church and the sheriff and his men have to halt: secular authority ended at the church door.
It would have been nice I imagine as an adult to have other movies in which the heretic fleeing the priests reached the sheriff and became safe; but, you can’t have sense, symmetry, and bullshit entertainment all at the same time: not guaranteed satisfactory entertainment anyway.
Growing further I came to realize, as have we all, that feudal outlaws weren’t the only creatures to find sanctuary. The elephant can stomp the rhino, but won’t chase it too close to the mouse hole. The grouper won’t chase the clown loach in among the anemones. The guy may chase the skirt, but will stop before she gets home where her brothers are armed. Of course there are exceptions. The rhino can’t absolutely guarantee that this elephant is afraid of mice. A particular sheriff in a particular period and place may not fear the church: and if King John doesn’t tell Nottingham to keep his agnosticism to himself, the sheriff might grab Robin, church or no church. The Christian guy might rape the Muslim girl right under the archway of her mosque.
My friend John, the once upon a time Sebring militia leader, got pistol whipped right in his own home, which he had declared the seat of his own private church, John the Pope, John the priest, John the congregation. The Sebring sheriff obviously wasn’t worried about the God represented by John.
Anyhow that’s just background to a memory that entered my head this evening for the first time in I don’t know how long: maybe the first time since 1958 or so when the story occurred.
My high school friends had beer parties starting when we were fifteen or so. We’d drink beer at one or another guy’s house every Friday evening, then every Saturday evening too, then sometimes we’d still be drinking beer by Sunday night: and we might have a beer or two Monday to Thursday. By age sixteen or so we had our favorite venues: Al’s house, Almer’s house. And we put in plenty of time at this and that bar around Long Island: the Parkview in Rockville Centre, the Downstairs, also RVC … joints by Hofstra in Hempstead, joints on Merrick Road in Baldwin … And somewhere in there we discovered that other cliques in our school, and in other schools, were behaving similarly. And some cross fertilization occurred. For example: one group got drunk and then played a sanctuary game. The feudal sheriff and his men knew what a church was, they knew what a church looked like: they were raised as Christians before they joined the sheriff’s team. They knew the degrees of sacredness of the parts of the church. This side of the door was the king’s; that side was God’s. Well, in Rockville Center in 1958, Sunrise Highway on the west side of Oceanside Avenue was the territory of this precint; east of Oceanside Avenue, Sunrise Highway was the territory of the Baldwin police. Or some other precinct.
This guy from some other clique had a nice Mercury hot rod: chopped, tuned pipes. The guy knew his rod’s acceleration. He knew the copmobiles’ capabilities too. At one AM Saturday, he’d make a drunken comotion on Sunrise Highway at South Village (or was it Morris) Avenue: peel rubber, whatever. When he saw the black maria show up and lurk at a distance, he’d peel rubber, run the Morris Avenue light, and race the cops for Oceanside Rd. Once across Oceanside Road, he’d pull over, roll down the window, thumb his nose.
It’s only occurred to me in retelling the story today that there may have been a hidden element. I don’t think the guy with the Merc was the brightest of South Side’s scions. Everybody, certainly every cop, knew his Merc rod, knew him. What was he antagonizing them for? Unless it was to bait us into trying the same trick? Almer’s ’57 Chevy could beat that Merc like it was in reverse. Almer could have been half way to Montauk by the time the cop gave chase from Morris Avenue. But I don’t think any of us ever fell for the race-the-cops Oceanside-Road-is-sanctuary trap. The Friday night / Saturday morning cop could have been the Merc’s brother, could have been drooling for us: screw the Merc: get the Chevy! The Bethlehem’s engineers smart aleck kid, the kid with the one-year-old Chevy new every year. Damn rich kids.