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Adios Johnny…

By: Jack Mason


Lillian stretches her neck to look into the rear view mirror, adjusting it with her right hand to better focus the alarming image of a closing police car. No screaming siren, just throbbing red streaks of light signaling “pull over, I gotcha”.

As it becomes clear that she’s being tailed by a cop, Lillian snorts, “DAMMIT! Sneaky bastard” and begins slowing-down, turning her station wagon out of the traffic lane onto the shoulder of the highway. “Howard”, she whines to the old man sitting next to her, “Looks like I’m in hot water so get your seat belt buckled.” His fumbling to get it snapped provokes an annoyed, “Oh, let me do that for you!”, as Lillian frantically completes her pullover and the tardy securing of the old guy’s safety strap.

From the passenger’s seat in the police car, Sergeant Patrick LeClerc spends the first few minutes just sitting and watching Lillian’s car, now stopped 20 yards in front of him. “You can’t be too careful, Joe. You can’t get antsy. Take the time to take in everything. The vehicle, the people, everything!” He’s explaining routine Dept. regulations to the driver, trooper Joe McNary, a recent graduate of the Police Academy and his check-ride student. “If you spot anything suspicious, or out of the ordinary, just sit tight. Radio base and wait for backup. But these guys don’t look like trouble, so we’ll let them stew for a few minutes, and then go pay em’ a visit. Got it?” McNary nods his understanding.


Sgt. LeClerc is training young Joe McNary in the business of patrolling the NJ Turnpike, one of the most notorious drug pipelines in the nation. After 18 years of building a reputation as a top-notch cop, LeClerc is a name well known and respected by everyone who wears the badge of law enforcement throughout the Garden State.

McNary is excited and just a little nervous to be riding with him, but grateful for the opportunity to learn from a real pro. When LeClerc says, “Let’s get on with it”, they both exit the 97 Crown Victoria squad car and head for Lillian’s faded brown wagon. LeClerc brushes exhaust smoke from his face, as he and Trooper McNary make their way through an oil-burning cloud to the dilapidated 86’ Chevy to begin the “Ritual”.

Although Lillian hasn’t been ticketed in the last twenty years, she’s uptight with worry that her luck has run out. Like a swimmer doing a backstroke, she flings her arm at her pocketbook lying on the backseat. Feeling the handle in her hands, she grunts a loud sigh as she heaves the bag onto her lap. Wheezing from the exertion to her skinny old bones, Lillian pauses for a moment to catch her breath before beginning the hunt for her license and registration forms. Rummaging through the clutter, she barks at Howard, “Let me do the talking an’ keep your trap shut!”

She then switches her attention to the Troopers, looming larger with each step in the side view mirror. Patrick arrives first as Joe McNary assumes his tactical position at the right rear of the Chevy.

LeClerc bends to peer in the window, asking politely and softly—almost in a whisper-- “May I please see your driver’s license and vehicle registration, Ma’am.” Dark sunglasses mask his eyes as they scan the automobile’s shabby interior. Empty McDonald’s beverage cups & hamburger wrappers share the back seat with a sweater, jacket, and tattered umbrella. The flat-bed cargo space behind the rear seat is empty. A pine-tree shaped air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror is fighting a losing battle with the stink rising from an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts. Next to the driver is a faded black imitation leather pocketbook, a Ronson cigarette lighter and an opened pack of Kool cigarettes.


Just the ordinary debris of ordinary people confirms his first impression that he’s dealing with a couple of harmless geezers, probably in their early seventies.

With Lillian’s documents in hand, Patrick intones the first part of the Ritual speech. “You should know, Ma’am that at Exit 11 you passed us doing 65 in a 55mph zone. Didn’t you see the speed limit sign back there?” Lillian pleads, “No, officer, I honestly ditn’t see that sign, an’ anyways, I thought the speed limit was changed back to 65?” LeClerc, mild annoyance now evident in his voice, reminds Lillian, “Yes, but until the new limits are actually posted,”...

At this point he strays from his reprimand to consult the driver’s license for her name, “I’m afraid, Ms. Borker, that we all must still observe the 55mph maximum.” Fully expecting an argument on this point, Patrick is surprised when the old guy in the passenger seat blurts out. “Hey, I need tuhgo tooda batroom.”

Lillian, swishing her hand at her passenger tells him “keep your pants on, Howey! Can’t ya see I’m busy? When we get outta here we’ll make a pit stop.” Slightly amused by this outburst, Patrick for the first time takes closer notice of this character she calls “Howey”.

A long, blotchy face, outsized ears and a few ratty hairs on his nearly bald head dominate his appearance. The florid nose, cheeks and watery melancholy in his eyes betray lots of hard times, hard luck, and hard liquor. So many of his teeth are missing that it has deformed his jaw, making it look like a plough blade. When he talks a faint whistle accompanies his heavy New York accent.


LeClerc, trying to get back to the business of Ms. Borker’s speeding, is interrupted once again by her passenger, “Tell ya what, Johnny” he hisses bug-eyed at the policeman in the window, “the Dodgers’ll sweep those Goddamned Yankees in four straight! An’ dey’ll win the Series at home in Ebbets Field. Mark my woyds, Johnny! You jist wait’n see...”

That does it for LeClerc, who decides he’s wasted enough time on these queer old fogies. The Ritual is over. He straightens up, redirects his gaze at the oncoming traffic stream, and instructs Lillian to, “Wait here. We’ll be right back,” and withdraws to the squad car, waving McNary to join him. Back in the super Ford, he flicks the toggle that shuts off the roof top flashers and stares vacantly at the dashboard in silence.

After a brief reflection on this wacky and pitiful encounter, LeClerc directs McNary to “let ‘em go”. “Send them on their way with a warning notice, Joe. And tell ‘em that the next Trooper might not be such a nice guy” McNary, with a coy grin agrees, “Righto, Sarge”.

In keeping with his own routine Patrick writes on his clip board, “Stopped brown 86 Estate Chevy Wagon, Aug 20, 97, Exit 13 NJTP. Gave senior couple lecture & warning re. current limits. CN 286-54YX registered to Ms. Borker, Bridgeport CN. CN License and registration up to date and in order” Patrick and Joe return to the Chevy, and McNary thrusts Lillian’s documents into her liver spotted hand. And now Joe delivers the “I’m not going to cite you this time, so be careful to not let it happen again speech,” pleased to be able to execute the sergeant’s decision to do the right thing.


Lillian flashes a nicotine stained smile and gushes,” Thank you officer...thank you very, very, much”. Stuffing her papers back into her handbag, she adds, “please take my word for it that me’n Howey’s gonna keep it under 55mph from now on, an’ that’s for sure, ain’t it Howey?” LeClerc taps a faint salute on the patent leather visor on his blue-gray Trooper cap. Case closed.

The bulky wagon lumbers off the shoulder and back into the flow of traffic, a cloud of exhaust spewing from the tailpipe, as a haunting good-bye flies out from Howard’s window...”ADIOS… JOHNNY….”

Patrick stares after them, those odd words from that odd old man still stuck in his ears. He watches the Borker car melt into the river of automobiles rushing north. McNary is already sitting behind the wheel, waiting.

Back in the police car, Sergeant Patrick LeClerc tries to return his attention to the task of schooling Trooper McNary, but he’s distracted by the nagging sense of something unremembered, but not quite forgotten...



In February 1956, 23 year old Phyllis Dixson agrees to marry Howard Ramsey, the fast talking hustler she met on a blind date only six months earlier. Raised in a brass-knuckle section of Brooklyn, Howey is glib and handsome in a kind of greasy way that blinds the lonely young girl from upstate. But now, 14 months later Phyllis finds herself the suffering wife of an abusive shady character 10 years her senior, and mother of their newborn baby.

Howard left just after Easter, following a shouting match and his boozy vow to “hit the road for good”. True to his word he hasn’t been seen or heard from since then, discarding his wife and child as he would the worthless stub of a ticket he bet on a losing horse at the track.

Hells Kitchen is the ironic nickname of the ugly midtown Manhattan neighborhood on the West Side where they live, the hell-on-earth where Phyllis and her infant son struggle to survive in the spring of ’57. Even before Howard deserted, he brought home more misery than bacon; but now there is only misery, and without nearby family or friends to fall back upon, Phyllis’ heart stings from the pain of hopelessness.

When the letter arrives addressed to “H. Ramsey” Phyllis holds it up to the light in the window before opening it. She has long ceased worrying about reading mail not addressed to her.

The letter postmarked May 16 validates what she has long feared. It confirms that effective July 1, her 44th street apartment rent is being raised to eighty dollars per month. Since their flat is outside the protection of New York’s rent control laws, she knows a rent hike is likely. But actually holding the notice letter in her hand, and feeling victimized by laws that seem to protect everyone but her, she is swamped by a wave of panic and self-pity. Crushing the letter in disgust, she throws herself on the bed and has a good cry.


After letting loose her anguish in a torrent of tears, Phyllis comes to grips with the hard reality that feeling sorry for herself isn’t going to get her anywhere. A voice deep inside begins shouting,” get a hold of yourself, lady. Don’t just lie here. Get up and fight back!” Consulting the bathroom mirror confirms that she looks terrible. Blinking away the moisture in her eyes, she proceeds to splash cold water on her swollen face, comb her hair, and put the teapot on the stove. She lectures out loud about how she owes it to the baby, and how she just has to find a way out of this mess. All of which brings a self-conscious smile to her face when she realizes how foolish it must sound to nosy neighbors hearing her talking to herself!

At the kitchen table the tea warms her hands and soothes her anxiety so that she is able to begin sorting through her options.

Confusion and despair give way to the chilling facts of her circumstances; it’s time to face the truth. He isn’t coming back. The conventional wisdom of the times that assumes a wayward husband would eventually return just isn’t going to happen. At least not when it comes to Howard Ramsey.

It’s time to tell her sister in Long Branch, New Jersey, the terrible truth that the Ramsey marriage is a disaster. It’s time to inform Martha that Phyllis and Patrick are alone in this world without a husband or a father. It’s time to risk the shame and whispered speculations of the mid-fifties and beg for help.

Locking the door of her coldwater flat, with Patrick sound asleep in his crib, Phyllis walks down the three flights of the dismal, sour smelling apartment building, headed for a nearby tavern with a public telephone.


Trembling, and unsure about how she’s going to explain all this to Martha, she hears the dime drop in the phone pay-slot, the ringing dial tone, the saccharine voice of the long distance operator announcing, “May I help you...” “Yes, Operator, can you please connect me with 737-0087 in Long Branch, New Jersey?”

Martha is waiting with an umbrella on the platform of the Long Branch station of the Jersey Central Coast Line. The 7:30 PM arrival from Penn Station NYC is only 15 minutes late: not bad by the standards of this unpredictable old commuter line. Martha’s husband, Frank, is waiting in the car parking lot adjacent to the station.

When Phyllis detrains, her bundled baby locked in her left arm, she flings her free arm around the neck of her older sister. Martha drops the umbrella on the platform to better embrace her sister and child. In their crowded hug, both teary-eyed women choke to say something sensible, but the words get stuck in the silence of an understanding that doesn’t need them.

Living with Martha, Frank, and their two children has its small discomforts, but succeeds in rescuing Phyllis and baby Patrick from disaster. Martha’s family supplies Phyllis and her child not only a roof over their heads, but a sense of family and belonging that sustains them for the next 24 months. To help out, Phyllis takes a part-time job as receptionist for a dentist whose office is within bus-commuting distance. The work is easy and the hours convenient, affording Phyllis the dignity of participating in covering part of her own expenses.

During that time Howard Ramsey officially divorces his wife and abandons his child. For reasons known only to him, he chooses a whiskey soaked life of hustling, gambling, petty crime, and frequent visits to Rikers Island.


In the summer of 1958 Peter LeClerc enters Phyllis’s life. Pete, as his commercial fishermen buddies know him, is 38 years old, ruggedly handsome, and single. At a St. Martin’s church outing to a Yankees baseball game he first meets the woman who will tempt him out of bachelorhood.

Pete breaks the ice by buying Phyllis a hot dog & beer. On the bus going home, he sits next to his new friend, trying to make the choice of sitting next to Phyllis look casual and unplanned. But he actually had it in mind from the moment they left the stadium.

The normally quiet and bashful LeClerc chats up a storm with the pretty young women he only met earlier today. He tells her about how, before joining his father in the fishing business, he had hopes of becoming a major league baseball pitcher. He reminisces about being born and growing up a “townie” in the small world of Monmouth Beach. Phyllis mostly listens, but what she hears, she likes.

Their relationship evolves from being comfortable, to being interesting, to being in love. The pain and humiliation of Hells Kitchen is now forgotten in the arms of a man as good as her first husband was bad.

The church bulletin announces “On July 17, 1959 Phyllis Dixson and Peter LeClerc were married at St. Martin’s. Fr. Joseph Ambrosini celebrated their wedding mass, and a reception of their many friends followed at Squire’s Pub in Eatontown. Mr. and Mrs. LeClerc spent their honeymoon at the Marriott Hotel in Atlantic City.”


After a romantic candle-light dinner at the Marriot, the newlyweds stroll the glitzy Atlantic City boardwalk. They pause at the railing to watch, as they’ve watched a thousand times before, the shadowy ocean invading the wide, sandy beach; listening to the kettle-drum music of the breaking waves. Looking out at the dark Atlantic, Phyllis tugs the empty sleeves of the sweater wrapping her shoulders. Peter places his foot on the lower pipe of the guardrail, his big hands gripping the top rail like a weightlifter about to lift a huge barbell. For a few minutes they just stare out at the fickle sea that supplies Peter and his family their livelihood, and their constant fear.

That’s when Pete awkwardly pops the second biggest question of their relationship, “Phyllis, honey, I’ve been thinkin’ that maybe you’d let me...well maybe I could adopt Patrick, and instead of just bein’ his step-father... I could be his real father know, let him have my name and all’. It sure is somethin’ I’d like if it’s ok with you?

Phyllis doesn’t hesitate for a moment. She is ecstatic. “Oh, Peter! You’re such a darlin’… Yes, yes... Of course. That would be wonderful.”

On Dec 20, 1959, at the law office of Hugh Karstow in Red Bank, the paperwork is completed designating Patrick LeClerc the legally adopted son of Peter LeClerc of Monmouth Beach, NJ.



Patrick’s roommate, Tony Vitto charges down the Police Academy dormitory hallway, waving the Sunday, August 10, 1979 edition of the Asbury Park Press. Bursting into their room, he shouts, “I gottit Pat! And lookee here, old buddy, there’s your handsome puss on the front page.” Spreading the newspaper out on the bunk bed Patrick was using to organize his clothes for packing, Tony reads out loud the headline, “Dateline, Sea Girt; NJ State Trooper Academy Cites Patrick LeClerc Of Monmouth Beach Top Cadet At Graduation Ceremonies”.

After devouring every detail of the coverage of the previous night’s commencement exercises, Tony and Patrick jubilantly slam “high-fives” until their hands are red. Two other recently graduated cadets join in the celebration, and that’s when the phone rings in the dorm lobby. A moment later, the dorm monitor hollers from down the hall, “LeClerc”, it’s for you...”

Trotting down the corridor to take his call, Patrick thinks maybe it’s his Mom calling to advise some change in their plans to have lunch before she comes to drive him home. Or maybe it’s his cousin Jodi letting him know that she persuaded, Carol Healy, her friend from Rutgers to come to the graduation party tonight at Aunt Martha’s house. Patrick hasn’t been able to get Carol out of his mind since he first said hello to the pretty redhead from north Jersey when she was visiting Jodi last month.


Picking up the receiver left dangling at the lobby pay-phone, a raspy voice on the other end intercepts Patrick before he can even say hello. “Don’t say nothin’. Just listen. This is your father, an’ I aint kiddin’. I just wanna say I wuz at the track when I read the papers about your graduatin’ and everythin’ an I wanna tell ya I’m really proudaya. Now I know I aint been a good father an I ain’t about to make any excuses. But on the Q.T. I’ve bin keepin’ tabs on ya, ya know. It’s amazin’ that my kids gonna be a copper, but as long as you are I wanna wish you the best. I don’t know why I’m doin’ this, an’ I probly aint ever gonna do it again. But, anyways, I thought you should know just because I never showed you any love, that don’t mean I hate ya. Well that’s it. And, bye the way, if I was you I wouldn’t tell your Mother I called ya. It can’t do any good tellin’ her. Right?” In the next few seconds of silence, Patrick is so dumbstruck he can’t respond. It’s then that the caller tags on his strange goodbye… “that’s all I gotta say so… ADIOS JOHNNY.” With that the phone connection clicks and a loud buzzing signals conversation ended.

For a full minute Patrick stands there with the receiver held up to his ear, listening to the empty hiss. When the shock wears off, and his senses tell him to put the receiver back on its hook, his hand is shaking.

Back in the room, Tony notices right off that Patrick looks pale and a little distracted. “Hey, Pat, is anything wrong? Did you get shot down by that babe from Paramus?”

“Nah, it was nothin’; Just somebody sayin’ hello.” Unplugging his radio-alarm clock, and taking down some of his paperbacks from the bookshelf, he orders his buddies out of the room. “OK, you guys get outta here now and let me finish packin’. My Mom will be by soon and I don’t want to keep her waitin’.” Patrick attempts a don’t-worry-all-is- well grin. “I’ll see you all next Wednesday when we check in at the Bordentown Barracks. So, take care and don’t celebrate too much. You don’t wanna start out havin’ a hangover the first day on the job”


When the party begins at 7:30 there aren’t many people at Aunt Martha’s big old Victorian house in Long Branch, only Patrick’s parents, Pete and Phyllis, Aunt Martha, Uncle Frank, and their daughter Christy. Christy’s older sister, Jodi, is still on the Garden State Parkway driving her friend Carol down from Paramus. Just family, a few neighbors and that’s all.

But by 10 O’clock the place is jammed with half the townspeople of Monmouth Beach, Long Branch, and Oceanport. Patrick is indeed a popular guy in this part of the world.

A mob of old and new buddies hoist brown bottles of Budweiser in countless, “Here’s to you” toasts, followed by much sarcastic yuk-yukking about Patrick’s prowess as a softball player, his off-key singing voice, and his popularity with the girls of Monmouth County. The dining room table is filled cheek-to-jowl with sterno heated aluminum trays brimming with lasagna, ravioli, veal parmigiano, meatballs, and chicken cacciatore. Phyllis and Martha are kept busy filling the trays of Italian food favorites, but the sushi is about as popular as fish bait. Asian delicacies have not yet caught on with the “Townies” of the Jersey Shore.

When he finally gets the chance to be alone with Carol, Patrick invites her outside onto the wrap-around porch. They sit together on the two-seater swing his Uncle installed years ago. Carol cradles her beer bottle in her lap, politely taking small sips between big intervals. She hates beer. Patrick chugs the amber stuff with more gusto, but is very careful not to overdo. This girl means too much to him to risk getting “blotto”.

They talk about her plans to one day be an elementary school teacher; the usual stuff about always loving kids, and wanting to do something worthwhile with her life. She finds herself revealing to Patrick the arguments she has had with her parents who are pushing her to study accounting or business, confiding to him “You know I wish they would leave me alone. Certainly I could make more money. But like that’s supposed to be the most important thing in life?”

“I understand completely, Carol” Patrick reassures her. “It’s the same with me. I could have finished college and become a salesman, or something. But ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to be a Trooper. For me it’s like you said, I want to do something worthwhile, and being a good, honest cop is how I think I can do that best”


Carol again surprises herself when she interrupts their “where are we going in life” conversation to confess, “Patrick, I have to tell you something. I’ve never felt more relaxed talking to a guy like this, before.”

“Same goes for me Carol...and I just hope we can do a lot more of it. Like maybe my first weekend furlough in October. We could go hear this new guy Springsteen at The Stone Pony, and maybe get a pizza afterwards. Are you ok with that?”

Carol turns her head to look Patrick square in the face for the first time. He worries for a split second that maybe she’ll turn him down, but with her eyes locked on his, she flashes an encouraging smile of delight. ”Of course, Patrick. I’d love to go with you.” His heart and his libido begin their age-old struggle to determine what happens next, when Carol says “But maybe we better go inside now. Jodi has to get up early tomorrow to get me back to Paramus. It’s really been great. I mean it Patrick. Really great”

It’s almost midnight, but the party is still in full swing. Phyllis tracks down Patrick to tell him that she and dad are going home. Patrick kisses his mom and hugs his father. “Thanks Dad. Mom... thanks for everything! It’s a great party. And don’t worry, I’ll help cleanup, and hit the sack at a decent hour. You guys drive safe. I’ll see you tomorrow. Uncle Frank will let me sleep on the pull-out in the family room.”

When the alarm blasts him out of a deep sleep at six the next morning, Patrick hustles off to the bathroom to shower before the girls come downstairs for breakfast. He scrubs harder, shaves a little closer, and takes a little more time combing his hair trying to look good, so that he can impress Carol. After scarfing down Uncle Frank’s breakfast specialty, huevos rancheros, Patrick carries Carol’s bags out to Jodi’s Volkswagen. Patrick and Carol say their self-conscious good-byes as Jodi looks on with a smile. The Volkswagen buzzes down Ocean Ave. toward the Garden State parkway, where the girls hope to get a head start on the heavy Monday morning commuter traffic heading up to Newark, and New York City.

It is then that Patrick feels a strong urge to have a man-to-man with the only father he has ever known.


When Patrick turns into the gravel driveway at his parent’s house, his mother’s car is not there. As he suspected, Phyllis has already left to go to Riverview Hospital in Red Bank where she does volunteer work on Mondays and Wednesdays. ”Good” he tells himself, “Now I can talk to dad alone.”

It’s the same, white Cape Cod bungalow where Patrick grew up. A huge anchor salvaged from a derelict tug-boat rusts away in the front yard where Patrick installed it when he was in high school. The last house on 3 block long Porter Street, it sits on the bank of the Shrewsbury River, originally built to be a summer vacation home. Only a mucky salt marsh with Wilt Chamberlin sized reeds stands between it and the high-waters of the hurricane season. It reeks the salty smell of decaying vegetation, while screeching seagulls almost drown out the muffled pounding of the Atlantic Ocean, a half mile to the east.

When Patrick started kindergarten, only six families lived on Porter Street, but with the growing popularity of Monmouth Beach, there are now 22 year-round residences. The larger and fancier homes of newcomers stand in obvious contrast to the dated, more modest homes of the “townies” aka “clammdiggers”. All properties, however, are well looked after, making the neighborhood look nicer than Patrick had ever remembered.

The clannish culture of the “townies” may be getting washed away in the flood tide of sophisticated New York accented yuppies, but the money and sky-rocketing real estate values that they bring with them benefits everyone. So, no one is complaining.

Peter LeClerc still owns the fishing boat “Ellen B”, but he rarely goes to sea himself anymore. Nearly sixty years old, his doctor has convinced him that because of a weak heart, his fishing days are over. His brother’s son, Harold LeClerc now captain’s his vessel and does most of the hard work of commercial fishing. Pete enjoys his semi-retirement and manages to live a modest, but comfortable life, on his 25% share of Harold’s catches.

When Patrick comes through the screen door leading into the kitchen, Pete is enjoying his morning coffee and reading today’s Press. “Hi ya, son” he says putting down the newspaper and removing his specs. “That was a heck-of-a party, last night. You sure gotta lot of nice friends, kiddo. Pull up a seat and join me.”


Although pushing sixty, Pete LeClerc is still very fit. Except for thinning gray hair, a little sag in his shoulders, and the size 40 belt holding up his jeans, he looks much as he always has to Patrick. From years at sea, the wind and sun have tattooed a permanent tan on his face and huge hands. Some say his crooked smile and voice reminds them of Spencer Tracey.

Getting up from the table, Peter takes an empty cup from the cupboard, plunks it down on the chrome trimmed kitchen table, and fills it to the brim because he knows Patrick likes his coffee black. After taking a cautious sip of hot coffee from the fat white mug, probably kidnapped from a Jersey diner, Patrick tells Pete “Thanks dad. I’m glad Mom’s at the hospital because I need to talk to you…alone.”

Patrick begins, “Dad, I want you to know how much I love you. I want you to know that even though I’m adopted... well, even if I wasn’t... I just couldn’t love you more.”<

This straight to the point exclamation, the emotion in his voice, and the pleading look in his eyes catch Pete totally by surprise. Although Phyllis explained their past to Patrick when he was seven years old, he never brought it up again. It was as if once told of his adoption, Patrick seemed to prefer simply not to think or speak of it. And they haven’t. Until now...

Patrick tries to explain yesterday’s phone call that came out of the blue, “I can’t even remember exactly what he said, but it doesn’t make any difference. To me, I have only one father in this world, and it’s you. I don’t know this man. I don’t have any feeling for him. I don’t care if he’s proud of me. And that stuff about keeping tabs on me, makes me sick. Oh, God I wish he never called.”

Pete pushes himself up and out of his chair, and walks around the table to Patrick who is on the edge of tears. With strength drawn from the muscle memory of a lifetime of hard work, Peter lifts Patrick out of his seat. Taking his son in his arms, he murmurs, “It’s ok. It’s ok. I understand.”

For a moment they embrace in silence, the only audible sound coming from the loud tic-tock of the wind up clock in the bed room.


It was then that Pete says, “Patrick you gotta know that blood doesn’t guarantee anything. Sharing life’s ups and downs, like we have, is all that really counts. I know you love me. Now you gotta believe that I love you too… and you’ll always be my son. My son, not my step-son. Don’t think for a minute that anyone or anything can change that. Do you understand?”

“Thanks Dad. Thanks for letting me get this off my chest. After I hung up from this guy, I felt like I’d been mugged. I couldn’t help think how I owe you so much, and how I owe him nothing. Nothing. But I feel better now. Please don’t mention this to Mom. I just think that we should keep this between ourselves.”

“Righto. I’ll keep this under my hat. But before you go, let me remind you to try not to dwell on this. I’m sure it’s just a one-time thing, and you’re not likely to be bothered again. So, go on with your life, and put this thing back in the box where it belongs.”

Patrick looking at his watch, suddenly realizes he has to get on his way to keep a surfing date with some of his buddies down at the beach; his last chance to be a beach bum before reporting to Bordentown on Wednesday. At the screen door he stops, flashes a big smile and says, “Thanks again’re the best...when I get back, you and Mom are gonna be my treat for a lobster dinner at the Dockside tonight, ok?” A grinning Pete hollers to Patrick as he heads for the car, “You gotta deal, kiddo. See you later, and watch out for the sharks...”


FALL 1997

Patrick looks closely at the name plate on the brown metal door identifying its occupant, L. Borker. He is standing in front of Apartment 4C, Unit No.3 of “Pleasant Gardens”, Bridgeport Connecticut’s low income housing “Projects”. “Zorro sucks” smeared large across the door in black paint from a vandal’s spray can is an insolent example of the abuse and neglect that, in only five years, has transformed the “Projects” into a skyscraper slum. Situated in the middle of Bridgeport’s most squalid inner city neighborhood, it’s one of a cluster of eight identical structures built with taxpayer’s dollars by patronizing politicians. From nearby Highway Interstate 95, motorists could easily mistake them for luxury high-rises.

But, up close any impression of luxury would just be a cruel joke. The stench of urine fouls the hallways. Obscene graffiti and refuse is everywhere. Vandalized elevators no longer work, and stairwells are “crack” dens and hide-outs for predators. The ridiculous name assigned by social engineers mocks the brutal irony that “Pleasant Gardens” is really a warehouse for hopeless poor people chained in welfare dependency by day; by night the prison in which they are caught in the cross-fire of drug wars, where behind bolted doors their prayers for protection from bullets and burglars go unanswered.

Patrick hesitates for a moment before pressing the doorbell buzzer, still debating himself if he should go through with this. His finger resolves the argument and stabs the greasy tan button. He buzzes two more times before hearing a shuffling sound from inside the apartment. The scratchy voice of an old woman muffled by the thick door inquires, “Whoizzit? Whaddayawant?”

Putting his head close to the peep-hole, Patrick shouts “My name’s Sergeant LeClerc, ma’am, the policeman from Jersey who stopped you on the Turnpike five weeks ago. Do you remember me?”

At first there’s no response, only silence; And then the clanking and clinking of the interior locks giving way as the door opens a crack, but still restrained by the chain of the last unopened lock. Through the opening Patrick sees Lillian’s scowling face, smells the smoke of her cigarette. “What izzit? What did I do now?” she says.


“Nothing, ma’am, I just need to talk to you... Can I come in? There’s nothin’ to be afraid of.”

“Whatever yiz want, ya can ask me bout from here. Ya don’t need to be botherin’ me in my home!”

“OK, Ms. Borker, I just need the name and address of your passenger the day we stopped you down in Jersey. Only routine stuff that I need for my records. I should’ve gotten it before, but now I need it. It sure would be helpful to me, and since we gave you a break, I was hoping you’d cooperate.”

Putting her cigarette in her mouth to free her hands, Lillian unlatches the last of the chain locks, wincing from the smoke irritating her eyes. When the door swings open, she waves Patrick inside. “If you’re here ta talk about Howey, ya better come in. I don’t want the whole neighborhood gettin’ an earful of my business”.

Inside the messy little one-bedroom apartment, Lillian points to a plastic covered sofa instructing Patrick to “Have a seat.” Snuffing out the Kool cigarette in an ashtray already crowded with tan filter tip butts and smudged lipstick traces, she plops herself down in a nearby kitchen chair. Although it’s almost noon, Lillian is still in her bathrobe. “OK, so whaddaya wanta know about Howard?”

“Well, Ms. Borker, basically all I need to know, is what is Howard’s full name? And where does he live. That’s pretty much it, unless you have something more you think I should know.”

“His name’s Howard Ramsey, at least that’s what he told me was his name. He moved in with me last year, but he ain’t here no more. They took him last week in the amblance to that VA hospital in Newington. It got to where I couldn’t take it no more. It just seemed that he lost all his buttons, ya know. Before that, sometimes he acted normal and sometimes he acted looney, but then it got worse, so I called the social worker. She checked the records and said he was a vet, which I never knew, and next thing I know, here they come with an amblance an’ take him up to Newington.”


Listening to Lillian dissolves all the doubts that have haunted Patrick for over a month. The million-to-one odds stacked against the probability that this might really be the prodigal father he has shut out of his heart and mind all these years, vanishes with the mention of his name. It brings Patrick neither joy nor sorrow, only the relief of knowing that he’s near the end of the trail. He decides to tell Lillian that he’s come all the way to Bridgeport for something more than just completing a police report. He tells her Howard Ramsey is very likely his father.

“You’re father! Well I’ll be damned”, she shrieks! “Howey never said nothin’ about having a kid. But then again, Howey probly ditn’t tell me lots a things about his past. He was just that kinda guy. We had a lot in common, ya know, but not everythin’. We both went to the same school of hard knocks, an for awhile gotalong pretty good. Then he kinda went off the deep end, and hadda go up to the funny farm. He’s in pretty bad shape, I hear, an’ I think he’s on his way out. But I’ll never forget when we first met at that joint in Brooklyn. He aksed me if I wanted a beer, and I said why not? From then on we had some pretty good times. But it kills me to think that all along he had a kid like you, and never said a word. What else do ya wanna know?”

Settling into an awareness that having come this far, he has to see this thing through, he asks, “How do I get to the Newington VA hospital?”

As Lillian opens the door, she directs Patrick, “Take I-95 north to exit 43. Look for Willard Street. Ya can’t miss it.” Hearing the locks being latched behind him, reminds Patrick of the banging noise of a Monmouth County Jail “lockdown”. He proceeds down the smelly corridor, past the “Out of Order” sign taped on the elevator door, to the stairway.


Going through the electronically operated entrance doors, Patrick can’t help but think the Newington VA Hospital resembles more a resort hotel than a refuge for old soldiers. But its patients are anything but vacationers. They’re young and old veterans who depend upon government for medical treatment that they can’t, in most cases, provide for themselves. Some come from loving families, and some have only the hospital staff as family. Some are hospitalized for brief illnesses, while others have been in treatment for years. Patrick marvels at how splendid a facility it is, and how grandly it expresses the gratitude of a nation for those who went to its defense.

The girl at the information desk consults her computer to advise Patrick that Howard Ramsey is in room 676 in the psychiatric ward, located on the eighth floor of the main building. She instructs Patrick to contact the duty nurse at the registration desk on that floor for information about Mr. Ramsey’s condition, and possible visitation.

As the elevator hums it way to the eighth floor, he still has no idea of what to expect, what he will say, or how this will all turn out. But he does know the die is cast.

When the registration nurse asks his name and relationship to the patient, he answers “I’m Patrick LeClerc” and leaves it at that. The blonde nurse repeats her question, “And you’re relationship to Mr. Ramsey, Mr. LeClerc?” Patrick, choking to get out those three words tells her, “I’m his son...”

The pretty blonde then directs Patrick, “Please wait in the visitor waiting room just down the hall. The ward doctor will be along shortly to tell you more. Help yourself to the coffee on the counter, if you like.”

As Patrick is pouring coffee into a plastic cup, a tall young man in a white coat barges into the waiting room. He extends a business-like handshake and announces, “Hi, I’m Dr. Riordan, Mr. LeClerc. You’re here to see Mr. Ramsey?”

“Yes, doctor. Is that going to be ok?”


Dr Riordan invites Patrick to have a seat, while he explains, “Sure. Buts let’s talk a little first. You see Mr. Ramsey is a very sick man. He came in here only a few days ago, pretty far into acute dementia. In plain language, he is living in an imaginary world very much separated from reality. You could call it senility, or Alzimer’s but in any case he’s… beyond normal communication. His condition is exasperated by a weak heart, on the edge of completely failing. So when he became very agitated yesterday, we had to sedate him heavily. As a result he sleeps mostly, and talks incoherently when he’s awake. I’m not sure you can get through to him, or if he’ll know who you are. And, I’m afraid the bottom line is that even if he does return to the real world temporarily, he probably won’t survive through this weekend. He’s just got too much going against him. I’m sorry, so go on in when you’re ready, but don’t expect too much, and please don’t stay long...”

Howard Ramsey shares a double room with a middle aged black man. Entering their room the roommate, whose left leg is in a cast, waves a wordless hello. Patrick waves back his own silent greeting as he passes by the white curtain screen that divides the room. Arriving at Ramsey’s bedside, Patrick stands there, taking in the sight of a pitiful old man deep in sleep. He looks different than Patrick remembers from their last meeting. Then he was flush with color and animated by some wacky prediction about the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now he is as pale and serene as a wax figure in Madame Toussad’s museum.

Patrick pulls up a chair, and taking a seat, begins his vigil. It’s then that the silence is broken. With eyes wide open but that don’t see, like a blind man, Howard Ramsey exclaims, “How the hell are ya, Gilly. I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age! Howzabout we go out to Belmont know, for ol’ time’s sake. I gotta tip onna colt in the seventh that could make us a few bucks. Whaddaya say?”

Patrick can’t resist the burning appeal in Howey’s voice, so pretending he is Gilly, he tells him, “Sure Howey. Sure. You gotta deal. I’d love to go out to Belmont with you.”


Patrick’s pretense calms Ramsey like a sedative. He smiles a big toothless smile, sighs a big sigh, and closing his eyes, drifts back into unconsciousness, “Great,Gilly...Great...I’ll see ya tamarra.”

In the space of the next two hours, Ramsey floats back and forth between bizarre, wide-awake fantasies involving old friends, old experiences, and silent slumber. The television blares the musical intro to the 8PM News Hour, reminding Patrick that he can’t stay much longer.

Saddened by the prospect that he may never get through to Howard, Patrick is just about to leave, when Ramsey again awakens. This time there’s calmness in his voice, a focus in his eyes that hasn’t been there before. Howard looks inquisitively at his visitor and says, “Hey, ain’t you the copper we ran into down in Jersey last month?”

Taken aback by this sudden display of rational thought, Patrick responds, “Yes I am. I heard about you being here from Lillian, so I thought I’d stop by as long as I was in town.” Howard smirks a wry grin, “Well I’ll be damned! A copper that comes ta see an ol’ bum like yours truly. Say, ya know I shouldda aksed you before about my kid. He’s a Jersey cop like you. He goes by LeClerc, his stepfather’s name…Patrick LeClerc. Maybe ya heardda him?”

Patrick’s instincts tell him to play along. He squints as if searching his memory, bringing a broad smile to Howey’s face when he says, “Yeah I’ve heard of him. If it’s the same guy, he’s supposed to be a pretty good cop.”

Obviously pleased, Ramsey blushes with pride, “You got that right. I heard the same thing too. But I ain’t seen him since he was a baby, an I haveta guess he don’t remember me cause I was a lousy father. Left him and his mother in a lurch, an I wouldn’t blame em’ if they hate me. I wish I could tellum how sorry I am for bein’ such a rat, but it’s probly too late for that. Life’s like that, ya know. Ya make your bed an ya gotta lay in it. That’s all there is to it. An now I’m lyin’ in a bed I probly ain’t ever gonna get outta.”


Hearing Ramsey’s confession, Patrick’s emotions see-saw between rage and sympathy. After an awkward pause, he say’s, “You know, a good man once told me that ‘blood guarantees nothing’ and in many ways he was probably right. But I saw something last year you should know about. I was called into a drug bust down in Camden. It turned out to be a real shooting gallery. Four dealers dead, one cop critically wounded, and we’re stalled by the last “perp” still standing. He’s holding a 10 year old boy hostage. When he comes to the tenement doorway, a nine mm held to the kid’s head, one of our SWAT guys puts a.308 right through the scumbag’s skull. Turns out this guy is the kid’s father, and when we go to get the boy, he’s blubbering like a baby over his father’s corpse. I’ll never forget him, screaming, ‘Daddy get up…get up. Daddy, Daddy… please don’t be dead’. It broke my heart, but it made me think; try telling that kid that ties of blood guarantees nothing. So you see, maybe you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”

A solitary tear dribbles down the old man’s cheek. Does he weep for the kid in Camden, the baby he abandoned 40 years earlier in Hells Kitchen, or his own squandered life? Patrick will never know, because before he can level about who he really is, Ramsey’s head starts bobbing like one of those dashboard dolls. He blinks uncontrollably, and once again starts to drift off. His eyes surrender to fatigue; he puckers his lips like a fish, struggling to get out the barely audible words, “Thanks copper. Thanks a lot. And don’t forget ta lookup my kid, and tell him what I told ya.”

Leaning over to pat his shoulder, Patrick reassures, “Don’t you worry old-timer, I’ll be sure to tell him.”

Howard Ramsey’s last mumbled utterance tears at Patrick’s soul, “Adios Johnny…Adios…”

A loudspeaker announcement invades the room, “Visiting hours are over. All visitors are required to leave.” Dr. Riordan appears in the doorway of room 676, and spying Patrick the preppy young physician reminds him, “Mr. LeClerc, I’m sorry but you’ll have to go now. We have some important tests to perform on your dad. We’ll let you know if anything happens. Did you tell the nurse how we can contact you if we need to?” Patrick mutters, “Yeah Doc, I did. I’m on my way now. Thanks for everything.”

Rising from his bedside chair, Patrick stares softly at the now comatose old man. Taking his boney, limp hand in his, he whispers,”Adios, Dad...adios...”


When the phone rings, 15 year old Peter picks it up. Young Peter lives in the LeClerc colonial house, built in 1990, in the colonial town of Freehold NJ, built in 1690. The man on the other end says, “This is Dr Riordan calling for Patrick LeClerc. Is he there?” “No”, the young man answers, “but my mom is.”

Riordan directs Peter “Put her on, please. It’s important”

When Carol LeClerc comes on line announcing, “Hello this is Mrs. LeClerc”, Riordan, in a consoling voice, says, “I’m afraid I have bad news for your husband, Mrs. LeClerc. His father, Howard Ramsey expired a little after 10PM tonight, just shortly after Mr. LeClerc left the hospital.”

“Oh, my God” Carol moans. “Patrick’s on his way home, and unless the Parkway traffic holds him up, I expect him any moment. Can you give me any more details, Doctor?”

“It was cardiac arrest, a massive heart attack. We did all we could, so have your husband call me tomorrow for any further discussion. And please extend him my sympathy for your loss...”

“Thank you, Doctor. . . I’ll have Patrick call you. Thanks again, and good night.”

When Patrick walks through the front door, shortly after midnight, Carol is waiting, her face drawn, eyes glistening from tears she is struggling to hold back. She takes Patrick in her arms, as a mother would her child, telling him of Riordan’s call. In their protracted embrace, Patrick can only say, “It’s over,’s finally over.”

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