My first arrest, age 4, Chicago


I was arrested about two years after this picture was taken, when I was four years old.

There was a gang of kids on the other side of Touhy Ave. with whom we had a running snowball fight every winter. There were 4-6 of them, and only me and my buddy Stewart Shaw on our side of the street. But we could shelter behind a hedge and they had to stand in the open on a corner. Both groups were out there in all weather; we loved the action, as long as the snow packed well.

A Saturday afternoon in February, with the temperature just below freezing — Stewart and I were lofting big, solid snowballs over Touhy Ave., but they were falling harmlessly amid our enemies, who spotted them easily. We made our snowballs in safety under the clothes lines in the yard of our apartment building, then run out on attack. Attack and retreat was our strategy.

On our last attack our enemies zinged us with hard-balls. They found a pool of snow melt at the curb and they were making missiles the size of pool balls. One hit me hard and hurt. When I looked down, I saw a stone been inside it.

Hell, those kids didn’t know that we had an outside water tap and laundry bucket near our clothes lines. I filled up a bucket with water, and we proceeded to make a pile of ice-balls.

There was no grace period. We threw balls all year round, and we sent those iceballs across Touhy like missles. Stewart hit the first kid in his chest – he looked down in surprise. Then I hit another kid in the head. He wasn’t even wearing a hat. I couldn’t believe my luck. He started crying and ran home.

Stewart’s mom yelled for him to come to dinner. I still had eight iceballs — there were two of them left.

Traffic had picked up on Touhy, but that was good for me. I could time the gaps in the cars, step out from behind the bushes, and let an iceball rip. I was putting some zip on it, really in the zone, making them scramble or be hit.

I ran up to the sidewalk with two iceballs. One of their softballs hit me in the chest. I laughed, blind with competition. I let one rip and wished it home. I wasn’t watching the cars.

That iceball went right into the open window of a Chicago police car, skimming the nose of the cop, who hit the brakes and the siren at the same time.

I was already running, an Irish kid with some genetic forewarning about the police. I was up three flights of stairs and into our apartment in three breathes. There was my mother, surprised: “What’s wrong?”

“Where’s dad?” He came out from the bedroom, sleep in his face. I ran to his legs and wrapped my legs around them so tightly that I threw him off balance.

“Don’t let them get me,” I pleaded.


“The Police.” He laughed,my mother laughed. Then the doorbell rang.

They were arresting me, they explained, but would release me to the custody of my parents.

I love the color of my mother’s hair in this photo, the way the sun has bleached red her brown hair on the ends. She still worked outside at my grandfather’s farm occasionally. I think of this when I see her. She’s almost 91.

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