When I was a boy, my father cleaned up crime scenes. Murders, suicides: after the police had sorted everything out, he was the one the insurance companies called. “It’s a hell of a thing,” he told me once. “To see what I see. Believe me, Telly. You wouldn’t want to know.”
I was fifteen then, in 1961, and from time to time one of the hoodlums at my school would press me for details, and I would oblige, inventing Police Gazette stories of pulp and gore. My talent for spinning these lies disgusted me, but in those days, I was strictly Varsity Club–I ran track, practiced debate, sat on the student senate–and I used my father’s job to win a hold with a crowd unlike my own. These were the boys who had never abandoned their ducktails and pompadours for the short bristles of crew cuts and flat tops. They were juvenile delinquents, my father said. Their lives, he assured me, would amount to squat.
But that didn’t stop me from envying their sneers and slouches, their motorcycle jackets, the very smell of them–Lucky Strikes and Vitalis. It was the scent of back seats and billiard parlors, of dark worlds I dreamed about, but never dared enter. There were limits, I suspected, to how far someone could travel into danger and come back healthy and whole.