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Maybe it is a case of “boys and their toys,” or some kind of wish fulfillment, but I have been a fire buff every since I was a kid.

(To clarify: Being a fire buff does not mean being a pyromaniac or arsonist. It generally describes people who support or admire firefighters and firefighting.)

I recall from a very young age seeing two “working fires” in my neighborhood in which firefighters attacked blazes in the upper stories of apartment buildings.

The bravery and precision in which they sized up the situation and ran toward a scene that others were fleeing left a lasting impression on me.

As a kid, I would race down the stairs from our third-floor apartment at the sound of approaching fire trucks. (I learned to discern the difference between fire, ambulance and police sirens.)

I would insist that my dad take me to the New York City Fire Museum, which was in a former firehouse and filled with exhibits, paintings, equipment, apparatus and photos.

It was there that I learned this apocryphal story: Before they were made of brass, poles in firehouses were supposedly made of wood, which led to this saying: “As you slide the down the pole of life, may all the splinters be facing in the right direction.”

In my first full-time job as a reporter in Saranac Lake, N.Y., I learned to interpret the fire sirens. Morse Code-like, the series of blasts alerted volunteers to the location of the fire, including the street and house number.

As a father, I shared my admiration for firefighting, taking my sons to fire museums and the FDNY Fire Zone in Midtown Manhattan, which has a state-of-the-art simulator to learn about fire safety.

You can also climb into cab of a fire truck and listen to an FDNY radio. The Fire Zone is designed with kids in mind, but somewhere there is a photo of me  sitting behind the wheel in that truck!

I am nowhere near as hardcore a buff as others. Though I do belong to several Facebook pages dedicated to fire apparatus, I cannot recite the specifications and capacities the way some can.

I have two FDNY sweatshirts – one is dark blue with an official FDNY patch and the other is red, with FDNY on the front and “Keep Back 200 Ft.” on the back.

When I wear them, I am often asked if I am a firefighter. I make it clear I am not — I am merely a buff.

Does that make me a wannabe? I don’t know, though at some point I’d like to volunteer in whatever way I can.

With 9/11 coming up, I cannot help but think about the incredible bravery and selflessness those firefighters displayed in trying to rescue others. Some of my former high school classmates in the Bronx were among those FDNY firefighters (and police officers) who gave their lives that day.

Beyond the flashing lights and bright red trucks, I am drawn to the esprit de corps, discipline and sense of duty and community that the firefighting services embody.

A Chilling Childhood Memory of Murder

Inspiration: To draw, create or write. It comes in many forms.

One can draw inspiration from a sight, a sound or from a blog post written by a friend.

This story comes from the latter.

My good friend Chris recently penned a coming-of-age story about his first brush with mortality (someone else’s) in the summer of 1977 in New York City.

That was an incredible summer that included a very long heat wave in an economically struggling city that endured a major blackout while also gripped by a serial killer who took his murderous orders from a neighbor’s dog.

Oh, and the Yankees won a World Series in dramatic fashion later in the year.

An image that Chris described vividly was his first close look at a dead person not in a casket or at a traditional wake or funeral.

That image was my muse as it brought back a memory of my first dead body — actually two dead bodies.

My encounter happened in the spring of 1976.

I was in sixth grade, attending a public school that I started halfway through the year after returning from one of my parent’s long stays in Argentina.

It was a bright spring morning and I entered the schoolyard.

The three-story L-shaped school building was along the right side. Along the left ran a side street adjacent to the Cross Bronx Expressway, a hellish portion of Interstate 95.

Separating the students from the street was a 12-foot chain link fence. Put razor wire across the top and the school would be indistinguishable from a detention center or jail.

The top grade at P.S. 36 was the sixth, so we were the oldest — the top of the food chain.

As I entered the yard, I immediately saw that it was empty of runners and chasers of any age.

Uh-oh. Was I late?!

Nope, there they were, all piled up against the fence at the corner of the yard looking out at the side street.

The whole area was abuzz.

“Can you see it?!”

“Is it bleeding?!”

“Ewwww!!”

But I couldn’t get close enough to see anything. All the teachers who were normally inside the fence were outside of it, some telling the kids to calm down and get away from the fence and talking to each other, gesturing to a parked car.

From our angle, the car was just far enough up the street that we could make out some shapes in the front seat and not much more.

The teachers were moving in front of our line of sight to block a clear view. But what we knew from all the whispering and buzzing was that there was a dead body in the car.

The school yard rear delimiter ended past the school building.

It had the same chain link fence, and at that moment, most of the school had climbed up a large portion of it.

To the right was another fence and a back gate. A teacher typically was posted at the front and this rear gate to ensure that any child that passed through it would not attempt to leave.

It was unguarded. And now my friend Jaimie and I quickly devised a plot.

He lived in a house adjacent to that rear fence. He had come in the back gate, hooked up with me and another kid and gave us the rundown of what he had seen.

From his home window, he could not see much and his mom had shooed him out their back door and into the school gate before he could get a closer look.

But now he told us that we could go out that gate, in his house’s back gate, down the alley along the side of his house and get right up to the front and take a look.

We were like mini ninjas. We ran out the back silently. We ran through the back of his house and into the alley.

Somehow I was in front and ran right up to the passenger door of the car.

Like a comedy, my two partners in crime probably banged into my back when I stopped short. I don’t remember.

But what I do remember vividly was the open window and the view into the front of the car.

Two dead bodies, extremely bloody from the holes in the sides of their heads and bodies.

One was slumped over the steering wheel; the other had its head back in the passenger seat.

That image freeze framed in my mind forever.

I can’t recall any other details of the car or bodies, just that there was a lot of blood.

We then heard a yell directed at us, and just as comically, we stumble-ran back through Jaimie’s house alley and back into the school yard.

I can pinpoint that it occurred on a Friday because I remember trying to find something about it in the newspaper the next day. There was a small paragraph in the crime blotter. Two unidentified men were found shot to death in a parked car, and very little else.

I can’t say that the event shocked or scarred me.

Anytime I see “Goodfellas” I am reminded of it.

Recently I introduced my kids to the movie and afterward I retold this story to my kids.

They were more fascinated with my story than the movie.

We sat at my computer and I brought up my old school on Google Maps and switched to satellite view. Very little had changed structurally and I could point to all the landmarks in my story.

The only difference is a storefront now exists in front of Jaimie’s house, where the teachers were all milling around that day.

As I looked at the street view image I could still picture that car with its dead driver and passenger.

Oddly, this is my only memory of sixth grade at P.S. 36.

Editor’s note from Chris Mele:

Here’s a plot twist: It turns out that before Silvio and I knew each other, we had both had some experience of this very same caper.

Here’s mine:

It was a Saturday morning (the day after Silvio saw the bodies) and my best bud at the time Charlie Rauch and I got wind of this shooting.
We pedaled our bikes furiously up to the site as Silvio described.
But when we got there, the car was gone, though evidence of what had happened (broken glass and blood bandages as I recall) were on the street.
Ever the reporter, I think I asked at the local pizza shop or bike store nearby what happened and they told me the car had been towed to the 43rd Precinct house, which was then on Benedict Avenue in the Bronx.
We pedaled there (me with my camera) and sure enough, there was the car in the garage, the door wide open, no evidence tape or police tape or anything. 
I shot a bunch of photos, including the one posted here at the top!
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Got Passion?

A scene in the movie “London Has Fallen” features the president and his trusted Secret Service agent, whose wife is pregnant with their first child.

The agent asks the president for advice about fatherhood and parenting.

You just need to keep two things in mind, the president replies: Teach your kid the Golden Rule and encourage them to pursue their passions in life.

That latter part really resonated with me.

When I was growing up, if I heard from my dad once, I heard a thousand times:

Follow your passions in life. Don’t be like your old man. A man who loves his job never works a day in his life.

And my favorite: “If you are happy diapering piss clams, diaper piss clams.” Forty years later I still have NO IDEA what he was talking about but I got his drift.

From about the time that I was 8 or 9, I wanted to be a newsman.

I had an avid interest in current affairs, a love for writing and a curiosity about the world.

I routinely would race down three flights of stairs from our apartment in the Bronx if I heard the fire trucks turning onto our street.

I’d write mock scripts, relying on accounts from the newspapers, and then tape myself on my cassette recorder pretending to be a television newscaster.

And when I got my very own camera — well! That opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me. I took photos of crashes, blizzards and crime scenes.

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On one memorable occasion when I was about 11, my buddy told me there had been a shooting the night before about 20 minutes from where we lived.

We furiously biked to the scene, where we learned the car had been towed to our local police station.

We got to the station, and there it was in the garage: A blue car with bullet holes in the windshield and bloody bandages still on its hood.

I snapped a bunch of photos, which I still have.

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I never gave up on my pursuit of news as a career. Every opportunity I had to write, to learn or to network, I seized with both hands.

I earned a degree in journalism at New York University, and got an internship at what was then New York Newsday, working with some of the sharpest reporting minds of the time.

I mention all of this because of a 9-year-old girl in Selinsgrove, Pa., named Hilde Kate Lysiak. She publishes and reports for her own homegrown neighborhood newspaper and website, The Orange Street News.

She became a media sensation when she broke the news of a murder in her neighborhood and then responded to critics who questioned what a 9-year-old girl was doing covering killings.

In her video rebuttal, Hilde pointedly spoke back at those who suggested she should be playing with dolls or having tea parties instead.

What came across so strongly was that Hilde was passionately dedicated to her work.

She reminded me of myself at her age.

And 30 years into my career, I can say that passion has paid off.

I’ve come full circle in a way because I was able to write a story about Hilde as a staff reporter at The New York Times.

So you go, Hilde! Take it from me, whatever your passion is, never give up on it.

My Brother Always Had Your Back

Note: Today marks the birthday of AMR contributor Richard Rodriguez’s late brother, Ralph. To commemorate the day, we are reposting this blog entry.

My oldest brother passed away a few years ago and I think of him often. I miss him a lot.

He was a unique person and was always there when you needed him no matter what the circumstance: car breakdowns, accidents, moving, fixing things. You name the situation, he was there for you.

The story I’m about to tell is true. Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty, and the facts may be twisted as my memory has seen better days.

One night my friends (most of the AMR crew) were headed out to the movies when my brother got a phone call and he asked us if we could help him with a friend whose car was stuck.

We declined since we knew my brother would be able to handle it.

When we got back, my brother was still out, and my other brother was out there too.

This was serious! So off we went to help.

He was at Ferry Point Park on the Bronx side by the Whitestone Bridge. At night, it was big “make out” spot.

Our friend was not stuck in the parking lot, but had squeezed his car through the pilings and into the dark recesses of the place, and was stuck in mud.

My brother had maneuvered his vehicle back there too, and in trying to get the other car out, also got stuck.

What a situation: Our friend was there with a girl who was not his girlfriend so this demanded our utmost discretion.

This poor girl was sitting in the back of my brother’s van as we all tried to get the vehicles unstuck.

We called a tow truck.

Problem was that when it got there, it was too big to get through the barriers.

We convinced the driver to pull one of the pilings out of the ground with his wench so he could get through.

This was going to be an expensive night.

Then the cops showed up.

They couldn’t believe what we were doing, but at least they were cool about it when our friend said, hey I’m a cop.

But when they asked to see his badge he couldn’t find it. He probably dropped it in the mud trying to get his car out.

Shit. Big trouble.

The officers warned us to move the cars and get the hell out of there and be sure to put the piling back.

They didn’t want to see us there when they swung back around later.

We hopped to it.

The tow truck got the cars out, we put everything back the way it was and we made tracks.

Still no badge (he actually found it the next day), but at least everyone got to go home and none of us ended up in jail.

I guess we should have gone out to help my brother from the start since that’s what he would’ve done for us without thinking twice, ‘cause he always had your back.

Ralph bro 2

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