For me, it was always about the uniform. My first one was sewn by my mother around 1951, a brown-and-orange Army outfit for a kindergarten play. I would wear it for the next two years on Halloween until the pants hung two inches above my shoes.
Later that year, I was inducted into Pack 372 of the Franklin Square Cub Scout Troop. I wore a sharp blue uniform with a blue-and-yellow neckerchief and its gold-colored holder.
A few years later, I played the sax with the Polk Street Grammar School marching band: white cardigan over black pants.
At 10, the Nassau County Police Boys Club sponsored our Wildcats, providing a full baseball uniform, red cap down to the metal spikes. I was the catcher and had a good arm. We won the Junior Nassau County Police League title five straight years. Nassau County Police Officer Bill Ward was our league director, and on trophy nights he’d don his full-dress police uniform. He was tall, trim and impressive. When he walked into the room, parents and kids alike parted like the Red Sea before he presented the awards.
On my 12th birthday, in 1958, I got my first real job -- as a Newsday delivery boy. No uniform, but “Newsday,” written across the canvas carry bag, made its own statement. My route, 48 homes, bordered Franklin Square and West Hempstead. I got a hand-me-down bike from an older cousin in New Jersey and repainted it gold, white and black, with rear crash bars and front V-bars loaded with red reflectors. The handlebars pointed straight up, with the Newsday bag wrapped around. I folded the papers, which cost five cents, one end into the other. Thursday’s papers needed rubber bands because of the thicker paper. I became a pro at flipping. In the snow, I tied my bag to an old, rusty sled. During blizzards and blinding rain, Pop drove me. With tips of $5 to $7 a week, I was living the dream.
Uniformed high school sports, hot rods and long hair followed, plus work as a uniformed gas jockey and auto mechanic. With no money for college, I joined my dad’s union, Plumbers Local 1, covering Brooklyn and Queens. A tough, noble profession, but it wasn’t for me.
One day, while walking into a luncheonette on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, I saw NYPD recruits heading for the subway en route to the New York City Police Academy. My heart rang out. I wanted that. Uniform, coolness, the whole shebang. Pop approved.
I took the Civil Service test and qualified to begin the process of becoming a police officer. Medical and background checks, endurance tests, multiple interviews, my dark brown pompadour cut short, a new black suit and tie that cost about $40 at a Hempstead discount store, and on April 3, 1968, I walked into the Police Academy in Manhattan, and in a blink of an eye, 21 years of service followed.
I did receive NYPD medals, promotions and even wrote a few police-related books. But now, at 76, married 53 years to Rachela, and with two children (who loved my police uniform) and four grandkids, I realize how uniforms transformed my life. Although I do miss my bike . . . and hair.
Reader Peter J. Pranzo lives in Mount Sinai.