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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: No, you can't go home again

April 28, 2012|By Joe Puglia

Corrigan's bar was on the corner of 237th and White Plains Road in the Bronx. It's now a Dominican market. The last time I was there, I was 23 and drinking with the Bronx boys. I was shipping out to Vietnam in the morning.

“One more round, Joey boy,” my friend Pete said. We raised our glasses and declared, “Bronx boys forever!”

That was the last time we were together. The war, suicide, drugs, alcoholism and murder took its toll on the old gang. Life in the Bronx was never the same.

Earlier this month, we followed one of our daughters, Sabine, and the La Cañada High School orchestra and band on an amazing journey to New York City. Directors Jason Stone and Kyle Smith, assisted by chaperons, gave the students a remarkable experience.

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I wanted to see Manhattan through the eyes of the students, but I was on another mission. I hoped to find some answers. Why do I always feel the magnetic pull of home? Why do I remember each detail of my childhood? For someone who had taken so long to grow up, why can't I let go of the past?

The LCHS orchestra performed at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine on Amsterdam Avenue in Spanish Harlem. While walking to the cathedral, I peeked down 120th Street, trying to catch a glimpse of myself playing stickball with the boys from the projects in '63. All I saw was congestion and the faithless masses trying to find a reason for being. We walked past storefronts that once were bars. I remember buying liquor there a few days after the Harlem riots in '64. There was no sign that I was ever there.

The orchestra shined in Saint John the Divine. It was an amazing experience to watch them play in a national treasure.

The young musicians also played at New York University and participated in a master class there, learning from virtuosos. I went back to my old neighborhood. I should have stayed with the orchestra.

My neighborhood was a slum, a church now stands where my family's deli was, and Saint Frances of Rome, my elementary school, was closed. My high school, Mount Saint Michael, looked worn and tired. “The House that Ruth Built,” the old Yankee Stadium, was gone. There were no signs of the Bronx boys, pitching pennies against the deli or singing doo-wop in the street.

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