I used to drink in a bar in the village called Lion’s Head. It was full of newspaper people. The Village Voice was around the corner, and a lot of guys from the papers would come and drink. It was a great bar full of great bullshitters. I knew a fireman that drank there occasionally and he had done a book. I thought, “Wow. That could be a really good story, about firemen.” I was so against that frigging war and I thought, what’s the opposite of a soldier going and killing people they don’t know? A fireman saving people they don’t know. I got permission, and finally ended up with a rescue team that covered all of the Bronx and Harlem.
People were saying, “What are you going to do next after firemen? Cops?” I said, “Get out of here. I hate them!” because of Vietnam and all that. Then I would hear sirens and wonder what I was missing. I was like a retired fire horse. It killed me.
Finally I started thinking, “Wait a minute.” I’ve never seen a book about good cops. All the books I’ve read are about the bums, princes of the city, all the scumbags. What is the job simply of being a cop in a big city like New York, and why doesn’t our society work for a lot of people, probably most people. Simply, what is the job? Who are these guys? I dedicated this one to the good guys, the ones who care and try to help.
I started in Alphabet City, 9th Precinct Lower East Side, and it was really rough. When I was doing Firehouse it was when the Bronx was burning. I ended up doing doubles from 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. and then midnight to 8 a.m. I ended up in Midtown South—that’s Times Square, 42nd Street, when it was really still New York, still Times Square and all the sleaze you could want within one block. It was gorgeous before it became Disneyland and fast food. I worked with cops I thought were good cops. That meant they had to have heart, a sense of humor, know the streets, be street smart, and some humanity.
I also love to drink and I used to drink them under the table. I used to get my best stories at 3 in the morning. I love to see men cry. I really do.