By Pago Habitans
A few days after I met Mary Sullivan in Abingdon Square, I was sitting on the steps outside the Whitney Museum. I knew Mary had been born there on Gansevoort Street, which led me to wonder what the neighborhood might have looked like back when it was a tangle of tenements, single dwellings and small factories. And even before that when it was a Dutch fort.
I was also wondering about Mary Sullivan herself, whom I surmised was one of the first women detectives in the NYPD. I had introduced myself to her when I heard her whistling a tune I recognized from Brother Ben, my elusive friend who seemed to be missing—at least I hadn’t come across him for some time. Hearing my concern for his whereabouts, Mary offered to help.
Now, in my reverie outside the Whitney, I became aware of a voice determined to get my attention: “Pago! Pago! I may have come up with something interesting.” It was, of course, Mary Sullivan.
When I greeted her as Lt. Sullivan, the pioneering woman detective hushed me and said I was to call her by her first name. Sounding much like Brother Ben, Mary confided, “In the greater realms of time titles are unnecessary, not to mention embarrassing and really rather pointless.”
I wasn’t sure what Mary meant, but I was eager to hear what she had found out about Ben. She was eager to oblige.
“I checked with some pals from the old Sixth Precinct station on Charles Street and I also asked around at the new station on Tenth, but I didn’t come up with anything I considered pertinent. Just a lot of Bens doing a lot of bad things, but no one matching the description of your more benevolent friend Brother Ben.
I interrupted, “Mary, you said you found something of interest.”
“Well, Pago, it occurred to me to scroll through the files of RPM. That stands for Random Peripheral Memories. It’s a little known association that works independent of the Police Department, independent of everything really. But some of us over the years have found them helpful.”
Much like Ben, Mary seemed to anticipate my next question.
“RPM is a storehouse of recollections, observations and creative efforts of ordinary people in many forms: unpublished stories and poems, diaries, journals, scrapbooks, photo albums; not to mention gossip, jokes, songs and even dreams—in short, the kinds of things that in the rush of time tend to be abandoned, forgotten, or lost.”
I must have looked puzzled, so Mary continued, “Think of it this way: if police files are a compendium of bad behavior, RPM is a library of our better human instincts.”
Still perplexed, I asked, “Where do they keep all these remembrances and examples of our better natures?”
Mary explained, “For the longest time the library was kept on a derelict pier downtown. I remember it was Pier 33, because at some point in the 1950s music lovers on the force referred to it as Pier Thirty-Three-and-a-Third. Funnily enough, some years later it ended up closer to Pier 45.”
My expression must have been one of incredulity.
“I don’t mean the piers as you know them. For years there was an almost unbroken line of sheds and warehouses along the West Street docks. In a certain light you can still see the remnants of some of them.”
“Well, that’s all very interesting, but what did you find out?”
“Pago, your friend Brother Ben has an astounding number of entries in the RPM, more than most well-known Village figures. He’s played a constant supporting role in Village life for a very long time. He just hasn’t made it into the history books.”
“But where is he now?” I blurted out.
Mary laughed. “He’s right behind you.” (To be continued . . . )
“Village Resident” otherwise known as T. P Miller