The silver Mark VI Continental is idling in front of the Central Savings Bank in a shopping mall off Pulaski Road in Huntington, N.Y. The driver's seat is empty because the car's owner, Gerry Cooney, has gone into Harmon's drugstore next to the bank to buy a pack of chewing gum. Two minutes pass, then five. "What's taking him so long?" says his girl friend, Nancy Griesel, sitting in the passenger's seat. Shoppers are walking past the drugstore and the bank. Suddenly, a woman stops and opens her mouth in disbelief as the drugstore door flies open and Cooney, moving backward in a crouch, bounds onto the sidewalk, looking wildly left and right.
"Get back, everybody!" Cooney cries.
He is brandishing a pink water pistol that he has just bought for 99¢ and filled with water in the drugstore John.
"Don't anybody move!" he shouts. He flashes the pistol from one side to the other and starts backing toward the car. "I'm getting outta here!"
A man steps out of the bank and stops, astonished, then smiles. "Hey, Gerry Cooney," he says.
Cooney ignores him. There is a look of desperate panic on his face. "Choo!" Cooney says, as he sprays the building with a stream of water. "Choo-choo-choo-choo! Get back! Everybody!"
Reaching his car, Cooney jerks open the door and jumps in.
The big Mark VI roars away, leaving a half-dozen 'shoppers standing on the sidewalk, staring, as Cooney holds the pistol out the window and blasts his way to Pulaski Road: "Choo! Choo-choo! Choo...."
Gerry Cooney lives in a world unfettered by complexities. He is 24 years old, but so far he has been able to escape the inhibitions that come with adulthood and has remained essentially the boy he always wanted to be. It's quite incongruous on the face of it. Here is this huge man—6'6" and 225 pounds, with a left hand as devastating as any boxing has seen since the prime of the late Joe Louis—here he is, the undisputed No. 1-ranked heavyweight challenger, right behind champions Larry Holmes (WBC) and Mike Weaver (WBA), bounding out of Harmon's with a water pistol and making his getaway in a brand-new $25,000 automobile, while chewing a piece of gum to freshen his breath preparatory to a visit with his beloved English teacher, Geraldine Gorman, at Walt Whitman High School. Cooney always visits Gorman before he leaves town to set up camp. On this April Fool's Day, he's about to take off for the Concord Hotel in the Catskills to begin training for his May 11 fight with Ken Norton at Madison Square Garden, the fight that is expected—if he wins it—to lead him straight to a title shot this fall against either Weaver or Holmes.
And here he is now, sneaking through the familiar halls of his old high school, up to Room 622, pistol in hand. Mrs. Gorman is giving her 18 students a lecture on Ionesco's play Rhinoceros when she spots her former student outside the door. "Don't look now," she tells the class, "but I think we're about to be invaded."