Saturday, October 31, 2015

Back in the Day: A true story

This is the story of the time I was the head of a street gang. Don’t worry, it’s funny, and no one gets hurt, honest.

Before I go on, I need to make something clear - there are bits here where I say stuff that probably comes across as kind of badass and tough, like I was some kind of Marlon Brando/Clint Eastwood amalgam, but that’s not actually how it sounded. See, I’ve always had this thing where I get really nervous and allofasuddenI’msayingexactlywhatI’mthinkingwithnopauses. When I do this, I don’t make eye contact, and generally speak in an unusually quiet (for me) middle tone. Kind of the opposite of sounding like a tough guy.

This story begins, as so many hilarious stories of poor decision making do, with me in high school. I was class president, actually, having won rather in spite of myself. I was never popular, as anyone would ever measure such things, but I was known - I was that slightly chubby kid with the girlfriend two grades younger who did all the geek stuff. I mean, seriously, all the geek stuff. D&D club, jazz band, senior band, drama club, A/V. According to our staff advisor, I won prettily handily, too, so for any of you reading this debating a career in politics, name recognition really does matter, apparently.

I inherited a school that had, in four short years,* gone from being a kind of dank place with a serious problem with drugs and violence, but with a dominant football team, to being a much safer place, still with a dominant football team. Consequently, the student council’s old job, of desperately trying to avoid being noticed in the hallways, had changed and we were now expected to, well, do stuff.

I set up Coffee Fridays (with donuts!), a couple of dances and a few events. I was no longer “that geek,” I was, “that geek - but don’t worry, he’s cool.” Hey, baby steps, y’know? I guess that’s a kid from another school thought I must be the head of the most powerful street gang at my high school. Yeah, I don’t know either.

It went down like this - a friend told me just before final period that there was a guy who had “called me out” to the bus stop in front of the school. Not technically being on school property it had, in its day, been the site of a number of fights, but I frankly kind of blanked on that at the time and just strolled out to talk to the guy.

He was about three inches shorter than me, dressed in loose-fitting clothes I associated with gang kids, which should’ve been my first clue that he wasn’t here just to say hello. My second clue should’ve been his attempt to push me, which did not go as planned. I mostly sidestepped it, and he essentially lunged past me.

“Well that’s just rude,” I said **. A couple members of my welcoming committee*** moved to intercept him, but I kept talking. I don’t remember exactly what I said, to be honest, but the fact that I wasn’t fighting the guy kept them from actually intervening, I guess, because they held off. The guy went to push me again, and this time I let him, and even let myself get pushed back a bit as it seemed the polite thing to do.

“You run the gangs around here, right?” he said.

I responded in the negative, I believe.

“I’m calling you out, you and your boys. Be here next week, this time, this place.”

“That won’t work,” I said, “I have a band concert.” I don’t know the exact sequence of events, but we ended up scheduling the fight for the next Thursday, and in a more secluded spot on school grounds, at around six. He walked onto the bus and drove away in as much of a huff as one can on public transportation. The bus wasn’t quite out of range when I realized I had a serious problem - so far as I knew, I was a gang of one.

The welcoming committee was, naturally, the first group of people to join my gang.  That gave me five people which, so far as I knew, could work, but being a fan of The Warriors, I knew that gangs could be pretty sizeable and so I spent the next few days picking up some extra help. The tuba players from band. A couple of football guys. The strength coach. A janitor. Four or five other guys. My gaming group. In total, my gang ended up with just over twenty people. Overkill? No, I thought, just enough kill.

The evening of the big brawl came and we all gathered in the agreed-upon spot, an alcove about twenty feet by twenty that was effectively underneath the high school. Seriously, if I get the chance, I’m gonna film a fight scene there some day, if it still exists.

The other gang was running late. I didn’t tell anyone that I suspected that this was because there was more time between the buses after four and the next one after 6 was at about quarter after the hour. They did show, though. All four of them.

They were all about the size of their leader. Two of them had baseball bats, one of them had small club, and the lead guy had, I kid you not, a penknife so short that you couldn’t cut through a carrot in one cut. I’ll admit, they had the weapon advantage on us. The only guy on our side with a weapon was Little Steve from my D&D game, who’d brought his nunchucks. They were plastic, from his Michaelangelo costume that Halloween.

There was an awkward silence as we sized one another up, like two predators. I mean, technically, both tigers and housecats are predators, so . . .

I’m not sure who started laughing. Given my tendency to burst forth speech, I believe it was me, but anyway, one of us started laughing. Soon enough, it rippled out through everyone on our side. It carried on for a good half minute, and then the guy with the club, smacked his leader on the shoulder, hard.

“Oh, my gosh, I don’t know which one of us is dumber, you for thinking I’m a gang leader, or me for doing this,” I said.

“He’s most definitely the idiot,” club-guy said, chuckling. A few awkward chuckles later and it was me, four voluntarily disarmed gang members, and the welcoming committee. The leader and I sorted out some kind of a deal - no gangs in our school, and he’d let me know if anyone from our school started making trouble in his area, as I recall - and we parted ways.

The gang never actually got back together for another rumble, unfortunately. That was my one and only time as leader of my own street gang.

* For those doing the math, yes, that means that I was the president in my fifth year of high school. Ontario had five years of high school back then. Great for getting your first-year college courses out of the way.
** Read the second paragraph, then come back here. Yeah. Okay, moving on.
*** This is going to be a bit long for a footnote, for which I apologize in advance.

Okay, so my school had become kind of a cool place to go to school, overall, but we still had some trouble with bullies, particularly bullies who didn’t go to our school. This was in the days when “school security” consisted of teachers knowing which of the 2000+ kids in the school actually belongs, so grads, dropouts and kids from other schools got in the habit of dropping by whenever they felt like beating someone up.

Administration handled this problem quite well, really, but in addition to their official efforts, I formed my “welcoming committee,” a group of athletes from various sports teams who had a lot of school pride and - this is important to note - enough self-restraint to act on this pride without actually causing lasting injury. Let this be a lesson, kids - if you’re going to create a band of free-roaming thugs, choose them carefully.

They were their own little group, honestly, and after school could usually be found near the bus stop, the most common point of arrival for people looking to stir up trouble at the school.

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