Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Early Years: Kid Gangs

Like any good story, in order to understand the motivations of the main characters, it is important to know their backgrounds. While, these stories may not be helpful in understanding why I make fun of midgets and find racial humor and shots to the nuts hilarious, they are an entertaining look into the history of the J-Man. So, as a new repeating series, I bring to you the first installment of J-Man: The Early Years.

Kid Gangs
After having spent my entire life in the same house in Bethesda, MD, in May 1984, at the age of 6, I was forced to move to California. My dad had worked for an oil company that was headed by Palestinians, and once they had discovered that he was Jewish, they did not want him working there any longer. Rather than deal with a wrongful termination lawsuit, they told him that his position was no longer needed in the DC area. They gave him the offer of moving to California, assuming he would not move a family of five across the country, and they would be able to get rid of him more easily. They were wrong.

When you're 6 years old, you really don't know what moving means. This was the first time I had ever moved, and basically all it meant was that my 1st grade class was going to throw me a party and I was informed that I was going to be in the area where Michael Jackson was (Thriller was big at this time, and Jacko wasn't publicly touching kids, so I was a big fan...more on that in future Early Years posts). Both things seemed pretty positive, so I rolled with the punches.

It was Summer when we got to Chatsworth and our new home. It was not until many years later that I found out that Chatsworth is the porn capital of the United States, but perhaps the seed was inherently planted. Too bad we didn't stay here very long...more on that later.

I had my own room again, having shared my room with my older brother since my younger brother had been born 2 years prior. We also had a swimming pool and a "fortress," which was basically this hill next to the pool that was covered with small bushes and a waterfall, but gave a great view of the neighborhood. We would play fighting games in the fortress as if we were He-Man, fighting invisible monsters (or trees) around the backyard. Don't mock my young self, you know you did this shit too. My older brother and I quickly bonded with our neighbor Michael, and in playing these games, we became a little gang.

When you're 6 years old, it seems like forming a gang is pretty standard stuff. I remember being in many "gangs" growing up. We wouldn't wear bandanas and shoot people and shit, these were just a group of kids that hung out together and by traveling in numbers, you were cooler. The great thing about being in a gang is that you always have people to play with and laugh at your jokes. Being the jokester, even at a young age, this was always nice. The downside to being in a gang, however, is that one person's beef magically becomes yours.

So, it's the Summer of '84 and my brother, Michael and I are all in a camp together at the local park. We've got some other people as a part of our gang, and being as I talk to much, I find myself as the "leader" of this gang. The other big thing when you're 6, is the enemy...girls. I'm not sure why this was the case, but for the better part of three years, stemming from Kindergarten through 2nd grade, girls were "evil" and therefore you were supposed to chase them during recess and make them cry. Not sure where I learned this, perhaps it is an inherent characteristic that I was born with. Seeing their underwear was also cool, but rarely occurred, so we stuck with the chasing.

But I digress. As expected, there was a gang of "evil" girls at this camp as well, headed by a girl named Bria. I remember her name because we used to call her dia-Bria, which sounded like diarrhea, which still makes me laugh today. This likely made her cry on many occassions, much to my 6-year old delight, though I don't really remember it. What I do remember was the day our conflict went a bit too far.

The girls had done something bad to my brother (you'd think I'd be able to remember what that was since he's my brother) and we needed to get them back. It was time for revenge. Retribution. Strike Back!! And when one of the guys in my gang got a colored marker of one of the girls, our opportunity arose. The marker passed from this kid, to Michael, to Glen, to me. Gulp. Now what do I do? Throw it in the toilet!! Yeah!!

Like I said, the bad part of being in a gang was making someone else's beef your own. I needed to do something, for the group. For myself, to show that I was fit to lead. I was holding the marker, I needed to put it in the toilet. But I had never done something destructive before. In fact, I had never actually "caught" a girl after all of these years of chasing. To be honest, I'm not sure what I would have done if I had. And here I was, having caught their marker.

I ran to the bathroom and stood at the shitter with several of the guys standing around me. Throw it in!!! Yeah!!! Who is that guy who keeps saying, yeah?? Whatever, I've got to do it. And then I did. The bathroom went silent as the blue marker floated in the toilet bowl, some of the blue ink leaking from it, changing the color of the water. It was like we all were expecting something much cooler to have happened...like fireworks or a giant chorus of cheers, chanting "men,men,men!!" for our triumph over the girls. Instead, the marker just sat there.

Should we flush it? I guess. It was at this point that the camp counselor came in and saw what we had done. Bria's friend was apparently crying (mission accomplished) and he had come in to lay down the punishment. We explained the situation and then I was asked to wait outside of the counselor's office while he spoke with other members of the gang. While standing out there, an older boy who was in the camp came over to me.

Older kid: Did you take one of those girl's pens and throw it in the toilet?
Me: Yeah
Older kid: Well, that wasn't very nice. For that, you need to be punished.

And at that moment, he punched me square in the chest. Right in the sternum. I had never been punched before, except for the minor scuffles with my brother. It hurt. It knocked the wind out of me, and I fell to my knees. Shocked and confused, a few tears started to well up. (Don't mock little J-Man...I was six)

But I guess I deserved that. My conscience told me not to throw the marker in the toilet, but the gang mentality overwhelmed my better judgment. Lesson learned...or was it?

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