Archive for January 13th, 2009


In a Haze

I was well into young adulthood before I realized that I had once been an official at-risk kid.

Bear in mind that my childhood – except for a disastrous turn on the monkey bars when I was five – wasn’t all that risky. But by virtue of being a Latino kid in a lower-class neighborhood (see my earlier post on this), I apparently was thisclose to indulging in a life of crime, drugs, and promiscuous sex. It all sounds very boyz in the barrio, but mostly, my childhood and pre-adolescence was about “Galaga” and “Friday Night Videos.”

The temptation to join a gang was minimal for me. I assume this is because the few gang members I knew were all idiots. They never said anything funny or clever. They just slouched around in perpetual poses. They were, to be blunt, pretty fucking boring.

It didn’t take great moral courage to avoid hanging out with these dullards. Mostly, it just took a better offer, which I found with the geeks and oddballs whose company I preferred.

If the perpetual idiocy of the gang members wasn’t enough to keep me away, there was always the official initiation. Bear in mind that I never actually witnessed one, so this may all be urban myth. But more than one vato told me that the induction to the gang was as follows:

Established gang members surrounded the inductee and pummeled him for minutes on end. If the guy tried to defend himself, he was showing disloyalty. If he cried out, he was a pussy. Either way, they beat him harder, and he wasn’t allowed in the gang. If he could take a throttling, however, he was one of them, and he enjoyed all the benefits of membership, which I guess included a meager cut of the drug money and a better position on the corner where they hung out.

Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why I would let people beat me up, especially if they were supposed to be my friends. I might get my ass kicked (would probably get my ass kicked, in fact), but I wasn’t going to just take it. Far from appearing tough, I thought these guys were cowards.

My attitude toward such compliance has persevered across time and cultures. It’s one of the many reasons I never joined a frat in college. All the hazing those rich kids in Greek-lettered sweatshirts performed on each other may have been less violent (or not), and it was certainly more socially acceptable. But it’s still made up of guys willing to be humiliated just to be accepted by older, stronger alpha males. I always found that sad.

After all, what’s the difference between taking a punch in the gut from the top gangbanger or choking on warm beer because the senior brother forced a bong down your throat? The chief difference seems to be that one guy’s parents paid tuition for the privilege.

Of course, I’m not much of a joiner. So when I make my inevitable millions and retire to a life of leisure (oh, it’s coming; just you wait), I won’t be applying to any country clubs. I won’t be clamoring to be let onto exclusive golf courses or into private dining rooms.

Mostly, that’s because the whole class-apart thing seems, well, pretty fucking boring. But it’s also because those kinds of places exist solely to keep other people out. The hazing, in this case, is economic, but otherwise the members might as well be in a street gang.

January 2009

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