Welcome to My Gang
Walk with me in the dangerous world of 1940 Detroit, down rat infested alleys. Feel the thrill of power as you manipulate an enemy, feel the shame in losing dignity as you crumble under pressure and feel the pain of death as it rips away a treasured friend.
Become a gang leader watching your back in the reflection of storefront windows, to emerge from darkness of poverty into a rich and adventurous life.
I'll be your guide, but first I want you to meet a few of my boys. Bernie, Tommy, Ted, Ron and Mickey were early childhood playmates who never became part of the formal structured gang. Of the sixteen diehards the most active were
Dave: From the largest and poorest family, innate, but undeveloped intelligence.
Bruce: Feisty Italian challenged everything and everyone, small of frame, but big in mouth.
Ron: Average all American with well above average intelligence, always cooperative.
Ralph: Master auto mechanic, driver, gutsy daredevil and protector of the underdog.
Russell: Intellectual electronic genius and adopted token wimp, shy and passive.
Herman: Gentle, strong weight lifter, judo fan and all around nice guy.
James: Tall lanky, funny and happy center position basketball player.
George: Cooperative, sensitive, naïve, lover of booze, cigarettes and women.
Jake: Our out-of-turf area member, always supportive and ready to do anything.
If you're a tourist that enjoys travel brochures before you adventure into unknown turf, first read Puffed-Up Definitions, page 171. If you have your street feet on, come, walk with me.
Gordon M. Labuhn,
The Detroit, Michigan AFO Boys
Episode One: Glasses
I organized a gang because I wore glasses. It's strange, but true.
The recipe for having a gang includes the following ingredients: One determined six-year-old child with poor eyesight and one well-intentioned set of parents who decreed that the child should wear glasses. Mix these ingredients in a 1940 bowl, throw them into the inner city of Detroit and Walla! Motivation for creating a gang.
I was that six-year-old and I was not happy. It's no joke having your very being destroyed by round, steel-rimmed glasses. They become a childhood prison cell. I hated them. I stomped on them, dropped them down the storm drain, flushed them down the toilet and stashed them behind the pillar of the local bank on Detroit's Gratiot Avenue. There were a thousand ways to make glasses evaporate and I tried to discover every one of them.
My father was a patient, stubborn bullfrog. I don't know where he got the money, but the stream of glasses was unending. He wore down my resistance, but not my will. There were times when I wished he would fall off his lily pad and croak.
I wised up, learned the lay of the land and was able to out jump Mr. Bullfrog. He thought he had the upper hand, but I was a slick rascal. I stopped destroying the glasses and began hiding them under a rock on the way to school. I retrieved them on the way home. It was a battle of wits.
I never did learn to read, as I couldn't see all those little black marks in the books or the white scratches on the black board. So what? I could make up better stories anyhow.
I did eventually get used to wearing glasses. By the age of seven, my glasses became part of my personality. They were welded on my nose like scales on a fish, but I knew a day would come when I would be free of this hideous encumbrance. In the inner city, wearing glasses was an embarrassment and it was dangerous. It was an open invitation to get your ass kicked at least twice a day. Besides, you couldn't catch a baseball with them bouncing on the tip of your nose. Frankly, I couldn't catch a baseball without glasses either. I decided the game was a waste of my precious time.
If I had to wear the stupid steel-rimmed pieces of glass, there were two obvious choices. I could hide in the attic and become an intellectual bore, or I could use my brain to compensate and keep my rear from being the target of every bully in town. I needed to do better than just avoid being the scapegoat's butt end. I needed to be the ramming horn, the one calling the shots, the one organizing the bullies so that they worked for me.
Walla! Organize a gang!
At the age of six, I embarked on the venture by controlling the local monsters my age. I had to manipulate them so that the games we played were my choice, at my time, in my designated location. I knew it wouldn't be easy because these boys had savvy street feet. Bernie, for instance, knew how to fold a regular old piece of paper, leaving a little hole in one end. He blew air into it and it opened up into a little square box. He'd make two of them, numbered the sides and we could play dice with 'em.
Tommy, who was only five, already had his own pocket knife. It was a beauty, with pictures of eagles on each side. He could take a tree branch and make it into an arrow with a point on one end and bird feathers placed in slots on the other end. We'd throw it at targets. Once it almost put out Ted's eye. Tommy carved a doll one time for his sister, but it only had one leg.
Organizing a gang turned out to be easier than I expected. All I had to do was listen carefully, decide what game the majority wanted to play and announce my choice as a command. When anyone objected, I merely commanded the toughest kid who wanted to play the game to kick the shit out of the objectionist. It worked just fine. Within a few months, my boys stopped debating what game to play and simply asked me what the agenda was for the day. I had to adjust my communication style to insure that my commands were delivered with finesse and genuine concern for the good of the whole.
Welcome to "My Gang"
by Gordon M Labuhn