When I was thirteen I was asked to join a gang. And I found out a sad truth about myself.
It was after the terrible Scouting Incident–and I’m not going to get into it here. Let’s just say it happened and, when it did, it convinced me that I really couldn’t continue with scouting. I mean I loved the idea of scouting and wanted more than ever to be hang out with the other kids and go camping, and hiking and work my way up to Life Scout and eventually to Eagle Scout. And I really liked the scout oath and helping other people at all times.
But trying to keep my identity as a Zombie hidden in a troop of thirty boisterous scouts was, well, really challenging. And after that…incident, well it was really clear that I sooner or later I’d be busted. I couldn’t risk that.
So, a week after the incident, I told Mr. Brown that due to my dedication to my school work, the hours I spent tutoring poor children at the local parish, and the odd jobs I worked at to help support my ailing mother (hey, a white lie is a white lie!), I’d have to leave Troop 22. Mr. Brown, of course was prying. How can we help? Can we get relief for your mom? We know of a program for indigent families. But I held him off and he finally understood that I was doing what I had to do. Which, in a way, was true.
A few days later, I found myself walking home along Avenue 19 from the Los Angeles river. I had been lucky that afternoon, I had found the decaying remains of a dead heron that had washed up on the cement river bed. I hadn’t tasted heron before. It had been a beautiful white thing once and I was eager to try it. Well, after I got through the feathers it was simply scrumptious! Wow, what a savory taste, the worms inside were really juicy and the feathers didn’t bother me at all!
By now I had decided the less my mom knew about my eating preferences the better. While she thought the cow brains and tripas she made for my breakfast and dinner satisfied me, the truth was I was longing for other tastes.
I found it in the decaying remains of dead things. Hey, I’m a zombie, what do you want?
Anyway, I was coming home from the river when I saw Danny Betances walking toward me. He had also dropped out of the boy scouts. He said it was for sissies.
“Lazo,” he called out. “I’ve been looking for you!”
Ever since I had seen Danny playing Tarzan in the river, I realized that he really wasn’t the tough guy he made out to be. I sat next to him at lunch in the school cafeteria a couple oF times and he no longer made fun of my classical music. I think I was becoming as close to a friend as Danny might ever have.
“Looking for me?” I asked. I wondered what was up.
“Lazo, “ he said to me in a secretive way, “Are you firme?”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. “Firme?” I asked.
“You know, do you have what it takes to be man?”
“I guess so,” I replied.
“Check this,” he said. “I’m going to be jumped into the Peewees of the Avenues gang. Firme clica. But I have to prove myself first, and I need your help.”
“Jumped in?” I asked. I was really in the dark about all this gang stuff.
“You know,” he said, “everyone in the gang beats you up and that’s how you join. After that you’re a full member of the Peewees. Then later, when you get older, you become a member of the Avenidas, you know, the Avenues gang.”
Now, this really didn’t make much sense to me. You get beat up in order to be part of a gang? What’s the point?
“What do you need me for?” I asked.
“Before I get jumped in, I have to do something really firme. So I got a plan and I want you to be part of it.”
“Hey, if I can help out. You know me. Boy Scout motto: help other people at all times.” I replied.
He gave me a really weird look.
“Look,” he continued, “I’ve been spying on this elderly Mexican couple. Every Friday morning, they walk to the bank down there on Broadway and Daly and collect the old guy’s pension money. They cash it right there at the bank, stuff the money in the wife’s handbag, and walk home with all this cash. “
“How do you know about all this?” I asked
“Ese, I’ve been checking this out for weeks! “
“So what does this have to do with me?” I asked.
“Here’s my plan. This Friday, after they cash their check and start home, you go up to them and distract them, you know tell them you need their help for something. Get them thinking about you.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Dummy! While they’re talking to you, I run by and grab the lady’s handbag and then we both run off. I’ll split the money, fifty-fifty. I just need to do the robbery to be jumped into the gang. Hey, why don you join up with me. We can get jumped into the gang together! You want to be a Peewee? The Avenues is a firme gang.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me think about all of this.”
“Well don’t think too long,” Danny said as he came up real close to my face. “Are you firme or not? That’s the basic question. If you’re nothing but a pussy, then just let me know and I’ll get someone else. What are you afraid of being jumped into the gang? You a pussy? I thought you said you were firme? Let me know by tomorrow morning.” Then he walked away.
That night I agonized.
I had heard about gangs and how they had peewees and how that was the way you worked your way up the ladder. And , with the scouts now behind me, I thought, well, why not a gang? I just wanted to be part of something and have friends. I wanted to belong. But did I have it in me to become a member of gang? To get jumped in?
Then I started thinking about all that elderly couple. They probably depended on that money just to get by. And here I would be helping to steal from them. No exactly, helping other people at all times. After a long sleepless night, I made my decision.
The next day I found Danny in the school cafeteria and told him I didn’t want to get jumped into the peewees.
“Sorry, you’ll have to get someone else. I don’t want to be a peewee or get jumped into a gang.”
A snarl curled on his lip as he looked at me.
“You pussy!” He walked away in disgust.
The reason I decided not to join the gang wasn’t because I wasn’t firme, or because of the Mexican couple.
The night before I had imagined being jumped into a gang, and how my make-up would probably rub off. And if I got excited from being jumped in, my drool would no doubt be flowing like a river. I realized that for the same reason I couldn’t be a boy scout, I also could never be part of a gang. It was too risky. Someone would discover I was a zombie. From then on I realized the sad truth about my life.
I would always be a loner.
Copyright 2012 Lazaro De La Tierra and Barrio Dog Productions Inc.