Follow the leader

Being brought up in the suburbs of New Jersey, it was only natural that I would eventually join a gang. After all, what is a white middle-class adolescent to do when he wants to impress a girl. As sad as it is to admit, once the bar mitzvahs are in the past, there is little opportunity to showcase the fancy footwork involved in the horah.

For the skeptics out there, let me go on the record by saying that gangs provide a great opportunity to meet people, form friendships, and break laws. Of course, those very same opportunities exist in today’s securities industry. But, as any successful businessman will tell you, you’ve got to start somewhere.

I have a tendency to act on impulse when it comes to signing up for new activities. So when I first joined a gang, I had done so solely on the basis that I was going to receive a free bandana. Unfortunately, my limited pledge only entitled me to an off-the-truck quartz timepiece at best.

Of course, there were other reasons that I decided to forego my status as an upstanding citizen and join the ranks of ruffians that are often seen on street corners sipping beverages out of brown paper bags. Gangs are often a source of emotional comfort as its members treat each other like family. I was looking forward to this strong sense of camaraderie, quixotic bond of brotherhood, and the chance to be breast-fed.

Furthermore, I was looking to expand my horizons, learn about physical-prompted extortion, and include something that would exemplify my well-rounded personality on my college resume.

But from the very start, I had a difficult time picking out what gang to join. As an overachiever I was determined to get into the best gang. So I did hours of homework poring over the police beat section of my daily newspaper to find the if it was the Crips, Bloods, of Latin Kings that got the most press.

Not that this meant I was going to get in to any of those prestigious organizations. As far as I could tell, picking a suitable gang for my abilities and characteristics seemed like a challenge that was far greater than any Dickens novel I had ever glossed. Much to my surprise I was less qualified to intimidate elderly woman in wheelchairs than I had originally thought.

Unfortunately, many of these gangs wanted to see juvenile court transcripts, references from probation officers, and merchandise that still had magnetic alarms attached to it. Instead of concentrating on these things, I decided to focus on the essay section in which I wrote about my affinity for my affinity for burning matches and throwing them into puddles when no one is looking.

One rejection letter after another appeared in my mailbox in the following months. They were not really letters per se. Some of them were ethanol-laced handkerchiefs stuffed in a glass bottle that were hurled into my bedroom window. One was less of a rejection letter, and more of a ransom note. We never did find my dog, Oreo.

It seemed like I would be relegated to a life of law-abiding by default, until The Hardy Boys, a small liberal arts gang, based in Connecticut, addressed a thick envelope to me a few months later.

A few days after that, I was flashing gang signs in the hallway to the other member of The Hardy Boys in my school. This involved me lifting my hand in the air and waving it back and forth four to five times. Infantile? Perhaps. But it felt good to be a bad ass. – Prescott Tolk

(The author is a Reporter staff writer. He can be reached at


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