Self-perceived gangsters and thugs
"If you want an audience, start a fight."
"A scholar's ink lasts longer than a martyr's blow."
Both of these are Irish proverbs and here's another one:
"May you inherit bad teeth."
That one is more of a curse than a proverb.
These pithy insights are so evocative of an intelligent, literate people who put value into reading and writing. They were a nation of scribes during medieval times and had many a monk ensconced on high stools writing and illustrating vellum after vellum. The "Book of Kells" in the Trinity College of Dublin has an original, carefully ensconced in its library. And what a marvel it is, copied with quill pens with ornate lettering and illustrated and inked in the same way, bottles of ink and goose quills carefully sharpened. One of the great treasures of the modern world, achieved by many men sitting on high stools, lit by candles in chilly rooms copying endlessly and patiently wisdom for the ages.
"The whole of humanity, in space and time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind, each of us in an overwhelming change, able to beat down every resistance and clear the most formidable obstacles."
- Henry-Louis Bergson
As I drive by little knots of teens yelling and arguing in the streets I am daily reminded of, "if you want an audience, start a fight." For indeed the only thing these kids are looking for is attention. To be bad is a good posture for them, or so they believe. The girls stick their chins out and walk in the middle of the road, daring you to even honk or dare you to speak, so they can give you attitude and thereby get your attention. "I am right here, right now," they are saying, "I am not invisible. I am tough and I am bad. Wanna fight?"
Children who fight are instantly surrounded by a crowd, who chant, "Fight, fight." And then cell phones are pulled out, recordings are made, and all is posted on YouTube and Facebook almost instantly. Instant fame and notoriety. What more could any little girl want? No home, no family, bleak, hardscrabble existence, in the big outer world.
But here in her small slice of space she is important, someone special, she is tough. Tough with a capital T. And so goes the alcohol, the drugs, the sex, the anger. "I'll show you," she postures, "I don't need nobody." And so a little crew forms around the baddest of the bad and the crew expands and swirls around the Hill like an electric storm. Growing and becoming a gang. A group of self-perceived gangsters and thugs. "I'll show you." "I'm tough." "I'm strong." "I don't need anyone but my girls." Or boys as the case may be.
Because, female or male, that's how the gangs start and how they grow. With a little help from the druggies who set them up with a little of this and a little of that, a gun here, a knife there, and the one big need to deal and win, is a cell phone and a fast bike! You see them, if you haven't, come on down, those young men riding their bikes and talking on a cell phone. They gather in clumps in vacant lots and set up shop. And run their business.
The girls, well, they're more into prostitution, and alcohol. Running street errands and having a man to help them out. Having a "wifey" starts at an early age. These are for the most part a business arrangement. And what would our older folk with conservative views think of the usage of these words as street parlance for crime and violence?
Last week I had a 14-year-old male look me straight into my eyes and without even blinking lie like the little street trooper he was or is. If his probation officer hadn't just called me I would have believed every word. Even when caught in the act he struggled to change my views and have me accept his story. Fourteen-years-old, who teaches them? How do they get like this at such a young age? And they never see the bad in what they are doing. It's the way they survive, or think they survive. It's the medals in the street army. The generals in the pack. Conning and lying.
And yet, they are not intrinsically bad; they have been taught and trained by others. And so they grow up into small time crooks or maybe even big time dealers and users. Trusting no one, liking no one. Those gang hand shakes and that secret language, it means nothing, because inside their heads that mantra of standing alone, watching their own back, and knifing the one you're shaking hands with is constantly running. "Trust no one." "Stand up and watch your back." "No snitching allowed." These are our street babies. This is what we are doing to our youth. No one is born this way, they are taught. And taught in a hard, vicious way. As an aside, they all have bad teeth.
"People would rather sleep their way through life than stay awake for it."
-- Edward Albee
Are you a sleeper? Are you aware of life and its mysteries? Do you know this city? Are the youth included in your daily dealings? Do you see this city as a complete entity or just little parcels of opportunity? A theater here, a rose garden somewhere else, a decent restaurant in your neighborhood.
Do you see the garbage collectors, the street sweepers, the thugs and gang bangers? The young prostitutes and lap dancers? Do you wear blinders and ear plugs? Is this city, the city in its entirety, your bailiwick? Or do you live in an enclosed enclave of your own making? Please think about this. If you are truly a citizen of the world you see the whole world, not just what makes you feel safe and comfortable.
I am bringing up our Aug. 13 fundraiser again. I am personally so in debt to Fred and Katie Kindl that this is one small way of paying tribute to all their contributions to QUEST. We would not be here today without their love and support. Even a few quibbles and small disagreements, which only made us a better place to be. Thank you Fred and Katie. You know Mike Petta, all of you, were founding members and all of us were friends. And Father Hogan, your pastor, and my deep and dear friend and mentor will be giving a blessing at dinner. We have come so far. We never, ever can say thank-you enough.
We have been chosen to be a "navigation site" for the upcoming registration for the Obama-sponsored health care. What that means is that we will be the place to be. One of the few spots in the area to come to be educated about and signed up for the new health care national programs in 2014.
Us -- QUEST -- the little guys, who would have thought? But yes, offices at our site will be open 3 days a week. Bring your questions and get your answers. (Hopefully.) We are still that little engine chugging up that great big hill. I say it yet once again, we are a communtiy. We are standing for being family who helps you, as you have helped us and others. We form a giant inclusive circle dancing along the hills and vales of Schenectady.
And shout out to Bethesda House, who came forward to show one of our staff the connections needed to solve a giant life problem. I was stumped and out of ideas, and they held out their hands and said, "Here, let us work this out for you." And god bless them, they did it.
Not to push the money issue but we are looking for volunteers to help run another fund raiser in October. Some old-time QUESTors, those who were present at the very beginning, called me to say, "Let us help." They would like to show the world how far they have come with QUEST's help. And many of them have traveled legions of miles from their starting line. They would like to personally share their life and its twists and turns with you. Potential donors. They want to call to your notice how much investing in QUEST and its clients pays untold dividends. Sure sounds good to me. They truly believe that investing in QUEST is a wise investment for the city, the schools, the government, and the neighborhoods.
Zoey-ah Zoey ... last blog things were not looking too positive for Zoey, our feral cat, but what a difference a week makes, 5lbs 4 oz.- little pot belly, starting to clean herself, fur growing in every each way, her whole body covered with cowlicks, like a gaggle of young geese. Little meow turning into a roar. Paw sliding under the door to my bedroom trying to get in. Dog and cat- Wilbur and Ernie sitting shoulder to shoulder staring in amazement at the chutzpah of this little enchantress with an iron will to live.
She spits her medicine back into my face if she doesn't like it (had to change that one); she stretches out across the stairs, and runs to the door when people arrive. She is beginning to look like a real cat, not a caricature of one. And she is carried around in total lassitude in the arms of my daughter. "This is my rightful place," she seems to be saying, "I am the princess here in this house." Ernie and Wilbur, of course, see things a little differently and have joined forces to keep Ms. Lady Royalty exactly in her place in the hierarchy. And the fish? They say nothing, they mind their business and keep swimming.
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
- -John Muir
With that in mind I must tell you, my shingles are back and hitched firmly to them is a wicked nasty case of poison ivy. And my phone died. Don't know what the connection to my bodily issues is there but it sure makes a pretty good pun.
Vacation is on the horizon, and Nova Scotia is beckoning. No TV, no internet, no phone except for emergencies. Long quiet days, the ocean at my feet. The dog and I braving the icy waters. Long, slow cooked basic meals. Many new books and the time to read them. And the time stretching -- seemingly endlessly forward.
Time to sit,
Time to meditate,
Time to just find out
who I really am.
Time to learn about me.
It's about time.