This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

September-October 2011

Fiction: “A Few Words About the Youth Gang” by Pasha Malla

Pasha MallaWebsite

Creative Commons photo by flickr user ecstaticist.

Creative Commons photo by flickr user ecstaticist.

“It has been some time now that I have wanted to speak to you about the youth gang. Since July there has been much conjecture about how the youth gang started, and when, and where, and what exactly the youth gang is, and who belongs to it, and whether its members wear ‘colours,’ and which weaponry they carry, and how to best protect ourselves—Kevlar vs. chainmail, house alarms vs. hounds, landmines vs. prayer— and whether the youth gang represents a simple gap in generational understanding, or a malevolent shudder in the collective morality of humankind, or the death of love, or a mirror, or a warning, or the end.

“But here we are, October, with no real progress or understanding to speak of. Three months of terror have passed and still the youth gang holds us in its clutches. And while we continue to ask how, when, where, even what, no one in our close-knit multicultural community, in which not a soul wants for anything and everybody knows your name, has ever asked why we have a youth gang. And before you go throwing your hands up in despair, Mrs. Heinz-Mercer, and muttering to one another, Sheikh al-Shabazz and Mother, about who the heck does this woman up there think she is, I pose a further question, one that requires serious introspection, analysis, and honesty. Consider: Who created the youth gang if not all of us?

“Grumble, fine! Sometimes the truth is difficult to hear. Although to those, Father Power and Rabbi Berkowitz, preparing to storm out in a huff, hold on. I am willing to acknowledge—okay, confess—something you’ve no doubt been waiting for. (Though have you never considered that I’ve wanted to say it, too, but merely lacked the courage, or the impetus? And sure, maybe yesterday’s tar-and-feathering of the entire security force at the factory outlet mall has provided exactly that.) A solution begins, I think, with each of us accepting responsibility. In that spirit, let me be the first to do so.

“Listen to me now: the youth gang is largely, if not entirely, my fault. Had I not founded the youth group, no youth gang would have ever mutated out of it. It is that simple. And I’m sorry.

“Thanks, Sardarji, nice to see you sitting back down— you, too, Nakamura-san. So there it is, what I’ve wanted to get off my chest since the BuskerFest swarming back in July. Mea culpa. But fault me not for good intentions! Honestly, I believed it was the right thing—following consensus, reached at a town-hall gathering very much like this one, to get the youth off our streets.

“But now I wonder: were the youth ever on our streets? Prior to the first youth-group meeting at the recreation centre, weren’t they mostly in our basements with computers? And also, technically, this subdivision doesn’t even have streets. There’s an abundance of crescents, courts, and cul-de-sacs, two wide and beautiful tree-lined boulevards, a trail, a path, and I for one live on a place, and there are other places and drives and avenues and ways and passes and even roads—but streets? No. Not one.

“So we had a logistical or at least semantic problem from the get-go. But, people, streets or no streets, it’s insignificant now, when every night our chimneys are being stuffed with fertilizer and the word PWNED burned into our lawns with bleach. What matters is how to stop the menace—the menace of the youth gang. And to do this we need to come together. Now, I know that several of you (Mestre Appleton-Bannerjee, the Honourable G. A. Sabatini, Comptroller Choi, others) have booked the Hall tonight at 8:00 for capoeira practice, so I’ll do my best to be brief. And I’m sure the members of our local roda would appreciate it if everyone helps stack the chairs on their way out. Thanks!

“I’ll add, too, that what follows is not meant as an affront to the Nguyen-Orloffs, whose Reading Instead program happens weekdays from 3:30 to 6 p.m. in the Bookmobile. I see a lot of confused faces. Really? No one knows about this? You’ve never wondered about the repurposed RV up on blocks in the cemetery parking lot? Well, it’s a fine, fine initiative, with as many as six kids diverted, or at least temporarily distracted, from joining the youth gang. As you may have noticed, an empty salsa jar is making the rounds for donations. Please give generously, and now you know what they’ve been up to, let’s give Minh and Jack a round of applause for their efforts.

“Great. Now—Mother, stop muttering—everyone, please listen: in times of communal confusion, truth gets lost amid the clatter of voices—each straining to be heard, each deaf to one another. (You and your research fellows heard me, Dr. O’Connor; no need for the eyebrow raising.) This is how gossip becomes mythology. Much of what you think you know about the youth gang—that they sleep in caves underground and eat small dogs—is spurious and absurd. Remember the

hysteria about the youth gang recruiting babies from the natal ward at Jewish General? In truth only one baby was approached before the youth gang realized they could make their own babies, babies born into the youth gang and as such members for life—though this is perhaps equally worrying, for different reasons.

“Rumours cloud judgment and preclude reason. Please allow me to detail an accurate history of how the youth gang formed and evolved, and explain where they are now in their organization. I’ll conclude with a potential course of what I’m calling ‘proaction,’ contrasted with a picture of what the future may hold for our community if things continue on their current trajectory (i.e., more incidents like the urine-balloon bombing at last Sunday’s Fall Harvest Festival.)

“Here’s how it all began, last June, at the rec centre. About 15 minutes into the first youth-group meeting, through diversionary tactics and trickery, the youth locked me in the supply closet and, commandeering a staple gun, affixed the head lifeguard, Florian Henderson—hi, Florian—to a spinal board by his trunks. That led to a handful of youths unleashing a skunk into the retirement home next door, while another faction spray-painted a lurid mural of male genitalia, mid-climax, in the library parkade; still others stormed CROG FM and, holding the hosts at bay with gardening tools, broadcast a burping contest for the entirety of Rick and Tina’s Commuter Hour.

“Sure, there had been signs of dissent. The youth group was no happy commune, all smiles and sunshine—actually, if anything disorients the youth, it’s sunshine. When I first herded them out of their basements into the Youth Group paddy wagon, generously donated by Captain N’diaye’s 32nd Precinct, they staggered like so many pubescent moles into the light of midday summer, blinded and lost. For a moment my heart leapt at the sight of them, so vulnerable and confused— that is, until I discovered a note (I’m a try-hard fatty) affixed to my back with chewing gum. Oh, that’s just great—laugh it up, Mother. Everything’s so hilarious to you, isn’t it?

“Since June I have dropped 17 pounds, most of it over those traumatic four days locked in the rec-centre supply closet, subsisting entirely on powdered sports-drink concentrate and unpopped popcorn kernels. Through a ventilation shaft I listened to the youth, over a succession of daily ping-pong tournaments, morph from group to gang. By the time I was rescued by the centre’s long-time caretaker, Donato DiFruscia (who promptly fled for the ‘old country’), the youth, in a horde of all-over print hoodies, were descending upon BuskerFest— an episode the talented singer-songwriters whose CDRs were stolen, recorded over with flatulence, and promptly returned, will never forget.

“I don’t think I need to detail the humiliating months that have followed: the toilet paperings, the drive-by Slurpeeings, the teabaggings, the hijackings of decency and Segways. We have learned things. If, for example, a flaming paper bag appears at your front door, get the hose. A sign announcing ‘Free Beer’ accompanied by a series of chalked arrows leading to an alleyway is best ignored. For those duped out of their RSP savings by the space tourism/all-you-can-eat surf ’n’ turf scam, my heart goes out to you.

“But enough, I say: enough! Enough shame and terror. Enough peeking out at the world through our mail slots and doggie doors. Enough flights of journalistic fancy such as—with due respect, Karen—Miss Behaviour’s op-ed of September 12, ‘Anyone Know a Good Exorcist?’ Enough tribunals and sanctions, which only waste community picnic funds. Enough vigilante posses prowling the neighbourhood in backcatcher masks with rolls of quarters in their fists—yes, Mme. et M. Letourneau, I’m looking at you. Enough booby-trapping the woods. People, the youth gang don’t even go into the woods; they abhor nature and distrust trees.

“Let’s admit our complicity. We put the youth in tennis lessons, and what was once a forehand buggwhip is now a tire iron smashed through the windows of Fetisov’s Ceramics Boutique. We paid for the karate classes that equipped the youth with the very roundhouse kicks used to destroy, to use a convenient example, the entire back stock of Fetisov’s Ceramics Boutique. How worrisome, then—for all of us, not just you, Mr. Fetisov!—that the video games we bought the youth teach strategies for storming buildings with assault rifles and gunning down rooftop snipers. Thank God for our community’s strident firearms laws—at least for now.

“Friends, neighbours: how can our creation also be our enemy? The youth gang comprises our sons and daughters, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our paperboys and girls; these kids used to bag our groceries and flip our burgers, rip our tickets at the movie theatre, and, sometimes, even fill the classrooms of our schools. (Where are they now, you ask? God knows. They may even be in this room— it’s impossible to tell, since the hide-and-seek we encouraged has made them so adept at subterfuge.) My point is this: as its architects, aren’t we also part of the youth gang? In this war against the youth gang, whom are we fighting, essentially, if not ourselves?

“Quiet, please. I’m not finished. So what then, some of you ask, if not a punitive response? I suggest talks, dialogue, tolerance, patience, understanding. I have faxed one of the youth gang’s representatives, and she seems willing to negotiate— though who knows for what, and under which terms. But a lull in hostilities is the first step to reconciliation and, perhaps, even a truce. What does the youth gang want, besides crafting scenes of prurient orgy with our garden gnomes and sailing looted futons down the river? Does anyone know? This was a rhetorical question, Mother; please put down your hand. You are a thousand years old. There is no way you have any idea.

“People, we have one week until Halloween—that means Devil’s Night will be upon us in only six days. Does this worry anyone except me? Oh, wow, everyone? I’ve got a whole page here of ‘worst-case scenarios,’ but maybe—right, I’ll skip it. Okay. I hope we can turn anxiety into action—or proaction, as I mentioned earlier. And quickly. If I can broker talks, everyone here needs to participate, albeit, of course, calmly, without shrieking or finger-pointing or the petulant feet-stomping that certain also-rans in last spring’s 5k Jog for the Cure seem to think passes for sportsmanship. And, please, people, no spitting. This has never, ever been okay. Do you hear me? Ever.

“I thank you for your time. Let us do the right thing, let us extend the olive branch—and be prepared that we might be handed roadkill in return. We must persevere. The youth gang is our doing. It is all of our faults. And it is up to us, as those responsible, to work with the youth, to show them the way out of their misdeeds, toward a new path. And as for what this path might be…”

The speaker trailed off. Looking out over the crowd, she flipped through her notes. The room was silent. Everyone waited for her to conclude, to provide definitive and clear instructions. The air had gone brittle with expectation. But instead of saying anything, with shaking hands the speaker plucked from behind the lectern a bottle of Vitamin Water, which she tipped back and drank—the entire thing, rapidly, in a single, open-throated gulp.

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