Growing up on the streets of East Los Angeles was a challenging experience to say the least. I can vividly recall the countless encounters with members of other gangs and the physical confrontations that that entailed just because of walking down the street. Unlike the Shaolin Priest that devoutly studies the behavior of the animal kingdom so that they might learn to understand their own powers and abilities, such as the rapid striking of the snake or the calculated attack of the crane, gang bangers were more in their element in copying the negative behavior of dogs. That is, it was common practice for members of gangs to mark their territories by using spray paint to write their gang logos on neighborhood walls or their gang name to let others know who is claiming control of the streets. This ritual was understood and respected in every neighborhood and the act of crossing out a gang logo and replacing it with your own gang’s name or your personal gang name was tantamount to throwing down the gauntlet in a declaration of war and would be met with bloodshed.
Because of the violence associated with such a territorial imperative, it was impossible to live a full and complete life without engaging in confrontations. For example, Bear from White Fence once invited us to go with him to Chulali’s house for a ditching party. Bear knew how crazy we were and he was counting on the fact that we would visit Smiley and pick up some drugs before getting to Chulali’s house. The challenge, of course, was in getting to her house. That is, Chulali lived in the middle of Maravilla territory. It was always worth the effort to go to Chulali’s house because she always had her girls with her and we would get high, play records, drink and do whatever comes naturally.
Some of the challenges we had to face were more direct and either represented an assault to our person and character or a violation of our code of honor. Take, for example, the case of Black Raymond and the rock. On one of those rare occasions when we actually decided to go to school to catch up on current events we learned that a guy from Evergreen was saying that Black Raymond was a punk because he and a couple of his boys caught him in their territory and when he saw them he threw a rock at them and ran. Fortunately, the guy was not in school that day and so it gave us time to prepare for the confrontation. Naturally, Black Raymond turned to me and asked me what I thought he should do.
Just as the man inside of me was beginning to take flight from reality to consider and devise an appropriate strategy for our retaliation, the woman inside of me tripped him before he could successfully launch himself and busted out of my chest to assert her anger. As it turns out, the woman inside of me is a real passionate and emotional bitch and she wasn’t about to let some asshole gang banger from Evergreen slander the reputation of our beloved homeboy. Her decided course of action was clear; we were going to make this asshole’s dreams come true. As I heard her council leave my mouth I couldn’t help but notice that her words were assisted by the man inside of me in spite of his having been relegated to a back seat position by the overwhelming strength of her passion and anger. It was actually good to see both the man and the woman inside of me working in concert.
It was decided that we would ambush this guy they call Georgie from Evergreen on his way to school. It was not difficult to find out what streets Georgie had to take to get to school. It seems that people are always willing to help you start a fight that they can watch. A sport by any other name is still as bloody. We needed at least three or four guy from our gang to go to the confrontation because gang members always travel in small groups. Me, Black Raymond, Ray Ray and Frog decided we would go together. The man inside of me managed to contribute an effective strategy with which to unleash the anger and contempt felt by the woman inside of me. The plan was brilliant.
First, we had to find a rock about half the size of a baseball. Then we had to select a location with bush coverage along the path that Georgie had to take to school. Fortunately for us, Black Raymond was a good thrower and we knew that he could hit the mark with a rock, especially within 4 or 5 feet of the target. The idea was simple; when Georgie and his friends got within six feet of our location we all jumped out from behind the bushes, Black Raymond would then throw the rock very quickly and hit Georgie right on the forehead. The idea was to hit him hard enough to leave a bump so large that it was sure to be visible for long enough time to ensure that everyone in school would have a chance to see it.
When we finally heard Georgie and his homeboys approaching the trap was sprung, we all jumped out of the bushes on cue. Georgie’s boys were frozen solid with fear; Black Raymond was on target and caught Georgie right in the middle of his forehead as the woman inside of me immediately began to shout at Georgie with contempt. Georgie had not only learned a very important lesson, he also served as the visual aid for everyone in school to learn the same lesson. When you talk shit about one of us, we will make you eat it. Additionally, given that Georgie’s friends turned down their invitations to dance with Frog, Ray Ray and I, the entire Evergreen neighborhood earned themselves the reputation of being cowardly pussies. Win or lose, they should have at the very least defended themselves.
The territorial imperative was not the only grounds for engaging in a good old fashion fight. One day Ray Ray, Black Raymond, Paulillo and I were walking to school when we saw a group of guys walking west on 4th street just east of Soto street. I heard the woman inside of me tell the guys that we had to confront them and see what they were doing in our neighborhood. When they were finally in front of us in a squared off position I told their leader that we are from Primera Flats and they were in our territory and we wanted to know why. The leader, a little guy names Lil Man, said that they didn’t have any beef with us. They were from White Fence and they were on the way to Hollenbeck Park where the 3rd street gang hung out to kick their asses.
The 3rd street gang is one of the gangs that we were always fighting with. Knowing that somebody else had a reason to kick their asses was enough for us to want to kick their asses again ourselves. As it turned out, the 3rd street gang had beat up a guy from White Fence named Paul. Paul was crippled and walked with leg braces but everybody that knew him respected him because he had balls and it didn’t matter to him if you could kick his ass because he had braces and couldn’t fight like others, you were still going to get an ear full from him. We know that it was just the sort of chicken shit thing guys from 3rd would do so we told Lil Man that we were going to come along and join in on the ass kicking.
This time it was the man inside of me that took control. No doubt it was due to our complete familiarity with the Park, which was in our neighborhood border area and the need to insure that none of the assholes from 3rd escaped. I told Lil Man that the boat house where 3rd liked to hang out had 3 walkways leading to it; one from the South, one from the North and one from the East. On the West side of the boathouse was the lake. The pathway that ran North and South was the interior pathway running through the park. The pathway from the East came directly from the street into the boathouse. I told Lil Man that Black Raymond and I would approach the boathouse from the North, Ray Ray and Paulillo would approach from the South and he and his boys could approach from the East directly in front of the boathouse entrance and directly towards the exterior wall of the boathouse where the guys from 3rd liked to stand.
While we knew that the members of the 3rd street gang were complete assholes, we also knew that they were not candy-assed pussies and would put up a fight. My boys and I stopped at the sides of the boathouse and waited as Lil Man and his boys descended down the steps on the East side and headed straight for the biggest guy from 3rd that was standing against the wall with his arm around his girlfriend. Nobody flinched and nobody said a word. Lil Man walked straight up to the biggest guy and immediately hit him as hard as he could in the mouth. All of the girls started screaming, the guys from 3rd all ran into the boathouse to pick up weapons but the guys from White Fence were too fast and determined. As it turned out they didn’t really need our help in wiping the floor with the 3rd street gang and the only one of my boys that got to see any real action was Ray Ray and that was because he loved to hurt people so much. By the time I made it to the door of the boathouse I could see the White Fence boys were beating down the guys from 3rd with the exception of the biggest guy that Lil Man had punched in the mouth. As I walked in I saw Ray Ray with a crazed look in his eyes as he was ramming the big guys head through the popcorn machine. I grabbed some popcorn, we said goodbye to the guys from White Fence and then we went towards Joe’s pad to play cards and ditch.
Being in a gang wasn’t all fun and games. On one occasion our ditching party at Chulali’s house was raided and we were all taken to jail for possession of Marijuana, under aged drinking and suspicion of gang activities. Smiley had brought the drugs and Joe had bought the beer but they didn’t have any reason to fear that they would be ratted out. The girls all knew their parts and were released. However, smiley and Joe were arrested and charged with possession of drugs, for Smiley and contributing to the delinquency of minors for Joe who was six years older than the rest of us. The police were supposed to arrest all of us equally because none of us were willing to talk but me, Ray Ray, Black Raymond, Frog, Sleepy and Dead Eye were all released like the girls and Ray Ray wanted to kill somebody. The man inside of me demanded to know what the fuck happened to our code of honor. The woman inside of me also wanted to kill somebody.
As it turned out, Sleepy did what he had to do for the neighborhood and gave up his brother Dead Eye as the snitch. Needless to say, we beat that boy to within an inch of his life and expelled him from the neighborhood. It was even necessary for his mother to send him to live with an aunt in some other part of the state. It was difficult for the man inside of me to understand what Dead Eye had done. After all, the man inside of me was an absolutist that believed firmly in the principle of life or death. It was at this point that the man inside of me detected a sign of weakness in the woman inside of me. Could it actually be that the woman inside of me was willing to show compassion? I know for a fact that her initial reaction was to kill somebody but now it was as if our code of honor was not as absolute for her as it is for me. I was beginning to realize that maybe a code of honor is something that we each need to set for ourselves because it sure doesn’t seem to carry the same weight with everyone.