When We Was Gangsta

My senior year of high school I began hanging out with different crowds of people. As most of my old friends had grown through adolescence they became increasingly ‘normal’, while I was heading towards full-on freakdom. And so I found myself looking for other outcasts, regardless the flavor, from which to expand my weirdo repertoire.

I had also moved out of my parents halfway through my senior year, and began to hang out with my roommate and his friends, who had not been a part of my earlier ‘high school experience’.

Despite the overwhelmingly Caucasian persuasion of Newton, there were a few black folks from urban areas who had been moving to town who brought a whole new world with them. These were my roommates crowd, and I soon learned how to blend in and hang out, with a minimum amount of jokes about my purple hair and love of punk and metal.

The sort of Godfather of this crowd was a man named Charles, who had lived in Chicago and Des Moines before ending up in our meth-addled Redneckville. Allegedly he had been a part of actual gangs and done all of the things we had seen in movies and heard about in rap lyrics. We were hella impressed.

So I became an honorary member of this group, although I refused to vow total fealty to their gang, which they didn’t mind because there was no opposing gang and I had a car, license and a job.

My duties included being the token weirdo to heckle, transportation and (eventually) making bongs.

That summer after graduation, I began to smoke weed and found this new group of friends to be a useful connection. However, they also ripped me off a few times and then teased me about it, until one day I broke down into a full-on ‘I thought you were my friends’ speech that earned me some respect. After standing up to them I was considered ‘hard’ enough to become more involved in their gang activity, which mostly involved playing dominoes and beating each other up.

On a few occasions I was asked to help haul a group of my gangsta peers out onto some gravel road so they could ‘beat in’ a new member. These beatings were far less harsh than what I had seen in the movies, and so watching some idiot get punched a dozen times half-assedly was well worth the celebrations that always followed. This was the age of gin and juice, mind you, and Newton had just recently been introduced to blunts. So after-beating parties were pretty epic.

Besides dealing weed and mostly consensual violence, the gangs criminal activity was pretty mellow. However it was still the closest thing Newton had to the inner city gangs you saw on tv in those days, so law enforcement took it pretty seriously.

In fact, they took it so seriously that once when I was pulled over for speeding while going fishing (so gangsta), I was informed by the cop that my name was on the Top Ten List of Newton Gang Members, and told to watch my step and “good luck fishing”.

This is the only story of my life that I am pretty sure I could tell to fans of the Allman Brothers and Too $hort and get nearly the same reaction.

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