Ganging Up at the Movies

By Jeffery Cohen

I love the movies! I always have, ever since I was a kid. Watching those projected images on the big screen can take you to places you’ve never been, and introduce you to characters you only dream about.

I learned about bravery from a thin little water-bearer from India, a wannabe soldier who proved to have the heart of a lion. “You’re a better man than I am Gunga Din.” Rick and Ilsa showed me how love could last even as time goes by in a far off city called Casablanca. “Here’s looking at you, kid.” I came to understand the importance of being surrounded by the ones you love as George Bailey discovered that it’s a wonderful life. “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.” And then there was my favorite – West Side Story, combining the drama and romance of Romeo and Juliet, the magic of music, the beauty of dance, all set in the streets of the city. I still remember the first time I saw it.

Maybe it was the wildness of youth or just the coolness of the Jets and Sharks as they snapped their fingers and fought their way through the urban jungle of Hell’s Kitchen that set us off. As my eleven-year-old buddies and I left the theater one Saturday afternoon, we sneered at each other.

“When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day. Yeah, man! That’s what we need. Cigarettes and…and blackjacks, whatever they are, and…you know. Cool stuff,” I explained as I tried to snap my buttery-popcorn-slippery fingers. “What we need is…a gang.”

I was answered by an enthusiastic chorus. “Coooool! Yeah man. Neat. Reallly cool, Daddio.” The guys were excited. So what if we didn’t live in Harlem or the Lower East-side. Who said we couldn’t have a gang right there in suburbia. We could terrorize the miniature golf course by pocketing a ball or two. We could impress the chicks down at Woolworths by ordering strawberry shakes, and then we’d drink them without using straws. Heck, we could really get serious and go make fun of the beginners down at the tennis courts.We decided that our gang needed a name and an emblem that we could put on black leather jackets, so we headed down to the local sporting goods store.

“Help you fellas?” The tall, thin salesman behind the counter smiled.

“Sure, Daddio. We need an emblem for our gang,” I explained behind a dead-serious glare.

“Hmmmm. Well, how about this one?” he asked as he pointed to a bright green shamrock on the wall.

“Cooool,” one of the guys replied.

“Oh yeah. That’ll be real cool,” I answered as I rolled my eyes. “We’ll really scare the pants off of everybody. I can just see them now. They’ll shake with fear as they scatter. Geez, look out. We better get off of the sidewalk. We’d better keep out of their way. Here comes the…Four Leaf Clovers.”

I searched the wall of insignias. The Indians? Sounded too much like a baseball team. The Eagles? A football team. Then I spotted it. The profile of a noble Roman soldier. Gold helmet, red feather decoration. “That’s it! We’ll call ourselves the Gladiators!”

“The Gladiators. Cool. The Gladiators,” the guys chanted.

We all agreed that we’d need to get leather jackets immediately. Then we found out how much leather jackets would cost and we opted for black sweat shirts. “We can get leather jackets when we get some dough,” I reasoned.

“Yeah, now that we’re a gang, we could knock over a gas station,” someone offered, sounding just like James Cagney.“Or we could hit a bank,” another piped up, doing his best Edward G. Robinson impersonation.

“Cool,” we murmured. I think we eventually had a bake sale.

It wasn’t long before we were parading around in our Gladiator sweatshirts. And people were standing up and taking notice. As we sauntered by the high school one afternoon, showing off our gangly pride. Someone yelled out, “Here they come – the Glads.” The Glads? It was like having a rough, tough gang called …the SMILES…the GRINS…the SNICKERS. The GLADS? I’ve got to tell you, it was pretty embarrassing, but it could have been worse. They could have said, “Here come the WHIMPS…the WUSSES…the CHUMPS.”

I guess we never did really achieve the street cred that we were looking for, for obvious reasons. We couldn’t exactly remember whether the Sharks and the Jets had a recording secretary or a corresponding secretary. The Gladiators had both. Cool! And we only got into one rumble. It wasn’t exactly a rumble. It was more like a track and field day with another gang that was called the Giggles or the Chuckles or something.

The sweatshirts lasted a lot longer than the “gang” ever did. But there are days when the movie West Side Story appears on the TV screen. As the title comes up and the gritty overture begins to rise, I start snapping my fingers as I turn to my wife. “Did I ever tell you about the days when I was in a gang?” Cool.

About this writer

  • Jeffery Cohen

    Jeffery Cohen

    Freelance writer and newspaper columnist, Jeffery Cohen, has written for Sasee, Lifetime and Read, Learn, Write. He’s won awards in Women-On-Writing Contest, Vocabula’s Well Written Contest, National League of American Pen Women’s’ Keats Competition, Southern California Genealogy Competition, and Writer’s Weekly writing contest.

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3 Responses to “Ganging Up at the Movies”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Speaking of giggles and chuckles…your writing always sends me in that direction.

  2. Carol Emmons Hartsoe says:

    Enjoyed this story. I needed a bit of humor this morning! And there it was!

  3. Rose Ann says:

    I’m sure it was a “cool” gang! Enjoyed your story!

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