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Rachel-K
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Gangsters

This chapter might be the classic example of "it's only fun until someone loses an eye. "

 

What leads such perfectly intelligent kids to behave like this?

 

Is this incident just a boyish prank, or does this shed a more ominous light on Randy's character?

 

Benji says at the end of the chapter, that their fights "were always real." What does he mean by this?

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aprilh
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Re: Gangsters

This chapter opens with "All the ill **** went down on Thursdays like clockwork." So it's really no surprise when we learn there's going to be a BB gun fight on Thursday. The idea for the fight originated when the boys were hanging out at the house drinking and trying to fight off boredom for the next few days. Someone suggested it and the others thought it was a good idea. It's amazing the amount of trouble teenagers can get into when they're bored!

I thought it was in character with what we know about Beinji feeling like his brother's protector that he would try his hardest to spare Reggie from the BB gun fight by trying to schedule it so Reggie would have to work. To no avail, since he just changed shifts.

On the day of the fight, Reggie announces (pg. 152) "Me and Bobby are on a mini-team because we've been practicing together." Benji was "appalled." Even though he no longer wants to be joined at the hip it stings to know Reggie feels the same way.

I found it ironic that Benji wanted everyone to wear goggles (and was rejected) and in the end it was he who got shot in the eye.  I think Randy did it on purpose. When they practiced how many times to pump it (by using it on Marcus!) he got to three pumps without breaking the skin. The rules for the fight were he was only supposed to pump it twice.

At the end of the chapter, there's a glimpse from the future. (Pg. 158) "For some of us, those were our first guns, a rehearsal I'd like to say all these years later, now that one of us is dead and another paralyzed from the waist down from actual bullets-drug related as the papers put it-that the game wasn't so innocent after all." It gave me an unsettling feeling to read that based on how the BB gun fight ended.

April
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Rachel-K
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Re: Gangsters

Thanks, Aprilh!

 

I thought Benji's attitude about Reggie in this BB gun fight was funny and touching and kind of complicated. He wanted to protect Reggie, but wasn't there also an element of wanting to make sure he himself had the adventure that Reggie would go green over? I love how the noble, selfish,  and other sorts of motivations get layered on top of each other.

 

I also love the reasoning behind the constant trainwrecks of poor judgment and dumb behavior that happened on Thursdays! You have to do everything you want to do without adult supervision before Friday afternoon.

 

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kren250
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Re: Gangsters

In all the boys's cases except Randy, I thought this was more of a childish prank. It sounded like the typical, not-very-smart thing that a teen boy with a bunch of friends would do.

 

Randy I felt crossed a line though...I think something was a little bit "off" with him.

 

Kelly

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DSaff
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Re: Gangsters

I think we could all see this coming when the BB guns came out. Perfectly intelligent children love to try new things, to experiment, and to be included in the group. Ben and Reggie knew what would happen if their parents found out, but that didn't stop them. After all, since their parents didn't supervise them, they didn't know how the boys spent their money. (They didn't even notice that Ben was hurt - very disturbing!) BB guns were new, exciting, part of growing up with this group; and I think the danger that came with them was also intoxicating.

 

As the boys practiced with Randy's gun, you could feel the desire for each of them to have one of their own. Ben and Reggie practiced separately, so it was a shock for Ben to find his brother partnering with someone else. I thought Reggie would be the one hurt in the fight because he was suddenly available that night. I was worried about him. So when Ben was shot in the corner of his eye, I was surprised. Was Randy just pulling a prank? I don't think so. Randy seems to be the "gangster" in the group, the one hunting for trouble. I think this was purposeful, a way to find out what was going to happen. While I haven't read beyond this week's discussion, I have a feeling he is either dead or in jail because of his use of guns. We will see.

 

What did Benji mean when he said that "all of their fights were real?" I think he meant that there was a real undercurrent to every incident - an undercurrent of anger and control. The insults were getting more cutting and angry, and the fights hurt. As each of the boys struggled with changes in their bodies, heads, families, and friendships; they were also struggling with control over their own destiny.

 

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
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booksJT
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Re: Gangsters

I think in the begiining it started out as a prank until Benji got hurt. I thinkt that when Benji tried to prevent Reggie from participating was funny. I think Reggie should have listened to Benji because he was the oldest.  I think this incident was a boyish prank until Randy's character crossed the line. I don't think the other boys knew Randy that well. It is unfortunate this prank caused the loss of an eye.

 

At the end of chapter when Benji says the fights "were always real" , I think he means that as they got older the anger was more evident . The pain from the fights hurt more because they were more serious about the fights. I think the boys struggled with their families,friends  and the control of their future. 

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thewanderingjew
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Re: Gangsters

[ Edited ]
rkubie wrote:

What leads such perfectly intelligent kids to behave like this?

I think that these kids were imitating the authority figures or maybe even the powerful figures that threatened them, in their lives. They were playing at being powerful grownups. NP put the gun in his waistband like a swaggering cop or cracker sheriff, it says on p.145. On that same page, Ben's dad says "whitey loves his guns....no kid of mine is going to get that mind set." Although I didn't approve of some of his teaching methods, he was trying to keep his kids on the straight and narrow.
I hope it is okay to speak openly about this because once again, I am struck by my own misunderstanding of the black culture. I thought guns were part of the black culture. Nobody I knew owned a gun. The news media is always focussing on shootouts in black neighborhoods or black athletes with guns. I am seeing this from an entirely different vantage point. I am seeing them as victims of the white society in a way I never did before. Did these young boys just want to fit in by playing games in which they identified with those they thought were more powerful?
I had the feeling that it was a game to them and they didn't think about any dangerous consequences because it wasn't for real, even though Benji says it was. Why else would they test the guns out on their friend Marcus. Surely they didn't think he would really get hurt even if he was always the one they bullied.
Maybe it was for real regarding the issues they dealt with but I don't think they thought there were real consequences to be dealt with as a result of their games. When Benji gets hurt, they avoid dealing with it realistically and protect the group instead. The avoided any retribution for their behavior by closing ranks. He could have had serious consequences from the injury but only his brother seemed truly concerned. There was little remorse because it was only a game, to them, I think.
 

 


 

 

Message Edited by thewanderingjew on 02-23-2009 12:05 PM
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thewanderingjew
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Re: Gangsters


rkubie wrote:

Is this incident just a boyish prank, or does this shed a more ominous light on Randy's character?

 

For Randy, I do not believe it was just a boyish prank. Randy liked his power. He called the shots. He had the car. He had the gun. He made the rules which had nothing to do with being fair. It was all about his power.

Randy made the decision to test the weapons on Marcus. Randy killed the bird. Randy probably didn't follow the rules and as a result, he injured Benji. There is a pattern. He seems to have a mean streak. Randy makes decisions that can have really negative consequences. Unfortunately, because he possesses "the things", the other boys fall in line and follow him. Benji often resists but he caves in as well.

Randy comes from an unhappy home. His mom doesn't seem to pay much attention to what he does or whom he hangs out with. All you learn about her when they go into his house is that she shuts the tv, slams the door and effectively removes herself from the scene. It appears that she has no interest in his friends or his activities. He is probably in search of attention or even some kind of control over his life but he is making very poor choices and decisions in order to obtain these goals. His status within the group seems to come from what he offers them. He seems to crave attention from negative behavior. Right now, on the surface, he seems like a boy on his way to more trouble.

twj

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thewanderingjew
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Re: Gangsters


rkubie wrote:

Is this incident just a boyish prank, or does this shed a more ominous light on Randy's character?

 

For Randy, I do not believe it was just a boyish prank. Randy liked his power. He called the shots. He had the car. He had the gun. He made the rules which had nothing to do with being fair. It was all about his power.

Randy made the decision to test the weapons on Marcus. Randy killed the bird. Randy probably didn't follow the rules and as a result, he injured Benji. There is a pattern. He seems to have a mean streak. Randy makes decisions that can have really negative consequences. Unfortunately, because he possesses "the things", the other boys fall in line and follow him. Benji often resists but he caves in as well.

Randy comes from an unhappy home. His mom doesn't seem to pay much attention to what he does or whom he hangs out with. All you learn about her when they go into his house is that she shuts the tv, slams the door and effectively removes herself from the scene. It appears that she has no interest in his friends or his activities. He is probably in search of attention or even some kind of control over his life but he is making very poor choices and decisions in order to obtain these goals. His status within the group seems to come from what he offers them. He seems to crave attention from negative behavior. Right now, on the surface, he seems like a boy on his way to more trouble.

twj

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dhaupt
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Re: Gangsters

Wow Rachel I bet parents have been asking their kids that question since prehistoric times and I guess the answer will always be a unequivocal " I dunno".

 

As far as just a boyish prank, as far as we've been shown thus far I would call it a prank, but it also shows where Randy might go in the future. 

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Bonnie824
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Re: Gangsters

I think many teenage boys will play/fight rough and do dangerous things. It may be more intense with black "rich" kids during this time period.
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aprilh
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Re: Gangsters

We get a glimpse of Benji's home life with the story he tells about his father hitting him across the face multiple times for not punching a kid in school. I could feel the panic he felt trying to remember anything wrong he'd done in the last few days. It makes me sad to think this is what his home life is like with his dad. The fact that his mother sat there and watched and didn't say anything really made me lose respect for her too. She should have stood up for her son. When Reggie finds the note in their mother's handwriting  listing all the things her husband does to her I felt like I understood where she was coming from better, but it still didn't make up for her not protecting her son. I'm almost glad now the parents do not come out often to Sag Harbor. It's probably the only time the kids feel truly able to relax.
April
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DSaff
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Re: Gangsters

I agree with you, April. When his father hit him, I couldn't believe his mother just sat there. He looked at her, but she did nothing. There must have been a huge threat there because I can't imagine just sitting there. Her life must have been horrible too. The freedom the boys experienced in Sag Harbor was deserved.


aprilh wrote:
We get a glimpse of Benji's home life with the story he tells about his father hitting him across the face multiple times for not punching a kid in school. I could feel the panic he felt trying to remember anything wrong he'd done in the last few days. It makes me sad to think this is what his home life is like with his dad. The fact that his mother sat there and watched and didn't say anything really made me lose respect for her too. She should have stood up for her son. When Reggie finds the note in their mother's handwriting  listing all the things her husband does to her I felt like I understood where she was coming from better, but it still didn't make up for her not protecting her son. I'm almost glad now the parents do not come out often to Sag Harbor. It's probably the only time the kids feel truly able to relax.

 

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
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CathyB
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Re: Gangsters

What leads such perfectly intelligent kids to behave like this?

 Stupidity. They are kids and as such they don't necessarily think of all the consequences. They are still in the untouchable phase - where things cannot hurt them.

 

Is this incident just a boyish prank, or does this shed a more ominous light on Randy's character?

For all but Randy, this is a boyish prank. Randy seems to have an 'edge' to him - some 'itch' that he needs to scratch. He wants/enjoys power.

 

Benji says at the end of the chapter, that their fights "were always real." What does he mean by this?

This is their 'world' and everything is 'real'. They also had a pecking order which needed to be maintained. Showing weekness or losing a fight would bring you down a peg.

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JAmber
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Re: Gangsters

I think the kids are very bored and with no parents around to keep them in check, crazy things will happen.  I'm curious to find out if Randy turns out to be one of the two unfortunate friends that Benji tells us about. I don't think it was a boyish prank. It seems like Randy is acting out, in a lot of different ways, I suppose it is because of his homelife. Their fights were real because thier emotions were always real. They weren't just picking on each other or bullying, while they were "fighting." It was real, someone always got hurt whether it be emotional or physical.
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Sassy398
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Re: Gangsters

 Well, my personal stroy is not of the gangsters nature, but I do remember during one

 Easter vacation from school, where I wanted to earn extra money, so I went and tied

 grapevines in a vineyard. While taking a lunch break, down below there was kids with

 bb guns, and wouldn't you know they decided to shoot it, which hit my leg. Let me

 tell you it hurt beyond words, but I survived..lol. When reading this chapter, it gave

 me the chills  because I just felt someone was going to get hurt, poor Ben I felt

 his pain.

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GSB65
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Re: Gangsters

What leads such perfectly intelligent kids to behave like this?

 

The fact that they're kids!  It's a thrill and they still don't quite understand the consequences of what could happen.  I can't think of any teenage boy that thinks they will really get hurt if they do something stupid.  My boyfriend at the time and now husband and some of his friends did this same exact thing one weekend way back when.  They bundled up in heavy clothes and ran around the woods shooting each other with their BB guns.  There was even a "Marcus" of the group that seemed to get the short end of things.  They all seemed like intelligent boys, but there they were playing Rambo with their guns!

 

Is this incident just a boyish prank or does this shed a more ominous light on Randy's character?

 

You would hope it was just a prank gone wrong, but the impression that you get of Randy is on of a possible mean streak.  They tried the guns before and it was obvious that Randy pumped his gun several times over the agreed upon two.  Is it his upbringing? We never really get an answer, but I think many assume he is one of the two unlucky ones mentioned later in the chapter.

 

Benji says at the end of the chapter, that their fights "were always real." What does he mean by this?

 

It seems like their fight to get through life. I don't know that it is with each other or society. 

Pg. 158 "We always fought for real.  Only the nature of the fight changed.  It always will.  As time went on, we learned to arm ourselves in our different ways.  Some of us with real guns, some of us with more ephemeral weapons, an idea or improbable plan or some sort of formulation about how best to move through the world.  An idea that will let us be.  Protect us and keep us safe.  But a weapon nonetheless."

 

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Read-n-Rider
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Re: Gangsters

Like Sassy398, I found this incident chilling, and also indicative of the collective ignorance and irresponsibility of these boys as a group.  BB guns are not toys; they can do real damage--as these kids found out.  I was appalled when they used Marcus essentially for target practice, determining how much pressure could be applied before breaking his skin.  Even then, Randy exhibited a mean streak, going closer to the boy each time before shooting at him.

 

When Benji was injured, I couldn't believe that no one but his brother showed enough concern to help him get to a doctor--certainly no remorse from Randy, who had shot him.

 Are teens this age really so immature, so afraid of offending the "leader of the pack," that they would refuse to get proper help when one of their group is hurt?  I felt like shaking them!

 

The parents don't come off well in this episode, either.  Perhaps they can be forgiven for not instructing their sons in the proper use of firearms, since it may not have occurred to them that this would be an issue (though here is an excellent argument for not leaving these boys unattended for long periods of time), but they really should have noticed that Benji had a problem with his eye.

 

Joan 

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BookWoman718
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Re: Gangsters


GSB65 wrote:

Benji says at the end of the chapter, that their fights "were always real." What does he mean by this?

 

It seems like their fight to get through life. I don't know that it is with each other or society. 

Pg. 158 "We always fought for real.  Only the nature of the fight changed.  It always will.  As time went on, we learned to arm ourselves in our different ways.  Some of us with real guns, some of us with more ephemeral weapons, an idea or improbable plan or some sort of formulation about how best to move through the world.  An idea that will let us be.  Protect us and keep us safe.  But a weapon nonetheless."

 


GSB65, thanks for quoting that paragraph!  It is one that caught me up as I read it, made me go back and read it more carefully, thinking about all the things it could mean. 

 

In order to "best move through the world", find something that will let me be, protect me and keep me safe, I've tried a lot of things that I never thought of in that way before - as a weapon to arm myself.   Things like getting a good education, marrying a good man, saving for retirement, keeping informed about the world and its problems and its many joys, trying to give my kids a good start.   All of those are my weapons that I've tried to use to protect myself from dangers.  All have worked to a great extent.  And most have had their spectacular failures. 

 

It's going to be an interesting exercise going forward, as I  make decisions, to remember to think of them as choosing a "weapon,"  and trying for the insight to understand what I think I'm protecting myself from. 

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Carmenere_lady
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Re: Gangsters

I felt this chapter was more disturbing than the fact the boys were left alone for weeks at a time.  Gangsters could be subtitled -  A go to when self esteem is low. This is a deeper, more serious chapter than the others.

 

 On p.125 Benji thinks "I thought we were past playing with guns."  But seems he thought wrong as no one wanted to go to East Hampton to buy records, they wanted to shoot the BB gun.  What led Randy to use his BB gun to take target practice on a Robin sitting on a wire?  Or making NP "dance" as he shot at his feet. I sense there is an underlying anger in him. 

 

The author seems to offer the reader a few reasons for such behavior, "Other family" status where fathers, as Randy's is implied to be, are absent because they've got another family on the side.  Is it violence begetting violence? For we see Benji being punched by his father which provokes him to go out and punch others.  Not only that, when Benji is close to tears his father says "Don't you cry now".  He must stifle his emotions.

Then the author gives us information into a study which tries to explain why black children "are being taught to hate themselves".  The answer, it is Barbi and Luke Skywalker dolls and action figures.  "Brainwashed by the Evil Empire".  The way they are treated at home didn't come up. 

These are situations commonplace to all different races and it makes you wonder about the ills inflicting our society today and children as young as 9, 10, 11 picking up guns to no good end.

 

As I move forward in this memoir I wonder if it will be Randy who introduces drugs to the others.

Lynda

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