Gangs of New New York
While the visitor from abroad or the hinterlands will find New York a largely agreeable clime, from the silvered canyons of finance on Wall Street to the richly variegated taxi dispatch yards of Castle Hill Avenue, it cannot be denied that there are, in these uncertain economic times, organized groups of ruffians afoot during the evening hours all too willing to use chicanery, violence, and confusing street argot to separate the unknowing traveler from his wealth. It is to be hoped that this guide, compiled by our own domestic phrenologist from Dairycoates as well as an American criminal defense attorney from Macdonald Ranch in Henderson, Nevada, will protect the wary wanderer from such deprivation.
Manhattan’s great towers of commerce and glittering palaces of recreation make it the jewel in the crown of New York’s boroughs. Greater gouts of amusement and entertainment simply cannot be had in the lower 48, from the delightfully daring cabaret stages of Broadway, where a tourist may enjoy seeing a once-promising jazz-dancer perform rip-roaring tunes written especially for a theatrical adaptation of a forty-year-old situation comedy, to the wonders of Times Square, where Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen dispenses cheese at various degrees of meltedness amongst a dazzling array of antique petrol-station signs fabricated in Longyan, China. But even this vacationer’s Nirvana is not all milled soaps and FDNY gimme caps; crime happens even here. The most dangerous gang in Manhattan is likely the Occupational Hazzards, a roving troupe of underemployed graduate students who have been preying off the weak and topically misinformed since 2008. Originally a rump of recidivist satirical-puppet manipulators loosely affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, they became embittered when they discovered Wall Street had already been occupied by a group of multimillionaire hedge fund managers. Disenchanted and unable to afford an Uber to their “Writing the Other” seminar at the New School, they turned to street savagery. A common technique is for one gang member, usually a gorgeous Eurasian polymath, to engage a passer-by in a conversation about Thomas Piketty, while an altogether more brutish ex-field hockey player coshes the innocent dupe in the back of the head with a discarded e-reader. They then relieve the hapless victim of his credit cards, which they use to fund their Slate Plus habits.
At the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum is the vast borough known as the Bronx. Working-class, unpretentious, and home to a teeming stew of ethnic and cultural mixes, the Bronx is noteworthy for being the area of New York least visited by tourists for 239 years running. This practice of avoidance is unfair to the residents of this dynamic township, however; the rich diversity of its inhabitants is reflected in in the incredibly vast range of saints to whom street fairs are dedicated, as well as in the fantastic mélange of cuisines, which vary from the McDonald’s in Crotona Park East, where they have a big thing of hot sauce right next to the big things of ketchup and BBQ sauce, to the McDonald’s in Clason Point, where they sometimes serve McRib sandwiches as far as two months outside their normal limited-time window of opportunity. Alas, the reputation of the Bronx as a hotbed of gangland violence is well-earned. One of the most notorious of criminal outfits in the South Bronx are the UQM, or Unofficial Queensbridge Murderers. This coagulation of hoodlums dates back to the 1980s, when they engaged in the distribution and sale of crack cocaine products and accessories — an activity fraught with peril. However, with the decline of crackistry and the exporting of gang shootings to Chicago and points west, the UQM has largely abandoned these activities and now focuses on continued attempts to establish that the practice of hip-hop was invented in their borough. Although this fact is largely without dispute, they still engage in savage cyphers, in which anyone suggesting an origin for the artform in Queens, New Jersey, or even California, will receive potentially fatal levels of exposure to the dozens. Be smart and be safe: wear earbuds and always carry an extensive supply of podcasts centered around how movies are often not very good.
Storied home of the Trolley-Dodgers baseball society, wisecracking urban know-it-alls who prove surprisingly heroic in World War II battles, and an arts district named for a cartoon elephant capable of self-powered flight, Brooklyn has recently become the hunting grounds of the nation’s young cultural elite. Whether it is paying $34 for a six-ounce bottle of mango-flavored vinegar, paying $17 to hear a bicycle messenger read the screenplay to Roadhouse in iambic pentameter, or paying $795 to attend a seminar on adult finger-painting, if it’s going to be something people in the rest of the country make fun of after seeing an article about it in the New York Times Style section, you’re going to see it in Brooklyn approximately four months prior to that. However, even this futuristic playground of the temporarily rebellious is not free from criminal depredation, as evidenced by the nefarious goings-on of the World B. Freegans. Originally a group of freewheeling anarchists who busked outside of banh mi shops owned by former financial advisors and sang acoustic novelty versions of “The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald”, “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta”, and the theme from “Ghostbusters” with new lyrics about cooking shows, the Freegans turned to street menace when a combination of soaring rents in Greenpoint and Nicki Minaj leaving American Idol sapped their respect for the law. They now pummel tourists in back alleys with a combination of noxious tobacco smoke from Nat Sherman cigarettes and the business end of artisanal bamboo trekking poles they claim to have bought to hike Minnewaska State Park but they really got because their weed connect lives on the third floor of a building without an elevator.
In the next chapter, we’ll review more gangs of New New York, including the Liberty Bulls of Staten Island, the Surly Yeshiva Teens of Kew Gardens, Queens, and an as-yet-unnamed group of hooligans from East Rockaway who roam the streets in search of a 24-hour kosher wine store and men who own upstate luxury automobile retailers.