Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My latest post is part 4 of the encounters with gangs I've had. I'm writing it so that as you go down the page you have them in order. So Part 2 is below part 1.

If that's too hard to get to, here's a list of these posts so far. Just click on the one you want:

Part 1 High School Gang
Part 2 New York Gang
Part 3 Street Gang
Part 4 The Convict Work Gang

Monday, July 20, 2009

My Encounter With a High School Gang Part 1/4

I've had four run ins with gangs. One was at school and harmless, others, well, they could have ended badly. I've been extremely lucky so far. Or maybe God has beene watching over me. Or both. Not that my atheist children could accept the second explanation. But no matter. I thought I'd recount them in a four part series. Maybe there's some lessons in them for others, who knows.....

My first encounter was in Junior High School. There was this guy in year 7 who was really popular.. If the teacher gave us a choice as to what book to study for English class, he'd decide what he wanted, and everyone else would vote with him. Except for me and this other girl. We didn't like him because he was always picking on us. He used to make fun of me because my parents wouldn't let me wear jeans. He was a lot meaner to her though. He once arranged to meet her in a park and never showed. Everyone laughed at her for thinking he would. Harmless stuff, I know. If that had happened nowadays in Sydney, not only would he have shown up, but he would have had 6 of his mates with him. But this was Winnipeg in the 70's. Even if she wasn't physically hurt, she was publicly humiliated and that's devastating for a 13 year old.

Anyway, the bullying stopped after an incident in the library. There were just the two of us at a big wooden table that seated 6. Larry and two of his friends came in. There was an empty table across the room but he wanted to make us move so he sat down at ours. The other girl got angry and told him to get lost. We were there first! She spluttered in frustration. Larry and his friends found this highly amusing. I tried a different approach. I purred “Oh, Larry, come sit closer. Come sit here on THIS chair.” He got really uncomfortable and said “Yes, well, um” and he and his friends made a hasty retreat.

Who could blame him? He'd challenged my territory, I'd stood my gound, I made him leave and he lost face in front of his friends. He couldn't even fault the way I did it because in Junior High, sitting next to someone in the library was a way of letting them know you liked them. So it was HIM, not me who made the first move. And on girls he least wanted to be seen with too! After that he left me alone. As for the other girl, she eventually became part of his entourage.....

Part 2 New York Gang
Part 3 Street Gang
Part 4 The Convict Work Gang

My Encounter with a New York Gang Part 2/4

My second encounter with a gang happened in New York. I had been traveling around America on a Greyhound bus pass. It gave me unlimited rides for a month for $99. I didn't have much money for accomodation so what I'd do was explore a city by day, and catch a bus at night. This particular day the ride ended at 5 AM in a New York subway station. I was still tired and didn't particularly want to see that city so I decided to catch the next bus out. It wasn't due to leave for a couple of hours so I decided to explore the station. Being from Winnipeg I'd never seen one before. It was deserted. A guy I met went with me. He was also catching that bus.

We were walking and talking quite happily until my friend started getting tense. I asked him what was wrong. He said “Hadn't you noticed? That group of four guys has been following us for the past 10 minutes!”

I hadn't.

Just then a train stopped and let its passengers out. Hundreds of people rushed towards us. I said, “Don't worry! Quick! Let's turn around!”

We changed direction and walked right to these guys with a whole wall of people rushing behind us. There was nothing they could do but stand there as we swept past them. We then headed straight for the Greyhound bus terminal. No way were they going to find us there. We narrowly escaped being mugged.

Even though we'd only been there for two hours, we'd already had the quintessential New York experience!

Part 1 High School Gang
Part 3 Street Gang
Part 4 The Convict Work Gang

My Encounter With a Street Gang Part 3/4

My third encounter with a gang was walking home from my community art class in Kingsford, which is a nice neighborhood in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. It was dark, but only about 6 PM and I only had to walk two short blocks so I wasn't that worried about my safety.

As I got to my street this group of teens surrounded me. There were about eight of them. They looked about 16- they looked like nice kids- they certainly didn't have an attidtude or anything. I think I even recognized a few as living on my block. I wasn't concerned.

The leader asked me if I'd seen Forest Gump. That movie had come out the month before so I knew what the story line was, but I hadn't watched it myself. I told him this, puzzled as to why he'd ask. Then he quoted “Life is a box of chocolates- you never know what you're going to get”.

The others laughed menacingly at this. The leader was still being friendly, so I played innocent and asked him if he liked it. He said it was all right. I asked him more questions about the movie, trying to distract him from whatever it was that he was planning to do. He answered them and then explained that the quote meant that you never know when something bad might happen to you. I did get that. I remembered the park nearby and hoped I didn't I end up there with them.

He was still friendly and joking, so I tried to be the same. I mentioned how I lived around there and had kids his age. Actually my kids were 10 and 7 but he didn't know that. One of the others asked if I'd like some more. This was meant to scare me. I said no way, two were all I could handle. After all, I WAS getting old, heck, I was old enough to be a grandmother! Now this was true if you assumed that a grandmother could be as young as 34. I was older than that, but not by much.

One of the group said that I looked pretty hot. I didn't think so. I was wearing an old jacket over raggedy jeans that were spattered with paint. No way could anyone have thought I looked sexy in that. However I am tall and I do have long blonde hair and I've always looked young for my age so I knew why he might think so. I figured I'd play the age card again so I said “ Yeah, but really, what would the kids at school say if you did it with a grandmother? They'd all laugh at you.”

This made them think. I then became all motherly towards the leader, asking him what school he went to and asked if he liked it. He responded by telling me a bit about himself. Then I told him I had to make dinner for my kids now, and he let me go.

Personally I don't think the group had ever done anything bad before- I think maybe they were just thinking of trying something new. Hopefully they never did! I never saw anything in the local paper about it anyway. I count this as a lucky escape.

Part 1 High School Gang
Part 2 New York Gang
Part 4 The Convict Work Gang

My Encounter With A Convict Work Gang Part 4/4

My last encounter was the scariest. These guys had definitely hurt people before. They were big, muscular and covered in tattoos. And unlike the others they were hostile. I was only lucky I had my dog with me. It's a big Great Dane/Bull Mastiff Cross. People tell me he looks mean. I don't think so, he's my baby! Anyway, what happened was this.

I was walking my dog from Malabar beach to the Headlands. The road there leads to a dead end so there Isn't much traffic and there are no houses- just a water treatment plant hidden away on one side, and bushland on the other. Anyway, I thought my dog would love the trails in the bushes so we explored them. Near the end of one trail we came across this friendly black Labrador puppy which was all alone. I patted it and my dog played with it and it walked with us. I figured maybe the owner was further along looking for him.

We came to the end of the trail. It was at the edge of a giant parking lot. This is an area where people park their cars after launching their boats. That day it was deserted except for a group of what looked like Bikers. Just the kind of people my dog especially loves. (I don't know why). He and the puppy raced towards the men. They noticed us and immediately broke into a chant: “Basher, Basher, Basher!” I thought this was the name of the puppy. I didn't want to go near these guys but when I tried calling my dog back he wouldn't come so I had to go down to get him.

He was with their leader, who didn't look scary at all. He was thin, clean cut and friendly. It was obvious that the puppy belonged to him. He was next to his van which had a trailer with mowers on it, so I guess he was in charge of these guys. Maybe they were convicts on a lunch break? I could see they had a lot of respect for him. When I got to him he was giving my dog lots of pats. Meanwhile the guys he was with were giving me hostile stares. I figured I'd better move along. I told the boss I was going to the beach down by the boat ramp. He asked me if I'd take his puppy there too. I smiled and said of course I would!

When I got there I called my husband on my mobile to come and pick me up. I waited and let the dogs play on the beach until I thought my husband was there. I then took them up the hill to the parking lot and gave the puppy back. The leader was very grateful. He patted his puppy and hugged it. Turns out its name was Fred. Meanwhile the convicts were glaring at me. I wanted to get away from there as quickly as I could so I said goodbye and headed for the road, but then my dog gave out after only 100 yards. We hadn't even made it out of the parking lot!

There was nothing I could do. I just had to sit there with him until he recovered. The guys were watching. One guy in particular looked like he was going to come after me, but I smiled sweetly and kept looking at the leader. This was to remind him that I was under his boss' protection. Thank goodness it only took my husband 15 more minutes to arrive.

Anyway, I thought I'd tell about these encounters so maybe it will help if you're in a tricky situation. I read once that being confronted by a gang is the same as being confronted by one person- it is the leader who decides your fate so deal only with him. When talking to him, show respect, no hostility, no fear. Look at the situation from his point of view. You have to give him a good reason to let you go and go against the wishes of his gang. In the High School encounter I had made the leader embarrassed to be seen with me. In the NY situation, I was changing the odds from 4-2 to 400 to 4. Any gang could see the logic in backing down. In the case of the street kids, I pointed out that they'd be laughed at if they carried out their plans. In this last case the leader himself gave me a way out-he asked me to do him a favor and that's what made me off limits. The fact that I had a big scary dog with me also helped, though I could see these guys taking him on. Especially since he was tired. Of course these tactics won't always work. If it's a weak leader he wouldn't be able to stop his men. If it's a case of mistaken identity, heaven help you- just run! It's not always going to work, it will just increase your odds. Let's hope you'll never be in such a position, ever!

Part 1 High School Gang
Part 2 New York Gang
Part 3 Street Gang

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Day we Rescued a Shark!

One winter day when the boys were young we decided to do the walk from Coogee to Clovely beach. There's a lovely wide path there that only takes about half an hour to do. On one side you have a steep cliff going up to the houses, on the other side you have a steep cliff going down to the ocean. There's greenery on both sides. It's popular with tourists and joggers.

We set off late in the afternoon. Half way there we got to Gordon's Bay. It has a wooden staircase leading to a tiny beach where fishermen launch their boats. Usually it reeks of seaweed but this time it was fine. We decided that because it was low tide, and to make the trip more interesting, we'd clamber over the rocks from there to get to Clovelly. My eldest was only four but full of energy and this was just the kind of thing he enjoyed. My youngest was only one so I had him in a backpack. That was good because that way I had two hands free to help me climb over any tricky bits.

Anyway, me, my husband and the children were having a great time. My eldest especially enjoyed looking for rock pools and crabs along the way. About half way there he called out to us from way up high. He said he'd found a fish. We clambered up to check it out. In reality it was a Port Jackson shark! It was big, it was alive and and it was gasping. I wondered how on earth it got up there. We looked around. The place was deserted- though there was a pile of old rags nearby. We figured they and the shark had been washed up there by the tide, though we had no idea the tide got THAT high!

Anyway, I felt sorry for the poor thing and urged my husband to put it in the ocean. He was reluctant but said he'd give it a go. Gingerly he grabbed it by the tail and held it up. There were only a few inches of clearance between my husband's sandaled feet and the shark's long teeth. He slowly made his way down. Keeping the teeth from touching him was hard enough, but then he also had to maneuver onto a tricky set of rocks that got more and more slippery as he got closer to the water. Several times he wanted to give up but the kids and I begged him to keep going. In the end he made it and let the shark go. It swam away out of sight. The kids and I gave a huge cheer. We were heroes! We'd rescued a shark!

We were all talking excitedly about this until this thin, scary looking man covered in tattoos passed us headed in the direction of where we'd found the shark. He had a fishing rod in his hand. It occurred to me that maybe there was another explanation as to how the shark got up there. I felt bad. That was probably his dinner! Then I got scared. What would he do to us when he found out what we'd done to his catch? He'd know it was us because there was no one else around. That scared me even more.

In a panic, I told the others we had to get away from there as quickly as possible. I found a path and led the way. Unfortunately we hit a dead end. We couldn't stay because the tide was rising and it was getting dark. There were no other options- we had to go back!

We retraced our steps and snuck back past the fisherman, who was searching the clifftops. He seemed puzzled. I figured it was only a matter of time before he figured out what happened. We jumping from one rock to another as quickly as we could all the way to Clovelly. This time my eldest led the way.(He never gets lost.) He didn't know what the rush was- he thought it was some kind of game! I was so relieved when we got there safely.

After that, all I wanted to do was go home. Unfortunately, our car was at Coogee, and my 4 year old was too tired to walk back, so my husband had to leave us there while he got it. The whole time I was waiting for him I was thinking “What if the fisherman meets him on the way?” “What if the fisherman comes our way?”

I took us to a bus stop so at least there'd be cars around. There weren't any. It got darker and darker. Finally, finally my husband showed up. We were safe. We'd survived our adventure!

To celebrate we went to the nearest restaurant, which just happened to be a fish and chips shop. We could have gone further but we thought this was appropriate. We could have any kind of fish we wanted, so naturally, we chose the Port Jackson Shark !