The Jane Street Gang

Somewhere between the insane, brutally violent gangs of today and the romanticized gangs of “West side Story”, you had the real gangs of New York. They were not to be messed with and almost every neighborhood had one. They clearly marked their territory and one dared not challenge that. When territory was challenged, bad things happened.
In our immediate neighborhood, it was the Jane Street Gang. They were the forerunners of the Dusters…. Another Gang that one did not challenge.

Jane Street was just a few short city blocks from west 12th street, so I was all too familiar with them. If you lived within their Territory you simply paid homage to them, kept out of their way and crossed to the other side of the street if you encountered them while out and about. The street was theirs, simple as that.

For the most part, if you lived within their territory and showed the proper respect , you were left alone. Of course, they would have to exert their authority at times, just to ensure everyone remembered whose neighborhood it was.

Naturally , their were exceptions , and I was one such exception. A dorky kid with the reputation of being  a “Mommas  boy “was not a good place to be. I was a prime target for some serious Jane Street intimidation . It certainly didn’t help that mom walked me to school, picked me up from school and basically didn’t let me out of her sight. Not a good situation at all. I had no idea how to fight back, as mom told me never to hit anyone and hitting was wrong. Kind of a bad interpretation of Jesus’ turn the other cheek teaching. I was frightened of my own shadow and couldn’t even tell you how to block a punch if one was coming … And many did.

As any good hunting animal knows, you isolate your prey. This was what my friends on Jane Street did with me. On those rare occasions when I was out of the watchful eye and protection of ” mommy”, they would strike. Usually it was when Mom would send me to the store to pick up a loaf of bread or a carton of milk.

I dreaded those errands because I knew what was coming if I was spotted. There was little doubt I would be “Jumped”. Four or five of the gang would use me as a punching and kicking bag, while the others laughed. I cried, of course making it worse. I always tried to pretend nothing happened when I got home, but that was a lost cause. A tear-stained face, bruises and a crushed loaf of bread usually gave me away easily. Mom, would be infuriated and want to go downstairs and find the culprits… I begged her not to, as she had already given me the reputation of one having to have his mommy fight his battles.

One time, after she had picked me up from school, and we were on our way home it happened again. Mom had my little brother in the stroller and we were making the short walk home. I thought it would be fun to hide on my brother and cross to the other side of the street where he couldn’t see me. I loved how cute he looked in his little stroller looking all around trying to find me, he was always smiling and he loved the game. I would sneak up on him and jump out from behind a parked car along the street and we would both laugh and laugh. Well, this time , when I was laying back across the street, letting mom and my brother get ahead of me so I could surprise him on the next corner … There they were. This was really special to them because I was actually with mom, though not by her side . The usual beating ensued, and I , like the brave street fighter I was, ran crying to mommy. When she saw me , she went into a rage , turned the stroller around and raced around the streets looking for the kids that did this. Of course, this didn’t help my cause at all, because now the story of my mom chasing down the Jane street gang made street headlines. Devastating string of events for me.
(However, my brother seemed to enjoy it, as he got the ride of his life in that stroller.)

Sad how events such as this still impact you decades later.
I believe I would still have a bad feeling crossing Jane street in New York  today .


Don Ortolano


2 thoughts on “The Jane Street Gang

  1. Ouch! That’s a compelling story, Don. We had a John Street Gang growing up (the JSG), but they were more vandals than bullies.


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