In 1986 the Beastie Boys told us we’ve got to fight for our right to party. Fast forward twenty-six years. I was a grown man in my 40s. My daughter was about to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation at St. Stanislaus Church. I wanted to throw a party for her. That meant I had to fight.
Finding somebody to fight wasn’t going to be hard. People in my neighborhood were throwing parties like nobody’s business. I thought it would be nice to give advance notice to the rival gang. So I called them.
They call themselves the Electric Eels. I think their name was inspired by the Sharks, the theatrical rival gang of the Jets in West Side Story. Their leader is a native of Trinidad and Tobago, a scrappy, middle-aged brawler named Errol. Errol said he could pencil us in for a week from Thursday. I said this would be fine. It would allow us enough time to lick our wounds and heal in time for the Confirmation party.
When Errol asked me what our name was I froze. How stupid are we? We’ve spent the last several years sharpening our knives, acting tough, and terrorizing people. But we never came up with a name. I told Errol of the Electric Eels that I would get back to him.
I called one of the leaders of our gang, a guy named Zoltan.
“Hey Zoltan, what is our name?”
“My name is Zoltan,” he said.
“No, not your name, Zoltan. What is our name, the gang’s name?”
“Gee, I never gave it much thought. I guess we’re just a bunch of hooligans who bring mayhem and misery to the streets so we can throw parties.”
“Yeah, that’s how I see it,” I said. I don’t even like fighting, but I don’t want to disrespect the Beastie Boys. They seem so angry.”
“Yeah but that was in 1986,” said Zoltan. “Maybe they’ve mellowed.”
“Still, I don’t want to assume things,” I said. “Thanks anyway, Zoltan.” I hung up.
I spent a few minutes wondering if the Electric Eels had the same dilemma before they settled on a name. I had to hand it to them. The Electric Eels sounds intimidating. I hated the idea of grappling with one, especially if I was standing in water.
I called another leader of our gang. His name is Louis. Like Zoltan, Louis is 100% Hungarian. He was cracking his knuckles but he agreed to talk with me while he cracked. His knuckles sounded like potato chips being crunched by squirrels on the other end of the line.
“Hey Meathead, wuts dis I hear about melee going down, no?”
I can never quite understand what Louis is saying. He’s from the old country and will one day become a made man. Just like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas but without the shoe shine box and Italian food.
“Who told you about the fight?”
“You dink I was born in barn? I got sources.”
“Never mind the melee, Louis. Tell me, what do you think we should call ourselves?”
“We should call us names like, uh…uh… sticks and stones!” said Louis.
“Nice talking to you Louis.” I hung up.
Not having a name was really bothering me. If we didn’t come up with something fast, the Electric Eels wouldn’t schedule a fight with us. And if we didn’t fight we didn’t have a right to party.
I found a pen and some paper. I started writing possible gang names. The Dolphins. What are we a football team? The Submarines. What’s with the nautical theme? The Falcons. Fonzie would call us nerds for stealing his gang’s name. The Electric Eel Slayers. Errol wouldn’t pencil us in if I told him that. He’d know that I made it up.
I thought long and hard for what seemed like hours. At last, I came up with something. In West Side Story the Jets clashed with the Sharks. How about if we call ourselves the Helicopters? Our propellers would slice the Electric Eels into a million tiny pieces!
I called Errol and told him that the Helicopters would rumble with the Electric Eels a week from Thursday.
“Who are the Helicopters?” asked Errol.
“And you are…?” asked Errol.
“I’m one of the leaders of the Helicopters.”
“Did you just make that up?” asked Errol.
Errol was on to me and I was in a corner. I decided to come clean.
“Yes, Errol, I just made it up. But I’m under a lot of pressure here. And I have to fight in order to have a right to party.”
“Why don’t you just give me your first name?”
“Mike,” I said.
“Okay, Mike. We’ll meet you in the alley off 71st Street at 7 o’clock.”
“You mean that’s all you needed?”
“Heck yeah, I don’t care about your gang’s name. I just need to jot something down so we don’t accidentally beat up the wrong gang. See you a week from Thursday, Mike.”
A week from Thursday, our nameless band of warriors, pugilists and swashbucklers squared off against the Electric Eels and got our clocks cleaned. We spent the following week recovering in the hospital. But in the end I threw one heck of a Confirmation party for my daughter. Which got me thinking about my future. Parties are fun but I don’t know how many more rumbles my body can handle.
Illustrated by Joyce Sajovie