"I think," said the East Side boy to his
friend, the practical sociologist, "that most people have very queer
ideas about the East Side boy." These two were on exceedingly good
terms, and it was understood that differences of age, social
training, and the like should be forgotten when the East Side boy
came up to the sociologist's den and discoursed while that, worthy
smoked his pipe. This had been going on for three or four years to
the edification of each. The two had met when the boy was just an
ordinary, bright East Side youngster, and mutual curiosity mingled
with growing affection had done the rest. Now the youth had
developed a taste for study, and the pair read Latin together, while
the boy and his parents saved up money to send him to college. Yet
the boy remained an East Side boy, loyal to his part of the city,
even though he knew well the formerly unexplored country above
Fourteenth Street. As for the sociologist, he was merely a
philosopher who spelled life with a capital L. He was interested in
humanity, rich or poor, and reflected with satisfaction that on one
occasion he had attended the anarchist ball on one evening and a
gorgeous Fifth Avenue function the next ... which shows what manner
of man the sociologist was.
"Most of the popular ideas on any subject are queer, my young
friend," said he to the boy, yet pleased with the prospect of
conversation from that sometimes taciturn youth.
"But you'd think," persisted the boy,
"that the East· Side children were a special brand. Now, I was an
ordinary boy, in all conscience, and I'm sure I wasn't very wicked
or very unhappy. I think I was, in the main, remarkably like a West
Side boy or any other kind of boy. I don't think the East Side boy
has any more temptations to commit a crime than the richer ones, not
so many, perhaps. You hear so much about 'gangs' and crap playing
and cigarette smoking. Well, we do have all that, but it isn't as
bad as it's painted."
"How about the gangs?" inquired the sociologist. "Did you ever
belong to one?"
"Did I? Why, of course. But, then, there are at least three kinds of
gangs. First, there's the really tough gang. The boys who belong to
this kind of gang meet at corners to make trouble. They fight, and
sometimes they hold up other boys and make them give up money. There
used to be lots of these fellows around Cherry and Water Streets,
but they've been suppressed now. Some of the gangs were pretty hard
to break up, and there may be a few fellows of this kind still
hanging around, but not many. Of course, these were bad boys, and
the police used to get after them. But this kind of gang didn't form
the majority, by any means, and they were only around the docks and
other places that are tough, anyway.
"Then, there was another kind, and I think that most of the gangs
they have now belong to this class. These boys hang around a corner
and flirt with girls and amuse themselves with people who pass by. I
call these the flirty gangs, because that is really what they do.
The boys who belong to these gangs may be bad, but most of them are
all right, I think. They wouldn't hurt anybody, unless under unusual
circumstances. Then, the third kind of gang, the kind I used to
belong to, was just a social gang, formed chiefly for the purpose of
playing games and especially baseball. We used to joke and have fun,
but we never did anything worse than mischief, and we used to let
the girls alone. Some of the boys were not as good as they might
have been, but most of them were decent enough. Most of them worked,
and none of them have turned out badly at all. We didn't have any
organization, except that we all looked up to the one who was
strongest and who played ball best. This is the only way in which
any of the decent gangs have a leader, but the gangs that used to
fight had recognized leaders.
"There used to be a good deal of crap playing around Henry Street,
where most of the richer boys lived, and part of East Broadway. I
don't think the crap playing was any worse among our boys than
gambling among uptown boys. Some of our boys who had well-to-do
parents, or who had good places, used to lose as much as $2 or $3 on
a Sunday, sometimes more. Then, around Essex Street there used to be
a crap club of men - expressmen and peddlers who were not good men
at all. They used to play on the street or in yards with some one to
look out for the policeman. I don't think that there is as much crap
playing as there used to be. All these gangs, except the tough
gangs, are likely at any time to form a club, and if they get into
one of the institutions they may turn into a fine organization. Even
outside of institutions, there are clubs which may last a long time.
"The smoking isn't general, except among the tough gangs. There were
only three or four in our gang who ever smoked. I don't want to make
out the gang to be too good. They used a good deal of bad language,
because they think it is smart, but they outgrew this, and I don't
think the East Side boys are any worse than others in this respect
after they get to be sixteen or so.
"When I belonged to a gang, there was no place for a playground on
the East Side. In fact, there isn't really any place now where we
can play baseball. There is always Central Park, but a small boy
can't afford much carfare. We used to play in the street whenever
the policeman wasn't around, and even when he was, we would play
prisoner's base and pussy cat. If people don't want gangs they will
have to give us something else and make it very attractive, too, for
the gangs have a good time. I don't see why the city can't make a
place for baseball and that sort of thing.
"Then, when people talk about the East Side boy, they don't speak
enough about the studious boy. Although I liked to play ball and go
around with the gang, I didn't shirk school, and I tried to read
books. It is hard for a boy who has just come over here to start
right. I was ten when I came, and I had to sell papers when I didn't
know more of English than was enough to call out the name of the
paper, and more arithmetic than to make the right change. You'd
smile if I told you what a time I had to get hold of the books I
wanted. The gang wasn't a literary set, by any means, though. I
joined a gang because I was fond of games, and that was my only
chance for playing. At first I was the only member of the crowd who
belonged to a library, but more joined later on.
I was a poor boy, and hadn't any money to spend, but I don't think
any boy was ever happier than I was. I had to stay in the city all
summer and run errands for my mother when I wanted to play, and I
used even to have to scrub the floor, but I was a very happy boy
most of the time."
"I agree with you," observed the sociologist, "that the East Side
boy receives a good deal of undeserved pity."
''Well,'' returned the boy, "he doesn't want pity - he wants a place
to play and a little sensible companionship. He makes the best of
circumstances, but the circumstances could be improved. But nobody
will ever do anything for the East Side boy who isn't willing to
make a friend and companion of him. People who meet and talk always
get on the wrong track. Why, it stands to reason that the small boy
on the street can tell them more in three minutes than all their
"Oh," suggested his friend, "some good does come out of the Upper
West Side once in a while."
"Yes," wound up the boy, "but if people would spend less money and
give more companionship there would be less trouble with the East
Side boy. He's all right, if you give him half a chance."
And the sociologist looked at the bright face of one who had had his
"half a chance" and decided that the boy was correct.