One particularly cold night, I made it to work late after having some car trouble. It was the same shift, only with a thicker sweater underneath that short-sleeved shirt. “You need to pull your pants up, sir.” I say as I firmly address four gang kids who frequent the turf quite often. When I got backtalk from them once, I asked: “Do you really pride yourself in making it look like you have a loaded diaper?” They just sort of grin and act tough. They have a "rep" to uphold that they are proud of, even if it involves looking like a baby with a loaded diaper. The Transit Police are in our area all the time. I’m not so much worried about violence towards me or anyone else as I am between them and rival gang members.
The relationship between gang members and any figure of authority, let alone police, is one that can be respected and just about counted on. Even though these boys had no fathers to whip the crap out of them growing up when they got out of line, they understand the roles of authority figures (even if they don’t understand how to live properly with authority at home). They only had their “homies” and inner-city friends as violent examples of how young men should behave, and only obese, immobile mothers who raised them by themselves with 7 other siblings on the wrong side of the tracks. So when you address them, they understand it’s your turf and you are doing what they would do were they in your position. That dynamic worked well.
The first time I caught one of these hoodlums grafittying the men’s bathroom, I could have had them arrested and hauled downtown, but it wouldn’t have been the end of my problems. Instead, I pretended I didn’t notice the red marker in their pants that they quickly put away. I started to appeal to them for help in catching who “actually” did it. At first, I didn’t know if it was because of my charisma or the fear of getting caught. But somewhat quickly, my sector’s gang problems dropped off to near nothing. It’s amazing how powerful of a tool communication is. Make someone understand your situation and they sympathize and want to help you.
About a week later, the same four misguided young men arrived and found me. I never will forget the kid who acted as their leader, this kid “Juan” who had the reddest dyed hair and tattoos to match. We started talking...
Juan: “I got busted for shoplifting today. The officer gave me a summons to appear in court and did not take me to jail since it was not high enough of value in money. I was trying to take out a pair of boots and got caught.”
Joe: “Now why would you do that, man?”
Juan: “I just gots to.”
Joe: “No, no, you don’t. By doing what you did, you confirmed stereotypes and nearly hurt a business. Doing what you did is what puts so many storeowners out of business and therefore, hurts the economy, which hurts you because it’s harder to get a job in a bad economy. You are also hurting yourself by being less employable now that you have a record.”
Juan: “I already had one.”
Joe: “That’s my point. You are hurting yourself even further. Now, living a decent life will be that much harder. Starting over will leave more obstacles to overcome for you.”
Why do I get the feeling I can somehow get through to these kids with their frequent uses of the phrases “I don’t fuckin care” and “I don’t give a fuck. I’ll throw down. I ain’t backin down from nobody”? It was like once you get them to see how immature those sentiments are, you can actually get through to them. But surely I was wasting my breath. Kids are fools anyway.
A month passes. I see the same four kids. They come and go. We start chatting again on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I don’t remember how exactly it happened, but we got onto the subject of education and how fun learning can be. Astronomy soon became the focus...
“Do you have any idea how big the universe is? Picture a punch bowl, and in it is sugar you poured into it. It takes maybe 2 bags to fill it to the point of spilling over full. You are sitting at a chair looking at the punch bowl. The number of grains of sugar in that bowl is the galaxy we live in. Our sun, which is our star, is only ONE of those granules of sugar. Now take a kid’s swimming pool and fill it up with sugar (or sand). Now, those grains represent galaxies, not suns. That is about how many galaxies – each full of hundreds of billions of stars – that make up our own universe. If I were to take two small kernels of corn to present two suns, I’d have to move them over 80 miles a part to give you an example of how far apart each star is.
Our own planetary system is also huge. The speed of light is something more than 186,000 miles per second; that’s how fast it would be to go from New York Harbor to the coast of Australia 20 times in 1 second. That’s fast! In fact, this is the universe’s galactic speed limit. We can’t reach it and never will.
The sun’s light is 92,800,000 miles away from us and requires 8 minutes to make it to the earth and 13 minutes to make it to Mars. It takes light nearly 45 minutes to make it to Jupiter and 7 hours to make it to Pluto. The nearest star outside of our solar system is called Proxima Centauri and it takes light 4.4 years to reach that destination.”
As they listened, I continued...
“Mars is much smaller than Earth. It is closer in size to our moon, which is 1/4 the size of our world. Our planet is tilted at a 23.5-degree angle because of our huge moon. This gives us seasons because as the earth revolves around the sun, it is warmer and cooler on certain parts of the globe.
Mars isn’t like that. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos. They are tiny, potato-shaped little moons. They are so tiny that they can’t pull the planet at an axis and that means the planet has worldwide dust storms that cover everything. Because the atmosphere is too thin, the water and oxygen on Mars have evaporated long ago. You could not have campfires on Mars. And because it is further from the sun (144,000,000 miles), Mars is much colder, in some places, 220 degrees below zero.”
“Dang!!! You know a lot!” Juan says, sort of staring around the facility.
A week later, they were back and we continued. Only now, I had an audience of eight. “I told my friends how much you know about stuff like stars and shit.” I felt like Carl Sagan, and so, yes, I kept rattling...
“Did you know that Jupiter is our largest planet? More than a thousand earths could fit inside just that one Jupiter and it would still have space to spare. It is so big, in fact, that if it were just 36 times larger than it is, it would generate enough heat and light to overtake the sun. If that were the case, we would have had two suns like a number of solar systems that we now know exist in the galaxy, dancing around each other’s orbits. But then we probably wouldn't have had any planets like that.
Jupiter is one of what we call the gas giants. It has no surface, just layers upon layers of Hydrogen and helium just like a sun. The reason for this is the same as why all the rock planets formed closer to the sun and the gas giants (like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) formed further away from the sun at the beginning of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago—because they are lighter and the rock elements heavier.
But even Jupiter has a solid, small rocky core. But we won’t be going anytime soon because Jupiter being so big, the gravitational pull is so strong that it is over 6 million times stronger than that of earth. We couldn’t live there. And, it’s too cold toward the top in the atmospheric clouds and winds and too hot at the core. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a storm with a massive whirlwind. As far as we know, the storm has been going for thousands of years non-stop.”
The results were astounding: “Hey, holmes, quit fucking around, bitch!” These were the words to some thug from their neighborhood that came in and started passing the time waiting for his bus punching my snack machines. I had these guys doing my job and I didn’t even ask them to! They went so far as to report back to me when some sap would bring his liquor and open it while hunched down in a bus seat.
I didn’t have to worry about vandalized restrooms or graffiti or other such things. Regularly, the cops would stop in just to see how things were going and I would everything was just fine. There will still some dangers, but not from these guys. Not from these guys who at first bragged about their willingness to fight anyone anytime and steal and be a nuisance to society, who now suddenly had an outlet for that “dark energy.” Thanks, science!
People talk about how religion changes lives. It’s as though religion deserves some privileged credit as having some kind of life-changing power. There is a reason religion is around today and that is because people still use it as a crutch to achieve greater productivity while ignoring the fact that early religion promoted not itself, but education. That was why it could help form cohesive societies.
And now, education stands on its own two feet. It doesn’t need religion to help it along. What these boys saw in knowledge was what revealed religion had with those who considered themselves “afar off” from God. Yes, knowledge, like a deity, is never far off. It is right there and brings its own reward, no snobbish academic cliques or groups, no selfish pride, just awe-inspiring knowledge. It is un-discriminating and attainable to all who have the minds to embrace it. Discovery releases as many endorphins as the high a person gets in the ecstasy of a moving worship service, and so it should and more. The powers to destroy and build societies come from the regular breakthroughs that lead us to revolutions in thought and achievement.
|M104: The Sombrero Galaxy - 29,350,000 light years from|
I have no idea where these young men are or what they are doing today, but I find my mind drifting back to them every now and then. If they are taking just a few moments to once in a while think on the stars and the vast expanses of wondrous space, then there is hope for them yet.