Fearsome frown

Russell Baker

September 12, 1990|By Russell Baker

HOW ARE New York City's louts, hoodlums and low-lifers taking the news that Mayor Dinkins will change the way he reacts to their depredations?

In the past, on learning they have done something terrible, the mayor has reacted publicly in the cool, low-key style. No more. The mayor's patience is exhausted. From now on, his public reaction will be anger.

To determine how this will affect life in New York, we interviewed a sample of louts, hoodlums and low-lifers. They agreed to talk on condition their names not be published, for obvious reasons.

The same question was put to everyone: "My good lout, hoodlum or low-lifer, as the case may be, has your behavior been affected by Mayor Dinkins' announcement that he will henceforth react to your depredation by displaying anger? What do you think this means for the future of your ilk in New York City?"

Here is a reply from a lout of long standing:

"A frisson of terror rippled through the lout community when we heard the news of the mayor's new public reaction policy. Two of my associates, veteran louts with many contacts in the community, tell me everybody is too nervous even to get together at their local fast-food hangouts and beat strangers with baseball bats to protect the neighborhood."

Question: What is it in the mayor's new policy that produces this restraint?

"Well, you've got to realize, louts are human like everybody else. Louts have feelings too. Louts don't want the whole city blaming them if the mayor starts turning purple with rage about some trivial piece of loutishness and keels over.

"If louts got blamed for something like that, it could take weeks for the lout movement to regain its momentum in this town."

New York hoodlums were outraged, as the following interview indicated:

"I've been a hoodlum all my life, and since the mayor announced the new policy I haven't seen anything approximating the kind of anger I'm now seeing at all levels of hoodlum society. There's been nothing like it since Tom Dewey was going after the mobs 50 years ago.

"And in those days they put even the most distinguished hoodlums in the electric chair. Pittsburgh Phil, for Heaven's sake, and Happy Maione. Pillars of the hoodlum community, yet both went to the chair. The 90-day probation for terminal assault was unknown back then."

Question: But what is it about the mayor's new policy that angers the hoodlum community?

"Its unfairness. It's brutally unjust that the mayor can go in front of TV and slander the community with the vilest language imaginable, which, incidentally, I understand is not only tolerated on television nowadays, but actually encouraged in order to increase ratings.

"Why is this unjust? Because the mayor will be boiling about one statistically insignificant act committed by a tiny and statistically insignificant handful of hoodlums, yet the entire hoodlum community will be besmirched by association.

"Furthermore, while television may give us equal time to answer the mayor, hardly anybody will listen to our rebuttal. Look what happens when the president gives his State of the Union speech. Everybody tunes in to see the president, but who hangs around to watch the Democrats reply? Nobody.

"In short, the mayor's unfair abuse of his TV power will cause irreparable damage to the image of New York's hoodlum community."

The city's low-lifers, by contrast, see a bright side to the mayor's new policy. This is explained by one of the low-life community's most highly respected members:

"We low-lifers have never got much respect. This goes back to the old days when we were so active stealing widows' Social Security checks from their mailboxes.

"Even our mothers were ashamed of us. I remember my mother saying when I was a kid, well, if you can't grow up to be hoodlum or a lout, I'd rather see you work a 9-to-5 dead-end job than hear you turned out to be a low-lifer.

"It was humiliating to be part of the low-lifer community. Everybody sneered at you. It was like being one of the Yankees when Steinbrenner was still active. If, however, the mayor were to blow a gasket on TV while denouncing low-lifers, it could give us an entirely new image. Every low-lifer in town could face his mother and say: "Top of the world, Maw! I'm a low-lifer!"

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