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Why New York Kids Say It Couldn't Happen Here


Ted said, "We don't have a 300-acre football field."

"Those things just seem to add to the boundaries between people," said Uwvie. "Like, who gets to play on that football field? Like, when they have jocks who think they have to beat up on the nerds -- "

"They feel macho," said Sylvia, frowning. "They feel like they're in control and others are weaker than them."

"They become like gangs, basically," said Uwvie.

"Oh, we have gangs," said Sylvia, flipping back her hair. "Like the Bloods and the Crips and the Latin Kings? But they just fight amongst themselves."

"People never fight in our school," said Nicolas, "unless it's over some really stupid stuff, like Oh, you stepped on my shoes."

They laughed. They talked some more, but they couldn't decide, finally, what they really thought it was that made Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold do what they did. But they were in agreement on one thing, that it was unlikely it would ever happen in New York.

"We go on the Internet, we play video games," said Uwvie. "Look, we have one right here."

"It's a little fighting game," said Nicolas, producing a Game Boy from the pocket of his jeans.

"It's ruining his mind," said Uwvie.

"Erase it!" said Ted.

"I seriously don't get the urge to buy guns from this," said Nicolas. Attracted by the screen, he started thumbing the knobs.

"Watch out, now he's going to kill!"

"I don't think it was those kids in that school's fault or anyone who got killed's," said Nicolas, playing his video game. "There's just some common sense that says you don't solve a problem with a bomb."

David Wexler and Doug Mishkin, both 16, were headed east on 86th Street that same drizzly afternoon. They were students at Trinity and Dalton, respectively. Both were white; they had short, brushed-back hair and clothes much like Nicolas, Ted, and Uwvie's: baggy jeans, jazzy sneakers, fleece. They were on their way to HMV to pick up some music; David wanted to get the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, and Doug was going to buy the new Busta Rhymes.

"That thing in Colorado," David was saying, "I don't think it could happen at our school. I think the kids in New York are more normal. Those kids in Colorado . . . they had issues."

"Actually, the first thing I heard someone say about it," said Doug, "was, 'I'm never gonna be mean to the outcasts again!' "

The "outcasts" in their schools, they said, were called Herbs, a term they both seemed uncomfortable with.

"It's a kid who has no friends," David said hesitantly. "And either acts stupid or they can't handle themselves."

"Clothes can be a big thing," Doug said, "but only if it's extreme -- "

"Like, you wouldn't be a Herb if you didn't wear designer things. Only if it was something really weird, like flower pants with things hanging off of them," said David.

"Like college shirts, tight stuff sometimes," said Doug. "Stuff that doesn't look that normal, just because what the style happens to be is baggy and loose-fitting clothes."

Tight, however, they agreed, was okay for girls.

"The Herbs in our school play cards a lot -- bridge -- they have a bridge club," said David. "It's weird. They don't gamble; they just play bridge at lunch and during all their free periods."

"It's hard to put your finger on what it is that makes somebody a Herb," Doug said. "It's kids that lack self-confidence, or they're always trying to get themselves involved with other groups when they're clearly not wanted there. They're annoying, I guess; perhaps they're needy . . ."

He was looking more and more like he wished he hadn't said all that, or like maybe he didn't want all that to exist. "The boundaries aren't that clear at our school," he added quickly. "We have a lot of diverse groups hanging out . . ."

"There are people who get teased and picked on," said David.

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