The Warriors Department of Welfare

In The Warriors (the movie) there is a scene where Swan and Fox try to tactfully negotiate safe passage for their gang through the turf of a tiny, no-rep outfit called the Orphans. And in this scene there is a line Fox says about their youth worker talking about the Orphans all the time, trying to make-a nice and act like they do, in fact, know just how heavy the Orphans are (they aren’t). In the game, this line is revised to say that all the other gangs talk about the Orphans all the time. (The part with the newspaper clipping is also cut, as the movie’s scene relies on that the Warriors have never met the Orphans in person, whereas in the game, they know each other all too well.) The movie’s scene goes on to have Sully, the warlord of the Orphans, state that they do not have a youth worker (implying how small fry they are) and Fox covers for his slip-up by saying that they must not have one because the youth board is afraid to send them one.

It’s a strange exchange, one I’ve always felt was out of place. There’s no reference to youth workers in the entire rest of the movie, nor do any ever figure into the plot.

When I read the book, though, I realized it was actually a strange relic from a source material the filmmakers did not follow all that closely.

The author of the original novel, Sol Yurick, was caseworker for the Department of Welfare of N.Y.C. in the early 50’s. The Warriors is largely based on his experience with juvenile delinquents, though it is wrapped around a reimagining of Xenophon’s The Anabasis. And in his book, large gangs typically have a Youth Board Worker assigned to them. It would seem that the youth worker is an unwanted ally: half-sugar daddy, half-not very good spy.

There was a knock. It was their Youth Board Worker, Mannie Bernstein. No one wanted him here but they knew he would come; they had planned against it. Mannie’s round face looked around the edge of the door. He waited there because even though he had gotten them the clubhouse through the local Merchant’s Association, even though he had done so much for them, protocol was still touchy. He had to wait till he was invited in. It was not only a matter of friendliness, he was sure he had won that–but the boys must cal the play. Infringement led to resentment: their manhood was delicate and easily wounded. Mannie waited the long seconds–a half minute. They did that to him sometimes; it maintained their identity. Mannie smiled; let them ventilate their hostility. They didn’t know what to do and waited for Ismael to give them a sign. Mannie’s smile stiffened. As Mannie was about to turn away someone said, “Well, man, come in.” The Worker didn;t know how Ismael gave the sign. He had been watching Ismael all the while and saw nothing, yet word had gone out from the right-hand shoeshine chair on the plywood pedestal, flowed down through the whole chain of command till it reached the door. Sweat sogged his shirt. He came in, trying to grin.

Mannie took a special pride in Ismael, who was the jewel of his career, the best and greatest result of some six years of social work with delinquents. But then, how often did one come across an Ismael? If he could keep Ismael straight for another year or so, the boy would be finished with high school, possibly even interested in college. For Ismael had been the brightest star in the firmament of P.S. 42, the rebellious genius of Baruch Laporte Jr. H.S., and, in his two years of high school, he had been the talk, the despair, and the hatred of every teacher. Slowly, Mannie had redeemed Ismael, introducing him to the better things in life–interest in a job, books, a future–and even had Ismael over to his own house. Mannie had channeled Ismael’s ego-drives into socially acceptable patterns. Of course, Ismael held tight to the leadership of the Delancey Thrones were almost a social club now. Time, Mannie thought, give him time. He hoped Ismael wouldn’t regress and spoil everything now.

Ismael stood up. Secretary told Mannie, “Like we have to cut. Hot. Movies.”

“Well now, man, I understand that, man. Where, like, else can you cool off?” Mannie told Secretary and waited to be invited along. No one said anything. “Man, I have an idea about a boat ride we, like, could take in a few weeks,” he said to Ismael.

“Later, man,” the War-Counseler said.

Ismael walked down the length of the room followed by his escort and went out, leaving Mannie alone. He hadn’t found out anything. Ismael hadn’t even talked to him. He went to the local candy store, looking for some of the boys, anyone from whom he could find out what was happening. None between the ages of fourteen and twenty were around. He got a supply of dimes in the cnady store to call up Youth Workers from neighboring armies, and Youth Board headquarters. Maybe they knew what was happening. A kid set off a firecracker right behind him as he went into the booth.

So yeah. Youth worker. One of a few random details that managed to make its way into the movie when so much of the actual plot didn’t.

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October 2021