The Zip-Gun Angels. Most active in the years 1954-1958, known among girl gang connoisseurs and anthropologists as the Second Switchblade Era. Over men’s undershirts they wore black pirate’s eye patches, capping their left breasts like a wink. Other identifiable traits: green eyeliner, unbrushed smiles; chewing sticks of stale bubblegum until strands of glucose threaded their teeth. Activities included the standard girl gang crimes, with a notable penchant for aggression toward babies and the elderly. Picture prams careening down stairwells, tiny soft hands reaching emptily for snatched lollipops. Imagine the sound rutabagas make when they’re dumped from rain-drenched grocery bags, landing like fists on the backs of old ladies crumpled on the sidewalk. No known boyfriends, a possibly Sapphic clan. Leader “Dirty” Debbie Dewitt killed by rival Kittens with Whips member in November 1957, a deep scratch drawn in her neck with a knife-sharp false nail coated in poison polymer. The gang dissolved like polish in alcohol shortly thereafter.
Dead Dolls. 1964-unknown. Phantasmal or similarly paranormal. Famous for initiation by death and accompanying ceremonies. In dirt-caked drive-in playgrounds they wrapped the initiate’s wrists in swing set chains. In their quick, spectral hands a single pine needle became a dagger. The initiate’s insides drained until her last breath blew out like a baby’s spit bubble. Flimsy and transparent in form; to a distant eye, they were only sheets on a laundry line. Not especially violent, excepting the voluntary initiations. Teasers and voyeurs, they were known to appear in the rear view mirrors and window reflections of teenage lovers’ cars. The most common cause of film projector malfunctions in the state of Maryland in 1967, they carried a smell of dust and burning celluloid. Echoes of their onanistic moans can still be heard in the static in the audio systems of the few drive-ins remaining.
Swingin’ Sassmouths. 1955-1956. Playing cards sputtered in the spokes of their bicycle wheels, always a queen of hearts. In alleys they chalked their initials on pristine brick walls. They knocked candy jars from drug store counters, snatching handfuls of gumdrops and bits of jagged glass that sharpened their throats and made them cough blood, sweet red venom sprayed on the sidewalk in hopscotch patterns. Filched their older brothers’ nudist magazines and studied them in the moon-like glow of the movie screen, ringing the swing set as if playing a game of duck duck goose. When other kids wandered into the playground, they pushed them from the tops of slides and kicked sand in their eyes. Entire gang was killed when a drunken greyhound bus driver barreled into their parade of bikes one dark night in late 1956. When the coroner examined their bodies, he found uniform burn scars over their left hips, the shape of a lipstick kiss.
Ballsy Falsies. 1958-1976. A small, nomadic hermaphrodite gang. Mostly stuck to the eastern seaboard, working carnival sideshows in the evenings and dealing dope to teenagers in the black early morning hours of the third feature. In high heels they had to lean on the speakers for balance as they knocked on the foggy windows of Coupe de Villes and dropped tightly rolled joints through the hot-breathing cracks. When they went beyond the confines of the fairground they often tucked their beards into trench coats, a rare show of modesty from those whose day jobs entailed buzzing lights, spread legs, lifted skirts; in the popcorn-chewing crowds, the men went goggle-eyed, and the women cupped their mouths and fainted. The gang all but disintegrated following the 1976 departure of leader Lance Lady, who became a prominent performer in New York City’s nascent punk scene.
Kittens with Whips. 1957-1966. A bite from the frayed end of a kitten’s whip, the taste of leather and blood, pinstripe scars birdcaging the victim’s face, screams of the dying and already dead: mere trophies of this gang’s extraordinary brutality. They waited in alleys, luring high schoolers in long, prim skirts who shielded their sex with textbooks. They smoked firecrackers like cigarettes and dug jagged teeth into white virginal flesh. Priests crossed the street and themselves as the kittens yelled come-ons and peeled off their stockings. Finally, the parents of a girl they’d roughed into unmarriable putty called the authorities. The police trailed the Kittens to an abandoned drive-in, shot at them when they refused to set down the whips they bundled and cradled in their arms like babies. They giggled and caught the bullets in baseball mitt chests, then tied their weapons together and skipped rope. The police fired till their guns clicked emptily. They went back to the station and signed letters of resignation, returned to the drive-in in civilian clothes and proposed marriage. The Kittens accepted, the gang broke up, moved into split level homes, and nine months later gave birth to ten-foot rattlesnakes. In shame their husbands hanged themselves with the whips they’d kept as mementos. The widows wore black the rest of their lives and only left the house to walk the leashed snakes like dogs along bright suburban sidewalks.
The Old Maids. 1960-1963. Nearly every young girl wishes she were older but these girls whitened their hair with peroxide and glue, tattooed wrinkles on their faces that cobwebbed whenever they smiled, which was never, and whenever they scowled, which was often. They wore housecoats like capes and walked barefoot on the nighttime sidewalk till the bottoms of their feet were blacker than the feral cats that nursed on their empty breasts. At the drive-in they buried the window speakers in dirt and watched the films in silence. They resented talkies and Technicolor and space age 3-D glasses. The present terrified them. They crawled into the past and never returned.
Mothers’ Other Daughters. 1963-1963. For Halloween all the girls in a forgotten town went dressed as one another. They borrowed dresses and imitated hairstyles and exchanged record collections the week before to help get into character. After trick or treating, pillowcases stuffed fat with candy, they returned home, none realizing that she’d gone to her costume’s house. In fact, each forgot she was even wearing a costume. The parents were no help; the fathers could hardly remember their daughters’ birthdays let alone pick them out of a line-up, and the mothers only sighed, upset that they were late for dinner and the roast had gone cold. The daughters climbed out of their bedroom windows that night and met at the drive-in after the last show, when all the cars were gone. The sliver of the sun marked the horizon like a radioactive toenail. Their meticulous hairdos forming a vast sheet that roiled with their movement, each looked for her true self in the throng of her costumed companions. Recognition failed them, so they lay down on the tire-tread imprints and caked themselves in mud. By morning they’d grown into speaker posts, in rows like tombstones.
The Jailbirds. 1955-1968. Shellac-stiff bouffants helmeted their heads; bullets crushed flat against them like flies on a windshield. Bats nested in their hair, great swarms that carried them from drive-in to drive-in. A man who was getting fresh once ran his hand into one of their beehives and it became lost like in an ACME portable hole from the pre-movie cartoon. Their hair grew taller and taller—skyscraper high. They tied hairspray bottles to the bats’ legs and sent them into the thin air for touchups. Eventually their hair grew so heavy that each of their steps forced them deeper into the ground. They sank into the center of the earth and melted.
Hellcats in Hot Pants. 1950-1960. Also known as Los Gatos. Concentrated along the Texas-Mexico border, although satellite groups were known to flourish as far north as Oklahoma City. In your grandmother’s attic, silverfish glint like coins in the sunlight atop a locked steamer trunk. If you could open it, which you can’t, you’d find a pair of threadbare shorts, a railroad spike ruddy with blood crust, and a stack of photos: young women with long, sepiatoned legs, bruised cheeks and blood for lipstick. In one, the lines on the wall precisely measure their height; a short, lithe girl in the center has your grandmother’s pale eyes and an ugly sneer. Floorboards below, you sit in her tearoom and pluck a blue hair out of a trail mix cookie. If you found the key your grandmother hides under the sugar jar you might understand why you terrified your boyfriend the first time, carving crimson zippers in the supple flesh of his back, why you tear the hair of the girls who make faces at you as walk down the hallway at school and whisper “slut” in the lunch line. It’s not just you. It’s in your blood.