Jerkin’: Revenge of the Real-World Nerd

THIS SHOULD HAVE gone up sooner, but I’ve been buried in papers and distracted by my wanderings. New York Times reporter, Guy Trebay’s take on L.A.’s new up-from-the-pavement craze made the cover of the NYT Sunday Styles Section a couple weeks ago. Jerkin’, you’re wondering, well:

Julian Goins, [above] the 15-year-old leader of the Ranger$, a five-member jerking crew, hops onto the tips of his sneakers — the Tippy Toe — and then swivels his body ground-ward, legs crossed at the ankle. He pops up like a jack-in-the-box, spins and bounces, gliding backward in the Reject, a move that resembles nothing so much as the Running Man, an ’80s dance-floor step but in reverse.

The other kids in the schoolyard pay scant attention to the star in their midst. Until his Ranger$ schedule exploded and his mother decided to home-school him, Julian was just another student.

Goofy, gentle, nimbly amateurish, jerking was little known outside certain precincts of this sprawling city until a year ago. But in the last nine months or so, jerking began an unexpected run as an Internet phenomenon.

With Alexander Hamilton High School as the story’s backdrop, this motion movement is characterized by, of course, fashion: Trebay cites jerking’s own “fashion memo”: skinny jeans, fat gold 80s chains and T-shirts emblazoned with the woefully unstreetwise SpongeBob SquarePants and Oscar the Grouch — where “the nerd” comes in.

And because he’s so good at street culture writing — nailing it at the right moment –I was so thrilled that one of my writing students beat him on this one.

I’ve always liked Trebay’s way into stories like this — I just wish reporters had more space to make things come alive in their keystrokes. The video is cool, but Trebay is the master of making the page dance. Sinking in is like settling on the stoop to watch too. His late-80s early-90s column in the Village Voice was a must-stop for all those wanting to know what NYC’s street culture felt, smelled, dressed and danced like at the moment. Some of those columns can be found online or in his hard-to-find-but-worth-the-effort-to collection In The Place To Be He’s one person from outside whom I don’t mind swinging into my town. Nice to see it through his eyes.

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