Feeling the inequalities from when I was just beyond toddlerhood, I fiercely demonstrated for my human rights and social justice. Once my parents were visiting their friends in South Orange, New Jersey, when I was pretty little, I must have been about four years old. They had a bunch of little boys, and we were all told to go play out in their backyard. It must have been martini time for the grown ups. I actually remember the boys telling me I couldn’t play with them because I was a girl, and I hot-headed it outta that backyard.
The cops found me walking down a street in Newark. I got to ride in the back of the squad car (the first of a few rides like that I’ve taken…) – they must have gotten a call that a little red-headed 4-year-old was having a protest march. This was years before the Newark riots, so I don’t think I started anything.
Flash forward to ten years old – we still lived in New Jersey – and there was a little strip of woods between Payne Avenue and the next street – Hill Street – the Hill Street gang being our rivals. Kenny Miller lived two doors down from us. His dad was a carpenter, and we used scraps of wood to build a two-story fort behind Kenny’s garage. It was pretty swanky, and we called it the Rinky Dink Club. It took us a couple of months to build it – I was over there every day after school, hammering away, smashing my fingers, hauling wood, cleaning stuff up, etc. We put the finishing touches on the fort, screen windows and doors, and locks. I was then unceremoniously told that I couldn’t belong to the Rinky Dink Club because I was a girl. I freaked out. The night of my “dismissal,” I went over to the fort and I ripped up the screens and did some major damage to the place. I was like some kind of hell cat. I thought about setting the fort on fire, but figured that might be excessive.
The Rinky Dink Club of Payne Avenue was all up in arms because they reckoned it was the kids from Hill Street who did the damage. It wasn’t even considered that I could have been the culprit. We were out in the street playing Kick the Can, and all the boys were plotting their revenge upon the Hill Streeters. I was thrilled and guilty at the same time.
Yeah, guilt. Catholic school girl that I was, I needed to confess in the worst way. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I told my little brother, Michael, that it was me – I did it – I ripped up the Rinky Dink Clubhouse. And he squealed on me the next day – I couldn’t believe it! I forget the exact sequence of events, but we were up in his room, and I was so outraged that I stabbed Michael in the shoulder with a pencil. He claims to still have the lead in his shoulder to this day.
Well, I confessed to all of it and had to make amends – but those guys also had to admit me into the Rinky Dink Club. I told them I didn’t want to join their Stinky Dink Club…SO THERE!