Starting from a foundation of mutual affection and respect, club members laugh a lot and razz each other constantly. One member we’ll call “Roger” poked fun with a respectable and highly respected retiree in her 70s. A fancy sports car drove down our street during a meeting with gangster rap blaring through the open windows. Roger winced in mock annoyance and said, “Miss Margaret, would you get your friends??! We’re trying to have a meeting here!” Then he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, “Can you believe the nerve of SOME people?" Everybody cracked up. His exaggerated reaction whenever a loud music-thumping car passed by— throwing up his hands in mock aggravation, rolling his eyes Mr. Bean-style, and giving her the side eye-- would start another round of guffaws. And no one got more of a kick out of it than Miss Margaret herself.
Participation in this “sport” is 100% voluntary and block club members are very respectful about who chooses to play & who just wants to be an amused spectator. From growing up in a big family, I’ve had A LOT of practice in the role of the “perpetual little sister.” When it comes to “The Dozens” I can play as well as the guys. I give as well as I get. I ain’t NEVER scared! Bring it, fellas!
“The Dozens is a game of spoken words between two contestants, common in Black communities of the United States, where participants insult each other until one gives up. It is customary for the Dozens to be played in front of an audience of bystanders, who encourage the participants to reply with more egregious insults to heighten the tension and, consequently, to be more interesting to watch… According to sociologist Harry Lefever and journalist John Leland, the game is almost exclusive to African Americans; other ethnic groups often fail to understand how to play the game and can take remarks in the Dozens seriously. Both males and females participate, but the game is more commonly played among males of varying social status.….. In any event, The Dozens is a contest of personal power: wit, mental acuity, self-control, and toughness.
When one movie-star-handsome young man in his early 50s remarked that he was not familiar with a popular children’s game, I might or might not have mentioned that it was because they had not yet invented plastic when he was a kid.
On another occasion when one neighbor asked how to scare squirrels out of her garden, I might or might not have suggested that she tape up a photo of the same said gentleman. He looked down, shaking his head slowly from side to side, tongue in cheek, like "Ohhh I'm gonna get you back for that one—just you wait.” (There are no transcripts from either of those meetings, so there is no way to confirm that probably, uhmm, I might have said these things. Plus you should have heard what he said about ME. Essentially, he started it!)
But, I digress. At a meeting this summer, I started sharing the details of my second trip to the fire station and all of the prep work it “required.” How I had to line my eyes and enhance my lashes. How I threw some curls in my hair, drew on my lips and put on a cute shirt with a tank top underneath. Next were my nice jeans and my cute-girl shoes.
I gave a speech worthy of Scarlett O’Hara: “Then me and ‘the girls’ had to walk into that fire station….(I gestured)…in the midst of all those fit, gorgeous guys (sob). Both young AND seasoned. Men who know how to cook. Wearing all of that sexy dark blue. And I had to LOOK at them. Longingly (sniff). And convince them that OUR party is worth their time. THAT is the kind of sacrifice I’m willing to make for these kids (pause for effect). THAT is what I did for this block club. BECAUSE I CARE. ABOUT YOU.” I hung my head in mock fake-ass shame.
My neighbors listened to me recounting the “awful” experience, but for some reason they seemed unwilling to suspend disbelief. I was selling a story of self-sacrifice--but they weren’t buying.
After a few raised eyebrows and sideways glances, one neighbor questioned, “So what happened next?” He raised his eyes skyward at an imaginary tool of the trade for exotic dancers and speculated, “Did you just tell yourself ‘Well, they already have a pole, sooooo…’” After a collective gasp, a round of dropped jaws and an eruption of laughter (me included) there was a general agreement that “you set yourself up for that one.”
So when the fire engine pulls up on the day of our upcoming block party and a bunch of hot, muscular guys dressed in dark blue start jumping off enthusiastically asking, “Where’s the block club lady? The one with the cakes?” I know tongues will wag and rumors will fly. Please know the “cakes” they are referring to were made of flour and sugar. Probably. At the follow up meeting after the party, people will ask me. I will neither confirm nor deny what happened at the fire station.
And, dear reader, when you hear someone shout, “Coming to the stage, It's....... Mango Sen-sation!!!” you might think of me. I can’t control that. I will say, though, that I'm not too proud to make it rain for my community.
When I took on this duty eight years ago I knew I would get a fair amount of guff. Truth be told, though, I never knew being a block club president would require so much upper body strength….
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Read all the posts in this 4-part series:
3.) Have you hugged a firefighter today?
4.) The Chicago Fire Department: hat’s off to our unsung heroes