It was neither the first time nor the last time one of the Fordham Baldettes ask me to meet her outside after school.
There were so many challenges in high school, not the least of which was learning. OK, I admit it. I was a pretty good student whose learning challenge took on the sound of French. Now don’t get me wrong: I love hearing French spoken. It is such a beautiful-sounding language, I thought to myself, I will take French, not Spanish.
My French teacher was kind as he assured me I would be gifted with a decent passing grade. “Now, now, no need for tears!”
He also urged me to take Spanish in college.
My high school in the Bronx did not have bullies, per se. We did not need any bullies. We were fraught with gangs.
The Fordham Baldies were the real in crowd. Being popular for academics or cuteness and being in the popular crowd were not as respected (i.e., feared) as if you were popular because of your gang affiliation.
When I was a sophomore, there was this one time when we were jolted out of our seats during the last period of the day. The school loudspeaker blared the announcement that we were on lockdown. (It was not called lockdown; that’s a fairly recent phenomenon.)
All faculty and students were told to remain in their classrooms — an unusual announcement compared with those we generally heard: “Third (or fourth or whatever) period is now over; please proceed to your next period.”
The sound of adult footsteps could be heard running in the hallways to lock the exit doors. We could also hear the police sirens, and by looking out the third-story window of the classroom I was in, we could see the police cars drag-racing to the scene.
One of the gangs not affiliated with our school must have been on the prowl, looking for trouble. This time the trouble was referred to as the Fordham Baldies.
It seems that one of the girls belonging to this outside gang was maligned by one of the Fordham Baldettes. It was quite exciting. We could hear the sound the zip guns made. My G-d, we were so street-smart and so naive at the same time.
Fifteen minutes later, it was all over but the rumors.
Of course, I never told my mom or dad. They would have yanked me out of that school, and G-d knows where I would have wound up.
The positive: We were released early that day. I think the administrators could not wait to get rid of us.
Let’s talk ponytails.
In our junior year, we could audition for the cheerleading squad. So many girls auditioned and had to be interviewed that it took two afternoons to complete the process.
My last name started with W, so of course my turn arrived on the second day, almost last. For sure I did not see myself being chosen. I kept telling myself that at least I didn’t fall.
I made it.
Suddenly, I lost all sense of being humble and took on an air of privilege.
No worries: This phase did not last long. If it had not been for the basketball players being watchful of their cheerleaders, not only would I have had the privilege slapped out of me, but also my ponytail would have been yanked — hard — or just simply cut off by the Baldettes.
On this particular day, I performed like a cool cucumber; like I was not scared out of my mind of what could happen if I met this girl alone. I believed that she would not come alone, and they would all stomp me to death, or worse, far worse, cut off my ponytail.
I knew if and when I became captain, hurting me would be off-limits. It turned out to be true — thank goodness.
So on this momentous day I did what any other red-blooded cheerleader would do: I asked the captain of the basketball team to accompany me on this terrifying encounter.
He did; she didn’t. All’s well that ends well. Let me hear a resounding amen!