Imagine you’re nine years old. It’s the beginning of August, and summer vacation is slowly winding down. You’ve climbed the tallest tree in the cul-de-sac, wrought havoc on the neighbors’ lawn gnomes and dropped no less than five frogs down little Susie Blakely’s dress, but you still feel that something is missing. You mentally tick off your checklist: “Beat up some clowns like Batman: check. Catch all the Pokémon: check. Go ****ing Stone-Cold-Steve-Austin on some ****er’s ****ing ass: check.” What could be missing?

Then you realize that your arch-nemesis, Charlie McCarthy down on Holden Lane, converted his parent’s garage into a secret clubhouse just a week ago. Rumor around the grade school set has it that he’s holding Hulk-Hands boxing matches in there, and the neighborhood boys are just lining up to join his club. Suddenly everything becomes clear. You can’t let him top you and become the neighborhood’s de facto upstart/kid hero/flawed protagonist. You have to start a club of your own.

And you’ve got the perfect idea. A few nights ago, you stayed up past curfew and saw your dad hanging out with some of his friends in the backyard. You weren’t exactly sure what they were doing, but they were all holding these big bottles with some kind of yellow liquid inside them. Since your dad and his friends seemed to be dancing and jumping in the pool, they must have been having a good time.

So you decide that your club needs to do the same thing. You hear from your older brother about some words that were cooler than “cool,” so you name your new club the “Dank Kool Elite.” You invite your next-door neighbor, Benny, to join. Unfortunately, Benny’s parents saw him guzzling their bottle of 1973 Barossa Shiraz as he swaggered down the street with you, and that was the end of that.

At this point, you’re a bit stuck. Benny is out of the game, and every other decent guy on the block is already in Charlie’s club. How can you compete? You decide that you need to infiltrate some of the other clubs around, steal their secrets, and turn that knowledge against Charlie.

You know that Shirley Feldman teamed up with Becky and Joey Rosenthal from down the lane and built up a small shack on top of the hill near Mason Drive. Unfortunately, Shirley started picking up adult words a few weeks ago and now screams “Patriarchal, sexist discriminator!” at you whenever she gets angry.

Annie, your sister, is actually the most popular girl in the neighborhood, and hosts a tea party every Wednesday at “four o’clock on the dot, ladies, and don’t you be late!” Generally, you try to have as little to do with her as possible, but you’re still not getting it and are desperate for any clues you can get.

These tea parties are supposed to be secret, but you hid out in her closet one time and saw the entire thing. Really, all they do is dress in these big frilly frocks that their mothers used to wear and speak with stuffy accents about Curious George or Princess Diana or whatever. None of this makes any sense to you.

You try to get your best friend, Jimbob, to help you start up another club. Unfortunately, he caught the girl-disease a month ago and now hangs around with Polly Sanders on Maple Street, who seems to be capable of only two things: fluttering her eyelashes or crying. Jimbob even followed her into the local children’s choir, and now spends practically every waking moment with that bunch of twinkle-toed, goody-goody *********ers. ****.

By this time, the summer is almost over and you still haven’t got a club. But you notice that a weird-looking kid with black hair and slanty eyes has just moved in two houses down from your house. None of the other kids know what to make of him, but since your dad told you that you were a real go-getter (and a chip off the old block, whatever that means), you’ve decided that this weird kid is going to be your first recruit.

Since you really like playing pirate and shouting “Argggg!” at passing strangers, you decide to make a pirate club. You convince your parents that a secret clubhouse is every little American boy’s dream and have them buy you a big tool-shed that you put on the front lawn. You tape a picture of a skull onto the top of the shed and glue some chicken bones below it. Then you duct-tape over all the cracks between the boards so that no one can peek inside. That means the inside is pitch-black, but you think, “Now it’s more mysterious, which is pretty dank.”

You coerce the weird-looking kid to join your club and stand guard outside the door as you doze off inside it. In the next few days, you have a crowd of kids begging to get inside. You pick out a few of the more popular ones, and soon enough, the line outside your clubhouse is longer than the one outside Charlie’s. You grin, and wonder if you could continue this success at school. After all, it’s good to be the king.