Social Climbing for Klutzes (like me)
Whether it's India's formal caste system or prestige based on job title, people are not created equal -- at least not socially equal.
Ever since ancient times, when primitive man looked over and saw his neighbor had a bigger cave, a bigger club, and some round device called a "wheel", humans have been coveting the things the "haves" have that they do not.
The so-called low man on the totem pole, determined to rise in stature, employs a variety of tactics to better himself. These include education, business success (legal or illicit), inheritance, marriage, or some combination.
Those lucky enough to be born into society (sometimes called "old money") go about their business taking their good fortune in stride. They barely even notice the shiny silver spoon resting comfortably between their teeth.
However, some "haves" are threatened by those who would seek to infiltrate their sacred ranks. Usually these are the "new money" (aka "nouveau riche") who have fought long and hard to "arrive" themselves. Now that they've established their place, they guard it jealously, lest some ambitious upstart snatch their seat at the table -- or, horror of horrors -- actually surpass them in social rank!
Social Climbing as Artistic Topic
There are scores of books, films, plays, and TV shows that deal with the subject of class division.
Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens and any number of other authors wrote extensively about inter-class relations. Classic TV shows like "The Jeffersons," "The Beverly Hillbillies," and "The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire" portray, more or less sympathetically (and more or less humorously), what it's like to suddenly jump up several stations in life.
Films that explore what happens when disparate cultural/social worlds collide include "Trading Places", "Titanic," "My Fair Lady" and its modern adaptation "Pretty Woman." You can also choose from a plethora of takes on the "boy/girl from the wrong side of the tracks suffers class discrimination, proves to be more virtuous than rich bitch/prick romantic rival, and ends up teaching everyone a lesson in humility while winning the affections of rich beloved as well as rich beloved's snobbish parents."
Social Climbing for Dummies?
The problem with keeping up with the Joneses is that unless you are one you really don't know how to think or behave like a Jones-- at least not naturally or intuitively. Of course, with a big infusion of cash you can access worlds otherwise closed to the masses. And yes, good manners and education go a long way toward closing the gap. But can you actually "learn" to have class?
The modern TV series "Real Housewives of..." take your pick: Orange County, New York or Atlanta, proves that money alone does not a socialite make. Following the credo "Fake it till you make it" only makes these women look more fake. They are posers -- crass, potty-mouthed, debauched, overly Botoxed, anti-intellectual ninnies who personify the old saying, 'some people have more money than sense.'
Not that I'm in any position to judge social fitness, mind you, as you will read in a minute...
Join the Club
So what about the Average Joe/Josephine? It's only natural to want to better oneself and live more comfortably than one's parents did. Perhaps to acquire some symbol of luxury -- be it a boat, a vacation home, an airplane, a sports car, a sports team, an island - whatever it is that proudly proclaims, "I've arrived! I made it!!"
One very popular measure of social achievement is membership in a "club." There's something about paying exorbitant dues for the privilege of hob-nobbing with a bunch of hoity-toity boors that gets some people excited.
We'll forget for just a minute there are legitimate reasons for joining such clubs. Yes, people do conduct business on golf courses and tennis courts. Yes, the pool provides "free" babysitting for the rugrats. You may even be a bridge fanatic looking for regular noon hookups with others who share your passion. These are all fine reasons to belong to a club.
The problem with private membership clubs, unfortunately, is that in order to keep their exclusivity, they cannot accept just any Tom, Dick or Harry. Well, let me amend that. They seem to allow a disproportionate number of Dicks!
In order for club members to feel special about themselves, it is important that the riff-raff (read: perfectly normal but unspecial) be kept out.
You're no good!
Or Get Clubbed by the Club
I learned this lesson as a young girl. I learned it again just last week.
Growing up, my family lived in a commuter suburb of New York City. My neighborhood was called Strathmore Vanderbilt because all of the houses in the neighborhood were eligible (or possibly required -- I'm not sure) to belong to Strathmore Vanderbilt Country Club, aka SVCC. As luck would have it, our house backed directly onto the club grounds.
My mom could shoo us out the door at 9 a.m. and not see us again until the last game of statues or ring-a-leevio was over and the lightning bugs guided us home in the dark.
My parents were not typical country clubbers. They belonged to SVCC because they like the amenities it offered. To be perfectly honest, had they bought a house in another neighborhood, I doubt they would have gone out of their way to join a country club. Even as a young child I knew there were things that bothered them about country club life.
One year, I believe I was in 2nd grade, our class was planning its end-of-year class outing/picnic. My mother proposed SVCC. She was turned down by the SVCC community board because our class included two African American children and a Jew (who happened to be one of my best friends).
Another time, our neighbor, Mr. Kavanagh, got reprimanded for bringing a black man to SVCC to play tennis. Never mind that the man was Arthur Ashe! It was against club policy to allow people of "color."
I remember being upset. It didn't seem fair not to let my class come and swim. It was just for one afternoon! Who could it possibly hurt? At the time I didn't understand the concept of discrimination. These kids were part of our class. They should be able to do everything the rest of the class did. And as for Mr. Kavanagh, he was a really nice man and I knew would only have really nice friends. He did not deserve to be berated and humiliated that way.
- Social Climbing Online: Social Networking: A Nouveau Riche Paradise on the Internet
Welcome to a new era of nouveau riche. Online networking sites are a virtual paradise for the traditional social climber.
- Marin Rod & Gun Club - Home Page
Marin's greatest spot for fishing, bingo, boating, picnics, and more
Club life, California style
My parents moved to Marin County, California in 1978. They did not join another country club. My dad did, however, join the Marin Rod & Gun Club. This scenic little spot at the base of the San Rafael/Richmond Bridge is adjacent to San Quentin Prison. But that's not its main claim to fame. Mostly, it's a semi-ramshackle meeting place where the fishing's hit-and-miss but the $2 drinks more than make up for it.
Dad loved to walk all the way out to the end of the long ,rickety wooden pier and fish. Once in a while he even caught something. Over the years, the Marin Rod & Gun Club bacame part of our family's entertainment. We fished until Dad couldn't fish anymore (last year when he turned 85). Dad took the grandkids to the club's annual Christmas party.
When my Dad died Hubby and I thought it would be nice to keep the Marin Rod and Gun Club membership in the family. We hoped my siblings and I could pass the tradition on to our children and our children's children.
I made a special trip down to MRGC inquire. Although They said memberships could not be transferred -- even within families -- I could apply for my own membership.
The very nice and accommodating caretaker and a curmudgeonly 94-year-old named George volunteered to serve as my "sponsors."
Jumping through hoops
I wrote a check for $150 ($75 application fee and $75 first year's dues). I submitted my application. They cashed my check right away -- a good sign!
A week later, literally as I was driving to my father-in-law's memorial service (with my mother-in-law in the car with me), I received a call from a guy named Tom. Tom informed me that I would need to be interviewed for membership. I wasn't sure if he intended to grill me right then on the phone (and his demeanor gave no clue). I explained that now wasn't an ideal time. He didn't even offer condolences or anything. In hindsight, that should have been my first clue...
The following Sunday Hubby and I drove the 70+ miles down to Marin for my big interrogation.
There were 6 applicants total. I was the only female at the table. Tom led the session. He didn't really interview us as much as just told us the rules and regs of MRGC.
He also said something interesting. More than once, actually. He seemed to have some confusion about whose father was the member (mine). He strongly suggested that we put our membership in my husband's name, not mine. Because we were so focused on preserving my dad's name (which also happens to be my last name) we didn't pay much attention.
At the conclusion of the session he told us the Board of Directors would be voting on each applicant at their April 1st meeting. I pointedly asked how often the Board rejected a candidate for membership. He responded, "Not very often, but once in awhile they blackball someone."
What a vicious word -- blackballed. Stronger and more mean-spirited than a simple rejection. Reminds me of blacklisting during the McCarthy era.
But that was certainly the term Tom used. Blackball.
I never in a million years dreamed it would apply to me!
Long haired freaky people need not apply
The wrong part? Or wrong parts?
Two days before the 17th, a letter arrived from MRGC. I assumed it contained more specific details about the induction ceremony,
Instead, it said, "Based on objections raised by several members, the Board has decided to reject your application for membership."
Objections? What objections? Several board members? How many is several? Who are these members, and what could they possibly have against me?
I pictured a bunch of snooty old farts tanked up on $2 G&Ts talking smack about me behind my back.
"Her father was a decent sort. Good soul. But that's no guarante that she's worthy."
"Makes no sense. Why would someone want to join a club in Marin County when they live 75 miles away -- in Sacramento, no less? We don't want no cow-towners down here. This is brie, chablis and hot tub country, dammit!"
"This whole thing smells fishy to me. She wants the membership kept in her father's name. She's married, but she kept her maiden name? No, no, that just's just wrong. She sounds like some kind of women's libber to me."
It's also possible that they did a little online reconnaissance on me. All they'd have to do is check out some of my forum and hub posts on gun control to know I'm no Second Amendment purist. Charlton Heston (God rest his soul) was not exactly my hero.
I did try to get further clarification from MRGC, but came up empty. That leaves me with the two most logical explanations. It's either a blatant case of sexism, or I'm viewed as geographically undesirable -- a term I've only heard used in terms of dating and relationships, but I suppose it could apply here.
Hit the road, Jack's daughter!
Even Grouch Marx got accepted!
I sent the club a wire stating, "PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION. I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER." -- Groucho Marx
Do I even wanna know?
I could not believe my eyes. I felt like I was sucker-punched. Hubby was livid. We both feel MRGC's decision is as much a slap in my Dad's face as mine. And I know exactly what dear old Dad would say: "Forget it." (That's the Jack R version of "f#%@ them.)
As for me, the sting of rejection is fading. Slowly. Whatever their rationale might be, I don't want to know it. I don't want to hear that I should have been a son rather than a daughter. I don't need to be told I live in a second tier city, that Bay Area folks wouldn't be caught dead dropping their lines in San Francisco Bay next to mine.
My application to MRGC was never about fishing my way into Marin County society. It was strictly about preserving a family tradition.
Oh well. It didn't work out. MRGC caught me, reeled me in, then threw me back.
I'll find another way to honor my dad. In the meantime, I've learned a valuable lesson. Always swim with my own kind, only my own kind.