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Issue number four


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The club by Ron Burch



To join the club someone--a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger--must acknowledge you. A wink of the eye, a slight nod of the head, a firm hand on the forearm, an elbow lightly bumped against the bicep, a slight jostle, momentary jogging in place, a cool blowing in the ear, a warm erotic tongue in the mouth, throaty giggling from a dark corner, flickering eyelashes against the cheek, an index finger trailing soothingly across the bridge of the nose, a hand firmly between the thighs, the grasp and yank of the two largest toes. The words uttered. Anything to join the club.

The Buying of the Wear is important, the proper image almost all. An outfit to delight others. Curtsy and bow. Look at the sleek lines. Let the fingers linger over that heavenly material. Cashmere, silk, imported cotton. The finest designers. It is important to dress oneself as the others. Repeat them in order to be accepted, graced, so you may be tapped on both shoulders with the King's scepter and welcomed in. Knighted by the powdered white-wigged gentleman in starched breeches and knobby shoes with thick heels. Some members of the club lean towards the conservative, pinstriped suit with wingtips and white shirt discarded after one wearing, collar clips and marble cuff links. Tighten the cuffed pants with black suspenders, en-braced, winch them up to the belly button, red speckled tie dangling like a phallus at rest, and doff the hat, porkpie or traditional, a slight curve to the left.

Other members prefer the informal plaid shirt with one left pocket, denim work pants, black steel-toed boots shined to a lighthouse glare. Some prefer romance: the black cape and tunic approach, shirts with frills and black knee-high boots, metal knee protectors to ward off possible attacks by short robust men.

Goatees, Van Dykes, mustaches and beards are allowed as well as two-banded sandals but absolutely no flip-flops. Sideburns are allowed but no muttonchops. Graying hair must be dyed black. Signs of old age are painstakingly avoided since it's considered to be a sign of weakness. Tufts of hair protruding from ears and nostrils will provoke immediate and lifetime dismissal.

Small carrying bags are allowed to dangle from the right shoulder, bag towards the back ribcage, to tote personal belongings. Walking sticks, especially with animal-carved pearl knobs, are definitely not allowed in the club.

Neither are red babushkas tied crossways underneath the chin, false teeth, tonsures, Know-Nothings, neophytes, deforciants, sestinas, followers of the Roman poet Statius, and trombonists. Accordion players are highly valued and in demand, especially if they know "Lady of Spain" in clog step, but only as entertainment.

No matter which specific attire is desired at the moment, the attire changes like the phases of the moon. Or like the full rotation of tires, all four and not just switching the front left with the back right and the front right with the back left. Detailed studies must be done to acquaint oneself with the current fashion trends in order to join and maintain an active membership in the club. Be prepared to immediately follow the current trend even though not all members fully appreciate the clothing options of the other members. Attitudes heavy, judgments pronounced, noses turned, swaggers staggered, heads swayed. Gossip Malicious.

Scatting is never allowed, having been outlawed several years ago for its abominable wasting of club time, club time containing more ticks than "real" time.

Once the clothing option is chosen and presented to the other discerning members of the club, dissuasion is almost impossible: the clothing image is fixed fast, clamped down tight, in their impressionable minds. Over a period of time, five years minimum, allowances are made and a slight but steady change in one's fashion choice may be accepted. In some cases it has been known to seriously fail, causing the member-in-question, caught in fashion flux, to be ostracized and left to stand alone in the corner, orange-bittered Rob Roy in the right hand, small honey-roasted beer nuts in the left, nodding desperately to the bartender who is absolutely not allowed to mingle nor cohabit with any of the members. The ostracized member stands alone, meeting after meeting, outcast, ashamed, befuddled by the question: What went wrong? This person eventually resigns from the club, burning his or her blue plastic membership card.

Some members-in-question have been known to switch back to their initial attire, slyly wearing the same outfit meeting after meeting with no deviation whatsoever. They are generally accepted back by the other members, who act as if the once-ostracized member had never been ostracized but "just away" as if on a three-week vacation to Morocco or Tunisia.

These switchback members may even lecture other members on correct attire, pointing to themselves as if they are the High Counsel of Fashion, The Buck Stops Here, the Do-Not-Pass-Go, pooh-poohing all other choices. These members usually have a brief shining moment before then being habitually ignored, their heat eventually dissipating after their pilot light has gone out.

A few Membership Benefits: Members are usually overpaid by their employers. They get their pictures in the city paper, and always in the community paper. They receive free stock tips from unidentified callers. They get a 10% discount on over-the-counter medication. They are beaten less by the black-gloved police and their parking tickets are deleted from public records. The members also become acquainted with one another even though they do not really appreciate the other.

Supposedly, an elite panel of eight runs the club. These eight argue policy changes and debate by Roberts Rules. They are never identified at the meetings, given the tendency for fawning by sycophantic members. Rumors abound as to who the eight are. The head of the panel is known as The Chief but nothing further has been documented and proven. The hierarchy within the club is clearly defined but assiduously denied by those who declare that all members are subject to the free-market system and are able, nay encouraged even, to move about freely. This falsehood has been perpetuated since the founding of the club and is, indeed, a chipped yet sturdy cornerstone of the Mission Statement.

Those who aren't in the club desperately want in.
Those in wouldn't mind dropping out.
Those who don't care are merely fooling themselves.

Initiation techniques have been standardized to fit the uniform code, which must apply equally to all new members. Current members, already initiated, cannot sue the club for mental anguish claims based on past initiations, despite scarring on the body. Unofficially, the club maintains a policy of member non-counting, believing that if numbers were recorded, they would be tracked, analyzed, pie-charted, bar-graphed, percentiled and marketed.. Despite this policy, there are significant membership adds and drops each month, some voluntary, some not.

Membership is free. There are no annual dues since the club has never wanted to promote that sort of image.

New members must be initiated in order to experience passage through the liminal state from non-member to member. Members who quit the club must pass back and are instructed, as per policy, "Get the fuck out."

A sample club conversation:

"So I told her it was impossible."
"The nerve of some people."
"Telling me what to do."
"They have no respect."

Initiation techniques past and present, as being recorded and revised in the minutes, include The Tuck-And-Roll, The Pierced Cheek, The Red Buttock, The Inscription, The Bursting Bladder, The Mounted Stag, Hand-In-The-Cookie-Jar, and Lick and Grovel. Just to mention a few. Usually, in addition, a keg is consumed and members drunkenly bond during the third group sing of "Waltzing Mathilda."

Once the members are initiated, a change occurs. The skin acquires a golden hue. They become alternatively giddy and reckless, perhaps joyful-in-extremis, finding themselves the center of attention. They lead the conversation, throwing out handfuls of bon mots and quips like pretty glass necklaces to the primitives. They enunciate and extend meaningful pauses, understanding pauses, and pauses of vast pity. Sometimes they leap. Usually they jump. Straight up into the air. They jump for hours. Sometimes they hallucinate. They believe they are The Sun King. They hallucinate and jump over the common folk, their legs being skyscrapers, their cheeks brushing against the moon. They drool incessantly, but uncaringly since they believe their drool to be sacred, to be collected in glass vials and lovingly emptied by men in white cotton clothing in a man-made pond near a remote pass in the Rocky Mountains. They pontificate, speaking loudly, shouting occasionally, pointer fingers jabbing into the air. They name their babies Donizetti and Porpora. They wear platform shoes, mules are acceptable, but the platform heels must be an approved height of three inches or more. They must be cautious not to tumble from these heels, spraining or breaking an ankle, skinning the knee on the way down to the ground. Crutches are not permitted in the club. They philanthropize and are beloved. They put electrical appliances —VCRs, television sets, portable phones — into their blue plaid boxers and black French-cut panties. They purchase whole trout (mackerel and salmon are considered retro) and tie them to their heads with white string. They cover themselves in layers of precious metals to the point where they cannot move and must hire insipid assistants to cart them around on a dolly.

Droit de seigneur exists for the unfortunate few.

Members run, jump, frolic and cavort. Converse and ignore. Plead and bleat. Horizontally, they often prove more of an obstacle and hindrance than when vertical. Beware of members who bark — they usually have a low tolerance for alcohol and are prone to chemical dependency.

The members often find internal subgroups to join. Some members wear numbers for easier identification. There are l0s, there are 258s. Supposedly, the 876s are the most fun.

The Raging Members bluster and spout their way through conversations, working themselves into a frenzy over the slightest discussion, beating their heads against the nearest wooden object, knocking themselves senseless to prove their point, which no one is arguing against since no one is listening anyway. They venerate brick objects, walls and fireplaces especially. But all trees, especially oak, elm, maple, and birch, are religiously avowed to be nonexistent, mere formulations of the mind, despite the growing evidence. There are the Political Members — charming, suave, smooth — dangerous as an open knife. They are to be avoided at all costs. They cannot be reasoned with nor entrusted with sacred possessions. They will quote scripture if cornered, confused or confronted by irrefutable evidence.

There is a subdivision of the membership called Al, based on the nomenclature of those people named Al, including people named Allan, Allen, Albert, Alison, Aloysius, Alma, and so on. The Al subdivision is extremely volatile and prone to rapid mood swings, and has been known to own company stock, preferred besides the generally purchased common, in Harley Davidson. The Als also act as bouncers for the club, kicking out potential troublemakers and lurking Amway salesmen who attempt to infiltrate the club, posing as harmless members but easily revealed given their weakness ("hereditary," the AMA journal has argued) for "the pitch," despite meager demand for product.

Sexual activity between the members is not condoned on clubhouse grounds. Offsite liaisons are overlooked but commented upon by groups of three or more lecherous members.

Do not despair if membership has not caught up with you yet.
Do not beat the hungry man seated near you on the bus.
Do not cast vitriolic words upon the face of a dejected lover.
Do not slap the co-worker who does not understand what you need.
Do not castigate old friends for conservative choices made.
Do not cajole aging parents for their own distrust and reluctance to join.

The Mad Members are easiest identifiable by the sudden paranoid turns of their heads, their eyelids wrenched back tight, showing maximum amounts of the cornea, conjunctiva, iris and pupil. They wear soft poultices for warmth and relief, their skin tinged and inflamed with a thin white layer of flour and mustard. They burn books, eulogizing around the mounting flames, refusing to hear any words spoken to them unless the words are uttered by another Mad Member, lulling the first into dull submission. They flee from the unknown, huddling beneath the nearest desk, fingers interlocked, legs tucked, body rocking as they mumble incoherent spells for protection.

The Lounge Members are the most innocuously dangerous because all they want is attention and love. Adorned in their slightly worn dinner jackets and mauve shirts, black bow ties untied, these members ready their reggae-flavored version of "I Get A Kick Out Of You" to jam it upon an unsuspecting member who just happens to be emerging from the restroom, fingertips still slightly wet from washing. The Loungers launch into banter that no one really wants to hear, in-jokes and adulterous references cattily invoked, even when these members are standing alone in a room, speaking so loudly and so insistently that they are begged by others to stop.

Some Meeting Signs between members include The Extended Pump-The-Hand, The Lovely Spouse Discourse, The Unending Squeal, The Smile And Lie, The One-Armed Hug, The Murmur Undercut, The Unreturned Phone Call, The Pinch, The Hand-In-Glove, and The Lick And Grovel (also an initiation technique but more highly polished and refined, with three extra low bows, a grasp of the right hand, placing the forehead upon the ground, and a stream of self-deprecating abuse).

Walk through the front door, through the pure white pillars, the swaying olive branches, the yawning archway of brick and gold, and enter the club. Cross the vestibule with embossed invitation in hand. Pass it to the supplicant Attendant, in his black tuxedo and shoes so polished they look molded around his feet. He smiles and ushers you in, announcing you to the applause of the other members. They look so proud.

Even those who claim they do not want to join want to join. The club has gold-framed testimonials strung along the back wall.

There is the back door, hidden in brackish mire of underbrush and overgrowth. The Servants' Entrance. The entryway for those workers who keep the club functioning. Those who prepare and serve the meals, the Eggs Benedict, the Osso Buco, the entrees and appetizers, the liquored coffees tinged with anisette and cognac. Those who light the fat cigars, buffing with their ill-fitting shirts the shoes of the members. Those who monitor surveillance cameras and protect in plainclothes. Those who balance the books and laud members for their immeasurable contributions. Those who drive the diesel cabs and tractor trailers, loaded with frozen chickens and canned vegetables, cases of ale, vats of chocolate pudding, and enormous gifts from well-wishers.. Over twenty or thirty years, one or two of these workers will gain admittance to the club, recognition for their devoted service. They die soon afterwards.

Some have been known to break into the club by second-story window. These individuals are always apprehended and arrested, prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Some wait by their household phones, impatient for the call. Pacing near the staircase. Leaning over the phone. Some go mad with desire. Some die unfulfilled.

A very few refuse the club's invitation. They are soon beset by tabloid journalists who clamor for the reason.

Assistants to club members are often made into members just because they are there. Unfortunately, they clutter up the place, milling aimlessly around, but knowing protocol well enough to avoid real detection.

Some loiter outside the iron fence, twelve feet high with sharp-edged metal posts. They stand in the grass near the sidewalk, waiting for the kind, understanding glance of a member through the window, inviting them in. They wait in the rain, shivering in the snow, dehydrating in the summer heat and humidity and dry, dry winds.

Some have been known to pay large sums of money, six figures or more, to gain admittance. This method is guaranteed 98.7% of the time.

The Acceptance Speech:

"… and I would like to thank everyone here for accepting me as a member of the club. I am very honored and will do my best to uphold the high standards of the club. Even keeping out the undesirables such as myself."
(Titters of laughter.)
"Thank you. Thank you. Really, thank you. I don't deserve it."
(Applause.)



Ron Burch is a screenwriter who lives in Los Angeles.

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