On Saturdays, Rhumba and I just get in the car and drive. We generally have a couple of errand that we want to run; and along the way, we stop for coffee and remember a few more errands and obligations. We roam all over town: inspecting, buying, considering, visiting.
Then it’s time for lunch, or a late-late breakfast at our favorite dive ‘way over on the East Side. Then, who knows? Sometimes I think we’re the world’s oldest teenagers.
But we’re never sure exactly where the day will take us, and what makes a better Saturday than that? Last Saturday took us to the Elk’s Lodge, a place more foreign to me than some destinations requiring passports.
The Elks are one of those fraternal clubs where, 50 years ago, leading white male citizens of the town met to drink, smoke, play cards, eat cheap dinners, do deals, give money to youth sports, and perform fraternal rituals. Even today, there’s a parking space at the Santa Cruz lodge labeled “Reserved for Exalted Ruler.” It’s not a joke.
Come the twenty-first century, people still meet and eat and drink at the Elk’s Lodge, though in much-reduced numbers. Reduced so much, in fact, that women are now welcome as members. The many photos on the walls showed no members with dark skin, however. I could be overly naive and say, well, perhaps they just didn’t want to join the Elks. Because, it’s true that few people do. We’d only stopped by to visit a craft fair the Elks had staged; not a very good one, either.
I idly checked out the building. The lodge was quite large and well-equipped. It featured a canteen with bargain prices, a billiards room, a card room, a large bar (which was emphatically open), and lots of function space. There was even a swimming pool, I was told.
What the lodge lacked was many signs of life, aside from the craft fair.
Still, I picked up a membership application. Its date of last revision may have been 1954:
Did I believe in God? Would I promise to uphold the Constitution of the United States? Was I a veteran? Was I a member of the Communist Party or any organization which sought the violent overthrow of the United States Government? Had I ever been convicted of a felony or a crime of mortal turpitude? Was I foreign born, and if not I was of course a naturalized citizen, wasn’t I?
Mmmmmm…. tastes like… Dwight D. Eisenhower. The entree for last Thursday’s dinner was deep-fried macaroni and cheese: perhaps another reason why Elks decline in number.
The Elks and I live in alternate realities. You see that a lot in these culturally-polarized times. I still have the application, but all that ideological baggage trumps cheap food, billiards, and a pool. I just don’t think we’d get along.
Rhumba and I chatted up a few people at the craft fair and hit the road again, this time for the Church of the Holy Dividend, the house of worship for the upper classes (lower classes welcome if hard workers). We were members once and still have a few friends there, plus a couple of acquaintances I wouldn’t mind never seeing again.
This was the day of Holy Dividend’s 150th birthday bash, and we’d stopped by to see what they were up to. The first person we ran into was Regina: former head of the altar guild, wife of a retired priest, former college instructor, former stock-car racer, military veteran, and retired special education teacher. She’s been around — she even lived in Eastern Europe when Americans didn’t do that. She takes no guff from anybody, she has a theatrical manner, and she likes to keep you off balance. How are you, Regina, we asked?
“Well, my BONES are melting thanks to the chemotherapy. But fine, thank you very much.” That’s pretty much a Regina answer.
She’s suffered cancer for many years, and it or the chemo is going to finish her one of these days. But I can’t say that her condition ever got her down. Regina just soldiers on.
Regina’s 20-something daughter Hope is much like her; so of course they fought like cats when Hope was growing up. Hope turned into a quirky, sulky, intelligent, judgmental teenager who aspired to spend her life clerking in a video store.
With a hundred thousand of Regina’s money, Hope instead got a master’s degree in library science as a digital archivist: a profession that might resemble clerking in a video store, but on the grand scale. Hope never got a job in her field, though; too much competition and not enough work except internships and “work for experience” (never money).
After college Hope served a year or two with Americorps down in New Orleans; she loved the town to death. After Americorps she returned home to more fruitless job hunting and more “work for experience.” She finally got a job that paid actual money, working with developmentally disabled adults. And she was good at it. When last we saw her, Hope had snagged the offer of a similar job back in her beloved Nawlins, and was happily packing.
Although Hope’s expensive education got her no employment, I consider it anything but a waste. It helped her become an intelligent, broadly-educated young woman who can speak and argue clearly and thoughtfully on most areas of culture and life and the human condition. Nobody puts anything over on Hope. Aren’t those all the qualities that a college education is supposed to impart?
“So,” I asked, “How’s Hope doing in her new job?”
“Oh, she got FIRED,” Regina said breezily. “She showed up at the school, and it turned out that they had one teacher for every 16 disabled people. There was no support staff at all; they were just warehousing them like animals. So Hope told the board that what they were doing was all wrong, and she told them what they needed to change. And they fired her! Honestly, I wish she could be more diplomatic.” Like mother, like daughter: I didn’t laugh.
“So Hope went right out and got jobs in two different supermarkets to get by. And she’s started reading KARL MARX!”
Intelligent, quirky, well-read, hard-working, adventurous, cognizant: and now, based on her post-college experiences, looking for answers from the Great Boogeyman of global capitalism. You can see why America’s not really serious about education for all. Smart, educated people might cause trouble.
Hope’s not the only one reading the wrong books. Lately at the university I work for, the student have been rioting again. Well, call them gentle riots. The students hold a rally with megaphones and chants, then stream across campus and encircle a building or two.
In response, the administration floods campus staff with email about what to do if the students decide to occupy their office: endless contingency plans, do’s and don’ts for dealing with obstreperous demonstrators, and options for working at home. Campus security monitors the movement of every demonstration and broadcast current status and location minute by minute.
And all the students want is tuition that they can afford. It costs ever more to get an education, while many students and their families have less and less money. Rhumba and I just kicked in cash to buy food for students who, literally, lack enough money to eat regularly. This is not a poor area, either.
So the students demonstrate, and the campus bureaucracy hunkers down warily. Demonstrations have become more frequent, too; I thought the students would back off as finals week drew near, but instead they just kicked it up a notch. Who knows what next quarter will bring? Who knows what lessons the kids will learn about what the world is really trying to do to them, and whether the world really cares whether they’re educated or not?
So here’s the question I have for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks: can you be an Elk if you belong to an organization that seeks the non-violent overthrow of the United States government?
And can you join if you believe that “defending the constitution” means rewriting it in the name of economic equality? As Karl Marx looms in the distance, holding a stein of beer and nodding sagely.
I doubt that the Elks would have a ready answer. But I hope they’ll take their time to think about it, perhaps over a sizzling plate of deep-fried mac ‘n cheese.