Wed – January 5, 2005
No, not that kind of club silly.
The real thing.
I had one of those “you have reached the end of the internet, please hit ‘back’ ” experiences today. I’m still on leave (go back to the salt mines tomorrow), but it’s been raining endlessly here in Sandy Eggo, so the golf courses are all pretty much unplayable, just now. The kids are back in school, the Hobbit’s working. So my options were to go out and travel the actual highway, looking for opportunities to boost our consumerist economic recovery (been there, done that, paid the taxes) or to cruise the virtual, information highway, wondering where it might lead me. Naturally, I found myself clicking “next” until my eyeballs fell out of my head.
And it’s amazing what you can find. But first –
The Kat is a girl scout, and there’s some sort of graduation experience planned in San Francisco in May. Before she flew out the door, the Hobbit asked me to look up the least expensive way of getting a dozen girls and their moms up to The City, and once there, suitably ensconced in the downtown shopping district.
Now, those without sin may cast the first stone. And I’ll admit that it was no doubt churlish of me, not to mention mean-spirited, to wonder why a graduation walk across the Golden Gate Bridge by six budding females and their budded escorts must, as a matter of course, be accompanied by a bed down in the shopping district. But as a grizzled veteran of over two decades of marital splendor, much of it harmonious, I was wise enough to keep these wonderings to myself.
But all that is horribly off the point. Anyway.
Turns out that one of the best deals going in the downtown area is the Marine Memorial Club. Although it’s safe to say that the accommodations there are a little, shall we say, ancien regime, nevertheless, for that part of the city, the $160 or so a night for a double room/double occupancy is a true bargain. And it’s close to everything. Except of course, the Golden Gate Bridge. But there I go again. Never mind.
The best way to strike lodgings in the Marine Memorial Club is to have a reciprocal membership at another club somewhere.
When an officer is first commissioned, he has the opportunity to join two clubs in the Washington, D.C. area, and in doing at that early opportunity, avoid both the initiation fee and waiting list. The two clubs were the Army Navy Country Club, and the Army Navy Club. In spite of their similar names, the two clubs are unrelated, the first being a classic golf/tennis/swimming/dining facility in Arlington, Virginia, and the second a “gentleman’s club” in the Capital itself.
My parents had been members of the country club, so I sort of knew what to expect there. The second I joined, persuaded by one of my more cosmopolitan classmates, out of mere curiosity and out of a desire for reciprocal benefits. Traveling as much as we do in the naval service, I thought it would be neat to have a place to put pied à terre anywhere I visited.
My first few visits were singularly unimpressive: There was a dress code, and my generation, famously, has never been particularly keen on dress codes. The food was undistinguished, the service merely adequate and the rooms themselves redundant – we had family in the area with whom to stay, when visiting. Additionally, the membership seemed to consist solely of superannuated and be-suited veterans of the Great War, who spend their days puttering around the library, mumbling sotto voce obscenities at the New York Times editorial pages. (Some things never change.)
But however alluring a quality, this last was not in itself enough reason for me to shell out membership dues for month after month at age 22. Not on an ensign’s salary. An ensign, I might add, living in Pensacola, Florida – a city and region whose enthusiasm for old school, reciprocal membership gentlemen’s clubs has gone hitherto unremarked upon.
I let my membership lapse.
It struck me at the time that such clubs were anachronisms – dinosaurs that hadn’t gotten around to dying, quite yet. The last remnants of the buggy whip manufacturing league, perhaps. Who, I wondered, of my generation, would in 20 or 30 spend their hard earned money to belong to a place where a suit and tie were still considered mandatory in “public rooms,” and which offered little more than a thin veil of petty exclusivity?
I’ve had the opportunity when overseas to enjoy some fabulous hospitality by some very kind club memberships. The American Club in Hong Kong , for example, never fails to welcome the officers of each visiting strike group that passes through. There we are customarily wined, dined and otherwise féted, and offered pretty much the run of the place. Which nearly everyone seems to gratefully eschew, in favor of the gin joints and night clubs of Wan Chai and Kowloon. When it comes to pleasures ashore, at least for junior officers, the baser, the better, it sometimes seems.
The American Club in Singapore likewise extends privileges to naval visitors, for which we were all very grateful, and for which they were no doubt sometimes regretful – unlike the senior businessman clientele at the Hong Kong club, many more of the Singapore club members seemed to be families with young children, and the first night ashore for thirsty officers can be a little raucous, at times. Dry navy, and all that – water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
There is always something just a little touching about finding these little pockets of Americana, clustered about in the wide world. One wonders what they do for entertainment when the fleet is not in. Too, there’s something just a little “edge of the empire.”
No doubt it comes from the legacy the British passed down – they do these sort of things far better than anyone else. Bars, and dining rooms and accommodations – rules on lounge suits (whatever they are) and against shred of denim, anywhere.
And I don’t much get to London, but I think it might be keen to pop in at the Naval Club, once there. A trip across the channel might leave you lodging at Le Cercle National des Armées in Paris, if you had the proper letter of introduction. Having been to Hobart, Australia, I’m fairly certain that a stop in at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania might be well worth the candle.
And yet I couldn’t help finding it mildly curious that people might want to, in their leisure time, bundle up in a coat and tie and head out to the club. It just seems so 20 years ago. Members my age, or not a great deal older, must by now form the main battery of most these clubs – and we all grew up in blue jeans and tie-dyed shirts.
But yeah – sometimes I now regret, letting that Army Navy Club membership lapse.