I was raised here in Westchester County
I was taught in the Country Day School
We were richer than most, I don't mean to boast
But I swam in the country club pool
London Wainwright III
My father was a Larchmont lawyer who did well and my mom took care of the seven kids in our family. We belonged to a succession of country clubs over the years. In some we swam in Long Island Sound, others had pools, for others there was golf or yacht clubs. These clubs were surrounded by high stone walls or barbed wire fences. At the entrance there was the inevitable bronze plaque. It had the name of the club and under that the phrase: Members Only.
Even though I frequently belonged there something about that phrase stuck in the craw of my neck. I had a rebellious streak, or maybe it colored my whole personality. I liked to test, flaunt and give the finger to authority. Therefore I made a practice of sneaking into the clubs that I didn’t belong to. I’d sign someone else’s name for a burger at the grill, steal golf balls from their lockers and swim in their pool. At the end of the day I’d coast by the guard’s shack with a casual wave on my way home.
One club had long brown sisal rugs lining the outdoor hallways of their locker rooms. The bead board walls were painted white and had a chalky residue on them. I distinctly recall running away from some kids yelling at me, “You don't be-long here.” It was thrilling.
I’m sixty years old now. My Mom recently turned ninety. My older brother Billy, who made a truckload of money on Wall Street, hosted a celebration for her at one of these clubs. Billy and I used to caddy there when we were kids. It was a signal achievement for both of us when Billy became the president of that club. Before the event I was sent a reminder of the dress code: No jeans, shorts or sneakers. Men need collared shirts. Jackets are encouraged, but not required.
As I turned off the road onto the private drive I passed the plaque that said Members Only and noticed an automatic iron gate blocking my car’s progress. In that moment I realized three things: I didn’t have the code to open the gate, there was a call box to ask to someone at the clubhouse who presumably would open it, and another car was approaching from the other direction. A moment later the gate slowly swung open allowing the other car to exit. At the last possible moment I gunned the gas while the gate was still open and entered club grounds, just barely eluding getting hit. I remarked to my wife something like, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
I’d chosen my outfit for that day with great care. More care than I’d readily admit. I ironed my slacks and wore the $300 shoes I was married in. Forgoing the safe and standard, but optional blue blazer, I settled on a fancy retro polyester shirt. I left the shirt untucked as my wife tells me that’s hip. I was in the clubhouse lobby only a few moments before the hostess discreetly asked me to tuck my shirt in and pointed to a rest room where I could do so.
As I tucked my shirt in I caught myself in the mirror. There was a look of irony, a knowing smirk, and ultimately a silent but mature protest.