If there is one thing that the Greenwich Country Club likes it’s rules. The GCC, or the Country Club, or simply “the Club”, if you want to sound like the entire staff knows your name, is only one of the ten or so ultra private and select social and leisure institutions in Greenwich know as clubs (there are also four yacht clubs), but perhaps because this one carries the name of the town, much more attention is given to it. And in the past, not such nice attention. About twenty years ago an exposé appeared in a New York magazine where a black reporter went under cover as a waiter and revealed the nastiest attitudes sustained within its walls. The article was certainly unflattering, but you finished with the thought, “What did this person expect?” He was at one of the most reputedly snobby clubs in one of the most exclusive town’s in the country. Plus, if something should be said in favor of this club, at least it hired the man. He had been turned down at no fewer than two other clubs in town for unspecified reasons (i.e. race).
Despite its stratospheric status, GCC is surprisingly easy to access, especially in the winter went activity slows down like maple sap. There is no one at the gate to flag you down and interrogate you mainly because there isn’t even a gate. There are no tire-puncturing barriers or snarling dobermans or guards with nervous trigger fingers. In fact, there is no one at all. Believe it or not, I find this heartening. The way things are today, it’s nice to see the club still at least pretends to feel open.
But that doesn’t make you feel any more at ease. In fact, being a member is not such an enviable position when you learn of all the rules you have to obey. The minute your car dips down that first hill of the driveway, you could swear you hear the voice of something Supreme whispering into your ear, “No, you can’t…”, just in case any radical thoughts or ideas jumped into your head. And it must be something that effects you as you get older and fear arrest, because as a kid, none of this made any different to me. I almost grew up at this place, but when I was young it was my father who had to take all the responsibility, so I didn’t care. My friend and I bowled down the hallways, turned hamburger buns into frisbees, tried to hit BMWs “accidentally” with golf balls (we failed), but it never crossed our minds this would have grave consequences.
Now that only other people I know belong to it and I don’t, I probably care even less, but I am aware that my acts my have dire consequences for others, and have promised not to set off fire alarms or throw ice cubes onto the squash courts.
One restriction I admire about the club is the very limited use of electronic devices like cell phones, iPhones, iWhatevers and other distracting gadgets. By limited, I mean, none, zilch, zippo. Unless there is emergency. It is assumed, and correctly so if you ask me, that if granted the right to employ these machines, people would stop engage in little else…and that is not what the Country Club is about. And they’re right. It’s about beng sociable. I guess. In any event, that’s one thumb up for them from me. Clearly that means nothing to the club’s governors…but it’s a moral victory for me.
The dress code is another matter. One article of clothing that stands out for its absence, in addition to clogs, is denim, or rather anything made with it. Contrary to what some believe, this prohibition is not peculiar to GCC. Many clubs around the nation ban jeans in any form to ensure the members go to place looking neat and decent. I know a woman who had a conference to give in a club out somewhere in Illinois or some place like that and committed the faux pas of arriving in a jean skirt, which prompted her direct passage to the superintendant’s office for close observation and retention until the matter could be solved. And that was Midwest which is supposed to be laid back about it life. Yeah, right.
The norm is so deeply driven into the psyche of its members that they seem to talk about little else. My brother says things like, “We’re going to lunch there tomorrow, and you can’t wear jeans,” or “How about some bowling? Just don’t wear jeans,” or even retrospectively, “I played paddle tennis this weekend, and I didn’t wear jeans.”
If aesthetics were all that counted, then I would understand; the thing is, one morning when I went to pick up my parents, they invited me down to breakfast and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a man in running shorts, a T-shirt and trainers without fear. He had been doing exercise minutes before and was all sweaty and emanated human effort. He looked dreadful, as if he were going to keel over right there and then. I scanned the room for the nearest defibrillator (which not only happens to be one of the most difficult words to pronounce in this language, it reminds me more of an appliance you use to make ice-cream drinks than channel of hope from cardiac arrest) just in case my assistance was needed. I don’t know how to use one of them, but at least I could point and say, “There’s a defribula…a dufribal…a defroster…what the fuck…one of those things they used on Emergency!” with the remote idea that someone in the room watched Saturday night Tv in the 1970s too.
A few minutes later two children came down in their pajamas. That was cute, but kind of unorthodox for a public buffet. This was in the main dining room mind you. Where were the dobermans when you needed them? Boy I really wanted to get into the spirit of things and accuse the child of ruining my coffee by wearing pjs to the danish table, but then I figured that nightwear must somehow be allowed on the premises…as long as they weren’t made of denim.