Much like dating, the search for friends is filled with highs and lows, wins and losses. If you’re lucky, you meet your soulmate(s) right out of the gate. Unfortunately – and probably more likely – you end up wading through a lot of muck in search of your new mate(s).
I joined a “private social club” a few weeks ago. I read about it in a blog post on ways to meet people in San Francisco. I didn’t know such things existed outside of Ivy League enclaves, the East Coast and thrillers where club members are evil and plot to kill each other. The idea intrigued me. It sounded like a co-ed frat for grown folks. Could be awesome, could be horrible.
I applied on their website and the next day received a call from a member coordinator for a brief phone screening. She asked me basics like why I was joining (I’m new to SF and largely friendless), what I was looking for (friends, obvs) and what adventures I like to do for fun (most things that don’t involve heights, but even then…). I passed and made it through to the hour-long phone interview with a member rep.
I should have known from the awkward conversation I had with the member rep that no good could come from this endeavor. You know how you can talk to someone and you just don’t vibe? They don’t laugh when things are clearly funny, because it’s a given that you are hilarious; they aren’t really listening to you because they ask you questions that you’ve previously answered and there are uncomfortably long pauses that leave you going, “Uh, hello, are you still there?” Work with me dude; it takes two to have a conversation!
Despite the laughably unfun interview, I did well enough to garner an invitation to join the club. I accepted, as they sold me with their 30-40 scheduled events a month, promise of adventure (kayaking! hiking! skydiving! trips to Belize!) and, of course, potential new friends (median age of members is 35). They boast a member roster numbering in the hundreds. Visions of my future awesome life flashed before my eyes.
There is a three-week membership trial period. During that period if you attend three events in your first three weeks and don’t like it, you can opt-out and get a refund.
Oh yeah. That. None of this “awesomeness” is free. There’s a one-time initiation fee and a monthly fee, like with a gym membership. I figured, worst comes to worst, I’m out the first month’s fee.
It’s been a month. I’ve attended all three events and, well, you can guess whether I jumped ship.
Wine tasting in Santa Rosa. Eight hours spent with strangers.
I like people. When I’m not hating the awful things we do to each other (Steubenville, ugh), I find us fascinating. From that perspective, more often than not, I can find a common thread to connect with people I meet. I met a mathematician a few weeks ago. I hate math. It’s an awful subject put on this earth to make my life more difficult and drag down my SAT scores in high school. Yet, he and I had a fun conversation. But, during this event, I was at a loss.
When I showed up at the designated meeting spot, three of the group of 10 who’d signed up were seated at a table in a nearby restaurant. “We ordered mimosas!” the enthusiastic hostess told me (each event has a host). I joined the group at the table. They were engrossed in a dull conversation (I don’t even remember what about, dust or some shit). The lone male made a joke about Chinese food that I thought was vaguely racist. However, I couldn’t be sure. Let the fun begin! I wanted to like him, but his social skills were questionable, which made it tough. No one acknowledged my presence.
The mimosas arrived: three glasses for three people. The waiter was off before I could ask for one myself. No one, but me, cared about my mimosa conundrum. Fifteen minutes after my arrival, one of the especially chatty women, who spoke with a Kathleen Turner-esque rasp, stopped talking and laughing at her own “jokes” (I think they were meant to be jokes, but they weren’t funny, so who knows?) for a nanosecond. I introduced myself. They gave me their names and continued their conversation about mothballs or the fur that grows on kiwi. Kathleen Turner-rasp and her female buddy became the dominators of the group that day with their incessant chatter and over-the-top enthusiasm for all things uninteresting; this was not a good thing.
Filling out the group was a trio of two men and a woman, hippie-ish types, who mostly kept to themselves; a woman who was either 45 or 54 and seemed incredibly and uncomfortably (for others) insecure, which is very unappealing in a person over the age of 30.
[An aside: I have a natural inclination to take in social outcasts. Perhaps it’s from having moved around so much and repeatedly having the experience of being the new girl trying to fit in. I hate for anyone to feel left out or bullied. But, it’s dangerous. More than once I’ve ended up with an overly attached, energy-sucking, take-everything-too-personally friend that I have to remove from my life with a surgical knife.]
I had to keep my distance from madame insécurité.
Lastly was a very perplexing youngish woman. She could have been an extra in The Craft, but, when she spoke, she could have passed for ditzy-ish sorority girl. She wore black thigh-high garter belt-ready tights, thick black clogs and a dark black suede dress. Throughout the day I wondered if she was hot. I was hot in lighter colors. She seemed nice enough, but we weren’t a match. I’m also pretty sure I was the youngest person of the group and I am no calf.
A few years ago, I realized I’d developed an allergy to wine. It’s generally not worth it to me to put myself through the pain and suffering wine-ingesting causes. I’ve always been more of a beer or vodka girl anyhow, so don’t feel pity for me. But, this was the only event of the week I could attend.
Despite the allergies, at each winery I tried to drink copious amounts of sample-wine, knowing I’d pay dearly for it later, especially that spiteful red wine. I wished I could have just suckled straight from the barrels. Unfortunately, we were wine tasting, not wine guzzling, so I had to maintain some decorum. I needed to get as drunk as possible as fast as possible to deal with this… day.
At the last winery I’d finally drank enough to increase my patience by a tenth. I made chit-chat with the host, who hails from a state I’ve not yet visited and find curious. As such, I peppered her with questions. I actually liked her, but as she’s employed by the club, her job isn’t to find friends.
Kathleen Turner-rasp’s pal joined our conversation. Inevitably, my “favorite” question was posed, “How do you like San Francisco?” with the familiar tone that indicates the expected response is, “OMGitssoawesomeIloveit bestcityever, go hipsters!” I gave her my standard spiel about how it’s an adjustment and it’s weird that there are only four other upwardly mobile black people in the city and people get all “OMG, a black person who speaks “well” and has a white-collar job, I don’t know how to handle it!” (Or perhaps I just said it could get uncomfortable at times, people treat me differently, etc.)
She replied with this gem:“But, doesn’t it make you feel special?” In my head, I bitch-slapped some sense into her; in real life I laughed, trying hard to contain my derision and answered, “Nope, I would rather feel normal just like everyone else.” I don’t have a lot of patience for people who I think don’t take the time to see the world from outside of their personal prism.
You try feeling “special” for years on end and see how fast that gets old. (“Does your skin get darker in the sun?” “Did you get your job by affirmative action?” “Oh your dad has his PhD? I don’t know why I assumed he’s got a blue collar job.” “Can I touch your hair? It’s so cool!”)
Although, she could be on to something. If I’m special, I need to act like it. “Bow down, bitches,” indeed. I’ll demand reverence wherever I roam. At work, I can refuse to do the things I think are beneath me because “I’m special.” I should be getting a discount on my rent because, dammit, I’m special. They’re lucky I deign to live in their building!
I felt hostage in the van on the ride up and back. I was forced to listen to adult contemporary music, which, in my view, induces premature aging and thus terrifies me. They didn’t seem like the Top 40 crowd (I wouldn’t have dared gone as far as hip-hop) so I didn’t object; it wasn’t worth expelling the energy. I suffered in silence.
I later found out one of the hippie-ish guys found Kathleen Turner-rasp and pal, as well as most of the rest of the group, equally annoying. This explains why he and his trio opted out of dinner after wine tasting. I also opted out of dinner. Fuck no, I wasn’t sitting through more of this torture. As we parted ways, the host said she hoped to see me again with a knowing look. She had to have known it wasn’t the best.event.ever! for me.
When I got home, I hugged my cat and my couch. Ah, comfort.
Well, it was supposed to be a Moroccan dinner – one of their more calm events. The day of the event, the hostess (a different one) called and informed they cancelled the dinner. “We’re all going to Bar X to celebrate a member’s birthday.” I didn’t know the member from a random on the bus. But, I had three events to attend and this was the only one I could make that week.
When I arrived at the bar, the hostess texted me that they were on the patio. The patio was packed. She told me they were seated next to a guy in a giant tophat, so I approached a group with a man wearing a large Uncle Sam hat. They were not part of the club. You mean to tell me there is more than one dude here wearing an oversized attention-seeking costume hat? The answer is yes.
As I made my way through the crowded patio looking for them, a giant elbowed me in the head. Okay, perhaps he wasn’t a giant, but at 5’1”, anyone above 5’10” is gigantic. He had to have been at least 6’4”. He didn’t apologize, so I gave him a look that said, “Mofo, you WILL be apologizing.” Instead, he patted me on the head(!), the way you would pat a curious, precocious child on the head as you tell them to be on their merry way. I’m a grown ass woman and this asshole just patted me on the head. I glowered and kept it moving.
I finally found the hostess. Part of the hostess’s job is to introduce you to the group and help you to not feel alone. She quickly introduced me to five people and then stated, “Ok, I am heading out with my friend. Have fun!”
Great. You’ve introduced me to five people, one of whom is the middle-aged low self-esteem (LSE) woman from the wine trip. Another is the guy who head-bowed me and then child-patted me. He also happens to be the birthday guy and guest of honor. Awkward!
Given my options, the fact that LSE was talking to a black woman (the only other black person I saw) and my new hobby since moving to San Francisco is collecting black people, I joined her group. LSE was enthusiastically retelling the saga of her broken hip and its healing.
Here’s the difference between a simple injury and aging: when you’re young and have a simple injury it’s usually because you’ve for instance, blown out your knee from overzealous, improper running. When you’re aging, if you break a hip, it’s because your body is like, “Look, hon, we’ve been around a while. Shit’s about to start breaking down. All that abuse you piled on me in your youth is coming back for you. Body karma. Get ready!” She was describing the latter.
I had nothing to contribute as my hips are fine. The black woman walked away shortly after we exchanged greetings, having seen an old friend. I desperately looked around for people to talk to who appeared to be my age. No one from the club. It would probably have looked bad if I joined a whole group of strangers not-related to the group instead. I stayed put and pretended to be interested.
There appeared to be only one waitress working the patio. She was nowhere to be seen for 20 minutes. When I finally flagged her down, she hurriedly told me she’d return. I waited for another 20 minutes. In that time, I continued pretending to be fascinated by unstimulating conversations while I daydreamed of the more interesting places I wished I was. Finally, I told the group, “I’m going to see if I can track down a waitress.” I headed toward the bar, walked out of the restaurant and straight to my bus stop.
Bye people, just bye. I’m not exactly proud of that behavior, but I hate feeling trapped.
I was weary and full of low expectations for this third (and last?) event. On their website, they hail it as a great way for members, especially new ones, to mingle and enjoy some grilled grub. I arrived 45-minutes after start time to find a pitiful scene of just five people, including the blonde guy who made the vaguely racist joke from the wine tasting; a really loud older man who was practically shouting at the middle-aged woman sitting right in front of him and a little yappy dog.
Each day, I grow to dislike yappy, tiny dogs less and less. I blame the brainless, socialite-wannabes who carry them around like accessories, as well as the dogs’ generally annoying predilection for acting like they are bigger than they are and yapping with their laughably tiny little barks. I know how it is to be little and want to make sure people take you seriously. I get it. But, you don’t see me yelling at people bigger than I in a wee voice as I puff up my chest and preen. (There is one adorable chihuahua in Austin who is like my dog-niece. I adore her. She is exempt.)
There was no food ready and the cash bar hadn’t been set up yet. Oh, yes, the cash bar. Despite the not-insignificant initiation fee and the monthly dues, they charged a nominal amount for beverages, though food was included.
I tried to make conversation with the blonde, but it was painful. It was like he was wearing Keisha-repellent; I just could not like him. Finally, about an hour and fifteen minutes after start time, the cash bar was set up. The beer options were Heineken and Pacifico which is like Mexican Bud Light – water. Having thrown a party or ten in my life, I know that if you’re going to provide few beer options, at least choose one light and one dark for variety. I’ve nothing against Heineken, but I resent paying for one of two beer options.
The older man with a penchant for yelling announced to the women at the bar with delight, “Hey ladies, I’ve got a chick drink for you. It’s called a winemarita! Harharhar!” He laughed loudly and proudly at his comedy. Lame and offensive: two traits I love in potential new friends. I ignored him and my desire to “show him” by asking for a big-ass glass of scotch and asked for a Heineken, which I finished in about 10 minutes and had to ask for another. Oh, what I would have done for a Belgian ale right about then.
I ended up in conversation with a woman whom I found out is 55. I am not ageist, (here comes my, “I am not _____, my best friend is _____” qualifier) one of my dearest friends is nearing 70. But, I am not looking for sexagenarian clique (or in this case, a quinquagenarian clique) any more than she wants to actively seek a crew of thirty-somethings whining about how old they are when they don’t even know how good they have it.
I was just beyond frustrated that while they claimed their median member age is 35, I seemed to only meet members well above the line. I asked her why she joined the club. She was recently divorced and looking to meet people as a newly single woman. As she told me about the first disastrous event she attended (only three people showed up for what was supposed to be a medium-sized event) and mentioned the founder called her to see if he could assuage her concerns about the club, I detected more than a hint of bitterness. She didn’t seem anymore excited about this motley crew than I.
She suggested a couple of non-meetup organizations I can join centered around travel and philanthropy, my twin loves. We talked for about half an hour. While she was interesting enough, I wanted to mingle to make sure I gave this club a fair shot. We broke and I make a beeline for a group of people who looked to be around my age. I heard them talking about skydiving. A guy protested, “But, it’s $300 to do it!” A woman rebutted, “No it’s not, it’s like $50!” Upon noticing my arrival, he put his fingers to his mouth, looked at the group, looked at me and then motioned, “Shhhhh.”
I think two things about this. First, homie is freaking rude. Second, what kind of sketchville stuff is going on here? I remember noticing the large discrepancy between what I paid for the wine tasting three weeks ago and what I read the event actually costs for the general public. Were they discussing the club’s markup on skydiving? And newbie me may just have overheard discussion of their sketchy practices to generate more income? I didn’t give a flip. I don’t have patience for ridiculous rudeness. I said with annoyance, “Ohhhhkaaaaaay then,” and walked off.
I chatted with another woman briefly, who was nice enough, but clearly painfully shy and I didn’t have the energy to be the one making most of the conversation. Someone announced that some food was ready. Great, I was hungry after drinking all that Heineken! I walked down into the backyard to find fresh off the rack, grilled chicken. No burgers, no hot dogs and a few sausages. Who the hell leads a barbecue with chicken?! The most boring meat on the planet?! Nobody comes to a barbecue for chicken! Very few Americans invite you over to their house for a barbecue and try to tantalize potential guests with the lure of boring-ass chicken. Where are the damned dead cows?! We have a ton of cows all over the state. I’ve seen them, go to the Central Valley!
I grabbed a sausage and walked over to a young Japanese guy. He told me he just arrived in the US a couple of days ago and he and his friends/classmates are here for a few months to study. Again, agreeable enough, but I am not trying to befriend people who have a definite departure date. I have enough friends in other cities and countries. That is not the problem.
I headed back upstairs to make one more round. I saw another woman my age. She looked oddly SoCal-ish, wearing a light cover-up top over a bikini, long shorts and flip-flops. I asked her, “Did you just come from the beach?” She replied, “No. It’s just comfortable.”
Far be it from me to judge someone’s comfort fashion, but is it not a little odd to wear a bikini around when you aren’t doing anything remotely related to water? And San Francisco is almost always chilly after 4pm?
She then asked me, “Are you wearing one too?” I looked down at my outfit: an obvious tank-top underneath a sweater, jeans and boots. What exactly led her to believe I share her interesting choice of comfort wear?
I decided I was through. I gave it a shot. I stayed for almost two hours, mingled with various groups of people and played nice. As it happens, the member coordinator who initially screened me into this club, was doubling as bartender. I told her I was leaving and to avoid lying I casually mentioned I had other plans (my other plans were not being in that clubhouse, but at home, sitting on my ass, catching up on the week’s DVR’d shows).
She loudly asked, “Keisha, what’s your next event?!” She knew it was my third event and could be my final. I mumbled something about having to look at the calendar. She yelled out a few of the upcoming events. I repeated that I’d check out the calendar. I knew damn well by that point that I was never coming back. I had no intention of putting myself through more painfully dull and/or aggravating situations with that group. I can meet weird, awkward people lacking in social skills for free.
As I walked out, a true giant walked in. He had to be at least 7’ tall. Sorry dude, I won’t be around to hear the sure-to-be-told tired jokes about how the “air is up there.”
The next day, I prepared my cancellation letter.
There you have it. I’m out of the club. These encounters qualify as the lows of friend-finding. But with lows come highs, of which there have been a promising few, and which balance out all the fuckery of the lows. To be continued…