Return to Don't talk shop in a club (essay)

Unspoken rule of British gentlemens' clubs -- you can gossip, talk about politics, religion, and sports, you can relate your dreams, discourse on your ailments, hold forth on Life and Art and Philosophy, even Business as a subject…but you can't talk shop in a club.
The taboo arises in the odd history of clubland itself, poised, as it was between the Baroque era of enlightened feudalism and the bourgeois modern era. The idea is that once you're over the threshold, you're a Gentleman, that is, you don't work for a living, even if you do. That your membership dues are paid by your distinguished career in engineering, your lifesaving patent medicine, your work as a salesman for someone else -- that's immaterial. If you're to the manner born, talk of money is beneath you, if you aren't it's gauche to remind everyone.

What this means is that you can't sell anything to another member, unless you do so discreetly, and completely without each other owning up to the fact. You can't make deals, or network in a business …unless this is a really private conversation. As in, the men's room, with both your penises out, and you're looking to see that people think you aren't having clandestine sex instead. As a matter of fact, clandestine sex would be preferable.

Oddly enough, the same is true of Japan, though the venue is different. You can't talk business in a teahouse, or (for that matter) in the presence of a geisha (although you're paying her, she's considered a "lady" and therefore, you wouldn't want to appear less than an equal). In a teahouse, whether you're attending a ceremony or not, you're supposed to talk only of elevated, aesthetic things, like the arrangement, or whether the bowl has a poetic name. Business, if it's mentioned at all is so much a faux pas that the lady in question is not even supposed to remember it. In other words, the teahouse is a neutral zone. Who is in real life who's boss, which faction you're in, the quotidian cares of the day…just don't exist. Let's just relax, listen to the birds, or the song, or the wind in the pines…Gee, the geisha…she's kinda cute…mmm….

And now we come to yet another taboo, between them in geography, if not in ideas: the Bohemian Grove. The Cremation of Care, as a matter of fact and speculation, is strongly in this tradition. Dull Care, a corpse in effigy, is set alight at the feet of the Athenian Owl, in a ritual enacted every Summer by some rich Republicans. Thereafter, they're not supposed to talk about business or politics, because you're supposed to be a bunch of artists living cheap among the redwoods. You hear me? NOT SUPPOSED TO TALK ABOUT BUSINESS OR POLITICS. Instead, you're supposed to do a lot of drinking, piss where and whenever you want to outside, and act like good little boys, putting on skits like you did when your parents sent you to sleep away camp.

Funny, all of these conventions stem from the middle-class aping of the nobility, yet are considered thoroughly upper-class (or even beyond!) nowadays…

I keep a little Steiff owl that belonged to my mother on my windowsill. He looks after all the things I worry about. Sometimes I feel as if I'm Prometheus stealing fire from the Gods…
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