A Most Exclusive Club Nov 4, 2014

by RICK RADER, MD * EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

I was cleaning out my wallet the other day, a bi-annual ritual to purge the detritus of business cards offered to me at the numerous conferences, meetings and presentations I attend (or at least show up at). As I was triaging the findings (invoices, credit card chits, movie ticket stubs, scribbled notes, and yes some losing door prize tickets) I found the biggest stack was a mound of official membership cards from "clubs" I belong to. There seems to be a club for every interest, and I have many. I belong to a half a dozen antique car clubs, a wooden boat club, medical history clubs, and even a club (okay so it's just me and another guy) devoted to "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, the central figure of the 1919 World Series "Black Sox" scandal (don't ask). So clubs have an obvious appeal to me.

Stephen Hart provides the background: "The Club may be regarded as one of the earliest offshoots of Man's habitually gregarious and social inclinations." Some obscure essayist cuts to the chase with, "all celebrated Clubs were founded upon eating and drinking, which are points where most men agree, and in which the learned and the illiterate, the dull and the airy, the philosopher and the buffoon, can all of them bear a part." It's "all of them bear a part" that is the draw for many to join clubs; the idea that you can be part of a group with a shared interest, be part of a group where one doesn't have to explain their fascination with Indian arrowheads or misprinted postage stamps is quite compelling.

Not all clubs have prospective members lining up to sign up. The late comedian Gilda Radner quipped, "Having cancer gave me membership in an elite club I'd rather not belong to." For many Americans who automatically receive a facsimile membership card to the AARP (at age 50) it's the equivalent of a black cat crossing their path. Groucho Marx put a club in its place when he rejected their invitation to join by informing them that, "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member."

Some clubs are not interested in growing their membership rosters. For them, exclusivity is both the appeal and attraction. Mensa is an international club for people with high IQ's. To become a member you must have an IQ that is among the top 2-percent of the population. Apparently for some mega-brains that wasn't exclusive enough so they formed The Prometheus Society, leaving most Mensa members on the outside looking in. Not to be outdone by a band of brains, a more recent club was founded. The Giga Society (currently with six members) requires its members to be smarter than .999999999 of the population to join. According to their own web site, this means "in theory one in a billion individuals can qualify." I'm still waiting to hear from them.

Nancy Gibbs describes how one of the most exclusive clubs in the world was established on January 20th 1953. "At the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman greeted Herbert Hoover on the platform. "I think we ought to organize a Former Presidents club," Hoover suggested. "Fine," Truman replied. "You be the president of the club. And I will be the secretary."

One of my favorite clubs, and one I'm glad I'm not qualified to join is the Ejection Tie Club. To join this club of 5,607 members (only 10 of whom are women) you must have survived being fired out of a military plane by ejection seat. Note that it's called the Ejection Tie Club as the club exists only to hand out special ties so that "when they weren't in uniforms, members would have some form of recognition among themselves." There are no dinners, no get-togethers, no newsletters, and no awards for bravery. Just ties.

The blog Weird Worm describes another exclusive club, The Beefsteak Club. "Also known as the Sublime Society of Beefsteak, incarnations of this British club go back at least 300 years. Only 24 members are allowed to join at any time; even the Price of Wales, the future George IV, had to wait until someone died to become a member. Of all British organization, perhaps only the Order of the Garter is more exclusive, but it is also less insane. That's because, as the name suggests, the Beefsteak Club is a club devoted exclusively to how awesome steak is. The members get together and eat steak, talk about how awesome steak is, sing a song about steak, and even wear a funny outfit including a badge proclaiming, "Beef and Liberty."

And that brings us to a club that may not be as exclusive as either the Beefsteak Club or The Giga Society, but one that will always have an impact beyond the club itself—the loosely knit club of The Exceptional Parent. Most people would think and appreciate that members are composed of parents of children with special health care needs, complex disabilities or life-altering medical conditions; and they would be right. But there is a sub-group of The Exceptional Parent club, and it is a small but vibrant and committed group. A group of parents who watched their children die of a host of cruel and horrific genetic conditions, and who continue to crusade for treatments, research, supports and a cure. Parents who could have easily phased out of the crusade, retired with honor from the struggle and passed the baton to the next generation of "club members." They didn't. They continue to occupy the trenches, stuff envelopes, bombard legislative offices, attend meetings, mentor saplings and work with the same stamina, vigor and energy that they started with. They are the members of the "Exceptional Exceptional Parent's Club." They don't have ties so you may not recognize them. But they are out there; "card carrying" members of the most elite club in the special needs community.

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