Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I'm In With The In Crowd: An Essay On Cliques

It seemed a daydream kind of a day. We took our stand, setting up one microphone and plugging it in to a cordless amp, on the sidewalk in front of an ice cream parlor on the corner of River and Main streets in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. As customers continually entered and exited the ice cream parlor, an inside/outside doorbell tinkled, not necessarily to the beats we were playing on our busk. On the wooden bench beside us sat two people, elderly, both in their shirt sleeves and licking their three topping and sprinkled praline & cream ice cream cones. (Their obvious contentment prompted me to query what flavor they were savoring.) The air was warm, the clouds a bright white in the blue, blue sky, and the world was windless -- until the motorcycles came.

Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan must be the city of motorcycles, the Hog Town of the Prairies! Never a minute went by during our two hour stint that a Harley Davidson motorcycle did not roar down in front of us. The rumbling baffles of the motorbikes and the constant ringing of the ice cream bell became the auxiliary percussion for our afternoon cacophonic busk.

Two riders, a driver and his passenger, pulled their Coca-Cola Red Fat Boy Harley into the curb right in front of us, revving the engine more than a few times before finally switching it off. Both in black leathers, they dismounted and took just one step to get right alongside us.
The driver, a mustachioed man with a chin strap grey beard, and wearing a black leather vest over his bare chest, pulled a fin from his chain attached trucker's wallet, and tossed it into my open guitar case. His passenger, a middle-age lady in tight leather pants and a very cleavage revealing halter top, turned abruptly and said,
Baiter? Is it really you?
In that moment I was stunned. She knew my boyhood nickname so she must be from Vanguard, I thought to myself as my brain scrambled trying to imagine who this person in front of me might be. At last she came to mind! Sonja!
Hey, Sonja. How're you doing? I replied.
She responded by giving me a bear hug overtop my twelve string.
It's really great to see you, Baiter! It's been forever since I've seen you!
She was right. Sonja and I had not seen one another in over twenty years, and upon an eyeful consideration, she still looked quite the same.
This is my partner, Barry, she said.
And this is my oldest son, Baron, I replied.
You do this for a living? She asked.
Only in Summer, I answered.
Cool, she said.

We chatted awhile and then that was that and our day in front of the ice cream parlor came to a close. Later on though, while driving down the highway en route to our next busk stop, I thought of Sonja.

Hi yi ye yi yus
Nobody likes us
We are the girls
From Vaaanguard
Always a grinnin'
Always a winnin'
Always a feelin'

This was her evening summer song. Back in the day, a teenage Sonja and her girlfriends would march around town from early to late evening singing this song in unison. Sonja was smart and attractive, had well-to-do parents, and was definitely part of the in-crowd. The girls she marched and sang with, were the in-crowd.

I remember in their summer gig, Sonja and her friends having the same hair-over-one-eye do's, wearing the same skorts (fashionable skirts that looked more like shorts), and all driving 1950's Mini Minor cars which their farmer fathers had restored. Sonja and her friends were small town girls living in Hollywood movies. They were a clique.

And there were boy cliques, too. These were the guys with the brylcream rubbed in their hair (a little dab'll do ya), wearing the chalk white t-shirts with Black Cat cigarettes rolled in their sleeves (as did James Dean). These guys had the tight jeans, the rat-tails in the back pocket, and did the dance in black pointy shoes.

Then along came Troy Donahue and the dry look. No more hair oil. No more t-s. It was striped jack shirts and regular boot cut Lees. This lasted until the music of the British Invasion arrived, bringing along the Beatle haircuts, London pea hats, frilly shirts, and bell bottom pants.

Membership requirements for these lock and costume cliques were very apparent, being very physically observable. Other cliques, those based on common recreations, were observable only according to behaviors, beer drinkers and hockey players being two such examples.

First the beer drinkers. This was quite the crew, actually. Every weekend was same 'ol same ol', pick up some beer, drive around and around and around and hope that some girls would be enticed and practically jump in the car to join this wild bunch of cool guys. (I know this -- I was there.)

At the other end of this linear recreational model were the junior hockey players. Junior hockey players, then as now, enjoyed apotheosis status both on and off the ice. These were the foreigners from afar, merely in town to play hockey while on their way to The Show. These guys never had to wait for the girls to be enticed -- these guys were gods!

Then I experienced those kinds of cliques that are peculiar to emergent adulthood. Though more sophisticated than the cliques of adolescence, they were still very conformable, corresponding to the many ideological flavors of the day.

There were the university societies: the English Society, the Psychology Society, the Education Society, the Faculty Club. Those benighted persons, those non-privileged non-members of my clique societies, were considered to be groundlings.

Finally young adulthood arrived, and I became a dog-eat-dog graduate student, and no more cliques. It has been a long time since then, and now in my middle years, my companions are based on a variety of common activities, more or less. Carol is my cycling companion; Burt is my running mate; Gary is my nine-ball partner; Judy is my band mate; Baron is my workout buddy.

I shall offer some bits and pieces on the characteristics of cliques.

Though cliques are coeval, the older one gets, the less inclined one gets toward adhesion to any particular crowd of costume or of statement (including politics). Cliques in my life, as I suspect in others' lives, have served as bivouacs, in which to survive and confide with others who happen to be in the same camp situation. New teachers in any school, for example, tend to congregate with one another, to the point that these early teaching experiences often lead to lifelong relationships with these first time colleagues. In their beginnings, these friendships were unwittingly formed for professional survival, and over the years evolved into friendships necessary for family survival. I am still very close to a couple of colleagues from thirty years ago.

Cliques are never demode. They are ever present and always current in either fashion or ideology.

Cliques help group members edify their positions, in order to stay superior to those not in that particular clique.

Clique members have congruous fortes, athleticism and academia being common examples.

Cliques will never be passe because clique members intoxicate one another with camaraderie. We are all, save for our lighthouse keepers and backroom librarians, gregarious creatures just wanting to get along and enjoy life to the maximum.

To be a member of a clique demands a certain synchronicity; all the existential forces have to be aligned. To be a teenage Sonja was purely happenchance. She was smart, good-looking, and rich. How does this happen?

And it can happen to any of us! It is phenomenology at its finest! I've been a member of several cliques over the years, and my membership in these has proved time and time again to be quite responsible for my selfish and arrogant social survival.

These days, with regard to cliques, I'm more in with the out crowd. Among the young I feel too wise, and among the old I feel too foolish. Perhaps I should resign to the fact as presented (with poetic license) by Groucho Marx:

I don't want to belong to any clique that will accept people like me as a member.

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