Thursday, November 13, 2014

Confessions of a Junior League Dropout

Contrary to what some of you may think, I am not a rebel without a cause. I'm a staunch rule-follower. A people pleaser. At times, a downright goody two-shoes. Growing up, the mere thought of the principal's office would give me an ulcer. I was such an overachiever that on the "activities" section of my college application, I had to write "see attached page(s)." Breaking the rules is so against my nature that, to this day, I refuse to enter a store with food or drink. Even if there isn't a sign posted specifically telling me I can't, I still fear a disapproving look from a store clerk and I can't cross that line. Needless to say, I keep off the grass, I don't loiter, and I most certainly do not wear white after Labor Day. Whoever said rules are meant to be broken is living an existence that is way too haphazard for my liking.

All that being said, you may find it out of character that I am a Junior League dropout. A debutante delinquent. As much as I wanted to please the prepsters, the well-to-dos, and the dozens of fine, fresh yuppies I encountered, I just could not commit. I had put this little part of history completely out of my mind until a few weeks ago, when a friend's fiance triggered my Junior League flashbacks. Just like a girl I met during my provisional (read: newbie) days in the League, this fiance was covered in so many designer labels she looked like an ultra-posh race car driver sponsored solely by luxury brands. There wasn't a spot on this girl or on that Junior Leaguer that wasn't covered in something high-end. But before we get to tales of the Neiman Marcus 500, let me start at the beginning.

Just days after our honeymoon, I found myself in Charlotte; new to not only the city, but the state of North Carolina as well. This bright-eyed newlywed thought the Junior League of Charlotte (JLC, if you want to sound like an insider) was a no-brainer. What a great way to meet people, be involved in my freshly adopted community, and socialize with like-minded Southern women such as myself? Well, not so much.

To help new members get to know each other better, you are assigned to a small group of other provisionals who live in close proximity to you. The downside to being grouped that way is that at that time, we lived in a beautiful apartment complex in a neighborhood touted for being affluent (SouthPark, dah-ling). I went to my first small group meeting at a home in a nouveau riche neighborhood where each house was made from so much stacked stone it looked like a collection of medieval castles. Throw down the drawbridge, then, because Susie from Toccoa has arrived! I felt a little self-conscious parking my Jeep Grand Cherokee beside the Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes already in the driveway--except when you consider that my Jeep had a real leather interior and power windows. Get a load of that, castle dwellers.

I was seated next to a girl who introduced herself as Katherine. High fashion Katherine was wearing a Lilly Pulitzer floral dress, carrying a Coach bag, wearing a stack of David Yurman bracelets, and then began writing with a Mont Blanc pen. My fake Chanel bag I bought so proudly at the straw market in the Bahamas seemed a tad out of place, and let's not even discuss the fact that I was more than likely wearing some career clothes scored on a clearance rack somewhere.

Katherine and I discovered that we worked in the same building and dutifully met for lunch one day. This was the day that dear Junior League Katherine took me to Dean and Deluca and gave me my introduction to the what might possibly be the world's most expensive sandwich. Yes, I am a self-confessed cheapskate, but this was 2003 and my sandwich cost somewhere in the ballpark of $14. (We have joked in the years since that the thing that makes D&D sandwiches tasty is your own $20 in between those two slices of bread). Couple the cost of that sandwich with the paltry salary my job in the bank's cubicle farm paid and you will quickly see that it negated any profit from my working that day.

All provisional members are required to work a certain number of hours at the Junior League "WearHouse"--a consignment store where the downtrodden can find relief from their troubles in the form of last season's Ann Taylor or some gently used Brooks Brothers cast-offs. The majority of the other members seemed to have very flexible work schedules (or work was completely optional for them, to be used only in cases of extreme boredom), but I was only free to work on the weekends. If you think working 8:00-5:00 five days a week at an abysmal job making abysmal pay sounds amazing, try spending all your free time in a store room, price tagging cardigans with pearl buttons and barely worn ballet flats.

Inevitably, I would wind up working a few hours of my precious Saturdays in that dank little room with people named things like Buffy, Mitzy, Breezy and of course Mary Pat/Mary Kate/Mary Frances/Mary Helen/Mary Catherine/Mary Elizabeth. Mary, mother of God, get me out of here! I suppressed an infinite number of eye rolls listening to these women chatter about their mutual friends from high school and college ("Oh my gosh! Remember junior year when she acted super crazy that night!? Shut up!"), the needlepoint belts and driving moccasins they were going to buy for their hubbies and boyfriends, and the wine bars they couldn't wait to try after we were through. I am sad to say that--and I really did try--I did not meet one person I would ever care to have a conversation with ever again. Not even about wine bars.

After more than enough unhappy Saturdays and several months of those wonderful small group/Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous meetings, I reached the breaking point. Desperate for some sort of loophole, I scoured the JLC website and found that you may defer your membership for one calendar year. At the time, one glorious year sounded like an incredible amount of breathing room, and I eagerly drafted my letter stating that due to "extenuating personal and family circumstances" I was not able to give the League the attention it so deserved. I am quite certain I left the board members tsk, tsking and wondering about the status of my marriage, my grandmother's health, and whether or not we had been victims of a Ponzi scheme or some other terrible fate. Hey, Mom always told me to leave 'em wanting more.

About a year after my deferral, I stepped into the elevator at work and came to face-to-face with Katherine. I watched her eyes widen in horror and she quickly looked away and pretended not to recognize me. Obviously, deferment was a no-no in Katherine's book, and so that promising friendship had run its course. It was a long ride down to the lobby, and I can't even say I was wistful when I watched Katherine stroll away in her Kate Spade pumps.

Sadly, my deferral deadline came and went, and I never went back. I have friends who enjoy the Junior League (or so they say), and they even claim to have never met a Muffy or a Bitsy or a Mary Anyone. That's great for them, I just know from cashmere-clad experience that it's not for me. When it comes right down to it, I guess those women are just out of my league.

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