I was invited to an “exclusive breakfast” the other day — so exclusive I was almost excluded!
The breakfast was to meet the author of a book about Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath and discuss his work. It was sponsored by the French-American Foundation and was being held at New York’s famed Knickerbocker Club. (The event was part of a series of “meet-ups” organized by Villa Gillet, the same folks who invited me to be part of the “Catastrophe Practice” panel back in January.)
I was very happy to be invited, though not so psyched to have to wake up at 6:00 am to schlep all the way into Manhattan. (I also found it more than ironic that a discussion of the aftermath of Katrina — which so notoriously involved survivors being deprived of food and water for days — was the occasion of a fancy breakfast at a New York club.) All the same, I put on my gear and made the trip, arriving at the location at the appointed time.
And it was just about then that it hit me that the Knickerbocker was a private club. An exclusive private club. On Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And what was I wearing? A sweater over a black T-shirt. Brand new black jeans. A stylish pair of sneakers. (Not to mention a bright orange jacket.) As a general rule — other than weddings and funerals — I never wear a tie.
Sure enough, soon as I walked in the door, the coat check guy/bouncer gave me the once-over and started shaking his head. “There’s no way you’re getting inside, sir. The Knickerbocker has a strict dress code.” My heart sank. You mean I had made this whole trip for nothing, simply because I wasn’t in “business attire”? And to be honest, I hadn’t even considered the idea of a dress code — I wasn’t brought up in the world of private social clubs!
Knowing that places like that sometimes do such things, I asked if I could borrow a coat & tie. No dice. With my jeans and sneakers — nice as they were — I was a hopeless case. I was really at a loss.
Meanwhile, all during this time, distinguished gentlemen and ladies were coming in and being ushered upstairs to the breakfast. Finally, it occurred to me to appeal to my contacts at the French-American Foundation, the folks who had invited me in the first place. Some quick calls were made, and the “host” came down to assist me.
Conversations were had, arrangements were made, and I was finally allowed upstairs. Two flights of marble staircases later, I was in the posh room where the event was being held. It was just like in the movies: elegant furniture, carved wooden bookcases filled with leather-bound books, oil paintings of club members — the whole nine yards.
I met the speaker, Romain Huret, and we laughed over the hullabaloo. It turned out he hadn’t been “properly dressed” either, and the club had loaned him a coat and tie. What was interesting to me was how out of place I actually felt. As I said, I was wearing a nice sweater, expensive black jeans, and stylish sneakers, but I stood out from the rest of the crowd like a sore thumb. I don’t remember being so self-conscious since that time back in San Francisco when Sari & I went to a “clothing optional” hot springs!
Apparently I had reason for being so insecure, because a moment later I was tapped on the shoulder. The apologetic host explained that the club really couldn’t allow me upstairs without at least a coat and tie. After all, if I break that rule, who knows what chaos could further ensue?
So down the stairs I went again, back to the entrance, where the “bouncer” presented me with a coat & tie. I explained that I wasn’t even wearing a collared shirt, but he assured me that “it’ll look good.” What it looked like was a Chippendales dancer, but once I took my sweater off, the ensemble almost blended together (if you ignored my neck poking out underneath the tie).
Thus attired, I made my back upstairs to the meeting room. The talk and breakfast ensued with no further disruptions. And at the end, the host and my pals from Villa Gillet enjoyed some laughs about the whole thing. It also turned out that I wasn’t the only interloper: every woman there was as well — the Knick is a men’s only club, and women are only allowed on the premises for "special occasions."
We even took some photos to commemorate the new style I had inaugurated.