Technically speaking I wasn’t officially kicked out. Let’s just say I was strongly encouraged to surrender my volunteer badge, Junior League apron, cookbook, exclusive not to be shared with the general and lesser public – JL phone directory and any claims and/or connections to the organization up to and including attendance at Junior League events and charity galas. It really was more like I was banned for life, which is not like being kicked out – right?
Okay, maybe it’s worse than simply being kicked out. In my defense, whatever I may have done, there never was any hard evidence to connect me to what can best be described as a work related technical error. I’d also like to say that I have nothing, but the highest regard for all the charitable work the Junior League does across the country. This is just one woman’s story, not a condemnation on any national volunteer organizations so please no e-mails telling me I suck.
My Junior League saga took place many, many, years ago when I was a mere 23 years old. It’s the story of a young woman, not of the dynamic, experienced, and vastly more mature individual that stands before you today. I was one year out of college, newly married, with almost all my wedding gift thank you notes written and starting a new job in a new city.
Life was good until the phone rang. It was my mother. She was all excited. She had just found out I had been invited to join the Junior League. I was less than thrilled. It had been only a year ago when I had completed my four-year sorority tour of duty. I had experienced heavy artillery in what, at times, can be a high-octane estrogen zone and was still suffering battle fatigue with frequent episodes of Post Dramatic Stress Disorder from a hand-to-hand combat experience where I had to separate two “sisters” from destroying each other after neither of them was chosen Sigma Alpha Epsilon princess. Each girl blamed the other for “spreading slutty rumors” that resulted in both of them not getting the “honor” of being fraternity royalty.
I thought I would get some time off before I had to head into those treacherous all female waters again. But no, my mother had other plans for me and it included carrying on her vast legion of volunteer work. At first I refused straight out. I didn’t have the time. I really didn’t have the money. I knew there would be dues and other fees. I wanted to focus on my career etc. She took my, “thanks, but no thanks” with grace, which should have been a clue that she wasn’t finished with the topic, just yet.
No more than 3 hours later my dad calls and informs me my mother is very “put out” with me and then he plunges the guilt knife in my heart and twists it – hard by saying, “ Would it be too much to do something that would make your mother happy?” Not finished with that knife just yet, he adds, “Besides it would be good for your job. The Junior League would be an excellent place to network and learn more about the city.”
Oh, hell, of course, I gave in and told my mother to mail me the letter and paperwork and I would join the Junior League in my new hometown.
One month later, August, I am officially a Junior League Provisional which is very much like being a pledge in a sorority. You have one year to learn about the Junior League while doing a series of volunteer or pre-placement rotations, going to weekly meetings, working long hours sorting through used clothing donations in the JL thrift store and doing grunt work on all their fundraisers. You even have a Provisional Leader (much like a sorority Pledge captain) except my sorority pledge captain was like the good witch in the Wizard of Oz and my Provisional leader was an angry, aggressive, Princess of Darkness with a chin length bob.
Her stuck in the air nose was supremely out of joint because over the years the Junior League had apparently dropped it’s stringent requirements for membership. According to Princess Provisional family background and breeding were no longer di riguer and “they were letting just about anybody in these days.” She mentioned several times, to all of us, that we were the first Provisional group that didn’t include one debutante, Jewel Ball Princess or a duchess of some kind of flower, food, plant or grain. (Excuse me that I didn’t know the pinnacle of a woman’s existence was being able to wear a sleeveless wedding gown, yank on some long white gloves that hit your elbows, very unflattering, I might add, and master a bow where your nose grazed the floor.)
I don’t know why, but she hated me from the start (that seems to happens to me a lot). It could have been because I stuck out like a sore thumb. In the provisional meetings if you asked someone, “What’s Wrong with This Picture?” they would have pointed at me – repeatedly and with vigor. Was it my fault I was the only one in my provisional group that seemed to really need to work to eat?
I was outclassed starting in the parking lot. This was the decade where everyone drove either those boxy BMW’s or the more boxy Volvo’s. I was driving a “vintage” (crappy) Kharmann Ghai that had seen better days. Yeah, that’s right, I’m the person that had to get out of my car to retrieve my fast food drive-thru order because my window had stopped rolling down 2 years ago.
I was also the person that would come to meetings sometimes with that not so fresh feeling. I was a news reporter which meant that, on occasions, due to time constraints, I would be forced to rush to my provisional meetings right after I had done a story on, say, a pipe failure at a wastewater treatment plant. I was packing some serious funk but you got “fined” when you missed a meeting so I had no recourse but to go reeking of well seasoned sewage. I would show up in my Gap clearance khakis, rumpled blazer and shoes that had traipsed through wastewater muck or God knows what else that day and walk into a sea of well-groomed, shiny haired, mani-pedi women.
I’m almost certain they usually would smell me before they actually saw me. Their heads would turn and give me the bitch diss. You know what I’m talking about – first they do a barely audible deep sigh, then slowly their head completes a one eighth rotation, accompanied by one arched eyebrow, and then the two-part eye movement that consists of part 1: A laser stare to get your attention followed by part 2: The “You are so beneath me” slow eye roll and finishes with an exhaling breathe as the head comes back to center.
I get it. I’m the freaky, unclean person who, depending on the news of the day, has to work in a non climate controlled environment. I did, though, to the best of my ability attempt to fulfill all my provisional requirements. Although, I felt I was volunteering in a hostile non-profit environment and my misery was, of course, all my mother’s fault.
I tried though not to feel too sorry for myself. In the city I grew up in the Junior League Provisionals had to do something incredible frightening. At their Charity Ball they were forced, into wearing goofy, if not at times, risque, costumes to the event. Everyone else shows up in an evening gown and the Provisionals are dressed as cartoon characters or worse. Then, and it’s a big then, the Provisionals are required to do a song and dance number! There, up on stage, are a group of women – attorneys, physicians, stock brokers, teachers, mothers, etc. dancing and in some cases going into a full straddle, an eager beaver, in front of an audience that was composed of their clients, patients, clergy and neighbors.
I’m relieved to share with you that not only does my hometown JL no longer make their Provisionals shake their groove thing, but the Charity Ball is also kaput. (Coincidence? I think not.) I consoled myself with that thought and made it through months 1,2, & 3. It also helped that our merry band of leaguers included a woman who was a scepter of death. She happily gabbed about which wealthy relative was going to die soon and leave her a boatload of cash.
Miss Death was so gleefully ghoulish that I couldn’t help, but look forward, a teeny bit, to the meetings. It was one, “She didn’t just say that? comment after another. I would greet her with not a “hello,” but, “So, attended any good funerals lately?” One time, she brought house remodeling plans A and B to our provisional meeting. Plan A was based on no imminent death of a relative. Plan B was relative deceased, will probated, after tax inheritance in bank account dream home.
Things didn’t get really bad until late November.
It was all hands on deck for the Junior League’s biggest fundraiser – The Christmas Festival. This is where for three days a convention center would be turned into a holiday market for shoppers. For the Provisionals it meant we had to work like peasants before the French Revolution. It started with decorating the convention center. My hands were bloodied after wiring wreaths, hanging garland and decorating Christmas tree after Christmas tree.
Sometimes if felt like I was the only one given the yucky jobs, like hauling trash to the dumpster and doing anything that involved a 12 foot ladder. You know how sometimes you feel like you’re imagining things, that someone doesn’t dislike you and you’re just being overly sensitive. Well, I had given myself that pep talk aplenty about Princess Provisional, but on hour 10 of my 13 hour shift during day 1 of the Christmas Festival my fears were proven well founded.
I had been hauling out more trash and I was bent over, my hands on my thighs, recovering from my jump shot that landed a gigantic bag of trash into the dumpster, when I heard two women make their way outside for a very unladylike smoke break. I had no plans to eavesdrop until I heard my name and then I cuddled close to the dumpster and perked up my ears.
Princess Provisional was talking about me so much I doubt she had time to inhale on her cigarette. According to her I was “N.J.L.M.” (Not Junior League Material). My family lineage was suspect. She “knew for sure I didn’t come from old money” and she had a big snorty laugh when she said she “doubted I came from any money at all.” My car was inferior. (Well, duh, on that one.) My grooming lackluster. My “leather goods questionable.” By that I’m guessing she didn’t approve of my navy polyester macrame purse from Stein Mart. Oh and on top on all those insults she admitted that while not trying to actually kill me (I knew all those assignments up a 12 foot ladder were death climbs) she was doing her “best to get me to drop out.” Not just me, but several other women she felt were undeserving of the Junior League.
Because I was 23-years-old I stayed in my dumpster huddle, nursed extreme hurt feelings and waited for her and her smoking buddy to go back inside. If that had happened today I would have shown my face and called her out. But, that doesn’t mean I didn’t plot a revenge scenario. I believe the ability to seek revenge is genetic. You’re either born with the defective DNA that requires you to go on a quest for retribution or you’re blessed with an easy-going nature that enables you to live your life each day by the Golden Rule. I was cursed with revenge DNA.
Day Two of the Christmas Festival I was scheduled to “volunteer” during the 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. shift. I showed up at noon to do my real job. I had talked my assignment editor at the T.V. station, where I worked, to do a little Vo/Sot on the Christmas festival. Vo/Sot stands for voice over/sound on tape. Which means the anchor reads a little ditty about the event over video of the festival. It then cuts to a quick interview and then back to anchor saying something like, “The Junior League Christmas Festival is open today and Saturday blah, blah.”
I arrive with my favorite photographer, shoot some video of the convention center and then go in search of an interview. Now, if I was being a good little reporter we should have interviewed the Junior League President about all the largesse the Christmas Festival does for the community. But no, I was being a scheming reporter, up to no good and so I grab Princess Provisional for an interview.
She, in a surprise to no one, eagerly agrees to have her smug face grace the airwaves. I clip a wireless microphone on her, ask her a couple of questions, barely listen to her, thank her, make a big deal about taking off her microphone and give my photographer $5 and tell him to get a muffin and something to drink in the “Holiday Tea Room.” He says, “What about the gear?
I tell him not to worry about it. “I’ll turn everything off, pack up and meet you at the van, in say, 20 minutes.”
He hauls off to find the tea room and I ask Princess Provisional if I could talk with her for just a second? She seems put off, like now that the interviews over she’s too good to be within 10 feet of me. I stand beside the camera and inform her that I heard the less than flattering comments she made about me yesterday. “Uh huh”, I tell her, “I was right by the dumpster during your whole witch tirade.”
“What did you hear?” she asked.
“I heard what you said about my family. What makes you think your any better than me? I mean your older than me, but that doesn’t make you better.”
As planned, hoped and prayed for that set her off. She begin gutting my family tree, telling me my college degree didn’t hide my “bumpkin background.” Oh, goodie, she was on a roll. To get her steamed up more I asked her, “Why the Junior League is for any woman who wants to learn how best to give back to her community. We’re all about service. It’s not about social standing. Right?”
She huffed, puffed, called me a “naive ass” and then did a very Queen of England stiff upper lip thing and walked away. I got the camera off the tripod, packed everything up and made my slow gear laden trudge to the news van.
When I got back to the station I wrote up the Vo/Sot and then went to edit her interview. Oops and then double oops because it seems although I had taken the microphone off the Provisional Princess, the camera and it’s microphone were still on and yikes it picked up everything she said. I guess catching that “interview” on camera made me a little distracted because I accidentally edited the sound-bite of the Provisional Princess ripping me a new one for being déclassé and not the interview where’s she talking about how “crucial community service is to growing a strong, vibrant city.” You can’t imagine what a stir it made on the 6 o’clock newscast when her interview hit the air!
I was in a lot of trouble – kind of. Our news director had to go through the motions of reprimanding me. But, I could tell he was pumped up over all the phone calls. Phone calls mean viewers and viewers mean ratings! Most, if not all, expressing outrage at that “bitch who doesn’t think her shit stinks.” I, personally, couldn’t have been more sorry about my technical error. I also pointed out to my boss that it might have been the edit systems fault. We had been having some problems with it and maybe the machine locked on the wrong edit entry point. Although, I did take full blame for not double checking the tape.
The Junior League, on the other hand, was not amused, at all, or so easily placated. They had, to put it nicely, taken a momentary image hit. I was summoned to the JL headquarters for a meeting where I was very politely and firmly asked to “reconsider my League commitment.” It seems I really wasn’t Junior League material after all and I couldn’t have been more okay with that.
P.S. The Provisional Princess – to this day remains a sustainer member in good standing with the Junior League. There really is no accounting for good taste.
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