Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Wrong Thing Society


It is New Year’s Day.  The national pastime today is for people, most of whom are sleep deprived and many suffering from hangovers or dangerously high levels of residual alcohol, to make vows of self-improvement.  I consider this a masochistic endeavor—at least it would be for me if I were to indulge in it.  I will not.  In fact, I think “I will not” should be the beginning of any vow one takes on a day like this.  And that those words should be followed by a list of activities one does out of a sense of guilt.

I went to Catholic school for seventeen years during which time I was steeped (brined, one might say) in a culture of doing the right thing and only the right thing.  Under a threat of eternal damnation, I might add.  In the sixteenth year of that experience, I was assigned to read T. H. White’s brilliant The Once and Future King as part of a course in Arthurian Legend.  At the beginning of the book, while Arthur is still a boy, Merlin turns him into different kinds of creatures so that he can learn life lessons.  One of the creatures is an ant.  As the ant/boy approaches the ant colony, he sees a sign over the entryway that says, “Everything that is not compulsory is forbidden.”  I recognized the sentiment at once.  I had been educated in rooms like that.

At some point in the late 1980’s, I noticed that several of my friends suffered from similar brainwashing, though none of them had spent even a minute under the thumb of a nun.  Something was up with my circle of comrades that needed a fix.  I suggested that our problem required a group effort.   I invited them to form a society dedicated to freeing ourselves from compulsively doing the right thing.

The Wrong Thing Society was born at a dinner party at my house.  Entering members were required to bring along a mattress or pillow tag that looked something like this, but at the time read only "Do not remove under penalty of law."  Knowing one another as we did, we needed evidence that each of us had already, at least once in our lives, done the wrong thing.



We turned the tags into membership cards.  We discussed the duties we would no longer perform, “nice” things we would no longer do.  We ate well and drank what would become our Society’s official beverage:



At our second meeting, on the 28th of November 1987, the founders welcomed our first international member and we signed a manifesto:



At that meeting, our host presented us with our logo:



Eventually, in 1993, we had our 1991 annual meeting.  We had hung banners in the dining room:


Here are the minutes for that meeting:






We could have kept the society going, but that would have been the right thing.

I will say only this in closing:  DOWN WITH NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS.

Annamaria Alfieri










27 comments:

  1. As soon as I read the line "worked for and with jerks", I remembered watching and recording a certain someone's appearance on the Oprah show! What fun it was actually seeing someone I actually knew on tv! That was one really Right Thing....but I'm with you on no New Year's resolutions! Happy New Year! (Judi)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Happy New Year to you, dear Judi. To All, Judi is the woman who took that picture of me that you see on this page. She is brilliant.

      Delete
  2. Hear, hear!
    For some reason I am reminded of a club my friend Stella Fisher and I formed in college, called the Society to Keep Culture Exclusive. We were against people who listened to recordings of individual opera arias without suffering through, er, I mean, experiencing the entire work. That was a totally wrong thing, I now feel, having given a number of operas a number of hours of my life that I'll never get back. If I could find Stella I'd probably turn in my membership card. The song to the Moon? Divine. Rusalka, the opera? Meh. I'd like to join your club, if you ever re-form.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kate, Send me a mattress tag and I will send you a membership card. If we ever meet again, you will be there.

      Delete
  3. This is wonderful. I have never known a resolution to work, unless it was something a person wanted to do anyway. I recall when those tags omitted the "by consumer only". We lived in fear every night, with flapping tags on the pillows under our heads.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Sheila and thanks so much for sharing and tweeting. BTW, have you noticed that your movie christmas list post got a stratospheric number of hits? BRAVISSIMA, amica mia!

      Delete
    2. I thought that was a mistake, that number. Some glitch. It was real??? Happy New Year! Hmm, guess I need to write more about movies, huh?

      Delete
    3. I feel a holiday tradition coming on. I HOPE. Martin Luther King day is next. Hint. Hint

      Delete
  4. OMG! You mean there ISN'T a Pillow Tag Inspector? My world just tilted. Thanks for this delightful bit of subversion and here's wishing you a happy, healthy, productive New Year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Jeanne. I wish the same for us all and hope seeing you at LCC will one of the benefits.

      Delete
  5. Happy memories! I still have my file for The Wrong Thing Society dated 1987. I have my membership tag (from a pillow) and The Un-solemn Oath - "As promulgated on Saturday, the 28th of November,1987 under suitably wrong-minded circumstances, at 109 State Street, Brooklyn, New York, U.S.A.". I remember when we inducted my sister Sheila Lyons, living in Geneva, Switzerland at that time, and she in turn signed up her friend Mme. Sylvia Nicolaier, living in Territet (nr. Geneva). It was
    such fun. I have a copy of the letter to Sylvia Nicolaier informing her that
    at our 1993 Annual Meeting on March 15th, 1994 we voted her in as a new
    member.
    Also, the official banner of our Society, I renamed "The Black Shmutah"!
    Wishing you and David, a healthy, happy, successful, and as always - a
    very creative New Year. Doris Travis, member in bad standing TWTS

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Doris, I am not sure how the other members would view us for dutifully filing all our mementos of TWTS. But I am glad we both still have them to laugh over.

      Delete
  6. I love it! The society may be no longer in formal existence, but I'm waving my pillow tag and signing on to the manifesto!

    ReplyDelete
  7. You are accepted. We will let you know if we ever call a meeting. In the meanwhile, our monthly newsletters may arrived every year are two.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You said it, Annamaria! Yet, today I went into the office for 3 hours to draft legal papers. I'd managed to avoid this unpleasantness for one year and 20 days; just 10 days remained before they'd be barred and I'd be spanked by the Appellate Division. Reason my nerve failed was the phone call yesterday from an Upstate jail from my old client (I think he just wanted to hear a non-accusatory voice). The papers were the Notice of Appeal from his last burglary conviction. I fear he'll need all his paper ducks in a row to offset his dim prospects. Don't they say what you're doing on New Years you'll be doing the rest of the year? Christ, I hope not!

      Delete
    2. Robert, I hope not too. Otherwise I will spend the coming year paying bills, organizing myself to do boring things, and cooking sausages and lentils. We can do a whole lot better than that!

      Delete
    3. Cooking sausage and lentils? That's worth continuing beyond 2014, something to build a career on. Bob

      Delete
  8. As a recovering Catholic, I applaud the courage of the founding members and all who shall come in the future. I know what it took to get those membership cards freed from their plush owners. The hesitation, the unmopped brows. What liberation! *runs through the house with scissors searching for pillows*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Corinne, I am sure we went to different schools together. I love the term "recovering Catholic." We have to force ourselves not to obey our inner voices that sound like Sister Mary Agnes. Courage, fellow traveler. Liberation, indeed!

      Delete
    2. Yes, I felt the depth of our connection immediately, and felt guilty instantly! After the "brining" of my youth, as you so aptly put it, there is no way to wash it all away. One can only strive to claim recovery as a means of explanation. Cheers, friend. Happy 2014.

      Delete
  9. Replies
    1. Stan, I figure this sort of thing is right up your street, Chassagne and all.

      Delete
  10. Amazing! I grew up sort of crushed between Christian Scientists and fundamentalists. I tried to take comfort in knowing that no matter what I did it wasn't the right thing. If the Wrong Thing Society had existed during my childhood my life would have been much easier. And, yes, I spent a lot of time wondering about those pillow tags. My question always had to do with the speed of retribution. Would someone come immediately to take me away or would it happen after a certain lapse of time? And then there was always the threat that was a feature of my school years: It will go on your PERMANENT RECORD! Is there a statute of limitations on that?
    Is the Wrong Thing Society fielding any political candidates anytime soon?

    Steph

    ReplyDelete
  11. Steph, considering how sanctimonious the House of Representatives has gotten, morphing TWTS into political party might be just the right antidote.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Annamaria, I read this over a couple of times, as the premise, though entertaining, was different from my own life experiences when younger . .. When I was a child, Catholics were those women in black robes walking in twos on the street. I don't think I ever knew, in the various public schools in Mass, PA, N.C. or Va, who was what religion. It just never came up. But I did get a vivid indoctrination at the Campbell College Baptist school in Buie's Creek, NC, where I attended the 8th grade only. There even the walls were Baptists! ( Except me - I was vaguely a Methodist then. )On Sunday nights, the boys, never knew why only the boys, came to my room at bedtime - it was all very up and up - and made me kneel on the floor and confess my sins and tell all the good things I would do henceforth as a good Christian! Now, these were teen age boys - all good looking - and 17 or 18 - and I was about 12!!! So, I thought they were just wonderful!!! So, of course, I took it all quite seriously! Now, about a thousand years later, I see it for what it was... but at that time it was the Lord speaking through those handsome boys! So, I have never thought about revolting against good deeds or resolutions... -- but it never made me negative in those far off days and that experience seems now like another planet. And I, being actually a simple kinda gal, do try to make and keep a few resolutions whenh the calendar page tirned to 1-1 each year. tjs

      Delete
  12. Thelma, if at the age of twelve such a thing had happened to me, I might now be making New Year's resolutions too. NEVER in the history of Catholic School have handsome 17-year-old boys been sent to the bedrooms of 12-tear-old girls to hear their confessions. In my Catholic women's college, when my father wanted to help me hang curtains in my room, he had to be accompanied by a nun. See what I mean.

    ReplyDelete
  13. What a wonderful world... as the song goes... how we are all so different and yet so alike ... we are the human variations of the beloved dogs and cats and birds and horses and dolphins and shrimp... and, yes, as I saw on TV, the sloths, who were really cute - and playful! What a Creator!!!! tjs

    ReplyDelete