How I Joined Mensa

I started with the phone book. Looking up "mensa" was not going to be easy, what with having to follow the strict alphabetizing rules that are so common nowadays. I prefer a softer, more fuzzy alphabetizing scheme, one that allows the mind to float free and "happen" upon the word. There is pride in that. The dictionary is a perfect example of over-alphabetization, with its harsh rules and every little words neatly in place. It almost makes me never want to eat again.

Joining Mensa means that you are a genius, and enables you to meet other members who will undrestand what the hell you are talking about when you say, for example, "That lamppost is tawdry." That's the kind of person they're after. Joining Mensa instills in one a courtly benevolence toward nonmembers, who would pretend to know what you know, think what you think, and stultify what you perambulate.

I worried about the arbitrary 132 cut-off point, until I met someone with an I.Q. of 131 and, honestly, he was a bit slow on the uptake.

I gave up on the phone book, which led me astray time and again with its complex passages, and then tried blind calling with no success. Next, 1-800-MENSA, which weirdly brought dead silence on the other end of the phone. A week later while volksvalking, I realized that "Mensa" didn't contain enough numerals to be a phone number, and knew it must be understood that any future member would be able to figure out the next two digits in the sequence. I tried dialling MENSANE, MENSAIL, MENSAFE, and MENSAAB, but got three rebuffs and a fax tone.

So it was neither rhyme nor reasone that I stumbled into a party in my building when I inverted my floor number and got off at 21 instead of 12. Entering the party, I flipped back the Oushak rug and counted the knots per square inch. These people had money. I heard snippets of conversation: words like "feldspar" and "euonym" filled the air. In the corner, a lone piper played a dirge. Instantly, I knew where I was. This was a Mensa party.

That's when I saw Lola. She had hair the color of rust and a body the shape of a Doric column - the earlier ones, pre-invasion. She walked across the room carrying one of those rum drinks, slid herself onto the blue velveteen sofa, and endearingly poked herself in the face with her straw when she missed her mouth. If she truly was Mensa, she would have no problem with my introduction: "Please don't relegate me to a faraway lea," I ventured.

"I can see you've read Goethe, the Snooky Lanson translations," she countered. "Lozenge?"

I was putting her at around 140. Her look told me she was pegging me in the low 120s. My goal was to elevate her assessment and wangle a Mensa membership from out of her. Taking a hint from the soap operas, I talked to her with my back turned while staring out a window: "Wouldn't you rather parse than do anything?"

"Hail Xiaoping, the Chinese Goddess of Song," she rejoined. Lola then engaged in some verbal sparring that left me reeling. "This is quite an impressive apartment," she offered.

I saw a dictionary on its stand. O, how I longed to run to it and look up "impressive"! How I wanted to retort in Mensa-ese! But it was my turn, and I spoke: "I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult." I threw my head back, laughing, coughed out my lozenge, and watched it nestle into the Oushak. She asked me my name. "Call me Dor," I said. Later, I realized I'd meant Rod.

Lola and I sat and talked through the night. After the party, I held her and whispered, "I love that you're in Mensa." She whispered back, "I love that you're in Mensa, too." My temperature dropped to arctic. She told me her phone number, but, since it was all sevens, I couldn't remember it.

Most things one wants in life come when they are no longer needed. My membership was awarded exactly one year later, when I applied and became an honorary mensa "plaything." I sold my refrigerator and with the money went on a Mensa love-boat trip to Bermuda. Embarking, I saw a woman standing aft, her back to me, slightly bent over a railing, looking very much the way a Doric column would look if it were bent over a railing. She turned and saw me, and I again saw my Lola. It was as though nothing had changed in a year, because we were both wearing the same things we wore on that night, still unwashed. She spoke: "Long time no see, Dor."

I corrected her, gaining the upper hand: "My name's not Dor."

"What is it?"

"It will come to me."

"Would you like to take a walk on the boatdeck?" she asked.

Boatdeck? Where is the damn dictionary when you need it.

She spoke: "I have only two years to live. Let's enjoy them while we slaver."

"Then slaver we shall, slaver we shall." I took her hand, and we turned eastward, toward the setting sun. "And, by the way, my name is Ord."

 How I Joined Mensa

July 21, 1997
The New Yorker
By Steve Martin


© November 2000 English on the Internet