LADUE, Mo. Kiki Williams, Cindy Steptoe and Marci Creighton are frustrated.
The three young housewives are up for membership in the Junior League chapter of this upscale suburb of St. Louis, but they’ve hit a wall in their quest to join the charitable organization that counts Laura Bush and four other former First Ladies among its members. The problem?
“We don’t have any poor people around here,” says Kiki, sporting a diamond ring so big she jokes that it broke her disposal when it fell down the drain of her kitchen sink.
“We have to help the disadvantaged,” says Marci, a perky brunette with blond highlights. “I thought ‘disadvantaged’ meant somebody whose Range Rover doesn’t have a heated steering wheel, but apparently national headquarters sets their standards a little higher–or lower.”
And so the three suburbanites are on a mission this morning. They climb into their respective SUV’s and hit the freeway into St. Louis looking for members of the downtrodden masses who can serve as the focal point of a project consistent with this year’s Junior League theme, “Social Activity as a Bridge to Work Force Re-Entry.”
Cindy is the first to get a “strike” as she pulls to a stop at the end of an off-ramp from Interstate 70. She spies three sleeping homeless men and rolls down her window.
“Excuse me!” she calls loudly but politely to the men, who shield their eyes from the sun. “Would you like to learn how to play contract bridge?”
One of the men yells “Get lost!” and rolls over to go back to sleep, but another sounds interested. “That might not be a bad idea,” says the man known only to his companions as “Ace.” “Both Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are big bridge players. You never know when you might get a chance to play a rubber with them, and it could lead to a job at Microsoft if you play your cards right,” he says with a smile of satisfaction at his unintended pun.
So Cindy hops out of her car, spreads a blanket from a Pottery Barn “retro” picnic set on the ground and, after pouring each of the men a glass of Vouvray–her favorite summer white wine–she deals the cards and gets down to work.
Meanwhile, outside a meatpacking plant, Marci spies a gang of men trying to pick the lock in the hope of finding some hot dog scraps to eat inside. “Hi guys!” she calls out with the same enthusiasm she brings to her children’s school plays and T-ball games. “Have any of you ever considered synchronized swimming?”
The men have scattered at the sound of her voice, but they slowly and cautiously reappear as the prospect of a cool swimming pool at an exclusive country club entices them out of hiding.
“You mean like in a Busby Berkeley movie?” asks Tyrone Williams, his eyes puffy from a crystal meth high the night before.
“Isn’t this better than sitting around drinking all day?”
“Um, I guess,” says Marci, who is a little weak on cinematic history. “I used to do it in college with the girls in my sorority,” she says.
“Which one?” Tyrone inquires with a note of suspicion in his voice.
“Kappa Alpha Theta!” she replies with pride.
Tyrone’s hardened face relaxes. “The first Greek-letter fraternity for women? Then you’re jake with me. C’mon fellas,” he calls out to his buddies, and they pile into Marci’s Chevrolet Tahoe for a morning of precision water fun at the Rolling Hills Country Club.
Kiki isn’t as fortunate as her friends this morning. As noontime approaches she has located only one prospect, an incoherent man with matted hair who claims he is “King of the Mississippi.” “Well, that’s something we have in common,” she notes. “I was a great admirer of Princess Diana, and I just love royal weddings and christenings.”
“WHY WON’T THE POPE STAY OUT OF MY BRAIN!” he yells at no one in particular, apparently in a dissociative state.
“Here,” Kiki says, reaching into her purse. “I find that needlepoint calms me down when I get too upset.” She pulls out a belt that she’s working on as a surprise birthday gift for her husband. “See–it’s got all his favorite golf courses on it. Winged Foot, Augusta National, Old Warson . . .”
“Pretty,” says the man as he eyes the colorful threads. “I don’t see The Country Club. You know–Brookline, Mass.?”
“The fairways are too short. The PGA won’t hold tournaments there any more.” Gauging his interest, she pounces. “Would you like me to make a belt for you?”
“Yes . . . yes. I like that,” he replies, obviously intrigued with the offer.
“Well, we’ll need to pick a theme.”
“Yes-something that means a lot to you.”
The man thinks for a while, then grumbles “Enemies.”
“FBI–CIA–Pope.” he says softly, as if to prevent his tormentors from overhearing him.
“Oh, I think we can come up with something more positive and upbeat than that! C’mon-put on your thinking cap!”
The man screws up his face as if in the throes of a difficult calculation, then brightens up. “Booze!” he says with a smile.
“That’s a good one!” Kiki says encouragingly. “Everyone enjoys cocktails.”
Two weeks later, the three women regroup to assess their accomplishments, and Kiki gives the King of the Mississippi her finished product; against the belt’s cream background she has sewn little bottles and cans of cheap, high-alcohol beverages including Colt .45 Malt Liquor and fortified “bum” wines such as Mogen David’s Mad Dog 20-20 and Gallo’s Thunderbird and Night Train brands.
Was the effort worth it, a reporter asks the housewives. “Absolutely,” says Cindy. “The Junior League is the most prestigious women’s club around!”
And how about the men? What, for example, did Tyrone Williams take away from the experience? “Well, a new-found love of synchronized swimming–and twelve place settings of Marci’s formal silver!”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Blurbs from the Burbs.”