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Mensans Prove to Be Smart Enough to Have Fun

November 10, 1986|SYLVIA TOWNSEND

"Make my car an eyesore," John Olsen seemed to be saying.

Eight people surrounded a 1977 Datsun 200SX, spray painting blotches, streaks and stencils in gaudy colors.

For a "totally garish" effect, Alan Schwartz produced stencils of copper doilies over a fluorescent green background on the trunk.

Allen Doum stenciled pink sunglasses, a pistol, a half-moon and a palm tree over the baby-blue right fender in a "Miami Vice motif."

On the right rear quarter panel, Eric Halasz sprayed streaks of black over yellow and teal blue over baby blue for a "sick" appearance.

These gleeful car painters were not vandals: They were members of the Orange County chapter of Mensa, the high IQ society, just trying to have fun.

Many local Mensans say they have been incorrectly stereotyped as stuffy intellectuals.

Yes, they do gather in informal "special interest groups" for classical musicales and discussions of 18th-Century literature, and, on occasion, they do discuss politics, religion and psychology.

Tell Bad Jokes

But other times they get together to bowl, play miniature golf and listen to rock 'n' roll, or to talk about baseball and television and to tell bad jokes.

"In the beginning, I thought we were going to discourse on Plato or elaborate on the epistemological implications of Immanuel Kant's 'Critique of Pure Reason,' " said Halasz, an electromagnetic-effects test engineer who leads a Mensa comedy group. "But people in Mensa are people--we go to Camelot (Golfland) to play miniature golf."

"People have certain misconceptions that Mensans are nerds or ex-nerds who sit around and discuss serious literature and scientific breakthroughs," said Steve Pastis, who publishes a Greek-American newspaper and leads a Mensa bowling group.

Bowling, comedy and some 40 other special interest groups are integral parts of Orange County Mensa, which became independent from the Los Angeles chapter in 1980. Orange County Mensa has 1,200 members, making it the 10th largest of 140 chapters in the country. To join, members must score in the top two percentiles on a standard IQ test.

Mensa, which means table in Latin, was founded in Oxford, England, in 1946 to "throw out ideas on a table" and to socialize.

Savvy to Have Fun

When socializing, Mensans have the savvy to have fun. Sometimes they even indulge in sheer nonsense.

David Schlinkert, an operations analyst for an aerospace company, recently encouraged guests to wear loud clothes to a get-together at his home featuring loud rock 'n' roll.

Schlinkert dressed for the occasion in an orange, purple and yellow tie, red shirt, a red, white and blue vest, orange slacks, a turquoise belt and red shoes. A woman guest wore a hat topped with fake birds, a purple, green and gold paisley dress and combat boots.

Thus attired, guests danced to the blare of Frank Zappa and Led Zeppelin.

At less raucous chocolate lovers' gatherings, participants eat and talk. "We don't talk about the chemistry of chocolate," said Barry Stone, a CPA who heads the group. Instead, as they munch away they extol mousses, brownies, cakes and candies they have brought, Stone said. Once they watched a videotape of "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

Funny Movies

Funny movies, as well as records, attract Mensans to the comedy group. Halasz said he started the group because he likes jokes, and he'll tell a bad one to anyone who will listen. (Where would you find a turtle with no legs? The same place you left it.)

But Halasz gets more laughs when he shows Mensans videotapes of the Three Stooges or Marx Brothers movies and plays Bill Cosby and Monty Python records.

One evening, about 80 Mensans showed up for a "kiddie" comedy party, Halasz said.

They watched Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry and Mr. Magoo cartoons while eating peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and cereal out of the box and drinking milk and Kool-Aid.

Some Mensans enjoy ordinary physical activities such as bowling--accompanied by traditional beer drinking, of course.

On a recent outing to lanes in Santa Ana, several members showed up to find that group leader Pastis had neglected to make reservations. As members glowered at him, Pastis grinned sheepishly and offered to buy a round of brew while they waited.

Racking Up Scores

A lane soon opened up, and while racking up scores from 106 to 148 they cheered, kidded one another and joked.

"Do you know what '60 Minutes' and grandmothers have in common?" Halasz asked. "They both go 'tch, tch, tch.' "

Mensans really let their hair down when doing something downright silly--like decorating Olsen's car.

"Gotta paint!" three Mensans enthusiastically sang to the tune of "Gotta Dance." When Schwartz and Olsen quibbled over stenciling techniques, Halasz scolded them. "What am I doing?" Olsen suddenly cried, whirling away from the car and clutching his head. "Rationality came over me and I realize I'm doing something insane."

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