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Men's Clubs Becoming Just a Part of the Past? : Limited-membership groups are finding that age, time and competition impose limits of their own.

January 13, 1994|WENDY MILLER | Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

Recently, my 6-year-old and his friend started speaking a new language.

"It sounds Asian," I told my husband.

Now, my son is a terrific kid who goes to a terrific school and has a terrific teacher and a terrific friend. But even I, his greatest fan and most fervent admirer, would find it an impossible notion that my youngest child had gone and taught himself Japanese.

What he and his best pal were engaged in was something that males, formally and informally, have been doing for centuries: creating a limited-membership social order with its own language, rules and, sometimes, eccentric look. In other words, a fraternal organization.

And, as we all know, this isn't something just for youngsters. Men of all ages have traditionally felt the need to hang with one another, just as women have always sought out the company of other women.

"Guys have always liked to sit around, smoke nasty old cigars, tell dirty stories and itch where it scratches," said Pancho Doll, who wrote this week's cover story.

At least, they used to.

According to Doll, attrition and fewer men rushing to sign up are grievously affecting many local organizations.

I guess nowadays there are fewer people, male or female, who want to be in the room with stinky cigars, rude scratchers or socially incorrect jokes. Or is it simply that for many men the clubs have outgrown their usefulness?

"Many of these organizations began in a time when consumer protection and product warranties were unheard of," Doll said. "So your brother Mason or Elk was a reliable source of goods and services. You saw him every week at the lodge, so there was accountability there."

And nowadays, we not only have the warranties, we have the products that go with them--TVs, VCRs, compact discs--all the things we associate with home entertainment.

"The result is that now we're getting less of our entertainment in the form of face-to-face contact," said Doll. "All of our electronic stuff has supplanted old-fashioned conversation."

The most important factors explaining the waning interest in many clubs may be social and economic, judging by the success of Moose International Inc. That organization is reaching out to families, not just their senior male members, and is growing both nationally and locally.

"Shared parenting and two-income families have changed our patterns of association," said Doll. "Now guys put on a funny hat for the kid's birthday party."

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