Tuesday night I went to an event celebrating the release of Rebecca Solnit's new book, The Faraway Nearby. As I have previously mentioned, I was a bit of a poser, having read only half of one book by Rebecca Solnit (who has written a startling number of books), but I like the half of the book I've read and I did buy the new book, so I think I'm in the clear. I was motivated to attend largely because of the event's being held at the Elk's Club, a thing I didn't know existed. Well, I mean, I knew the Elk's Club existed in general, but I didn't know that there was a historic club site on the third floor of a downtown hotel (a hotel, I think it bears mentioning, that has a little settee in the elevator, in case you get tuckered out on your way twelve floors up to the top). The Elk's Club itself has a very high and rather ornate wooden ceiling, a bar, a chiming grandfather clock, and several mounted elk heads. I am told that, on another floor, it also has a salt-water pool and a steam room. I'm willing to believe it.
The woman at the door seemed a little harried. Perhaps they do not usually host events for so many non-members. She called out, "Are there any Elks? Are there any Elks in the line?" In any other circumstances, this query would have marked her as either crazy or possessed of a tediously zany sense of humor. She was decidedly neither zany nor crazy. She took her job very seriously indeed and it was clear that no legitimate Elk was going to be inconvenienced by a lot of literary riffraff on her watch. As it happened, there were no Elks in the line, so we shuffled forward and signed the register under her scowling supervision. "The ladies' room is across the lobby." she said. She said it several times, in fact. A woman behind me asked the question that was in my own mind, "Do we have to go there?" The doorkeeper looked at her like she was insane. "Well, if you have to use the restroom..." Oh. Well, sheesh. What do we know about the Elk's Club? It did not seem at all implausible that ladies were forbidden in the main bar. In case you were worried about that, I am here to tell you that women are allowed to roam free. Indeed, there are a goodly number of women Elks. Or is that Elk?
Under the (mistaken) impression that I was meant to dress up for the event, I brought shoes that I can barely walk in and changed into them in the lobby downstairs. I regretted it immediately. Not only was I overdressed, but it proved to be a milling-around sort of gathering, not a sit-in-your-seat sort of gathering. Ah well. At least it's fun to be briefly promoted from tall to very tall. When the author did at last read from the new book, she read a small piece about an artist who had painfully encased her feet in elaborate ice shoes, waiting for them to melt and liberate her. This feminist evocation of Cinderella is interesting to contemplate, particularly if, when you first hear about it, you are not wearing agonizing shoes because you thought they'd make you look better, even though few people look better when wincing. There's probably a moral there somewhere.
I opted not to share any of my shoe-related foot and/or existential difficulties with Rebecca Solnit herself, whose vast intelligence and somewhat regal demeanor make her quite intimidating. Additionally, she is very enthusiastic about absinthe, which she had requested be served by the distillery sponsor, thereby creating an uncrossable chasm between us. Unable to bond with her on over spirits or footwear, I never spoke to her at all. But I did admire her and her impressive brain from a distance.
After the reading, when the absinthe tasting was ramping up and someone inquired whether I was expecting (a question to which I nearly responded "Expecting what?" before it dawned on me what that question means when asked of a woman. The answer is no. But thanks. Women who aren't pregnant LOVE to be asked that question. Cue: body image crisis.) I thought it was time to go. I hobbled to the elevator where I valiantly declined to use the settee for the three-story journey. Arriving safely at the lobby, I lurched toward one of is many sofas, stashed the heels in my bag, slipped into my flats, and walked back out into real life.