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I walked down 44th Street wondering if a Harvard Club could possibly be anything but a granfalloon after all. As Vonnegut says, a granfalloon is "A seeming team that is meaningless in terms of the way God gets things done"-like all the people from Indiana or the International Order of Odd Fellows or Leverett House. And if the Harvard Club were a granfalloon, would I be able to recognize it, let alone photograph it. "If you wish to study a granfalloon," continues Vonnegut, "just remove the skin of a toy balloon."
Recognizing the place was surprisingly easy. The awning above the entrance to the club is crimson. Inside, the carpet is crimson, the chairs are crimson, the lamps are crimson.
Excuse me, young lady, I believe you must be looking for the Cambridge Rooms; ladies don't use this entrance." I explained. Everyone was polite. Mr. Stack, the Club's General Manager, assured the doorman that I was expected, and offered me a tour of the parts of the club I might not have seen before.
The ground floor dining area was beginning to fill with lunching businessmen as Mr. Stack guided me to Harvard Hall, the main lounge. The decor was more "Harvard" than Harvard, and the men were a part of it. Dignity. Civility. White-haired men in baggy suits sat under framed images of themselves, while younger men stood expressionless in front of a TV screen which flashed silent, gray reports from the New York Stock Exchange. A granfalloon indeed. Each man reading his newspaper, comfortable in being alone with others like himself.
Meanwhile, Mr. Stack fed me statistics. 7600 members. Lunch served to 700 to 800 daily. Liquor inventory of $40,000, including 75 varieties of wine. 1000 pop-overs baked each day. 250 squash-players per month. I asked if I could see the squash courts. Mr. Stack bent down and replied in a quiet voice that it wouldn't be possible for me to go upstairs because the men would be in their... um... you know, birthday suits.
Birthday suits in their closets along with their black suits and brown suits and navy blue suits? Perhaps, I could see where the popovers were made instead?
Mr. Stack left to answer the phone so I wandered by myself, explaining every few steps that I was "authorized," and that there had been girls on the CRIMSON for several years now.
As I was about to leave, a man called me over to his table, and I began my explanation, defensively, before his question.
"It's all right," he answered, "Just be nice to me, will you? Be nice."
I was trying very hard to be nice.
It would be so easy to show the Harvard Club as several hundred men in dark suits. On the day I was there, it seemed to be true.
A granfalloon is apt to have its uniform. But somewhere, invisible to the intruder, some men wore birthday suits.
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