I've done my fair share of joking about dipshit society folks here at Gawker, but it would be disingenuous of me to rip on teenage social climbers, sorority rush coaches, and Gatsbabies without first disclosing my own strange encounter with with the New York Society of Mayflower Descendants.
Back in 1998, my father got hooked on genealogy. He bought a bunch of genealogy software and traveled to random-ass small towns around the area, scouring old newspapers and town bulletins to find lost ancestors. I'm convinced that people get into genealogy for three reasons. ONE: They want to be able to claim that they're descendants of royalty. TWO: They want to find a rich-as-balls relative whose estate they can make a claim to. THREE: They want to know if they have any surprise ethnicity in their family. ("Holy shit, I'm 1/64th Egyptian!") As my Dad pored over old county records and took down names, he found no royalty, no billionaire uncles, nor any surprise black relatives. But he did manage to trace certain branches of the family all the way back to the Mayflower. And if you can offer definitive proof that you're a Mayflower descendant, well then the New York Society of Mayflower Descendants awaits you with open arms (provided you pay the $125 application fee).
I would argue that any white person with ties to the Northeast can probably find their way back to the Mayflower somehow. Surely, your eighth cousin's great-great-great-aunt's cousin's bootblack had a brother who made the journey. The Society itself says that tens of millions of us have ties the ship. It's no great personal distinction to be a Mayflower descendant. If anything, it just makes you more white than you already are, and most white people are white enough already. You can also debate the inappropriateness of celebrating your ties the Plymouth Colony, a venture that involved slavery and marked a historical milestone in the end of Native American civilization. But no matter, my dad signed up for the Society anyway.
Now, the Mayflower Society's big annual event is their debutante ball, held every November at the University Club. According to the Society's website:
232 debutantes from many different state Societies have been presented and the event remains a highlight of the social season in New York. Guests are treated to a gourmet dinner and the music of the Alex Donner Orchestra.
My parents thought it would be fun to go and see what it was all about. I was not so enthusiastic. But then my dad told me there was an open bar, so I changed my mind. I borrowed a tux and brought my then-girlfriend with me to tag along. My ex-girlfriend was a compulsive liar and social climber who disliked Jews and was prone to violent mood swings. I offer no excuse for dating her except for the fact that I really, really needed a girlfriend at the time. Since the Ball is, according to the Society, "a highlight of the social season in New York" (social season is my FAVORITE season), she couldn't have been more excited to attend.
I had never been to a Debutante Ball before, mostly because they're INSANE and because I had not magically teleported to 1951 at any time in my childhood. However, it will comfort you to know that even way back in the late '90s, the Times was still doing absurd societal trend pieces, like one in which they declared, "being a debutante is back." I have no idea if this still holds true (surely a Gatsbaby can clue me in). All I can say is that if you're ever invited to one of these things, GO. Go and marvel at the surreality of it. It's like a horror movie. You can barely look at it, and yet you must.
We arrived at the University Club—one of those posh city clubs where rich men go to smoke cigars in expansive private libraries—and the debutantes were already lined up in formation at the top of the staircase, each one wearing long white gloves that went past the elbow, and they said hello to every single man in attendance with the same rehearsed greeting. I was tempted to see if any of them had ON/OFF switches nestled in their backs, but I declined. Once downstairs, we were treated to a dinner of lukewarm steak and cold twice-baked potatoes. Then the President of the Society strolled to the podium and told it was time for the recital of the Mayflower Compact. He then invited the eldest member of the Society to read the passage out loud. At the back of the room a thousand-year-old man with double hearing aids, a walker, and an oxygen tank caddy attached to him got up and made his way to the front of the room. It took him 15 minutes to get to the podium. It took him three times as long to read the Compact:
In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, defender of the Faith, etc.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.
In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.
He stopped every fourth word to cough his brains out. I was shocked he didn't drop dead on the spot. My ex-girlfriend ate that shit up. They suspended drink service during the reading of the pledge and I became crazed for alcohol. Once it was over, I ordered two drinks and drank both in alternate sips. Then they introduced the debutantes one by one, with each girl descending the staircase to a smattering of applause. They were like auction items being trotted out for bidding. I wanted to kidnap each one and take them to the Carriage House for Bud Light pitchers and wings. It all felt so wrong.
After the Ball was over, all of the "young people" retired to the bar at the Royalton for an after party, because of course they did. I think I paid $17 for a beer. I'm not sure. I just wanted to take my shoes off, really. I dragged myself home shitfaced after fighting with the ex-girlfriend (we broke up months later) and watched porn. The next day, my mom called me:
MOM: What'd you think of the Ball?
ME: Don't ever make me do that again.
MOM: It was kinda weird, wasn't it?
ME: Yes. It was.
MOM: I don't think we'll go back.
ME: Promise me you and Dad won't.
And they didn't. That Ball marked the first and last time I ever participated in the New York social season, and there's a certain comfort to be had in going to something that pretentious and bizarre and knowing that you're not into it. That you're not one of those people. Of course, I'm certain I wasn't the only person there to feel that way. I'm sure everyone thinks they're the lone punk at whatever dipshit social gathering they attend. You might be one of those people whether you like it or not, but I'll be goddamned if I ever go again to try to find out.