The French Club in San Francisco, where wealthy men eat, drink, and smoke cigars. Perfect spot for a teetotaling, mostly vegan, meditator like me. Why do you go? You might ask. I probably shouldn’t, but I’ve never been one of those righteous, vegan, meditation people, the kind who constantly judge others. I have a close friend who’s a member of the club and usually go when he invites me, maybe three times a year.
I went last Friday for lunch. Daytime at the French Club is jacket, no tie, with no women allowed. The elevator opens on the 8th floor, a large black and white photo of Paris greets us, followed by image after image of tuxedoed men with contented smiles, leisurely cradling drinks. Over a hundred years old, the club is a throwback to a time when genders were separated. Tall men, big men, greet me, shake my hand firmly, ask about my family. Cocktails before lunch, white wine, rum, vodka tonic, whatever you want. I opt for a sparkling water. I always opt for some version of water. Tap water, still water, water with ice, bubbly water.
All the members bring expensive wine bottles to share at the meal. I sit down at the main table, ten empty glasses greet me, five for whites, five for reds, like crystal ships waiting to transport me away for the afternoon. The servers come around with the white wines. I’m not drinking today, I say, as they are about to pour, a half second of awkwardness, like telling someone I have four toes. The glasses fill up around the table, about 24 other men, and me the lone dry guy. Conversation starts out like trading baseball cards, my Pacific Heights home, your golf game, my Master’s from Dartmouth, your daughter about to get married in Lake Como. After the lobster risotto the wine has softened the men up, they circulate around the table, grab shoulders, laugh more freely. Then comes pheasant on a bed of potato puree and carrots, the red wines flow.
I’m surrounded by swirling pinots, burgundies, sipped, caressed, quaffed. The younger me would have looked for conversation, inserted talking into the scene, but I now know I have nothing to say. Instead, I find my breath and start meditating. Short inhales at first, my stomach a bit too full. But after about a minute, I’m back in me. I sit for quiet seconds there, my eyes open, focused on the sun’s light coming through the window.
Eventually the chocolate flourless cake arrives to end my meditation. I take slow bites, listen to the buzzed euphoria of the room. I wonder if they are all happy, really happy underneath the food and booze, but then I let them be, focus on my breath again.