There’s a quote from Groucho Marx that goes something like this, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member". The exact wording is lost to time and there are different versions quoted, even from his own family. I have thought about this quote regularly over the past couple of years. Here is why.
Way back when I started riding a motorcycle there was a local chapter of ABATE in our area. I spoke to my husband about them and even reached out to speak with one of their members about it. The club raised funds through rides and other events and then donated those funds to local charities. They were not one of what is called a 1% club (like any of the notorious or infamous heavy-duty biker clubs you can name). We went to a meeting and decided to join.
Years passed and the club went through lots of changes, but we stuck with it. Eventually my husband decided to stop renewing his membership and just went to events with me. I served in various capacities of the executive of the club, from secretary, to treasurer, to sergeant at arms, to vice-president, and finally president of my local chapter. Also through the years the participants changed as well.
Then the pandemic struck.
This happened during my term as president. People were leery of gathering and then our treasurer died of a heart attack. He was such a vibrant, in-your-face kind of guy that it hit us all pretty hard. Once we were able to gather in limited numbers again, we met and our small chapter pretty much fell apart. Three members asked if they could join another chapter; one moved to another country; one left the club entirely; and then our founding father of the whole thing here in Ontario passed away. He had been a member of our chapter as well.
These events of themselves shouldn’t have been what caused the closure of our chapter. Back in the day the other founding father’s chapter suffered serious loss of members and other chapters essentially donated members to them until they were able to fill out in numbers again. I thought something similar would have happened to my chapter, but no, unfortunately, I was wrong.
What had happened was that there had been a member a several years back who became president of the provincial body, with his wife as treasurer. You guessed it. They stole thousands (likely tens of thousands) from the provincial club (of which each chapter was a member). Those two had been in my chapter years ago and when we figured out what was happening, we tried to get them ousted from the club without success. What we did do was to oust them from our chapter. Somehow this didn’t get them kicked out either. In fact, both retained their positions on the provincial council. This started their whole…vendetta – for lack of a better word – against us. Suddenly my chapter became pariahs.
In an attempt to get them off the provincial council, some of us ran against them in provincial elections. No luck. Not only that, but the wife started rumours about those of us (like me) who were running for provincial seats. As I was running for treasurer, the rumour she started about me was that I was a thief, stealing money from the club. Eventually, as you’d expect, the truth about them came out in an unexpected way and when confronted over it, they got belligerent and basically ran from the meeting, shouting and denying all the way. Unfortunately for them there was proof.
Unfortunately for me they had friends who they owed money to. Yes, aside from stealing from the club, they had also heavily borrowed from friends and acquaintances as much as possible. The husband had been in a car accident and unable to work for a while. They went to court but it took a couple of years. I hated how the treated me because I’d been one of the people helping them. I didn’t have any money, but I did assist with writing their victim impact statements – and I write a darn good letter, if I do say so myself. They borrowed thousands from anyone who had money to lend them with the promise that they would pay it back when their case was settled.
Once this shit hit the fan, I wasn’t surprised to learn they had not repaid anyone. In fact, they were still telling people they would pay when they got a settlement. Now, after having worked for lawyers for many years, I knew that a settlement follows soon after the victim impact statements are presented. I also knew from when I helped them with their victim impact statements in November that they were going to be in court in late January. So almost two years after my helping them with their impact statements, they were finally ousted after being caught in their lies. Oddly enough, people were still believing their lies about a settlement, even after they were proven as liars with the club’s money. Because of my work on their statements, I also knew who the plaintiff was in the case. Armed with their names and approximate court date, I called the local courts for each of the two counties where it might have been heard and I tracked down the court where the case was registered. It just so happened that the clerk I spoke to had the file handy for some reason and told me that the case was settled out of court on something like January 21st of the year I had figured. I’m not sure what you know about courts, but when something is settled out of court, the exact details of such a settlement remain private and not part of the public record.
Now I was able to tell people the exact date that their settlement had been reached. It was about 18 or 19 months before we finally ousted them from the club. They had received settlement, but had not paid anyone back. Not even close friends. No one. Stupidly, their so-called close friends somehow decided I was to blame. The husband friend had become the provincial club’s president and his wife was membership clerk. So after I had to disband my now non-existent chapter, I approached another club to be a member with them and they were happy to have a 19-year life member join them. At the next provincial meeting their chapter president announced that I would be joining them and this membership clerk told them I could not join any chapter. She basically blackballed me and nobody said a word. It was completely against club rules. She was making it up. I had done nothing to harm the club. She had (has) a personal problem with me.
So in the year and a half since that happened I have pondered why I still want to be a member of a club where apparently I’m not wanted. And that is why I’m often thinking about that fantastic quote from good ol’ Groucho.