The popular press tends to assert several fixed ideas about Mensa. One is that the society is populated by egocentrics who spend their time telling each other how smart they are; another is that Mensa members typically lack commonsense skills—“they think they’re smart, but look at the stupid things they do.” Neither of these preconceptions squares with my 25 years experience in Mensa. At a Mensa party your high IQ is only average, so there is no payoff in talking about it; and the members seem to cope with life about as well as any other group.
Mensa members are good at processing information; they like to talk and they like to learn. This makes for good parties. Attempts to engage Mensa in other activities, such as problem-solving, have never thrived. But the members enjoy getting together, with or without a preset topic, just to kick the intellectual ball around. Because intelligence is their only common ground, Mensans vary widely in values and lifestyles. My acquaintances in the club have run from prostitutes and prison inmates to ministers and bankers. You can never tell who you’ll run into at a Mensa party, but you know you’ll be able to communicate with whoever you meet.
Mensa has a fairly simple organization. There is an international office in London and a U.S. office in New York, as well as a local chapter that covers the San Francisco Bay Area. This structure has three basic duties: to attract and qualify new members, maintain the membership list, and publish newsletters that help Mensans get in touch with one another. The club throws a few parties itself, but most activities comes from the members. Save occasional political cat fights, the club functions fairly well.
San Francisco Mensa early acquired a reputation for California values. Lurid stories circulated about wine orgies and nude hot-tub parties. Fortunately, these stories were all true. In 1965, San Francisco Mensa pioneered the idea of the “regional gathering,” or RG, where a few hundred members would take over a resort for a weekend of games and parties. Ours still happens every Labor Day weekend at the Asilomar conference grounds in Pacific Grove.
When I edited The Ecphorizer
it was natural for me to poke fun at Mensa, particularly at the image of the San Francisco group. The results are in the following pages. Several of these pastiches are romans à clef
, in which characters’ names are adapted from members I know. For example, you’ll find the name of Margo Seitelman, late executive director of the New York office, in several guises. Others are basically exercises in writing style, using Mensa as a hook. All these pieces were written primarily for fun.