Poor Mensa. The club that takes IQ so seriously has always been ripe for satire. Consider “The Whore of Mensa,” a Woody Allen short story about private eye Kaiser Lupowitz’s investigation into a house of intellectual repute hidden behind the Hunter College Book Store:
. . . I walked like a lamb into that bustling pleasure palace known as Flossie’s. Red flocked wallpaper and a Victorian decor set the tone. Pale, nervous girls with black-rimmed glasses and blunt-cut hair lolled around on sofas, riffling Penguin Classics provocatively. . . . For three bills, you got the works: A thin Jewish brunette would pretend to pick you up at the Museum of Modern Art, let you read her master’s, get you involved in a screaming quarrel at Elaine’s over Freud’s conception of women, and then fake a suicide of your choosing--the perfect evening, for some guys.
Some Mensans are appreciative. I’m quoting a copy of Allen’s story that was placed on a computer bulletin board, compliments of the Greater Phoenix Mensa.
But critics can be cruel. The club’s 50th anniversary last year provoked a rash of Mensa-bashing. Vanity Fair put this subhead over an essay by Christopher Hitchens: “If its members are so smart, how come the organization serves mainly as a dating service for dorks?”
Margie Mandelblatt, editor of The Mensa Bulletin, a membership magazine, reacts with a grimace. But there’s no denying that lately, this 33-year-old North Hollywood resident has been busy planning “The Sweetheart of Sigma Owl,” a Mensa gathering in Hollywood this weekend where amore won’t just be a hidden agenda.
It’s not that Mensa, in middle age, is surrendering to the singles club image. The theme, Mandelblatt says, was more serendipity than design. The annual regional confab is usually held on another weekend; themes in recent years have included animation and the American West. With their usual weekend booked, the Hollywood Metropolitan Hotel suggested the one after Valentine’s Day, and Mensans ran with it.
More than 200 Mensans are expected. The program isn’t only about sex, sex, sex, but a complementary pair of lectures deserve mention. Only women will be admitted as author Olivia St. Clair discusses “How to Unleash the Sex Goddess Within.” At the same hour, only men are welcome as Renee Plane describes “How to Meet and Ask Out the Woman of Your Dreams.” Imagine the sizzle when these audiences mingle.
By now some readers may be wondering whether they can attend too. Sorry, this is for Mensa members only. But on Sunday, Mandelblatt points out, the public is invited to drop by and (for a $25 fee) take a test that purportedly will determine whether your IQ ranks in the upper 2% and thus qualifies you for membership. Mensa also accepts some other tests; a strong SAT score, for example, can get you in.
The elitist fixation on IQs, of course, is what invites the stereotype of nerdiness and insecurity. Mensa claims a national membership of more than 45,000, which means a couple of million people who qualify just aren’t interested. “People want to join Mensa,” William Hartston drolly observed in another 50th anniversary piece, “so that they can meet other people who wanted to join Mensa.”
To which Mandelblatt says: So what? After joining, Mensans socialize according to geography and areas of interest. Some get involved in good works to support education and libraries. And there are SIGs, or Special Interest Groups, for just about everybody. There are SIGs for abuse survivors, allergy sufferers and recovering alcoholics; for homeopathy, home schooling and home brew; for survivalists, sleep-disorder sufferers and shy people. The eugenics SIG is a reminder that some Mensans have a way of making strange news, as when the L.A. Mensa newsletter Lament published a letter advocating the extermination of the homeless, among others not deemed fit to live. “Mensans are very, very opinionated, but Mensa itself has no opinion,” Mandelblatt says. “The organization is tolerant of everyone’s opinion.”
Her own shyness, Mandelblatt says, got her thinking about Mensa. She assumed the editorship of The Mensa Bulletin four years ago, assembling 10 issues a year in an office behind her parents’ home. She decries the nerdy stereotype and defends the club’s role as Cupid. In Mensaland, members who marry each other are called M&Ms.;
Mandelblatt herself is 33, single and looking, but says she steers clear of Mensa men. Given her editing duties, she worries that it would sort of be like fishing off the company pier. Plus, she’s heard Mensans gossip about who is sleeping with whom. Why give them more material?
The editor has a different kind of Mensa love story: A few years ago, she met this great guy through a computer bulletin board. On their second date, she discovered he was in Mensa too.
Sorry, she told him, but I have a firm rule--I don’t date Mensans.
No problem, he replied. I resign.
The romance didn’t last forever, but the memory still makes Margie Mandelblatt a little misty.