Mensa, the high-IQ society, provides a forum for intellectual exchange among its constituents. There are outlets and societies in more than 100 countries around the globe. Membership is open to persons who have attained a score within the upper 2% of the general population on an approved intelligence test that has been properly administered and professionally supervised. Many who might be qualified for membership admit they "are afraid" of taking the test, lest they discover unpleasantly that they are not the brilliant lights they fancy themselves. Alternatively, many smart people don't need the rubber stamp of Mensa membership to acknowledge their intelligence, and don't bother. Currently a thriving local activity in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgins, there are an approximate 100,000+ Mensans around the world, with the vast majority, some 55,000-60,000, in the US. Approximately 5 million people around the world qualify for membership. Group sizes constantly fluctuate, and ages of members run from the sub-teen to the nonagenarian and above. And although Mensans are often activists in private, the organization does not take official stands on political, religious or social issues, but does fulfill its original goals of social and psychological research through its research arm, MERF.

Although its precise history is somewhat shrouded in another "m" –for murk–best intel has it that the international high-IQ social group was born in England on October 1945, by lawyers Roland Berrill and Lancelot Ware. Though it almost faded from sight from lack of watering and care by its feuding founders, Mensa was revived from desuetude by an American in 1950, and has been growing ever since. Its initial raison d'etre was sociological and psychological research, apparently; social interaction was a distant third, if that. Recognize a Mensan by a small yellow lapel pin—or by self-identification. Activities include the exchange of ideas through lectures, discussions, journals, special-interest groups, and local, regional, national and international gatherings; the investigations of members' opinions and attitudes; and assistance to researchers, inside and outside Mensa, in projects dealing with intelligence or Mensa itself. Clinical studies and testing of new modalities, apps and even games are regularly sent through their paces at various annual state or (countrywide) regional gatherings. Scientists often ask for Mensa volunteers for their projects. Though associates are certifiably smart, at least on paper, there is some longitudinal anecdotal data to suggest that mere high IQ is no unifactorial determinant of all-around social intelligence, capability or even common likability. Indeed, spending a weekend at the annual is often a case in point. Snowball is the annual New Jersey chapter of Mensa, one that has been ongoing annually for 37 years. Or, as the attendance badge has it: Snowball XXXVII.

My experience includes some five or so attendances, all held in the townlet of Iselin, a 10-minute walk from the NJ Transit stop of Metro Park.

This year, I brought a friend, which made a huge difference. Generally speaking, being a female and alone, you takes your chances. Many attendees have been coming for decades, and they are a tight clique of hugs, high-5s and jokes and hang-out formations in the Hospitality-, game- and testing-rooms and lecture halls that are standard at every gathering.

Every annual has a room that has food, a huge trove of candy of all sorts, crudites and fruit, with side offerings of pizza on the second day, and heroes or subs and slabs of ham and onions that, take it from moi, do not tempt this gourmet. Still, even if one does not pay for the Saturday night "banquet," $25 extra, you can subsist on the copious juices, wines, beers, pretzels, chocolate Kisses, M&M's, peanut-butter cups and nuts arrayed all day and night as you meet and greet old friends (or never-were's). Old-timers have coded decals on their badges: Green dots for hug me! Yellow for hug but ask first, and red for Stop, no, don't you dare. There is a coded decal for single (I never asked which it was, though that would be smart). I just splashed a dozen colorful images on my badge because I liked them: animals, floral displays, snow, people, stars, spaceships, items of interest, symbols. Not a whole lot of meaning to my badge, except that I mostly obscured my name so as to make meeting me difficult.

Hospitality rooms are replenished constantly by a selfless phalanx of volunteers emptying chips and dips, bags of nuts and assorted broccoli florets, baby carrots and celery sticks onto platters on the long buffets. These Hospitality rooms are the wet-dreams of preteens (and sweets-partial Mensans, which is as good as 99.9%), the fraught nightmare of dietitians and dentists. The Game rooms are busy all night, with ferociously deft monster Scrabble and other word-strategy game players, card games, cunning new mental tests, as well as a ready pile of NY Times crossword puzzles, Sudoko grids and anagrams from the NY Post, should you be free for a nanosecond between bouts of this year's hottest group contests. Every year has its favorite game, sometimes impinging on the daytime lectures, but mostly battling sleep until 4 or 5 am. Games ensure a party atmosphere metaphysic without the burden of collegial or sequential conversation. Despite the hectic schedule of eating, lectures, parties, plays and games, most of the couples—there are a mess of couples, it seems—amazingly met at prior AGs, And their marriages seem of long duration. Though smarts is not the sole criterion of a mate for life, it is probably at least a guarantor that your spouse will get your jokes and value your profession. Even I have dated a few of the men encountered first at such gatherings, and in general a good (if temporary) time was had, mitigated by geographical distances and other tedious dissonances.

This year, there were 244 attendees, from 12 states. While there were no Big Deal headliners, disappointingly, the roster did offer stimulation of various sorts, as expected. In the past, we have had major entertainers, governors, astronauts, scientists and joke-meisters. But the lectures this time were not unsubstantial.

My reveries with having a friend to talk with and chat at table with, attend lectures and grumble about meager food offerings with were interrupted by a strange trio of weird mishaps at the normally excellent Hilton Woodbridge.

As soon as I registered, I wanted to bathe, and my room was clean, but the bath stopper would not work, so no water could accume. I called down, and up came three attractive 'technicians,' the better to instill in me visions (of soft-core movies?). Eric discovered that the stopper was in backwards and upside down, and the washer was worn plum away. He installed a new one with unworn threads. I asked the other two cuties lounging around why they were there, as 'Technician' Eric seemed to have the matter… well in hand. Uh, um…just in case. I gather the unemployment problem is less noted in Iselin's Hilton than elsewhere in the stricken country. Strange item #2 came when I tried to use the computers in the hotel, and I had a contretemps over which room and which CRT was apt, running into an officious manager, Brad the peremptory, who ordered me out and off the computer inside of 2 minutes. When I got to another computer, and swiped my credit card (30 minutes free; after that, 69 cents/minute), I was unnerved and uncomfortable, since the rudeness was not on the list displayed on the wall on how to treat customers/residents at the hotel. When I'd returned to my room, the phone rang. Someone in the gym had found my Visa, and did I want them to bring it up? Since I had not gone to the gym, but to the business center, that was a puzzlement. Later in the weekend, the hotel apologized to me, and acknowledged that Mr. Gateri had been out of order yelling at me for no reason. I had not been aware of the credit card being on its own, and was relieved to get it back.

Problem #3. The rooms on either side were filled with coughers, and kept me up with their stentorious hacking. Talk about thin walls. And for a final, though personal, upset, I slept gingerly in the delicious and fluffy beds in our double queens because with all the talk about even the very priciest hotels having—ugh—infestations, I worried about bites. My friend had no such concerns, and slept the sleep of the innocent.

During the weekend, I attended Joel Schwartz'es chewy, detailed round-up on "Total Wellness: The Keys to Health" (where I commented often on the varying views on 'diet' and wellness). We attended Don Slepian's gorgeous tapestries of music on his self-created keyboard, a grad-level Moog. He played music from Scott Joplin through classics after the style of Led Zeppelin, to Klezmer variants to Gregorian, through to rock standards, all brilliantly and soothingly. We dropped in for a few moments to "Clash of the Wolves," a 1925 Rin Tin Tin silent, which showed in a short space why "Rinty" was 'the dog that saved Warner Brothers.' RTT's 'wife' in the movie was played by his 'reel-life' mate, Nanette, we were told: Touching. My chum remarked that "Nanette was nowhere near as good an actress" as her hubby. When lectures flagged, my friend kept me laughing. We skipped "Icebreakers" and "Karaoke." Been there. Done that. Saturday a.m. A wake-up hike, hosted by Ron Ruemmler, a mathematician we saw a great deal of later on. Hikers first ride in cars to a suitable hiking venue, since the hotel is surrounded by the cement clover-leafs and industrial vistas of strip city hotel clusters. Robin Marion gave a slide show and realia-accompanied talk on Australia and New Zealand: "A trip Down Under." Well-edited slides, lots of facts and dates, and a modest speaker. Well attended, even at 9 am on Saturday. About 55 seated listeners. (I was taken with her name, which was the inverse of mine, many years ago. For her part, she told me that she had been married to a guy whose last name was Marion, so she was, at the time, Robin Marion Marion.)

We skipped "Assisting aging Parents & Patients," by Lesley Slepner, and just popped in to see a glimpse of "Hot-air ballooning," a scenic overview, as it were, given by Keith Sproul. The fun focus we had been anticipating was given by the hiking maven, Ron Ruemmler, called "A mathematical analysis of Love," which was hilarious from a number of points of view. One thing is, though he bills himself as the "world's greatest authority on love," and has been giving this formula-encrusted talk for 30 or so years, he is…unmarried. Challenged, he defended himself with the silly excuse that his closest almost-girlfriend, 15 years ago, was 'not right,' since she was a "fundamentalist Catholic," while he is "an atheist." I brought up the seemingly thriving marriage of GOPer consultant Mary Matalin and Dem James Carville.

Another funny aspect: Every step of the lecture, which was dense with Q factors and intensity and duration derivatives, Ruemmler was a pixie—tall, skinny and white haired, but with a protuberant 5-month belly—who mostly faced away from the huge audience, and spoke to the flip-chart with his magic marker flying, but not to us. This led to dozens of jokes at his expense, and general release of tension, sexual energy, and overall hilarity caused by the incomprehensible but charming attempt to reduce love and pleasure to graphs and charting. He did not address sexual love, by the way. And I must say that we were not much wiser about how to interpret or create love after the many pages of his exegesis and index cards yellowing from age.

We skipped "Meet the [NJ] candidates," by pol Marc Lederman, after a few minutes and having no idea at all of what we were watching. Instead, we attended Physicist Harry Ringermacher's slide-show lecture on "The search for Dark Matter," which had a substantial audience of nearly 100, after lunch. Maybe this subject matter ought to be reserved for before lunch, since it competes with digestion in a way that leads the gastric system to win the battle for attention. I had on Friday tried, numerous times, to catch Ringermacher's eye with questions when he held forth at my table as he discussed particle physics and Einsteinian time-space, but he apparently missed my verbal efforts not once but four separate times, until others at the table told him I had been trying to ask a question for minutes. He awoke from his private communication-miasma, it seemed, but by then I was disgusted by his not having noticed me, across the same table, for a Cartesian monologue. John Devoti spoke on Washington, DC, in particular its consolidation after 1900 from a patchwork of small buildings and unfinished monuments dominated by the Capitol and White House. My friend Roger Herz, one of the loyalest-members of this Mensa, gave a talk on "If you were Mayor…" –followed by two districting talks: one on Gerrymandering and its origins, by Don Katz, an expert in election law and current commish of the Middlesex County Board of elections; and a discussion of Roebling, NJ, an original 'company town' founded by the sons of the founder of the Brooklyn Bridge. The pro giving the slide lecture was George Lengel, a son of one of the factory's original workers, today a Roebling Museum historian.

We omitted the craft break, and bypassed the Mensa dance lessons given by the astonishingly smooth dancer, Don Jacobs, one of the handsomest, sexiest guys of the 244 people on the weekend, my opinion, but wholly into himself and dance. He's such a good dancer, he could break the bank at Dancing with the Stars, it was widely felt. George Scherer gave a well-attended jokefest, "Humor—the secret to Health, Happiness and Wellbeing." Much as we love to laugh, we spent the majority of the session in John Treffeissen's superb illustrated analysis of the economic mess we are currently suffering, in a pessimistic slide-lecture of "Somewhere over the rainbow: Economic curves of doom," which gives some idea of his take on our future. It was our favorite talk of the weekend, and the lecturer expressed disappointment that there were not more libs in the presentation, as he had been prepared for their objections. He entertained every question we brought up, dispatching our concerns with humor and information, though not hope. Or change. A woman in the back of the hall knitted stoically throughout, a Mme. DuFarge for our time. The keynote event, Saturday night, after the banquet we elected to miss, was a funny play done by Virginia Mensans, called M-Little Indians, done by the Pungo Players, 90 amusing minutes of "skewed skits and skewered show tunes," with a "light-hearted treatment of mass-murder," according to the well-rehearsed Tidewater company.

There was a poetry meet, the Mensa IQ test for those who had not taken it and wanted to become Mensans, a spelling bee, a trivia contest, and a traditional festive dance, then a Sunday morning multimedia and book swap, but we were done in by the satiation of Hershey's. Too many unrelieved carbs, not enough protein.

Home, James. Mmm… until the next year's supersaturation of mind-mugging mentition and merriment. Or not.


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