Lew Stone has an announcement. “I decided,” he begins solemnly, “that I’m going to exercise my independence in my marriage.”
He’s speaking to a roomful of 20 men. Seniors, like 78-year-old Lew, are a blur of white hair, tanned craniums, hearing aids and big spectacles.
“This morning, we ran out of toilet paper,” continues Lew, “so I replaced it. And I put the toilet paper in there over the top.”
The men wince and coo, alternatively, at the gravity of the statement.
The Dull Men’s Club of Pembroke, Mass., has met weekly for 11-odd years. (That’s the official count, by the way. It’s unclear if it goes up every year.) They speak, pointedly, about matters of little import and even less salaciousness. The youngest of these men is 63 years old.
At every session, the conversation gravitates toward the same irresistible topic: toilet paper.
For at least six months now, they’ve been pontificating on whether the soft white stuff should be installed so that the loose end hangs over or under the roll.
Lew, an “over guy” at heart, has been the Joe Lieberman of this rift. When the DMC — the men wear black shirts and hats emblazoned with the acronym — held a vote, he reversed his own vote on the orders of his wife, who prefers under.
One of the Dull Men recounts how a Pembroke honcho once cut the public-bathroom budget in half by using one-ply instead of two-ply. Next, 71-year-old Bill Curtis pays homage to the official who oversaw the local herring run in the 1970s and attended budget meetings “with beaver traps over his shoulders, covered in mud and dead drunk.”
Then the DMC expresses its agreement that town meetings just aren’t as entertaining as they used to be. Soon they’re talking about the town clock and how somebody gets paid about $200 a year to wind it.
I’m the volunteer minutes-taker for this DMC session in a drab corner room in Pembroke’s Council on Aging. And though I’m closer to the Jerry Seinfeld Generation than the Greatest Generation, I can say without irony that this is engrossing stuff.
Our news these days is all divisive politics and fiscal cliffs and geopolitical stalemates and smaller iPads and Tupac Shakur holograms and gasoline lines and Kreayshawn ring tones. Who needs it?
Give me some cheap coffee and cake and an hour on a weekday morning to chat with 20 like-minded fellows about exactly when the Pembroke dog-leash laws were enacted, and I’ll emerge refreshed and unharried, as if from a steam room for the brain.
I’ll forget, for 60 beautiful minutes, that something called Here Comes Honey Boo Boo even exists.
The Dull Men’s Club started as a bereavement support group for a few elderly male Pembroke residents who had lost their wives. What those charter members realized they also missed was chatting about nothing. Now, the Pembroke DMC has “50-odd” members with an average age of 73, says Dick Nickerson, who himself is 69. “There’s not a lot of opportunities for guys our age to get together,” he says.
The meetings are profane and unfiltered, and sometimes the rules against discussing politics or religion get trampled. At the meeting’s halfway mark, member Rob Roy fulfills his ceremonial role by telling a “dumb blonde” joke.
Each attendee drops in a dollar, and a raffle awards half of it to one DMC member. The other half goes to charity. “And we were thinking of taking Zumba classes in Kennebunkport,” Lew quips.
“But we couldn’t get the senior van to take us!” chimes in one of the group’s many Bills, and the DMC explodes into laughter.
As the hour wraps up, the men talk about Navy baseball caps and how cranberries are now grown in Russia and whether footprints could be lifted from some local protected land to bust the DMC member who brazenly walked on it this morning.
I try my hand, waxing cantankerous about “bumper bras,” the unsightly leather armor people use to protect their car bumpers.
The real problem is modern bumper materials, opines 68-year-old Wayne Woodward: “Before they made plastic ones, that’s what bumpers were for: bumping.”
But my topic doesn’t have staying power. Before long, Dick is recalling how toilet paper used to be dispensed one sheet at a time. “It was like wax paper,” he adds. “Real slippery.”
The 75-year-old veteran Scott Macinnes poses a new quandary: “When people utilize toilet paper, do they fold it or bunch it?”
Too profound to be tackled in one day, the subject is shelved for future sessions.