The Luncheon Group
by Dennis Greene
I retired four years ago and now appreciate, more and more each day, how lucky I was to have been part of the “luncheon group.” With no specific plan, this group evolved over the course of ten years at a large Boston law firm and resulted in five of us having lunch together two or three times a week for another 35. Though we spoke mostly about local sports, firm gossip, our respective families, and current events, it was, for me, a continuing opportunity to study how very smart and very decent people behave. It was a lifelong lesson in humility. Here is just one illustration of what I mean.
The group naturally took an interest in each other’s kids, attending their plays and sports events and celebrating their successes. So, when Andy’s son Tim, then in his early 20’s, managed to land a spot on “The Apprentice,” I temporarily waived my boycott of the show and watched it. Donald Trump, the show’s host and resident ego-maniac, was apparently charmed and impressed by Timmy, often referring to him as “our Harvard Phi Bate.” I didn’t know Tim had achieved Phi Beta Kappa status, so I mentioned it at our next lunch.
“Andy, I didn’t know Tim was Phi Bate,” I said. “I knew he was smart, but my daughter Alex, whom I also consider very smart, told me her Phi Bate friends at Yale were so far above her academically, she could only see the bottoms of their feet. Except for Alex’s friend Adam, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to a member of that prestigious group.”
There was an awkward pause, and I noticed that Andy was looking at his feet.
“Actually, I was Phi Beta Kappa at Dartmouth,” he said, almost apologetically.
I was astonished and glanced at Tom to see if he was as surprised as I was. But he also looked uncomfortable.
“Uh, I was a member at Trinity,” he admitted.
I turned to Joel, who also seemed to be ill at ease.
“Yup. Penn,” he acknowledged.
Feeling like a complete idiot, I turned at last to Stan, the fifth and youngest member of our little group. He was grinning at my discomfort.
“Dennis, it appears that you and I are not qualified to participate in these lunchtime discussions,” Stan suggested. “Our place should be to sit quietly, listen, and soak up the surrounding wisdom.”
Thank goodness for Stan.
Now, the fact that my three close friends were members of Phi Beta Kappa didn’t really surprise me. I knew that they had attended prestigious colleges and graduated from ivy law schools. I also knew that they were brilliantly accomplished lawyers who had, over the years, demonstrated their extraordinary intelligence again and again.
Joel was kind enough to note that I was the only member of our group who had managed (at a less prestigious college) to be placed on both academic and disciplinary probation in the same year. We are all unique.
During a recent summer, I was on a safari in Botswana, bouncing through the savannah in an off-road vehicle, and spent several days with a lovely English couple named Charles and Elisabeth. By day, we shared adventures observing magnificent wildlife. And each evening, as we dined, we casually discussed science fiction literature, travel, the state of the world, and how to avoid snakes while discretely relieving oneself in the bush.
When we returned to Wellesley, I found several nice pictures of the couple and wanted to send them copies, so I looked Charles up on the internet. He had failed to mention that he was the financial director of the Bank of England and had been knighted in 2014.
But he had never been a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.