We Are Not Geeks!

Members of Mensa, fighting a stereotype of intellectual elitism, are trying to recast themselves as a hip bunch of eggheads ready to party down

On a recent sunny Saturday afternoon, while the rest of Broward County was frolicking in the surf or paying homage to mammon at one of our many temples of consumerism, six men gather in a sterile back room at the Imperial Point branch library on Federal Highway. Some are wearing a day's growth on their chins, others cutoffs and battered tennis shoes. One man sports a T-shirt with the enigmatic statement "I Dig Pig" emblazoned across the front. They sit in hard plastic chairs under harsh fluorescent lights, shuffling their feet and tapping their fingers on the desks.

These are not young men -- the presence of a teenager notwithstanding, the average age in the room probably tops 40. Yet there is a palpable school day's unease in the air, a dimly recollected sense of nervousness, failure, and dwindling possibilities. Perhaps the men can still hear the voice of a high-school guidance counselor gently reminding that not everyone can be a doctor, a lawyer, or a scientist and that the world needs salesclerks, typists, and ditch diggers, too.

In those days there was no choice -- everyone took the Scholastic Aptitude Tests, the standardized instrument that helped The Man figure out what to do with you. But these guys are about to hoist number-two pencils of their own volition, each paying $30 for the privilege, to find out if they're among the smartest 2 percent of Americans. If so they'll be welcomed into Mensa, an international society for the highly intelligent that exists primarily to remind the intelligent of their intelligence. If not, well, who the hell wants to hang out with a bunch geeky Mensans anyway?

In search of intellectual stimulation and a good fish sandwich at a weekly Mensa meeting
Melissa Jones
In search of intellectual stimulation and a good fish sandwich at a weekly Mensa meeting

Statistically speaking only one person in 50 is Mensa material, which means the odds are that no one in this room will make the grade. Test takers are a self-selected subset of the general population, however, meaning they likely have some inkling that they might be just a little brighter. So chances are actually good that someone in the room will be anointed a person of superior intellect. Should that happen he or she could join the 340 or so Mensans in the Broward County chapter of American Mensa.

The question is, would they want to? Granted, these brainy Broward denizens are an eclectic bunch, prone to bursting into song while gathered round a table drinking iced tea on "pub night," or launching into a heated discussion on the merits of school prayer before lunch has even settled at weekly afternoon bull sessions. They count teachers, pilots, architects, artists, musicians, and at least one Catholic bishop among their members. The guy who spearheaded the group back in the '70s once had a different job every week for a year to prove it was possible.

Still, wouldn't it be more fun to pound a couple of cold ones down at Hooters with the guys, the game on the big-screen TV as barbecue sauce dribbles down your chin onto your stained T-shirt?

By dint of the 30 clams each of the men just shelled out, they're honorary Mensans for the next two weeks or at least until the test results come back. That means they're allowed to attend any Mensa gathering for the next fortnight. It's an excellent entrée into this secret society of synapses, this meeting of the minds, this "dating service for dorks," as Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens so eloquently put it. And it's a way to meet a few Mensans and perhaps answer the question once and for all: Are the intelligent really different from you and me, or do they just dress worse?

Lya Korda's eyes gleam as she relates the tale of meeting Jeb Bush -- not out of admiration for the governor but because the punch line's so good.

Bush was in Davie visiting the Graves Museum of Archaeology, where Korda worked as a designer painting backgrounds and murals for exhibits. When Bush asked to be shown around behind the scenes, his handlers brought him to Korda's department. Korda stepped away from her desk momentarily and when she returned found that her coworkers had thrown a cloth over it. She removed the cloth. Again she stepped away, and again she returned to find the cloth on her desk. When Bush came by and introduced himself, she said, "Now I will show you something people don't want you to see," and pulled the cloth off her desk, revealing a color photo of Pres. George Bush, middle finger extended in the universal one-digit salute, over a caption that read "Don't blame me I voted for Perot."

"Jeb pissed his pants laughing," she recalls.

Korda is a feisty septuagenarian who refuses to give her exact age. Born in Hungary, she has an erratic résumé, which is not at all uncommon among Mensans: designer, journalist, artist, psychiatric nurse. She's also a pilot and last year earned a bronze medal in her age class in foil-fencing from the United States Fencing Association.

She's a slight woman who drives fast, smokes a lot, and treasures good company. She's a card-carrying member of the "Bitches Coven," a group of female Mensans who get together every Friday the 13th to drink a little of Korda's home-distilled, 100-proof kumquat liquor, swap jokes, and talk about life.

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