When Valley jeweler Rose Maxon saw the advertisement in the Pennysaver seeking new members for the Bola Tie Society of Arizona, it sounded right up her alley: "Good fellowship--Welcome. All must wear Bola Tie."
"I make bola ties and I like to wear them and look at them," says Maxon of the fashion accessory that has been Arizona's official neckware since 1971. "When I read that the club was inviting people to join, I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet other people who also love their bolas."
What she didn't know was that television anchor Bill Close--who founded the society in 1966 and has been its president ever since--and his male cohorts don't want women among their ranks. Maxon left the society's meeting last week shaking her bola in disgust after its members voted 38-0 against admitting her to the fold.
Not that she hadn't been warned. When she called the number in the ad, she says, "The secretary [Richard Mathis] told me I'd be the only woman there. I said, `That doesn't pose any problem for me. I'm going because I happen to like bola ties.' I figured that once they met me, they'd accept me for who I am and what I do. `Fellowship' doesn't necessarily mean men-only."
Maxon went by herself to the club's luncheon meeting at central Phoenix's Hunan Restaurant. She says that the gathering of about forty men stared at her as she took a seat.
"It seemed like most of them were shocked to see one of my kind there," Maxon says. "Most of them had white hair, and there were no people of color that I could notice. It was uncomfortable, but I thought everyone would loosen up."
After lunch, one of the society's members officially introduced Maxon.
"He introduced me with a little joke," Maxon recalls. "He said I reminded him of an old girlfriend, a tall, good-looking brunette who ordered lobster thermidor or some other expensive dish every time they went out. One time, the fellow asked his date if her mother had raised her on such expensive food. She said that no she hadn't, but that her mother hadn't wanted to lay her, either."
Then it was Bill Close's turn to have at her.
"He let me know in front of everyone," Maxon says, "that he had checked with some attorney, and that they didn't have to let me into their club. He said that the club's members would feel uncomfortable about using colorful language in front of a woman. Then he told me to wait in the bar, that they were going to put the matter to a vote. I was on the verge of tears, and I told them I was stunned that this attitude is still prevalent in the Nineties.
"I grew up with Bill Close on television," she continues. "He's a civic leader, more or less, and I expected more from him. He came out of the meeting into the bar where I was waiting and he said they weren't going to let me in. I told him, `How sexist, Bill.' He said, `My daughters would agree with you.' I was crying at this point."
Even she is surprised at that. "Bill Close and his pals succeeded in making this 32-year-old tough-cookie cry."
Close doesn't quarrel with most of Maxon's account of what happened, although he does insist that the off-color joke she heard wasn't aimed at Maxon. "I was more embarrassed than the young lady," he says, when he gave her the bad news.
"We've had women more than once ask to get into the club. We are a men's organization, and it's just a fun bunch of older guys for the most part. She was greeted cordially, and I stated something like this: As a group of men who had no reason for being other than to have fun and to wear bola ties, we weren't obligated to have women as members. We're not a service club. We are for the most part older men, and though you may not be embarrassed by four-letter words, we as older men are of a generation that to use four-letter words in front of women is embarrassing for us. It restrains our freedom of expression, if you want to put it that way. I apologized, and I said I was very, very sorry.
"I judge others as I judge myself. If I were at a meeting of people, at the first hint that I was not wanted, I would apologize for coming and leave."
Well, Maxon did leave, she says, in semishock over what had happened. Then she got mad.
"I vacillate on what to do," she says. "Maybe I'll get some of my female friends together and we'll start our own bola tie club. We'll knock back a few pink ladies and talk about the men. Or, I'll stick a bola on a couple of my big, black male friends and see what Close and his club will do with them. See if they introduce them with a joke about black people.
"When prejudice occurs, if you do nothing about it, then they'll probably do it to someone else. On the other hand, I don't know if I have enough energy to drag these boys into the twentieth century."