I am writing this against my better judgment.
The last time I wrote about The Bohemians, I heard from every man who ever darkened the doorway of an all-male club.
Few of them were amused. In fact, my mail was so unfriendly that a friend who read some of the letters was moved to ask the cosmic question, "Why is it that male chauvinists have no sense of humor?"
Well, call me foolhardy, but I'm going to try again.
Let me begin this time by apologizing for my previous oversights. I had been told on good authority that the Bohemian Club kept women out so the members could comfortably prance about on stage in assorted tutus.
I was misguided. Yes, there are tutus. But no less than three members indignantly and seriously informed me that the club excluded women from their annual retreats into the redwoods for the solid reason that -- I blush to say this in a family newspaper -- men relieved themselves against trees.
I was also apparently wrong, mea culpa, in assuming that women were entirely unwelcome in the Bohemian Club. They do have their place.
Since our last chat on the subject, Brandy Baldwin, a former madam at a California establishment of ill repute, told the San Francisco Examiner that she and some of her associates were invited to contribute exotic shows.
There you go. The "Bohemian wife," from Piedmont, Calif., was wrong when she wrote that "through the years we wives have decided that women would just louse up the whole organization!"
I also, heaven forfend, implied that all was fun and games among the male club members. This, according to Brian Fuller, a Son of Bohemia and editorial editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin, was unforgivably naive.
He assured me, "My father is a Bohemian; has been for 40 years. So I know a little bit about the club. . . . At the last Christmas lunch, I ate with three men who babbled about real estate for an hour. If it weren't for the fact that my father, brother and I drank ourselves blind, the whole meal would have been quite dull."
Now that I have cleared away all these technicalities, I would also like to correct a false impression. Most of my letter writers assumed that I want to ban all-boys clubs. Not so. There is a difference, after all, between the outlandish and the unlawful.
My feeling about this issue is rather complex. I can understand the frustration of business and professional women excluded from the clubs where business is conducted, jobs are passed out, names become known.
At the same time, I am genuinely sympathetic with the need of both men and women to retreat to separate grounds, to their own "kind." I have seen how necessary and nourishing single-sex environments can be for all of us.
What I think we should try and do is sort out the purely business from the purely social clubs, the private clubs from the ones that double as public meeting places.
Any club or association with membership based on business or professional background shouldn't discriminate against women from the same background. Any private club that discriminates against women shouldn't be the place for public business.
But a purely social club should be left to its own bylaws.
Now the problem is obvious. Nothing involving people is quite that pure. The distinctions -- between business and pleasure, private and public -- aren't easy to make in real life.
At the very least, businessmen shouldn't be allowed to deduct the price of membership to an all-male club from their income taxes. If it's a business club, it shouldn't exclude business women. If it's a social club, it shouldn't be a business expense.
Nor should government business be conducted in or with these "private" places. Some cities, like Philadelphia, will no longer reimburse employees if they hold meetings at all-male clubs.
The issue isn't really whether women want to "invade" (a favorite word among my correspondents) the male world. Many more are, after all, being invited. Clubs like the Bohemian are perfect examples of the hard-core, all-male remainders, a perfect mix of elitist public and private worlds, business and pleasure.
No, I am not ready to apply for membership to the Bohemian Club, but it would sure be nice to know that their tutus aren't tax deductible.