"I see the Maryland legislature is about to tell Burning Tree Country Club to desist from its practice of gender- based bias," I said, settling back in the taxicab. "There goes another bastion of discrimination."
"Oh, I wouldn't exactly call them bastions," said the cabbie, not quite getting my meaning. "I've taken a few mean ones out there, but all in all I'd say they're about as nice as your average rich guy. Plus I think you're wrong about that discrimination thing, too. They don't let women in, of course, but what would you expect at a men's club?"
"That's exactly what I'm talking about," I told him. "Well, they'll have to change their tune now. The legislature says they'll either admit women or give up $152,000 a year in state and county property taxes. Isn't that a great victory for women?"
"Depends," the cabbie said.
"Depends on what?" I demanded.
"Depends on whether women are willing to give up their women's clubs."
No problem there, I assured him, since most women's clubs don't have anti-male restrictions in their bylaws.
"I see," the cabbie said. "So if Burning Tree just changed their bylaws, they wouldn't have to actually let any women in."
I told him that as far as I knew, the bylaws already had been changed. What was wanted, I said, was a change in policy.
"All I'm saying is that the women better be careful," the cabbie said. "I've read your affirmative-action stuff and, if I understand you, the only way you can prove you've changed your policy is to change your results. Are the women's clubs ready to go out and recruit male members? And suppose no serious male applicants show up? Will the clubs have to take a look at sexist environments? Will they have to get rid of the flowered chintz in the lounge and put in big leather arm chairs? Will they have to get rid of their fancy silver tea sets and put in a bar with beer on tap? Will the guest speakers have to include people who appeal to men: stockbrokers, pro football players and dirty comedians? I guess they'd have to put in a men's room."
"Which is more than they have done at Burning Tree," I told him. "Even the charwomen there are charmen. They just can't stand the thought of having women around. I'm glad the state will no longer subsidize that sort of attitude."
"Are you saying that men's clubs that discriminate against women shouldn't get any tax breaks?" the cabbie asked.
"At the very least," I said.
"And what if they discriminate against the handicapped? You sure they got wheelchair ramps out there? Can you get a wheelchair into the toilets and locker rooms? Does the library have books in Braille? Do they have translators for deaf people? If you're going to get upset about discrimination, why don't you get upset over the fact that they discriminate against me and, unless I miss my guess, you too?"
"What do you mean?" I asked him. "Do I look disabled?"
"I don't mean any harm," the cabbie said, "but you look disabled enough to pay the $12,000 it takes to join Burning Tree or the $1,700 a year in dues. How can you get so excited about sex and race discrimination and forget all about the number they do on poor folks?" the cabbie demanded.
"The difference," I told him, "is that sex and race are immutable conditions, rendering them a more invidious kind of discrimination. Poverty isn't necessarily permanent."
"Wealth either," the cabbie said.