Costco is the cheapo country club

by Brian Clarey

It’s true that I am not much for exclusive organizations and clubs. Like Groucho Marx, I am wary of any group that would deem me fit to be a member. But unlike the mustachioed one, I am not exactly in high demand as a member of any private clubs that I know of. In fact, I’ve been denied access by pretty much every elite group to which I’ve applied: Mensa, the Garden City High School Student Council and Cornell University among them.

I was a member of the university mug club in college, but that squad was not really a formal organization and certainly not an elite one.

Still I’ve always understood the allure of a private club, the notion of an escape valve tucked away from the workaday world, where one can really feel a sense of’… remove’… from his everyday mundane concerns.

And now after years of rejection I’ve finally been accepted as a member of a club, and I couldn’t be more proud to carry the membership card in my wallet with the blazing red Costco label on the front and my smudgy thumbnailed mugshot in a corner on the back. And let me say to the uninitiated: Costco has all the amenities of a fine country club. Or so I’ve heard ‘— most of the time I’ve spent at country clubs I’ve logged with cheese trays in my hand.

To be honest, I have no idea how I passed the screening process for this particular organization. All you have to do is Google me and you’ll see hard evidence of my knee-jerk disrespect for authority, my obviously warped and deviant values. To run a check on my credit would be an experience in mediocrity, and I’m pretty sure I still have a police record out there somewhere.

Normally any of these things would be ample grounds for exclusion in most organized groups, but this one allows me full privileges regardless of my somewhat checkered past. I think my boss may have pulled a few strings.

My new group offers all kinds of sweetheart deals to its members ‘— cheap gas, discount vacations, cut-rate prices on, say, a pallet of peanut butter or a sleeve of canned tuna. But primarily I like to think of my new organization as a lunch club, a place where my fellow cardholders and I can retreat during the noon hour and enjoy the benefits of membership.

Unlike at so many of those stuffy country clubs or lodges, lunch at the Costco is not a formal affair. Come as you are, but a caveat to all the newbies and greenhorns out there: come hungry.

On a recent weekday afternoon I found myself in the vicinity of my new hangout and went inside for a typical lunchtime experience.

Your best bet, after flashing your membership card to the maitre’d, is to loop to the back of the room where Flintstone-esque portions of packaged meat wait in open freezers and the shellfish guy is dressed like a surgeon. In this chilled food section there are generally two to four aproned servers dishing out spreads on multi-grain crackers and exotic chips ‘— tapenades, dips, relishes and salsas. For my first course on my recent visit I sampled a spicy queso with blue corn tortilla chips and also a salmon spread which I ate with gusto, despite the fact that I don’t particularly care for salmon.

Along the back wall the uniformed staff at my club offers more substantial fare. My recent excursion exposed me to a delightful sliced and honeyed ham; a five-cheese tortellini served two to a toothpick; one half of a breaded mozzarella stick and the main course, a two-inch portion of a Philly cheesesteak with goo that seeped into the Italian roll, becoming enmeshed with the fluffy white.

Dessert included a half creampuff, a fresh-baked brownie as big around as a quarter and nine candy-covered mini Hershey’s Kisses in assorted colors.

The entire feast, due to my membership, was completely free, or as we used to say in the old neighborhood, ‘“on the arm.’” And normally it would be sufficient to sate my afternoon hunger pangs. But on this particular day I needed more sustenance, and rather than make another lap through the freebie section ‘— which, I’ve come to notice, they kind of frown upon ‘— I retreated to the food counter where I partook of another offer exclusive to members of my very special club: the cheapest lunch in town.

The cheapest lunch in town consists of a quarter-pound kosher hot dog (or link of Polish sausage) with a refillable drink for ‘— get this ‘— a buck and a half.

For 12 bits the steaming, marbled hot dog comes on a lush, sesame seed roll, both elements warmed by intimacy inside a foil wrapper. The condiments table, admittedly, is not all it could be ‘— no chili or slaw, but they do offer two kinds of mustard and freshly cut onions dispensed by an ingenious machine invented for the purpose.

The hot dog was particularly sumptuous on my last visit, and I won’t soon forget the feelings of contentedness and belonging I felt as I chewed away, surrounded by my fellow club members in our tiny little corner, our recluse from the hustle and bustle of this crazy world.

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