) -- The effort to purchase Donald Trump's aged 727 continues apace. I believe we now have close to $1000 in various currencies toward our goal of $300,000.

Most people have responded well to the idea. Some complained, however, that we gave free publicity to Mr. Trump in his campaign to reap a profit from the sale of his luxury liner. To this cavil I responded that, in my experience, it is generally the rich who get things for free.

As an example, I mentioned the fact that, for some reason, only upscale grocery stores frequented by the wealthy offer free samples of tasty tidbits. I was specifically thinking of a supermarket not far from where I used to live outside of New York City, in an town adjacent to my own called Scarsdale (close by where a famous diet doctor was heartlessly murdered by his elegant lover). This store offered what was in effect a sumptuous feast to anybody rich enough to shop there. You should have seen the Gucci and Louis Vuittons scarfing down that free brie.

At any rate, my thoughts on this important matter generated an interesting comment from John, who lives in Los Angeles. "Bing," he writes, "I get free tastings in


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all the time. Of course, they have been getting more and more upscale every day. Heck, they're so upscale now they might refuse to renew my membership. Better go shop while I can."

John lives in the home of people who, as Groucho Marx once said about himself, don't want to belong to any club that would have them as a member. Los Angeles is all about clubs you can and can't get into, and those are only places people really want to go.

That said, guys like John do have their clubs. In his case, it's Costco, and he would be very sad if that establishment reviewed his status and decided they had grown to upscale for him. Imagine that! Ejected from Costco! At the very least that would mean losing access to what are among the best Polish hot dogs available outside a street stand. Not to mention the shame.

This made me consider for a moment which clubs I now belong to, and which still make sense for me. There aren't that many. A few years ago, I belonged to a health club. I joined for three years, on a very special membership plan. Paid my first installment. Never went again. Not once. What I had to go through to get free of that commitment I won't bore you with. Suffice it to say it's sometimes very nice to have a column in a major financial publication.

I did learn a lesson, though. I never set foot inside a health club anymore. I know I will join. And I know I will never go once I do. So I guess that was a valuable experience.

I also belonged, for a brief time, to a Beach and Tennis Club back in the day. It wasn't that expensive. I don't know why we did it. Maybe our friends who liked the place convinced us, I can't remember. What I do recall is that once we were granted entry, after a hard-fought process, I never wanted to go again. The pool was unheated. The beach was full of rocks. My kids don't play tennis. The best part of it was the snack bar. So after a while, we quit.

Not long ago, a professional friend asked if I would like to apply for membership to his Club. I had had lunch there several times. It was okay. You go into a big room filled mostly with guys who look like they'd rather be yachting. Lots of blue blazers and khaki pants.

You fill out a little paper slip with checkmarks to tell the waiter what you'd like to eat, just like you do in a hospital. They bring you your food under little metal domes... also like a hospital. It had very dark wood everywhere, and the seats had brass grommets. Over in a corner there was a guy who definitely looked like Ben Bernanke. For a while, I was seduced by the idea of belonging to such a Club.

Then my wife said to me, "what are you going to do there?" I thought about that and realized that all I would probably do is eat lunch, wonder if I should play squash, and decide against it. In the end, I would join and once again, that objective was achieved, decide I had no interest in going ever again.

Finally, a guy I know in show business tried to get me to join the Friar's Club. The Friar's Club is a place where comedians, producers, agents and other folks in the field go to hang with each other, play poker, feel like they would have known Frank Sinatra if he was still alive.

The Rat Pack was very big at the Friars, as was the entire generation defined by Milton Berle. A lot of guys in the business still like to go there. It makes them feel like they belong to something important, something with a tradition. It's hard to find that these days. I went there once for lunch. I had something that tasted a lot like Franco American spaghetti and meatballs in a room where at least half the guys were on oxygen. I kid you not.

So I guess I don't really belong to any club, now that I come to think about it. Like John, I have a Costco card, but perhaps that doesn't really count. I also belong to the club of people who rent from Avis. And when I fly American, I go to the Admiral's Club. But what kind of buzz do you get from belong to a club anybody can join with a credit card?

When I shop, I also can give my phone number and get a deal on certain store-brand items. I guess that's a club, right? They call it one. But aside from those, I guess I'm not cut out to be a Club kind of guy. Now if you'll excuse me, I'll go down to Michael's for lunch. I like the place. The food is good, they always give me pretty much the same table, and I get to see the same faces every day. You come to appreciate that kind of thing after a while.