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At the Moose Lodge

Photo of Vince Basehart
I step inside the blue, windowless building at Ocean Park and 16th, and into the realm of the Loyal Order of the Moose.

Visitors to Santa Monica Moose Lodge #702 will be buzzed in through the front door. Once inside they will, alas, be immediately disappointed by the deficiency of fanciful headgear and elaborate handshakes. Members do not walk around here in uniforms festooned with regalia, or hold ridiculous titles. In fact, there are very few members around at all.

"I told you there wouldn't be much happening tonight," says Paul Cotton, the Lodge's prelate. "You should come back on the 27th. We're having an open that night."

Mr. Cotton is 70. Just like the organization he represents, everything about him speaks of dependability and utility. His wooly hair is carved high up around his large ears which stick out from his head for optimum functionality. Suspenders secure olive drab workman's dungarees. One cargo pocket of his matching shirt houses a hard pack of Carnival cigarettes; the other numerous pens and a small writing pad. His face reminds me of those of bit actors who show up on reruns of "Mannix."

He's right. But for himself, the only other Moose here this Friday evening are Carl, the Lodge's governor; a young man named Jonathan, and, Carol, the chaplain and one of the Ladies of the Moose.

They are arranged around a long bar in the Lodge club room, which could be nearly any decades-old saloon in the city.

From the looks of the place it hasn't changed much since it opened in '73. It is darkly lit and swathed in dark wood paneling. What light there is comes from a couple of Budweiser lamps and wall sconces. There is a pool table. Over the bar is a t.v. set from which Dallas Raines is predicting a mid-Spring heat wave.

And, of course, there is a taxidermied head of a moose dominating one wall. It is massive. I whistle at the size of the beast.

"This animal's shoulders would have come up to here," says Mr. Cotton, indicating the top of his head. "But he'd still be nimble and able to dash through thick brush."

The Loyal Order of the Moose is a fraternal organization committed to the welfare of its members, their families and the community. Like the Masons, if a member dies, the Moose look after his widow and children.

They even run Mooseheart, a multi-acre orphanage and school for orphaned children of Moose in Illinois. They raise their own food and go to school there, and the children live in dormitories provided by the funds raised by Moose throughout the US, Canada and England. They even have a college scholarship for the little Moose.

"We raise 'em 'til their 18," explains Carol. "Then they're on their own."

The day-to-day life of Moose has to do with taking care of one another, socializing in the club house, and yes, feeding each other on the cheap. One of the Moose pamphlets actually explains one of the organization's missions is to "provide inexpensive meals" subsidized by members' dues.

Mr. Cotton runs the bar seven days a week (a sign: "Well Drinks: $3.95) and he's the chief cook when they have enough Moose there to occasion it.

"I used to cook tacos, Philly cheese steaks, meatloaf," he goes on. "I remember a woman who used to complain about tomatoes she'd say, 'They make my feet hoit!'"

Carol giggles heartily over this mimicry.

The Moose are on hard times.

"All the oldsters like me are dying off," explains Mr. Cotton. The backbone of the Moose was the World War II generation. Santa Monicans just don't socialize in this same way any more.

Mr. Cotton shows me the kitchen. It's impressive and professional, complete with a deep fryer and a Wolf range, but it's been unused for a couple of years since they had the last big Moose event.

There is a ballroom where weddings, Bingo and other events take place. This evening there are a few dozen small, dust-covered Formica tables set about in front of a stage. On one wall are the pictures of every Moose Lodge #702 governor since the its inception in 1944.

The line of portraits is a history of men's fashion. The Lodge's first governor, Robert Ross Kelly, Sr., is a handsome guy, with the thin moustache of a Hollywood star. The long line of governors marches on, into the '50s' shark skin suits, the '60s' thin ties and crew cuts, into the '70's long side burns and plaid sportcoats, and beyond. All of these men look like priests or army officers or school principals.

On one wall in a special display are the painted portraits of three of the Lodge members who have reached the level of Pilgrim, the highest honor among the Moose. Each wears a hat which looks like a combination fez-beret, with the long tassles of a graduate's mortarboard hanging down one cheek. Each man has long since passed.

Jonathan, the youngest guy in the place by fifty years, speaks up. "I paint things, fix the electricals, clean up. Whatever he tells me to do," he says, pointing to Mr. Cotton. I'm happy to think this young guy is part of the next generation of Moose, but he explains "I'm on community service."

Out of the blue Mr. Cotton says, "Some times I hear little bumps and noises around here." For a second I think he's talking about spooks and ghosts. He's actually talking about the closest thing to youth involvement with the Lodge nowadays.

"Yeah, kids from John Adams School will come by on their way home and kick the building."














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The views expressed in this column are those of Vince Basehart and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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