Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Typology of Foxhunters, Part 6: The Sponge

"Mr. Sponge declares himself." (John Leech, 1817-1864)

As we’re roughly at the mid-point of the Foxhunter Typologies, I thought it appropriate to note that I am hardly alone in my observations of “types” within the foxhunting world. Virtually all of the typologies consist of a hefty portion of input from acquaintances that have, over the years, remarked on one type of character or another whom they have had the pleasure, amusement, or annoyance to encounter. This process has also led to a composite result. There is no one person who solely represents any of the typologies. If anyone thinks he or she is the single example on which any typology is based, that person is mistaken. Eliminate any individual who may see some aspects of himself or herself in a given type, and there would still be ample resources available to have crafted the exact same depiction.

My involvement in a recent project commemorating the anniversary of a certain sporting association provided me with the unique opportunity to work with every recognized foxhunting club in North America, all 165 of them. Over the three years spent on this project, the resources for typology profiles expanded considerably. While my own hunting experience is limited to a few clubs in the Mid-Atlantic region, I have been gratified to learn that readers from Georgia to Texas to California have echoed the same sentiments about their fellow fox chasers.

As was noted when one typology was posted – False Staffs – the inspiration was not my own, but was suggested by a long-serving whip with far more experience than I have on this topic. In that same vein, a suggestion to embellish the Nouveau Gentry typology has come in the form of a comment submitted by a reader who chose to remain anonymous. And a shame that is because the succinct profile he or she crafted shows an insight and eloquence for which the writer deserves credit. Of course, “succinct” is not my forte so I could not resist taking the germ of the idea and expanding on it. Herewith is the result:

The Sponge

A Subspecies of Nouveau Gentry

From an Anonymous Reader:

“Another more common variety of the Fox Hunting Nouveau Gentry wannabe is a species affectionately known as the ‘Sponge’. The Sponge is a person of little innate ability, limited education, and considerably low motivation to succeed in the adult business world. This person’s sole existence is for the pleasure of the sport and the thrill of the chase – both the two- and four-legged variety. The Sponge knows when opportunity knocks and how to strike. They carefully seek out the recently separated, divorced or widow of the deceased with the means to keep him in the lifestyle for which he believes he deserves. The Sponge cherishes and embraces the material possessions of the former spouse and is more than willing to step into the breach to become the surrogate spouse. He does not wait for the pajamas or the bed to get cold – he moves swiftly and deliberately to occupy the persona of the Nouveau Gentry.”

My Elaboration:

In an effort to help conceal his pedestrian roots, the cunning Sponge attempts to pass himself off as a member of the shabby aristocracy. His hunting kit appears to have been handed down from the time of his great-grandfather, although it was actually bought at the consignment shop. A touch of unkempt hair and laconic drawl add to the illusion that his direct ancestors rode to hounds with General Washington and Billy Lee. This façade facilitates his move from a nameless suburbia to the heart of hunt country, courtesy of the newly unattached recipient of his affections. The masquerade that he is, as our anonymous contributor noted, in his own estimation deserving of the foxhunting gentry lifestyle is further enhanced with well-timed references to how it was in “the old days” (by which he means the latter part of the second Bush Administration).

To further the subterfuge he steers his new paramour toward the formation of fresh friendships with those less familiar with his past. Perish forbid anyone of position in the hunting community should see his actual CV wherein his limited education and spotty employment record are revealed. If at all possible, his highest achievement would be to switch allegiance to another hunting club where a clean slate would allow him to write his own story.

The Sponge’s lexicon gradually progresses in the use of the personal pronoun from “hers” (house, barn, truck, tractor, horses, land, etc.) to “ours” to “mine.”

Yet for all that posturing and obfuscation, it can be argued that The Sponge provides a public service. The foxhunting world is long on unattached women and miserably short on available men. The single man who hunts purely for his own pleasure is a rare commodity indeed. The line-up of ladies more than eager to enter into a partnership is legion. Many of these ladies are already self-sufficient, for one reason or another, and not in need of a provider. What they seek is a companion. And without the demands imposed on those who would be titans of industry, The Sponge has ample time for the quotidian chores of daily farm life as well as adventures afield for foxhunting and other pleasures.

Perhaps the greatest risk faced by the target of The Sponge’s affections is that she will incur the ire of her single friends over her good fortune while they remain alone, still awaiting the arrival of their Sponge Charming. The availability of so many companion-less ladies in the hunting world suggests potential for a new, specially focused matching service. Sponges R Us? Or, to borrow a bit of inspiration from a local racing syndicate, how about Pelvic Venture?

As our contributor pointed out, the passing of a spouse is one possibility for the vacancy The Sponge now fills. But our astute observer lists separation and divorce ahead of widowhood. This, then, would indicate that someone chose to leave that bed, those pajamas, all those possessions, and the partner herself so that he might pursue options more to his own pleasures. The Sponge is then the grateful recipient of what The Spouse has left behind through his own philandering and malfeasance.

To be sure, the arrival of a Sponge into hunting territory and his immediate posturing as “Gentry” (whether Nouveau or Vieux) is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Some gentlemen who have achieved their positions and possessions strictly through their own hard work and well-applied talents may look askance at this interloper. They see in him the old fable of the carefree grasshopper who has fiddled away the summer of his life while the industrious ant prepared for winter. But unlike the lesson of the fable, now that winter approaches the blasted grasshopper keeps on fiddling while the poor ant continues to struggle onward. It’s just not fair.

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