PEMBROKE -- Every Wednesday around 9:45 a.m., the gray-haired members of the Pembroke Dull Men’s Club amble through the doors of the town’s Senior Center and take their usual seats in the main meeting room.
This is where they come for coffee, conversation, and camaraderie, and to discuss a variety of topics and ponder deep philosophical questions, such as “What’s the best way to rake leaves?” and “What’s the best way to put a roll of toilet paper on — over or under?”
Once the doors are shut, the jokes begin. The chuckles and guffaws can be heard from the front lobby of the Council on Aging building on Center Street. It sounds like a laugh track from a TV sitcom.
Attendance is taken by the club’s unofficial president, Al Radin, a 69-year-old retired postal worker who wears glasses and blue jeans and sports a salt-and-pepper beard. Around 10:30 a.m., Rob Roy, a World War II veteran, tells a joke or funny story. Besides that, there is no set agenda.
“Just a free-flowing conversation,” said Radin. It’s mostly corny riddles and carefree commentary, and the occasional off-color joke or swear word.
“Things can get a little salty in there,” said retired banker Ken Girten, 76, who joined the club about five years ago. “We conform to the rules of nonconformity.”
Members wear matching black T-shirts and hats emblazoned with the club’s oval yellow logo containing “DMC” in bold capital letters, along with its motto: “Celebrate the ordinary.” The back of their shirts say: “Dull but not boring.”
The flashy duds have caught the eyes of other senior groups in town; the women in the quilting club are thinking about getting matching T-shirts.
The Pembroke Dull Men’s Club has also gotten a bit of media attention lately. It was recently featured on New England Cable News and National Public Radio’s “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” quiz show. In July, the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story about the club with a seemingly satirical headline, “Area Man Joins Organization Where Nothing Much Ever Happens.”
The members don’t consider themselves celebrities, though. Far from it — they laugh in wonderment at the attention, and hope that their sudden fame will attract some new members. So far, it hasn’t.
The club’s 35 or so members live in Pembroke or the nearby towns of Hanover, Rockland, and Whitman. Most of them were born and raised in Greater Boston and moved here to raise their families after they got married. They range in age from 60 to 88.
Dick Nickerson, 69, a retiree who serves as the group’s unofficial secretary, said he looks forward to every Wednesday morning, calling it “the best time of the week.”
At one recent gathering, the members passed around an empty Citrucel box and filled it with $1 bills. They do a 50/50 raffle every week, donating half the collection to local charities.
The winner this week was Jim Wilson. He took home $12, and it turned out to be his parting gift because he’s moving to Gardner. “That’ll give him enough gas to get on the Pike!” shouted one of the men. Laughter filled the room. “Have you seen the prices lately?” another asked.
Several shook their heads. After the commiserating about skyrocketing gasoline prices, the conversation moved on to the seemingly never-ending bridge reconstruction project on Route 53 over Route 3 in Hanover (“Will they ever finish?”) and the surprisingly long length of the town’s 300th anniversary parade (“You better wear your Depends!”).
One member launched into an amusing story about a drug test that took place at his place of work. He said one of his colleagues refused to urinate in the plastic cup and instead filled it with apple juice. Later on, when the nurse approached the colleague, he grabbed the cup back from her and said, “Here, let me put it through again!” He put the cup to his lips, tipped it back, and drank it, as the nurse looked on in horror.
The men laughed in disbelief. “That’s a true story!” the member insisted, with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.
The Dull Men’s Club movement did not start in Pembroke. While the roots of dullness reach back to the dawn of humankind, the first known club was established in San Francisco in 1980. Several chapters soon sprouted around the country.
Leland Carlson, a retired tax attorney, started a Dull Men’s Club in New York in the 1980s. Then, some years later, under the pen name Grover Click, Carlson launched www.dullmensclub.com, “where dull men — and women who appreciate dull men — share thoughts and experiences about ordinary things.”
Over the years, club chapters have come and gone, although the website has many followers. Carlson says the Pembroke group is the only active Dull Men’s Club chapter that he knows of.
“They’re quite a group of guys,” said Carlson, 73, speaking by phone from his home in Nebraska. “They all share the same sense of humor — or lack of it.”
The Pembroke club has been around for about a dozen years. Exactly when it started, no one is quite sure, but it all began with Connie Church and his friend, the late Joe Collins.
After losing their wives, Church and Collins met at a bereavement group at St. Thecla Parish in Pembroke. But the two widowers found themselves surrounded by mostly women grieving the loss of their husbands, according to Church.
One day, Collins stumbled across Carlson’s website. Inspired by the concept, he suggested that he and Church start a men’s group of their own at the Senior Center.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll go along with you,’ ” said Church. “So we started the Dull Men’s Club, to give men a place to sit down together, tell jokes, and talk about things that are bugging them.”
And thus the Pembroke chapter was born. “It started out accidentally, more or less, and it grew,” said Church.
What started as a bereavement group evolved into a social club that gives retirees a chance to meet up with other guys in town. Without such opportunities, said Church, “you become a couch potato in a minute.”
Collins died in 2010, but the club he helped launch is thriving.
Every Wednesday morning at the Senior Center, Church, 83, can be found in a corner of the room, sitting with a hand resting on his walking cane, quietly listening to his fellow club members as they playfully rib each other and crack jokes.
“Today, it’s unbelievable,” he said after the recent meeting. “It’s come a long way.
“Joe would be proud of the group.”