by Terran Boylan
Well, I did it. Hurrydate, that is. Twenty-five dates for thirty-five bucks.
To begin with I was nervous about the day in general because the Hurrydate thing coincided with one of Mom's trips to Stanford for chemo. We've been doing this thing lately where she takes Redi-Wheels down to the hospital and then I've been picking her up. Because of the unpredictability of how long the process (blood work, appt with oncologist, cocktail preparation, chemo) will take, I knew going into this thing that we were going to have to plan for another way for Mom to get home. I usually get weird about these kinds of things, what with my tendency for morbid fantasies. I just imagine scenarios in which I go off to participate in some act of “middle-aged single” debauchery while Mom sits in the rain waiting for some ungodly length of time because she's missed her ride and would rather freeze to death than call a cab, because calling and taking a damn taxi is outside the range of her limited experience as a retired schoolteacher.
I am self-aware enough to know that I'm going to have a hell of a lot better time in these kinds of situations if I know before I go that Mom is safe and sound (and warm) and all is well. Fortunately in this case Mom called to tell me (a) She wasn't able to have her chemo because her white blood cell count was too low and (b) her Redi-Wheels ride home was running about 1/2 hour late but she had called them and they were on their way. And so I could breathe something resembling a sigh of relief.
I left work about 5 o'clock, which is a little early for me. Thanks to a recently acquired sleep disorder I'd woken up a bit past 6 that morning and rolled into work a little before 7am. I went home and shaved off my 5 o'clock shadow (appropriate, huh?) and put on my tummy-camouflaging black shirt and the same old comfortable green sports coat I always wear. I had some time to kill before the optimal 6pm departure time and so I sat and practiced smiling into the mirror. The harder I tried to smile "warmly," the more it looked like a painful grimace. "Yeah, this isn't gonna work," I thought to myself. Possibly I said it aloud. I don't recall.
I drove to Palo Alto and found parking about six blocks away from Fannie and Alexander's, which is a meat market-y kinda bar. I entered and walked past the bar to the patio and as soon as I went through the doors I knew I’d been there before. I hadn't recognized the interior because the last time I'd been there it was dark and the place was packed with dancing, sweaty, horny people.
Damn near everybody who knows me knows I'm pathologically punctual and so I was there exactly at 6:30, which was the designated "arrival start time." The Hurrydate staff were still in the process of setting up their little makeshift card table registration stand. A distractingly attractive woman (the kind with “perfect” makeup that I associate somehow with cruise ships) told me they would be starting at 7:15, fifteen minutes later than their email said. She told me in a friendly voice that they needed another five minutes before they would be ready for me. I retraced my steps back to the bar and made the crucial "white wine or Corona" decision and ended up with a bottle of some kinda Corona knock-off that tasted a lot like bottled water.
I wandered back to the patio for what I anticipated to be the most socially awkward time of the evening for me. To recap: I was in a bar, sans companions or emotional support structure, I found myself being sized up by a lot of furtive glances, and I was somehow expected to mingle and make small talk with a bunch of strangers. Yeah, right. This was not my natural environment.
So I stood there like a goof for two minutes and then I did one of those head-nod things with this guy and we started to have one of those conversations of convenience. He told me he'd attended a Hurrydate “party” once before up in the city. I asked him to elaborate and learned the San Francisco parties are held at the Bubble Lounge. This led me to making a lame joke about how it would be worth it just to get into the Bubble Lounge for a mere 35 bucks (the Hurrydate registration fee). As we talked I realized there was something about the guy that was more than a little off-putting to me, and so I quickly drained my beer and headed back to get another.
By this time people were starting to trickle in and I had to wait about five minutes before the gorilla behind the bar saw fit to exchange my empty bottle for a full one. I made my way back out to the patio and got myself registered. My nametag read “Terran 55” (the 55 referred to my Hurrydate ID, not my age) and I got my score card / instruction booklet. After registering I took a pull from my beer and took up a place in an "I'm friendly who’s open to talking" spot, as opposed to an "I'm a desperate loser who’s fearful of human contact" spot.
Now while I’m on the subject… I have learned over the years I have this built-in "underdog" radar, likely the result of spending so much of my life as one of the socially inept myself. Since he’d arrived I’d been aware of this one guy at the event whose presence just cried out “underdog.” Dressed in a light blue out-of-style business suit, he was a true duck out of water. He had unnaturally pale skin; the way light interacted with it gave the impression he was covered with fine, white powder. His every action betrayed his shy nature and current discomfort. I watched him as he took a seat alone at one of the tables away from the general crowd at a distance both comfortable and uncomfortable, if you know what I mean. My heart really went out to him and my instinct was to go over and strike up a conversation just so he wouldn't feel so alone. But I didn’t. The unfortunate reality of the situation was (a) I didn’t really want to and (b) knew if I did I'd be marked by that action. It was the social dynamics of high school all over again. The only difference being as an adult I am more cognizant of the bleeding social stigmata that goes hand in hand with… hanging out with people in the math club. (Just for the record, yes, I was a member of the math club and proudly represented my high school at a number of competitive math events.)
Anyhow, I was standing next to a blonde woman when this bug-eyed guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt slid in between us and said to her, "You look really familiar -- Have you been to one of these things before?" She assured him she hadn't, but he kept pestering her. I was doing my not-so-invisible eavesdropping thing when she turned to me and said, "But you DO look familiar. Where do I know you from?" I smiled and told her I was pretty sure we hadn't met and followed this by commenting on how distinctive her eyes were and maybe that was why bug-eyes thought he'd met her before. I could tell bug-eyes was thrown by the fact her attention was on me and not him, and I found the situation amusingly ironic on some level. The blonde was insistent we had met before, and after awhile we figured out we actually had. It turned out she was kind of a friend of a friend of a former co-worker (Eric Vignola) and had gone to the PDI baseball outing a month after 9/11. She said she had a real gift for remembering faces and told me an amusing anecdote related to recognizing a guy in an airport with whom she'd gone to camp as a teenager.
I became aware there was another, somewhat shy, guy (not the bug-eyed one) who was now listening in as we talked, sort of like I had been doing a few minutes earlier. I did one of those numbers where I gracefully folded him into our conversation and kind of got him and the blonde talking to each other. I'm not exactly sure why I did this other than I'm a hapless, nice schmuck and in some odd way I felt like I was playing the role of "party facilitator."
I somehow fell into a conversation with bug-eyes, a tall guy in black, and a short clean-looking guy with glasses. Like the guy I’d talked with earlier, bug-eyes and tall guy had done Hurrydate before at the Bubble Lounge. In a whispering voice, they told me and glasses that the women had been much better looking in San Francisco. Clearly they were both profoundly disappointed by the selection on the menu. I wanted to tell them both they weren't exactly GQ material.
Now I'll happily admit I spend most of my time living inside a glass bubble and rarely venture "downtown" on the "weekend" to "singles bars," but I found it bizarre that three of the first few guys I'd talked to that evening had expressed in public these blatantly unpleasant attitudes toward women. I’m not Alan Alda or anything, but it bugged me. It got me to thinking how many of the men I have historically met under these kind of circumstances have made me embarrassed to be a man. Seriously. I know, I know, I have my well-documented "masculinity issues," but I just don't get it. I mean, biological imperative notwithstanding, It's like these guys have these attitudes and yet somehow they're supposed to someday be husbands and possibly fathers? Is it alpha-dog posturing or genuine misogyny? Yikes! These are definitely not the kinda guys I would want my sister to meet in a bar. Okay, I know I'm not some kinda big catch or anything. I have my share of emotional baggage too. But at least when I donate blood I'm not in danger or polluting the blood supply with poisonous values. Just for the record, I’m not blowing my horn here for selfish reasons, honest. Listening to these creepy guys talking like this really made me uncomfortable.
Okay, now that I got that off my chest, let's get back on track.
So... 7:15 rolls around and we're all asked to gather together and get started. Our hostess for the evening (the one from the cruise ship) turned on the (completely unnecessary) PA system and instructed the women to take a seat at a table with a letter (“One woman to a letter, please!”). She then asked the men to pick a woman and have a seat. Then she told us how it was going to work, and the instructions were not terribly complicated: They primarily consisted of whistle-blowing at 3-minute intervals and a basic knowledge of alphabetical order.
And so I began my whirlwind 25-date adventure.
It took me all of about twenty seconds to realize the goal at each “date” was to talk as fast was humanly possible and cover as much ground as you could within the three minutes. One thing I found really cool was that there wasn't really any time for "shyness." With the clock running you pretty much had to start off in high gear and get going right away. Most of the time I started the question asking process but after awhile I relaxed a little bit and it became more of a two-way thing. The top questions for the evening were (in this order): (a) "What do you like to do for fun?" (b) "What do you do for a living?" (c) "How long have you lived in the area?"
I learned the "what do you like to do for fun" question was a good way to gauge physical activity compatibility. I mean, I'm solar powered and all and I like to be outside, but I'm not into biking and camping and white-water rafting. I’m not a couch potato, but I'm about 25 pounds overweight and just not what you would call athletic. While that doesn‘t make me a criminal, I definitely “get” that a lot of women are looking for a more physically active mate than me. And so several times about thirty seconds into a date we both knew it wasn't going to be a "match." When that happened I simply took the pressure off the situation by saying, "Okay, so I'm probably not the guy for you, but we can still have a fun little conversation for the next two minutes, huh?" And this went over well and we were able to relax and chat a bit and have fun.
About halfway through the 25 "dates" it started to sink in that I was really having a blast! Maybe it was partly because I was working on my third beer and maybe there was something wrong with me neurologically. I don't know. I was just having a terrific time.
And that made me wonder why?
Was it because I actually LIKE people and like meeting new people? If so, I was going to have to re-think my self image as a troglodytic misanthrope. The foundation of my entire belief system was crumbling around me. It was like I was at a really great party and I was going from single woman to single woman and just being my charming self. And what was the most astounding thing of all was that most of the women I met seemed nice and receptive and more or less open to meeting ME. What kind of bizarre parallel dimension had I tumbled into?
Anyway, after a blur of fast-talking, action-packed, two-fisted dating excitement, I finally reached the final letter, which for me was the letter "L." Now throughout the evening one of the fun bits had been the "let me look at your nametag and write your name and number down on my scorecard" game. The woman at table "L" had apparently grown weary of men looking at her chest and had taken her tag off and taped it to the table. I commented on how clever an idea that was, to which she sized me up and replied, "Uh-huh." From the look in her eyes I got the sense she was weary in more ways than one. As I permitted myself the luxury of a deep breath I realized I was too. And so Instead of doing the standard "what do you like to do for fun" gabber-gabber, we just compared notes about what the evening’s experience had been like.
And then the final whistle blew.
And so I peeled off my "Terran 55" nametag and walked back to my car.
As I quickly walked along the zig-zaggy path back to the parking garage, I thought more and more about how astonishing it was that I had genuinely had a terrific time. Naturally it occurred to me that my exaggeratedly favorable impression of the evening could have been filtered to some degree through a gauze of beer and adrenaline. I had felt "on," as if I were performing a play or speaking before a large group of people, but in a good way, if you know what I mean. I was hopped up on a delightful neurochemical cocktail. And in knowing that, as I sit here writing this in the cold light of day I'm skeptical as to the true objective reality of my perceived experience… Sort of like the way I feel about that time I saw a ghost…
Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted as I saw they white powdery guy in the light blue suit rapidly crossing the street a block ahead. I was almost certain he’d left the bar the same time I did. Man he was fast! Was he a vampire?
With the three beers in me (I was plenty fine to drive) and the slowly fading “party” afterglow, I made my way home. I felt oddly younger than my years. I also felt a familiar desire to stop along the way and pick up a pack of Marlboro reds. Thankfully, somewhere along the way my higher faculties won out over my need for instant gratification and prevented me from stopping for smokes.
Mom was watching "West Wing" when I walked in. She told me about her trip to and from Stanford Hospital and how disappointed she was that she wasn't able to get the chemo. I told her I had a lot of fun at the “dating thing” and said I’d maybe like to do it again and it was unfortunate they were all scheduled for Wednesday nights, the same day as her chemo sessions. We talked a bit about how it was important for me to have a social life and that I wasn’t neglecting her by doing so and then I cleaned the litter boxes and kissed her goodnight and went up to my bedroom.
Before crashing for the night I logged into the Hurrydate website and entered my Y's and N's. Out of the 25 "dates" I had six definite Y's and two possibles, which I went ahead and entered as yes's.
And so now my second opportunity for public humiliation is rapidly approaching: According to the website I should know within 24 hours if any of the women I was interested in meeting again feel the same about me. I suspect there will be a few women that'll fall into that category, mostly because right now I have a pretty high opinion of myself.
Gasp! But what if NONE of them are interested? What if I get a big fat goose egg? What do I do then?
I guess what I'll do is put on my rationalization hat and tell myself it was still a positive experience and I got some valuable practice chatting up women in a party situation. I can use that. There's definitely a little more stretch in my personal dating comfort zone elastic as a result. Just watch me do my little comfort zone elastic stretching dance!
And most importantly, I had a good time. Yep. Surprisingly. Astonishingly. I sure as shit did.
"Hi, how are you doing? Are you having a good time?"
Copyright (C) 2003, Terran Boylan