I met Abbie Grotke a few years ago when my company Zepheira started work for the U.S. Library of Congress to produce the web application that has become Viewshare. I was immediately struck by her sideline, collecting classic advice books and writing articles which apply material from those books for modern enquirers, and also by the phenomenon that’s emerged from that sideline, which will become clear in this interview.

*Editor’s note:  This is the first edition of a new column at TNB featuring links of interest from around the web.

Roxane Gay comments on the resurgent birth control debate over at The Rumpus, in an essay entitled “The Alienable Rights of Women.”

If I told you my birth control method of choice, which I kind of swear by, you’d look at me like I was slightly insane. Suffice it to say, I will take a pill every day when men have that same option. We should all be in this together, right? One of my favorite moments is when a guy, at that certain point in a relationship, says something desperately hopeful like, “Are you on the pill?” I simply say, “No, are you?”

I know there was a lot of shit going on in heaven this past weekend, what with Jesus busy preparing the Papa Hem suite for Christopher Hitchens while simultaneously arranging for Kim Jong-il’s ferry ride to hell. But the good lord totally dropped the ball on number one fan Tim Tebow, who suffered a streak-ending loss to the New England Patriots.

Full disclosure: I would bang Tim Tebow with the intensity of a thousand suns. This amuses me because I find him absurd in just about every facet of his life, from his fervent religious belief to his home schooling to his colluding with pro life organizations. But that didn’t stop me from imagining what it might be like to go on a date with him.

 

My Date with Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow would pick me up in his maroon Ford F-150 exactly five minutes before he was due. He would saunter up to my door in pressed blue jeans and a polo shirt. He’d have on some kind of mirrored sunglasses.

Tim Tebow would wear Cool Water or something similar, because Drakkar Noir sounds foreign and (he thinks) only gays wear Calvin Klein. He’d probably use too much gel in his hair, but I would overlook this because holy shit, he’s Tim Tebow.

He’d take me to a steak house and ask if I was Jewish. He would sigh with relief when I said no, but would tighten up again (albeit to lesser degree) when I informed him I was Greek.

“Aren’t Catholics, like, you know,” he’d gesture at the side of his head with his finger, “weird?”

“Oh, I’m not Catholic anymore, I’m an athei–,” I’d stutter, remembering that atheism and Tim Tebow go together like Israel and Palestine.  Then, recovering:  “I’m kind of between religions right now.”

“Well, Jesus is great,” he’d tell me, reaching across the table for my hand.

Tim Tebow would talk exclusively about football and Jesus, the topics almost interchangeable. I’d nod politely while wondering what he’d look like naked and covered in blood. (Oh shit, did I just think that? Regroup, Stacie, regroup.)

“So…” I’d say, wiping my hand over the menu. “Appetizers?”

“I can’t eat shrimp,” he’d whisper across the table. He’d then cite the corresponding biblical passage forbidding him from doing so.

We’d order the same cut of steak. I’d try to tame the typical vacuum-like configuration my mouth takes on at steak houses. He would tell me about the time he circumcised a bunch of boys in the Philippines just as I was excising a piece of gristle from my otherwise glorious cut of beef. My hands would freeze in place as I rolled my eyes up to him slowly.

“Say what now?”

He’d explain that during his stay in the Philippines the ministry his father worked for decided that the best thing for these impoverished boys would be to take knives to their peckers in the name of the lord. I’d drink some water to keep from gasping.

“Totally, totally legit,” he’d assure me.

At the end of the night I would try to pressure Tim Tebow into doing it in the cab of his F-150. He’d look uncomfortable and decline my offer.  “Come on,” I’d groan.  “Jesus doesn’t care.”

But Tebow would hold firm, removing my prying hand from his thigh and placing it gently back in my lap. He’d then invite me to bible study the following week, referring to my complete lack of morals as “worrisome.”

“Jesus is my go-to guy,” he’d explain, citing his many championships and awards, all of them won with the kind assistance of the son of god. I’d mention offhand that I always took Jesus to be a Patriots fan. Tebow’s normally placid face would then twist into a mild sneer. He’d lean across my body to open my door and suggest that we call it night.

“What about bible study?” I’d cry out as he sped away.   And then, pathetically:  “I’m a sinner!  Let’s bone!”

The rest of the night would be spent in an increasing state of drunkenness, crank-calling Tim Tebow’s cell phone, pretending to be the holy spirit. After about three tries, he’d catch on and block my number.  And that would be the end of it.   For the rest of eternity, we would never speak to each other again.

 

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

It’s Friday! It’s Day Eleven! And I’m extra excited about today’s story, which is a totally true story, except for the words you filled in from our Mad-Libs-style challenge. I’ve highlighted them below, beginning with the title. Thanks for playing!

 

Avatar: Dark of the Titanic Moon, Part Two (the Deathly Hallows)

Of all the guys I ever dated, the tastiest one was this kid named Blanket. We went to the same college and worked together at a rose tattoo store—I was in the bakery and he was a game show host.

He was a nice kid, real dorky and prematurely blinding at the young age of 64. Sometimes he tried to act cool, saying “hip” things like Got any cheese? or, That’s racist! as he walked by the bakery. It was kind of cute, how pathetic it was.

He finally asked me out right around my birthday. He told me he wanted to bring me flowers and asked me what kind I liked.

“I don’t know. I kind of hate pansies. Anything, really, except those.”

He then asked me about ten more times and tried to get me to be more specific, which was a real turn-off. I thought, “If this Joey-Bag-of-Doughnuts can’t just buy a girl some flowers without specific instructions, what does that say about him?”

What it said was that he lacked creativity. He bought me pansies. Purple ones. “I know they’re pansies but I thought they were kind of different because they’re purple, right?”

Our date was uneventful, but not metallic. A few days later he asked if I wanted to come hang out at his tree after class. I agreed, thinking maybe I could be the “bad girl” that turned him from a clean cut carrot into a hermaphroditic handgun.

We sat on the floor in his living room. He asked if I wanted to listen to music and pulled out his cassette collection. My eyes martinized as I spied two Bette Midler tapes and two Nickelback tapes.

“What the Hell?” I asked.

“We-we don’t have to listen to those. Pick something else,” he offered.

I dug through the box and pulled out a Richard Marx album.

“Oh my god…” I said. I couldn’t even look at him. I made a face like I was going to be sick.

“What? You don’t like buoyant music?”

I stood up and started backing up towards the front door. It was like I had found a bloody hatchet under his couch—this guy was a maniac and I had to get out of there!

He tried to reason with me. “But we don’t have to listen to them!”

“It’s enough that you own them. It’s enough that you own them.

“I’ll throw them away,” he offered. He picked up the box and started walking with it toward the kitchen.

“No. It’s too late. You bought those. You HAVE those. I have to go.”

I turned and ran out of there as if being chased. I just panicked, I guess. I mean, I know that my behavior was less than stinky. It’s clear that I overreacted.

But then again, did I?

I went on a crappy date. Yes, I call them dates. The 27 year old I “dated” insisted it was the first date of her life. She begged me not to tell anyone we went on a date. We went on the date. I know for a fact she’s not a virgin, since earlier penetration ensued.

I was craving a date. Taking a girl to a movie, while holding hands, a little bite to eat and a good night kiss at the end of the night. It didn’t matter we already had done IT a couple of times. I had an epiphany about being single and divorced and 40 years old. I don’t need to play by the new rules.

What are the new rules?

After roughly 15 years of monogamy I found the new rules are:

A cup of coffee is not a cup of coffee. It’s a human way to smell each others’ asses to see if we’re going to fuck. Most likely right after coffee unless you fart.

When did coffee become so sexual?

One night stands are easy. There are hot ladies who want to get their rocks off every night on the streets and in the bars of San Francisco.

For about 10 days I tested this phenomena. When I was 38 I had only slept with one woman my whole life. A few weeks shy of 40 I had slept with eight women. For some reason my brain clicked onto this theory that I had to be in double digits before I was 40 or I’d be a loser.

Time was running short.

And my mom was staying at my place, so in order to have animal sex with someone I had just met, I would have to get to her apartment.

At the first bar there was a woman who was sexy and smart and we were talking. I gave it a try. She was with a dude. I asked the guy when the woman went to “freshen up” if they were together because I would leave the bar if they were. He assured me they weren’t together, so I went into full pursuit.

And here’s the line I used for the next 10 days:

I’d love to talk to you a little longer, let’s go to your place, but I can only stay for 30 minutes. Should we grab some chips and beer on the way?

It worked EVERY time.

Girls like time limits, I know this. It’s an OUT if things aren’t jiving at their place, though we were usually naked before the 30 minutes were up and some hours later I was searching kitchens for coffee filters.

Another hurdle: I’m agoraphobic and the symptoms manifest themselves at odd times. I have even had panic attacks during sex. So, leaving the next morning, or as “they” call it, the walk of shame, usually included a panic attack or two on the way back to my apartment.

But, I inched to double digits. (Pun intended.)

I asked this tall blond girl on a date. We met while we were drunk a week or so before. I misunderstood that she was a librarian, it turned out she was interested in becoming a librarian. On our date, she was so happy about her temp job and that her boss said she was doing a good job answering phones that they were going to keep her.

“I thought you were a librarian?”

“I’d like to be one, but it’s so much schooling.”

The DATE went horrible and I dropped her off at BART at midnight, horny and alone. Within one hour I was naked with another lady I had just met and we were back at her place.

I used the line, 30 minutes, beer, chips, talking.

30 minutes definition: nudity

beer definition: vaginal penetration

chips definition: it’s hard to cum with whiskey, but I can ride for days

talking definition: do you have a clean towel so I can take a shower?

And it happened and I had sex with 13 women before I turned 40. That’s counting penetration and not evenings that turned into oral or hand play.

It was fun, getting naked with strangers and being physically intimate way too fast. But it also felt empty and I felt a little used. And, I realized that my pathetic line only worked because the girls already knew they wanted to fuck me and had pretty much gone out to get fucked.

So, I turned 40 and stopped one night stands, dates, and women and getting laid. A couple of the one night stands actually turned into repeat visits which turned into, yeah, let’s stop getting naked and be friends…actual friends where we got drinks and hung out. But I was done with the new rules.

Girls would give me their phone numbers without my requesting them. I’d thank them and drop the number in the trash on the way out.

No more random fucks.

I wanted to be single, yet unavailable. And women smelled it on me. They’d ask if I had a girlfriend and my answer was, I’m not available.

It wasn’t to be noble or righteous. I had just been monogamous too long and needed my head cleared, to take a step back as a single dude, to figure out what was good for me, not what everyone around me was doing.

Back to my date gone wrong, or my number 8.

Before the film we went into a deli to get sandwiches to eat during the film. It was an industry screening, so they’re lenient on bringing your own food, beer, etc.

I paid for my sandwich and I didn’t put money in the tip jar.

My date flipped out.

“You would give a bartender a dollar for mixing you a drink, why won’t you give a tip for someone who makes you a sandwich?”

“Because it’s a deli. Bartenders and waiters make their living on tips. It’s a damn hard job, I did room service and waited tables for years. Just because someone puts a tip jar on the counter doesn’t mean I’m supposed to tip.”

She tried to convince me on the way things were. But I’m 40. Five years ago there wasn’t a tip jar at a deli. These tip jars are appearing everywhere.

She begrudgingly held my hand as we entered the screening room. That’s when I realized it’s easier to fuck a girl than get her to hold my hand in public. I should have put a couple of bucks in my hand.

Here’s how I think of it. Do you tip the popcorn vendor at a movie theatre? They make the same wage and have to deal with douchier people than someone working at a mom and pop deli.

OR, what about those poor people who work fast food joints? The bottom of the bottom of service jobs. Have you ever tipped someone for a Whopper?

OR, what about a divorced 40 year old dude who just wants to hold your hand and watch a film?

 

To bring you up to date on my life with the ladies, I now have a girlfriend. We have lots of “beer” and I don’t buy “chips”. Intimacy is so much more fun in a relationship.

 

I’ve started dating again, after a full year of being as far removed from the scene as I could be without being on a different planet. Two dates in and a third around the corner and do you know what I’ve come to realize?

I hate dating.

This is generic advice, aimed at no one in particular (except a few older men I work with who won’t ever have the opportunity to read it). I’ve been mostly single my whole dating career – a few three to four month interludes throughout the years – and I’ve only recently come to terms with it. Throughout those years, though, some things are constant.

1. Always (always, always, always) think before you open your mouth. This is especially true when conversing with a single woman nearing 30. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re not quite sure if what you’re about to say is going to offend me, take a few seconds to consider just how awful your own foot might taste when it’s stuffed into your mouth.

2. Don’t worry that there’s something wrong with me because I’m approaching 30 and haven’t yet had a stable, long-term relationship. It’s like Deborah Kerr said – “Personally, I think if a woman hasn’t met the right man by the time she’s 24, she may be lucky.”

3. Stop telling Cat Lady jokes. Seriously, just stop.

4. Just because I’m happy without a romantic relationship in my life, doesn’t mean I’m prepared to walk into a room full of couples by myself. Bravery is one thing, but stupidity is a whole other. Cosmo Magazine would never tell you, but that’s why gazelles travel in groups – because it makes it harder for the lions to pick one out for dinner.

5. 99.9% of the people who are in loving, wonderful relationships are the EXCEPTION. I think it’s wonderful that you met your husband or wife by chance while choosing melons at the local market, but stop telling me that I need to shop for melons on a daily basis so I can meet the love of my life. I don’t even like melons.

6. Please stop telling me that it will happen when I’m no longer looking. The reasoning here is twofold: first, because I’ve stopped looking and it’s still not happening and second, because if this statement applies to dating then shouldn’t it apply to most other things? For instance, if I’m constantly looking for a bus and it doesn’t appear, then the minute I stop looking for a bus one will show up…and most likely run me over. This seems unpleasant.

7. Hollywood: STOP MAKING ROMANTIC COMEDIES. They’re not funny, they cause damage to one’s self-esteem, and they create unachievable goals in a world already filled to the brim with broken hearts. See here.

8. Not everyone gets a “happy” ending. Some people get the ending that makes them happy.

9. Do not (I repeat: DO NOT) suggest online dating to me when I complain about how difficult it is to meet men in this day and age. I won’t even say anything. I’ll just throw something at you (most likely something soft…maybe). Just let me bitch and moan and then tell me to suck it up and eat a cupcake.

10. Don’t worry so much. Life happens at a pace it sets for itself. You’ll be the first to know when I’m head-over-heels in love. Until then, let me be. I have a wonderful group of friends and for now, they keep me sane.

The 6 month sabbatical was supposed to end this month. I don’t think it will, at least not officially. I’m not saying that if some approximation of my better half pops up in front of me and asks me to dinner I’m going to say no. I’m just saying I need some more time to figure it out…whatever the hell “it” is.

When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)

So I drink from my flask and the staggering Jasmine intrigues me. I’m her honorable man, the man of chivalry, walking the drunken girl home. She drops her purse and wallet. I pick them up and give them back to her, while salivating junkies stare at the wallet on the sidewalk and wonder if I’m a fast runner. We are in the Tenderloin. It’s my duty to protect this girl, this flower, this woman of intrigue.

I met Jasmine at last call and I scooted to the stool next to her and we talked. She ordered three drinks for her friends, but her friends were already outside. Don’t drink those, I said as she picked up the first one. It was like a junkie telling another junkie they need to cut down on their smack use.

She told me that she got her masters degree in history.

History and philosophy degrees are my favorite degrees. They turn me on. Breasts work as well, but tell me you’re in human resources or business management, and my penis shrinks back into my scrotum. History degree? Can you rub that degree on my ass while we kiss?

Jasmine needs pizza and her friend walks with us. I’m just dropping you off and going home, I say. I like this drunken lady, she’s going to law school. She’s smart and sexy and I want to spend time with her. When we’re both sober. I will come for you and tomorrow you’ll remember me: the gentleman, and the author who kissed your hand at your apartment door. I give my mustache a twist and wonder to myself about the chance of the relationship progressing to the point where I might acknowledge her in my next novel.

Her friend Camille walks with us and seems like a decent lady….I don’t mind that she’s with us because I could seem a bit menacing. I’m okay with it. Girls have to help girls and they don’t know that I’m the last person on earth who is threatening or will take advantage.

I’m still trying to figure it out. This single stuff. The dating stuff. There are some girls I date and there’s no romantic connection and I feel guilty about it. Like I have to break up an engagement.

That’s baggage from my religious past and I’m finding out that it’s okay to hang out and be friends if the dating doesn’t work. I suck at this stuff, but I plunge into the deep end and feel the rush of the ice-cold waters without regard for rejection. Getting phone numbers. Having fun.

It’s like I hit a homerun out of the ballpark. Yet I can only run to second base, and then drift into centerfield somewhere. I lay down on the lawn and dream of meeting a girl who will stick around for a while. Someone where the chemistry just clicks and I know exactly how much milk to put in her coffee. Then, she tells me where I left my pin stripe pants.

Camille is with us and I know that in order to woo Jasmine I should make an effort to be friends with her friends.

Jasmine and Camille tell me to drink more. And I pull out my flask and drink more and they are satisfied. I always bring a flask when I go out. It’s a great way to save a little money while walking to another bar, or an after party….pull out the flask and take a big swig. [Look out for police, they don’t like that.]

I drank and try to catch up with the honorable Jasmine and her drunkenness. My Dulcinea. Later I realize I was already caught up and drunk, I just had a better handle on it. We stumble and I love her hair. And her glasses. And I love our potential.

We get to her apartment.

I start to drop to one knee and go to kiss her delicate hand good night but she pushes me through the door.

I tell Jasmine and Camille that I host a radio show. (Drinks with Tony). Camille asks me to interview her. She insists. And Jasmine plops down on my lap. She has runs in her leggings and all of a sudden Camille’s continued pleading for an interview does not irritate me when Jasmine puts her arms around my neck.

How would you interview me? Camille insists.

Jasmine sits on my lap and it’s like going to first base. I make it to first and the ball continues to sail out of the ballpark, so I appease Camille’s need to be interviewed.

What are you into? What am I interviewing you for? I ask.

Camille responds by asking me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Ask me to take my shirt off….Camille gets adamant, she insists and I’m role playing my real radio show so I tell her, well, I’m more of a Craig Ferguson than a Howard Stern on the radio.

What was I thinking? I love breasts.

It continues and Jasmine rubs my inner thigh, then grabs my crotch and we kiss and kiss while my fake radio show guest waits for me to ask her to take her shirt off.

Camille finally gives up and stumbles onto one of the loft beds in the apartment. Jasmine’s tongue finds my tongue and my hand finds her nipple. The other nipple makes its way out of her shirt and my hand rubs up her thigh until I put light pressure on her vagina, under her skirt and over her underwear. She moans and I pull down her shirt. In a moment of modesty I ask if we can retreat to the bathroom where Camille won’t see us.

We kiss and kiss and clothes come off. She has a bush of hair between her legs. Another reason to really get to know Jasmine. She doesn’t trim the lawn, and I love the running my fingers through the grass.

After about an hour of exploring each others’ areas that don’t see too much of the sun, I give her my information….everything, phone number, email, Facebook, shit, I would have given her my social security number if she asked for it.

I want a tomorrow with you. I want an outdoor kiss across a table at a cafe with you.

Are you staying, she asks. But there’s only one room in her studio apartment and Camille who only wants an excuse to undress for me was on the bed. I decide to go home.

Jasmine walks me to the door. Naked. Her milky white skin in all of its glory.

What was great was she wasn’t planning to get lucky that night. Her legs were stubbled. That made me more excited. Sometimes women are out to get laid and all they have to do is point.

You.

If the man she points to says no, then…

You.

If she has to point to more than three men, the earth will tilt off its axis and we’ll all float to Mars.

It’s been more than a week and she still hasn’t called me. Maybe she blacks out when she drinks and woke up wondering why she smelled like sex. Maybe she found the paper with my information on it and went, oh, his name was Tony, and tossed it in the trash.

I slutted up. My Don Quioxite turned into Eros. Into a Johnny Drama situation from Entourage.

I still want to meet her again. Fully clothed and we can talk.

Bask in the humor and the embarrassment and fun of our drunken oopsie.

I’m just trying out this sex thing like the animals we are.

My post apocalyptic religious cult belief system is finally squashed. A messy divorce after 13 years of marriage, forgiven. And still, I look for the one.

A one.

When two staggering drunk ladies are mad because you’re not as drunk as them and they ask you to catch up, so you drink more…..that probably means you were already too drunk. (Things they don’t teach you in elementary school, lesson #1.)

Jilly and I occasionally have these very heartfelt conversations about relationships. I usually feel lighter afterwards, like I’ve shaken off a few hundred pounds of expectations and ideals and other such annoying things. We talk about the men we’ve dated, the men we’ve wanted to date, and the men we see ourselves eventually ending up with when it’s all said and done.

James and I met Rosina and Rebbecca in Tae-kwon-do class, in a dojo around the corner from our hostel near Plaza Dos de Mayo in Malasaña. Malasaña is a trendy neighborhood named after Manuela Malasaña, a 15-year-old girl who resisted being raped by French troops in 1808 and was therefore executed. I don’t know when it became trendy.

James and I were fond of making lists when we arrived in Spain. Here’s one:

  1. Live healthy
  2. Read
  3. Buy a basketball (where?)
  4. Get jobs (acting, meet Almodovar, etc.)
  5. Only Spanish girls (must learn language)

The Tae-kwon-do studio was called “El Dragón del Sol,” and run by a Master Han. Master Han spoke little to no Spanish but commanded respect in his dojo. Master Han did this by kicking in the neck anybody who stepped out of line or disrespected his Masterness. We felt that Tae-kwon-do would, to a degree, take care of our “Live healthy” goal. Classes were held on Mondays and Wednesdays at 2:30, right in the middle of the siesta hour, explaining why the only students in Master Han’s class were James, Rosina, Rebecca and I along with a group of Korean expatriates. Classes were held in Korean and occasionally Master Han would try to speak Spanish to the four Americans, with little success.

“No chistes. No chistes,” he roared, as James and I, like any self-respecting children of the 80s, demonstrated the “Crane” technique from The Karate Kid. “Respeto!” As James and I fought to compose ourselves, Master Han completed two roundhouse kicks, one to my neck, the other to James’ sternum, James’ height being an obstacle insurmountable even by the high standards (and kicks) of Master Han. For the duration of our first class, James and I would behave and again did our best to stifle laughs when Master Han would deliver another devastating kick to the neck of one of the Koreans.

This class focused on punching:

Hana!

Tul!

Set!

Net!

Tasot!

Yosot!

Ilgob!

Yudol!

Ahop!

Yeol!

We were exhausted by lesson’s end. And while “Choices for Healthy Living” (we’d amended our goal to an ethos) had been checked off the list for the day, we decided to strike up a conversation with the two American girls with the green belts who looked wildly attractive, effectively throwing rule 5 out the window. We convinced the two girls to join us after class for cocktails.

Rosina and Rebbecca had recently moved to Madrid, too, six weeks before James and I arrived. We were intimidated by their green belts, which signified that they were “plants growing their leaves,” at least that’s what they said. James and I, as novices, started out with the ignominious white belt, signifying we were “innocent,” in addition to having no fighting skills whatsoever, other than being able to count to ten in Korean, which isn’t much.

The two girls had, as I had, spent a year in Madrid on a study abroad program during their junior years in college and fell in love with the city. Rosina had long red hair, almost too long. Rosina was almost too much everything. Her nose bordered on a kind of Bob Hope ski-jump nose, but fell just short, beguilingly short. Her eyes too, splashed with strokes of blue and green looked almost freakish, but again, came up short of freakish and had a cat-like quality. Her breasts bordered on the too-big, her tan bordered on the too-tan, her comportment, almost too-flirty. She grew on me gradually, then breakneck. Rosina enlisted astrology often, her favorite holiday was Halloween (her Mom was a witch, she claimed), she never learned to swim and toward the end of our relationship, she’d put a knife to my throat and start pushing. At first I thought she was shy, which true in a way, but the reality was the Rebbecca was devastatingly unshy.

“If you think we’re going to go back to your shitty hostel and fuck you, you’re still paying for these drinks, but we’re not and you’ve got another thing coming,” she said, after countless cocktails at a Sidra bar, still in our Tae-kwon-do gear, something I felt empowering.

“Think,” James said.

“Huh?”

“You misspoke or you don’t know the expression. It’s ‘You’ve got another think coming.’ It’s okay, even Judas Priest misuses it.”

“Who’s he?”

“Were you raised in a bubble?”

“San Pedro.”

“So, yes,” Rosina chimed in.

“Master Han isn’t the only person who’ll kick you in the neck, my pretty peliroja.” There’s nothing like a girlfight, or even the prospect of a girlfight to get men riled up. We had had plenty of cocktails and I suggested that we might all be more comfortable at our hostel where we had wine in a box and some music.

“Didn’t I just say we weren’t going to fuck you,” Rebbecca reminded me.

“What if I made love to you,” James asked, I thought cleverly. It was uttered with such innocence. James was tender that way and I mean it.

“You Texans are unbelievable.”

“Unbelievable in our sensuality?”

“No, in your idiocy.”

“That’s all men, Rebecca,” Rosina reminded her.

Rebecca was indeed naïve, but she was put together so well you overlooked it. Even in a crappy, sweaty dobok, the sartorial requirement for Tae-kwon-doers, she looked like she could insinuate herself anywhere. She was part Croatian, part Basque and all San Pedro. “Pedroids, we’re called.” Like Rosina, Rebecca was beautiful, but in a more glamorous way. She is the girl that guys refer to when they make that outrageous hourglass motion with their hands. Her Spanish was the best out of all of ours, and she even enlisted the telltale lisp into her linguistic repertoire. ‘Barcelona’ became ‘Barthalona’, ‘cerveza’ became ‘cervetha’, ‘sí’, became ‘thi’, and tho on. It drove James crazy. Later, when she would hold forth in Spanish, and he’d heard just about enough of the lisp, he would get in her face, perform a long, drawn out raspberry, then usually recite some Master P lyrics. Master P was a steadying force in James’s life, more so than myself, his family, God, anybody. Master P grounded James. But now, on first meeting, I think he thought Rebecca’s lisp was exotic.

We finished another round of drinks and after a few more attempts to swindle these girls back to our hostel, we ended our little party with kisses on both cheeks from both of the girls, “an extremely minor orgy,” James pointed out. At least over here, you get a kiss. It’s wonderful. No matter what kind of begrimed boor you are, no matter if you wake up alone with no wife to kiss, no husband to kiss, no nothing. All you have to do is meet somebody and instead of that cold, sacrosanct and generally stateside handshake, you get a kiss. It’s perfect. We parted ways, James and I heading back to our hostel, on the way to which, we were violently attacked, set upon by refuse from the gutters of the Gran Via.

I always thought of Europe as an inordinately civilized place, a place that learned something from centuries of senseless suffering, scorched earth, Inquisition, fixed bayonets and countless wars of varying degrees of foolishness. I thought of tulips in Amsterdam, innocuous teas in London, cuckoo clocks in Geneva, and beguiling Flamenco in Madrid. What a crap thing to think. Nobody learns anything, nobody and nothing changes—we only pretend to change. The tulips are laced with arsenic, the tea is thrown in your face, scalding, bubbling your skin, the cuckoo clock comes crashing down on your skull and the Flamenco is danced on your ribs. But in part, James and I were to blame: If you’re donning the white belt of the self-defense novice, it behooves you to change into something less targetable before you hit the streets. That’s not Europe, that’s anywhere.

A group of four, maybe five kids around high school age approached James and me along the perimeter of Malasaña. They were drunk, like us, and were passing a two liter bottle of orange Fanta that must have been mixed with vodka. Nobody is ever attacked by dudes drinking just orange soda—that wouldn’t sit right with the cosmos. My Spanish was pretty good and I heard the boys remark on the fact that we looked like fags and then something about “cinturones blancas,” or white belts. I said to James, “Look out. These little bastards are going to try and fuck with us, I think.” James snarled, “Whatever.” There was a good thirty feet between us and the knot of rambunctious street kids. One of them was wearing a shirt that read, “Queen Bitch.” I thought of David Bowie, then how it was an improbability that the kid even knew how vampy and feminine his shirt was, then I thought to run.

“James…run!” I did an about face and started off in the opposite direction. James, steeled by alcohol and forgetful of the semiotics behind the wearing of a white belt, charged toward them. Goddamnit, I thought, then said. I did another about face and ran toward the mess. James was already on the ground, having been kicked in the groin. The Queen Bitch was kicking him in the head. I assumed “Naranhi Junbi Sogi,” or “The Command Position,” trying to remember to release some of the air in my lungs, but not all. I felt ridiculous and wish I had just rushed them ala a Texas street fight. As I stood with my feet shoulder length apart, focused on my breathing, one of the kids threw a rock at my face that hit me square in the nose. Blood rushed down my face and I was blinded by my tears. I stayed in the Command Position, wobbling. Then came a flying kick to my sternum from one of the sauced-up tatterdemalions. I went down hard. I never threw a punch. I didn’t even have the chance to count to ten in Korean. The last thing I remember before losing consciousness was being choked.

I woke up to James wiping my face with the arm of his dobok. I still couldn’t see anything but I could hear James.

“I thought you meant run toward them, T. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. God, you look like shit. Do you want to go to a hospital? C’mon. I’ll help you.” James tried to pick me up, but I was too heavy. He heaved me up for a moment, then we both collapsed again to the pavement in front of a sex shop, groaning, wheezing and broken. I sat crumpled in his lap, a huge vent from the sex shop gushed fetid air scented with fruity sanitizer out onto the street. James rubbed my head and apologized some more as sex exhaust flooded our nostrils.

 



I’ve given up dating.

Well, kind of. I’ve stopped dating. Not forever…I think. Just for a short while, just until the most recent gaping wound heals over and I can finally figure out what I want.

It’s a question of long term vs. short term. Should be easy, right?

Wrong.

So far, it’s the hardest thing I’ve done in recent years, this introspective cave I’ve entered. It’s a self-imposed retreat from the dating world for the next six months. I’m supposed to sit down and occasionally drink a beer (or something harder) and figure out what I want from the next relationship I find myself in (or not in, as the case might be).

I suppose that if it was easy, everyone would do it. We’d all take a six month break between relationships and re-evaluate the states of our lives. If it was really and truly easy, the people who have it all figured out already would be there, waiting for us, ready to dole out great pieces of advice and cupcakes so it would all seem a little less painful.

There have been no great pieces of advice as of yet.

Nor have there been cupcakes.

(I’m far more upset about the cupcakes, which may speak to the level of committment I’ve made to this self-improvement project.)

The lack of cupcakes and advice aside, it’s the questions that I’m struggling with right now, the questions about what I want for my future self.

Do I want marriage and children and a white picket fence?

Do I want the comfort and stability of a marriage without the hassle of a wedding?

Do I want to spend the rest of my life alone, drifting from one man to the next in pursuit of some happiness I’m not even sure I understand?

These are the questions I hope to answer in six months, these and others. The goal is to be a little more put together by Thanksgiving, to have a better understanding of my place in this world and what it means to be a single woman approaching 30.

(The first person to make an old maid crack, gets it.)

I have a feeling there’s a storm of epic proportions waiting for me down the road, sitting idle in the weeks approaching my birthday in August. Hurricane Deal-With-Your-Shit-And-Move-On could be a category 4 if 29 doesn’t go as well as I hope.

My father has this way of saying something without actually saying it. It’s about facial expressions, the way his glasses will slip down his nose. When either my brother or I would complain about the difficulty of a situation, the expression on his face would change.

His jaw would set and his chin would jut out.

His glasses – big glasses that cover his eyes and the top halves of his cheeks – would slip down ever so slightly.

And his mouth would quirk in this strange half smile that was too soft to be a smirk but too sarcastic to be loving.

It was an expression that said volumes. It said that if it was supposed to be easy, it wouldn’t be hard (there was always an implied ‘dumbass’ in that expression, typically reserved for our particularly whiny moments).

Sometimes you have to work hard for the easy answers. I’ll guess we’ll just have to see if he’s right.

Baby Talk

By Joe Daly

Humor

I ran into her at a fundraiser a couple months after the date.  The date had ended with an assurance that a phone call would be forthcoming.  This promise remained unfulfilled.

It was a black tie fundraiser on the night before Easter and the cavernous ballroom was still only half full.  The price that I paid for arriving on time was that I was by myself.  Well, not including the stuffed bunny I held under my arm.  And thank God for him.

The friends I was meeting had opted for a very liberal interpretation of timeliness, and so I found myself in my rarely-used tux, pretending as if I were on my way to or from a boisterous group of friends.  I wore the face that said that I had just caught someone’s eye and repeatedly wove figure eights throughout the room, occasionally cutting across the dance floor as if I needed a shortcut to reach my non-existent destination.

I ran into her on the dance floor, our paths intersecting smack dab in the middle.  By the plural number of empty glasses in her hands, I deduced that she was 1) with at least one other person; and 2) on her way to the bar.

The encounter was so abrupt that I did not recognize her at first, and her blank stare indicated that she too was unsure of my identity.  Then her eyes squinted ever so slightly as she made a valiant, though unsuccessful attempt at masking her disdain.

Being both a guy and a people pleaser, I acted as if I expected her to be as pleased to see me as I was pretending to be pleased to see her.

“Hey there!” I said with an optimism entirely unjustified by the circumstances.

(furtively looking away, as if for an exit) “Oh, uh, hey.”

“What’s happening?”

(Ever so slightly annoyed) “Um…  just getting a drink.”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Cool.  So um, how’s everything?”

“Good.  Um, how’s everything with you?”  The inflection she chose for the last word, along with the look on her face indicated that both her patience and the conversation were about to reach a rather colorful end.

“Good, good.  Well, um… yeah, having a good time tonight?”  Dammit.  I remember thinking I had asked one question too many.

“I gotta run.  My friends are back at the table.”

“Great seeing you.”  I started to back off.

“Bye.”

Phew.  Thank God for that fucking bunny.


***

I was pretty new to online dating and still a little gun shy on the whole process.   My last coffee date had been with a woman who resembled the pictures in her online profile much in the same way that Flavor Flav might be said to resemble John McCain.  After that experience, I prepared to cancel my subscription, but then I received an email that made me reconsider.

The author of the email looked and sounded refreshingly down to earth and her profile was almost too good to be true.  She was a couple years older than I and if her pictures were accurate, stunningly put together for someone her age.  Hell, she was stunningly put together for someone of any age.  In the unlikely event that someone might examine her profile and remain unconvinced of her hotness, she chose the screen name of “HARDBODY_(her name).”  To be sure, she was a woman of tremendous literal capacity.

Through some introductory emails, we discovered that we shared some sizable plots of common ground.  We had lived in some of the same cities, worked in similar professions at one time or another, and had moved to San Diego at approximately the same time.  The kicker was when realized that we both shared an oxymoronic passion for both fitness and appallingly poor nutrition.  We were both running freaks and pizza fiends.

We decided to meet.  So convinced was I that we would hit it off, I suggested we make our first date a night on the town.  I had learned the hard way that in the world of internet dating, first dates should involve little more than coffee, drinks, or something quick, early, and public to mitigate any unexpected unpleasantness.  In hindsight, a deeper examination of our dimensions of compatibility was most certainly warranted for breaking this tradition, but at the time, an evening date made sense.

I suggested a funky little spot in scenic La Jolla.  It was central to both of us and if things went well, we could have some appetizers or dinner and then hit one of the neighborhood clubs or cafes afterward.  She arrived right on time, tastefully dressed and looking every bit the looker in her profile photos.

Phew!

Now, I don’t think I’m any more or less shallow than most men or women- looks are certainly important, but a relationship based on looks has the shelf life of a honeydew melon.  I’ll take a pretty face and a great personality over an intolerable hardbody any day of the week.  My relief at seeing my date wasn’t because she was attractive, but rather because she did not look like she had just emerged from Middle Earth.

We chatted easily and for about ten minutes the date was shaping up to be pleasant, normal, and quite fun.  Then my bubble burst.

Apparently she was gassy.

We were talking about our respective health clubs when she offered that one of the things she particularly enjoyed about her club was that it was spacious enough so that when she needed to fart, she could escape to a corner and release her gaseous payload without alerting other members.  She boasted that  while diminutive in stature, she could most assuredly “clear out a room” if and when she decided to break wind.  She speculated that this ability was likely due to the prodigious amount of dairy in her diet.

I’ve seen the book and I know the deal- “Everybody Poops.”  Maybe it’s just the old fashioned guy in me but my enthusiasm for farting discussions waned at around age twelve.

I looked at her and nodded empathetically as she recounted some of the highlights of her “Top Ten Gym Farts,” but it was as if I could see a giant red flag unfurled behind her, blowing in the wind she was undoubtedly releasing at that very moment.

What shook me was not that she experienced gassy moments, just like all other mammals;  rather, what shocked me was that out of all her first date selling points, the one she would choose to showcase was the supernatural pungency of her backdoor breeze.

We finished the appetizers and as we began to pursue non-digestive topics like work, music, and travel, I started to find myself minimizing the significance of our earlier topic.  She was energetic and had a playful sense of humor.  And she did have a great smile.

We decided to go to a piano bar.

I suggested that we take my car, and as we walked towards my parking spot, she slid her arm into mine.  She made an unintelligible purring sound, and rather than ask her to repeat what was surely a playful endearment, I smiled.  I opened the passenger side and she bounded in with unchecked perkiness.  I hopped into the driver’s seat and we headed to the bar.  That’s when it all went sideways.

And no, she did not fart.  Hell, by then I would have been almost disappointed if she didn’t fart around me.  No, what happened was nothing short of unnerving.

We were approaching an intersection and I began to ask her a question, when all of a sudden, I heard a squeaky, high-pitched sound, accompanied by clapping:

“Woobie!  Woobie!  Woobie!”

With acute horror and astonishment, I realized that this sound had come from INSIDE THE CAR.

Then it happened again:

“Woobie!  Woobie!  We go to pee-yan-no baaahhh!”

I slammed on the brakes and turned in horror to my date, who was smiling and bouncing in the passenger seat.

I don’t think I managed any sort of response before she pointed at the car radio and exclaimed:

“Woobie!  Woobie!  Wisten!  Dey pway ow-ah song!!”

She had begun to speak in baby talk.  Apparently “Woobie” was an interjection of intense excitement (as if one had just farted), and the other information she wanted to share was that the radio was apparently playing “our song.”

Because the car had stopped moving, she seized the opportunity to move to her knees in her seat and pushed her face straight into mine.  I dared not move.  Her eyes were wide, blue and crazy.  You could not have slid a piece of paper between our noses, and with unblinking eyes she then said:

“Gooo…  geee… Poo poo.”

I remember each syllable vividly.  By the way, it is instructive to note that this woman was a high-ranking corporate attorney.

So there I was, staring into the eyes of a crazy person, trapped in my own car, restrained by a seatbelt and being accosted by a gassy woman-baby at a busy La Jolla intersection on a Friday night.  Suddenly my last coffee date didn’t seem so bad.

I felt the color drain from my face as tsunamis of fear began pounding my nervous system.  I  managed to drive a bit further before it dawned on me that bringing a crazy woman-baby to an upscale piano bar might be a challenge beyond my emotional fitness.  Desperate and losing hope, the solution came to me in a flash.

“AAAA-CHOO!” I blurted.

“BWESS YOU!” she clapped and replied.

She bought it.

I closed my eyes and lifted my nose, as if trying to fight back a sneeze, and then exhaled, “AAAA-CHOOOO!” even more forcefully than before.

“Aww!  Sneezy sneezy!”

“Crap,” I said as if concerned, “Hey, did you say you had a cat?” (I vividly remembered her mentioning a cat).

“Um… yeah…  Why?”  The adult had returned.

“Crap.  AAAA-CHOO!”

“Oh no!  What’s the mattuh?” she asked, dipping slightly into baby voice, but still an adult.

“I’m allergic to cats.  You must have cat dander on your clothes.  Aw, dammit…” I feigned deep disappointment.

“I DO have cat all over my clothes!  He always sleeps on this coat.”

(Bingo!)

“That must be it, then.  That coat is really bringing up my allergies.”

I began rubbing my eyes in the hope that they would begin to water.  I fake sneezed again, and scratched my face.

“Take coat off?”  Baby was back.

“No, no… once I get going, that’s it.  I’m going to be like this for awhile until I get some fresh air.  Awww, I’m sooo sorry!”

“Wit’s ok…  Me unduhstand…” baby offered unconvincingly.

I drove her back to her car, alternately sneezing, scratching and apologizing while she switched back and forth between baby and adult dialogue.  The night ended with a goodbye peck on the cheek and lots of sneezes and scratches from me.  I promised I’d call her back.  She promised to brush her clothes the next time.

The date was over.

Phew.


***

I stuck with online dating for a few months after that, but my heart was no longer in it.  Like a pitcher who takes a fastball off the nose, I could never fully commit to the game after that.

I feel somewhat bad for the immature way I responded to the situation.  There are undoubtedly better ways of ending a date than faking a violent allergic reaction.  Maybe my buddy’s wife was right when she said that I was forty years old and still single because I’m selfish and unrealistic.  And maybe the night might have turned out great if I gave it a little more time.  But thankfully I’ll never know how close I might have came that night to having to change a diaper.

Stalk.com

By Angela Tung

Essay

I was dating Mouse Man for six months when I began stalking him. Not stalking in a rifling-through-his-garbage, claiming-that-I-was-Mrs.-Mouse-Man kind of way, but invisibly, remotely. Online.

I started with MySpace. “Mouse Man” I typed, narrowing my search to five miles outside my Upper East Side zip code. After a few clicks, I found him.

Here for, he wrote. Friendship, Networking, Dating, Serious Relationships.

Dating. Serious relationships.

I began to freak out.

I was recently divorced after a long relationship that began in the ‘90s and ended with my husband cheating on me. I was angry, sad, and finally relieved when I left him. After several months of recovery, I was ready to get match-dot-com’d.

I was new to a dating world that orbited in cyberspace, where people hid behind picture-less profiles, fudged heights and weights, and despite my fluently written profile and fully clothed photo, mistook me for an English-language-challenged mama san who’d love them long time. In comparison Mouse Man was a catch.

Tall and good-looking with bright blue eyes, he, like me, was a writer who loved to travel. He had just moved back to New York from Japan, where he’d been teaching English and I had recently visited. After a couple of inbox exchanges, he asked me for my number and a date.

Our first few encounters were lovely – a sushi dinner followed by a long walk in my ‘hood, a stroll on a gorgeous April day through Central Park, and an inedible vegan meal (you say wheat gluten, I say balls of snot) followed by an incomprehensible French film. However, after we “interfaced,” some bugs started to show in the system.

Outside of our once a week sex-and-dinner dates, I discovered that Mouse Man’s preferred form of communication was virtual. Instead of calling or crossing Central Park from his Upper West Side apartment to mine, he’d email me ten times in a day. Once that May we spent an entire Sunday trading messages till finally I asked him if he wanted to get together.

No thanks, he wrote back. I’ll be staying in. That was the last I heard from him that weekend.

He seemed to have an aversion towards affection in general. No hugs or kisses beyond the bedroom, no pet names. On our first date he told me I was “much cuter in person” than in my ad, but that was the last of his compliments.

Still my feelings grew. I wanted to be in a relationship; I missed being married. Everything about him became endearing – his enthusiastic drumming to songs only he heard, the back of his sweet neck, his left-handedness.

His propensity for languages. Fluent in Spanish and Japanese, he liked picking up bits of French, Korean, and Mandarin. To impress him, I memorized a bit from a song I liked: Qu’est ce que tu me fait, cherie? Lying in bed one hot summer night, I said it twice before he responded in French goobledygook.

I stalked him because even after half a year, I didn’t know him. Why did he mutter in Japanese after a particularly rambunctious roll in the hay? Why didn’t he marry his girlfriend in Japan? Why did he say he didn’t know where he’d be next year?

Now at my laptop, my heart pounded. Did I have another philanderer on my hands? I went to the dating site where we had met, and where, after we started sleeping together, I had hidden my ad. He hadn’t, and in fact, had logged in a few days before.

My head whirled. Should I email him? Text him? Send him an IM? No. I went 20th century on his ass and picked up the phone.

“Are you dating anyone else?” I asked.

He wasn’t, he claimed. He had simply forgotten to change his MySpace. Hiding his personal ad had slipped his mind as well, and he went in because sometimes people wrote him.

Why people were still writing him, I didn’t ask, nor if he wrote back.  I needed to believe him, the way I trusted that my credit card numbers wouldn’t get into the hands of cyber pirates when I downloaded from iTunes, and even if it happened, in the worst possible way, I wouldn’t be afraid to browse the playlists again.

“Okay,” I breathed. “Just checking.”

“You could have just talked to me,” he said.

I knew that, but confronting him IRL about my status was too difficult.

“We should talk about that,” he said. He had trouble, you see, letting loose with his feelings. He could date a girl for a year and not be in love with her. He hadn’t fallen for anyone in a very long time, and after six months, he hadn’t fallen for me.

We broke up after that. A couple of days later, at the Bandshell in Central Park, he returned to me my Seven Samuri DVD. I gave him back the umbrella he had forgotten at my apartment.

“It was fun while it lasted,” I said.

“We’ll keep in touch, right?” he said. For once he sounded worried. “You don’t have anything against email, do you?”

He had always maintained communication with his exes, or at least their Yahoo! and Gmail accounts. But I didn’t want to be just another contact.

I realized later that while Mouse Man’s lukewarmth had been obvious, it took seeing it on screen to make me believe it. I had been distracted by chiseled cheekbones, occasional laughs, and the security of a date every Friday night. If his e-personas hadn’t tattled on him, he might have gone on virtually dating me for who knows how long.

Since then, expressiveness is a required field for me. Tell me how you feel – in fact, spam me with it. Give me emotions, not emoticons. I want real hugs and kisses, not punctuation marks.

As for me, I now know I need to go to the person for answers, not the persona. I have to stop Googling for love in all the wrong places. And while I’d date online again (and again, and again), I’d be ISO someone who’d want to spend a Sunday afternoon with me, not my email.

On the First Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

One of those waxy, chocolate-crunch foil-wrapped Santas. We were seven. He liked to read as much as I did – we even co-won a reading contest. I knew right then that we should get married, because that’s what love was: reading together and eating candy.

 

On the Second Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A kind word. I was in fifth grade and had to wear this awful orthodontic headgear that looked like the inside of a football helmet, and his first worry was that I had been in a terrible accident and was I going to be okay? And then he defended me when all the other kids pointed and called me ‘Jabberjaw.’

 

On the Third Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Nausea. We were playing Spin the Bottle at my eighth grade Christmas party. I was terrified that he didn’t like me, or wouldn’t like me, or thought I was fat, or stupid, or both. So rather than make-out with him behind the drawn curtain, panic-stricken, I told him that I was sick and quite possibly contagious. So we stood there like two idiots until it seemed plausible that we had been frenching.

 

On the Fourth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

The honor of being the first person he came out to.

 

On the Fifth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A Godfather marathon. I was home from college and we started from separate ends of the sofa, but by the time Fredo was praying his last Hail Mary, the two of us were a tangled mess on the middle cushion and nothing but the deafening screech of the auto-rewind on my parents’ VCR could stop us. And then we went to the movie theatres to see Godfather III – our first “official” date – but all I remember about that film was that we played with each other’s fingers throughout. Well, that and Sofia’s nose.

 

On the Sixth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

An official NHL hockey jersey. No, seriously.

 

On the Seventh Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

One of those Verse-a-Day bibles. Same guy.

 

On the Eighth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A complex. After years of friendship, peppered with on-again-off-again relationship attempts, rather than simply tell me that he had met someone else (with whom he would eventually fall in love and marry), he ended things by reporting that it was, in fact, me and not him.

 

On the Ninth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A perfect first kiss. One of those idyllic kisses, where the guy walks you to your car and stops you just as you reach for the door handle. He spins you around and pushes you firmly, yet gently, against the car door as he drinks in your eyes with his. One of those kisses where he gently traces the line of your jaw with his fingertips and brushes your cheek, and right as he leans towards you and you think your heart is going to explode – at the precise moment your lips meet – tiny snowflakes begin to fall.

 

On the Tenth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

A vibrator. I was alone that year and my date was me.

Best. Christmas. Ever.

 

On the Eleventh Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Silence. Alone again. Batteries? Dead.

Worst. Christmas. Ever.

 

On the Twelfth Date of Christmas, my true love gave to me:

Anticipation – for the date that’s yet to come.

There’ll be no bibles or hockey jerseys. No movie marathons, no kind words, no frenching. No batteries. But neither will there be rude awakenings or callous dismissals.

I’m not exactly sure when my next date will be, or where.

But I have hope that wherever, whenever, with whomever, there’ll be stacks of books and heaps of candy.

Like a grown-up version of musical chairs, speed dating was all the rage during the post-9/11 urge to merge. The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center left some couples clinging to each other as if their very survival depended on it. Other relationships snapped under the pressure. Young singles who were previously perfectly happy on their own suddenly felt compelled to pair off.

As with everything in those frightening months, time was of the essence. Activities that separated the wheat from the chaff were in high demand. We wanted to spend quality time with our loved ones, write our wills, donate to patriotic causes, and contemplate the meaning of life. All of this while being slightly suspicious of everyone around us.

Speed dating was just what the doctor ordered: a single location for multiple, time-limited dates in one evening without the bother of having to offer or receive awkward rejections.

Several months after the traumatic break-up of my almost three-year relationship, my friend Karen asked me to accompany her to a speed dating event. While I knew that we were both feeling the urge to merge ourselves, I was stunned that she’d consider such a thing. Of course I told her no way, but she reminded me that I hadn’t had a single date since my break-up. I honestly don’t know what possessed me, but I agreed.

The plan was that we would meet in the restaurant’s bar where the event was being held. That way, we could walk into the special event room together. The bar was filled with couples holding hands while they waited for their tables. The tables were filled with couples who ate from each other’s plates and finished each other’s sentences. The acoustics created by the high ceiling in the cavernous space made for a carnival-like experience. I waited and waited. Finally, my phone rang. I started for the exit as soon as I saw Karen’s number on the caller ID. Of course she wasn’t coming. Stuck at work. Of course I wasn’t staying.

Then she reminded me that I had already paid for the event so I may as well attend. I should “be open to possibilities.” She wanted a full report later, and she offered that perhaps the evening would make a funny story one day.

Um, yeah right…

I walked through the dining room filled with happy couples toward the event room. Dead woman walking. Perhaps I should have paused for my last meal. The Pasta Bolognese smelled amazing.

For some reason, I feared I would be the lone geek in a room full of poised and accomplished young professionals. I envisioned well-dressed lawyers and doctors sipping sophisticated cocktails and partaking in witty conversations about their stock portfolios, foreign policy, or literature. With quivering knees, I entered the room to find men segregated on one side and women on the other. Good Lord, it was eighth grade with pink girlie drinks for the women and beer for the men!

The men were clumped into small groups pretending to be in deep conversation, while sneaking quick glances to size up each woman as she entered.

The women seemed oblivious to the men. They were all gathered around one woman at the bar who was rather loud and who sucked down drinks in single gulps. The woman was statuesque, a redhead, and the sister of a friend I’d dated briefly. She turned to welcome the newcomer into the tribe and immediately recognized me. She proceeded to introduce me as her brother’s ex-girlfriend, which was definitely not how I would have described myself. Looks of pity followed from the peanut gallery.

Hey, I went out with him for a few months in the course of a ten-year friendship. And we’re all single here. Why else would we put ourselves through this torture? Keep your pity to your damn selves! I thought.

The organizer, Patrick, was obviously a cheerleader back in high school. He rang an obnoxious bell and called everyone to the middle of the room. Women were in a semicircle to his right, and the men mirrored us on his left. A peppy spiel about being open to everyone, balanced with warnings about inappropriate behavior, ensued. He provided extensive directions about the proper way to fill out the scorecard. He didn’t actually call it a scorecard, but we all knew what it was.

There were several tables with numbers on them. Each woman was directed to pick one and have a seat. The men were told to approach a table one at a time for our seven minute “dates.” We were not allowed to talk before Patrick rang the begin-date bell nor were we allowed to speak after he rang the end-date bell. At the close of each date, the men were required to switch tables. They were not allowed to return to a table they’d already visited.

The first gent to approach me looked very much like Bill Gates. Not rich, just incredibly and stereotypically nerdy. Now New Orleans is not known for its beautiful people, but you generally think of people this geeky living near Silicon Valley, MIT, or Microsoft headquarters. I took a deep breath and prepared to be “open to possibilities.” He’d moved to, as he called it, The Big Easy (cringe) from the Midwest. I wasn’t surprised. I was being open. Nothing inherently evil about the Midwest. I have friends from the Midwest.

I asked him what his favorite things were about living in New Orleans. His answer: the food. Great, we had something in common. I could work with that for the next five minutes. I asked about his favorite restaurants. Chili’s and Applebee’s. Um, dude, you could have stayed in the cornfields and eaten at chain restaurants. Good grief.

Okay, next subject. I asked what he thought about Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and our general party culture. He proudly informed me that after living in New Orleans for five years, he thought that this year would be the one when he “would go to the Bourbon Street to see the Fat Tuesday.”

For the uninitiated, the syntax of this sentence was utterly bizarre. It’s akin to someone in New York going to “the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue to view the celebration associated with the annual advancement of the Gregorian calendar.”

Ding!

In retrospect, Bachelor Number Two turned out to be the most promising of the lot. He had lived in New York making a living as a writer but had returned to New Orleans to run the family plumbing business after his brother suddenly died.

I’m sorry, did you say plumbing? As in pipes and poop? Okay, I had a big ick reaction but rallied on. After all, this guy was creative and responsible. What were the odds? I was opening to the possibilities more by the moment. We talked about his writing, which was heavily influenced by Charles Bukowski. Uh oh.

Now, here I must digress. Many people have types. Some men like women with blond hair. Some women like men who are really tall. My type was incredibly specific. For years, I dated men who played chess, juggled, ran cross-country in high school, and yes, were Bukowski acolytes. What can I say? Apparently, I liked them smart, agile, and highly dysfunctional. It wasn’t like I looked for them. I attracted them. It was an odd gift.

I never found out whether the plumber fit my other unconscious criteria. Once Bukowski was out of the bag, I was done. After all, I was there to break patterns, not repeat them. I somewhat sadly said goodbye when the bell rang.

Ding!

Bachelor Number Three’s appearance immediately set me back in my chair. He was wearing false eyelashes. Seriously. Not, I have a dermatological condition and have lost my eyelashes so I wear these so I don’t look weird false eyelashes, but Mary Tyler Moore from the Dick Van Dyke Show false eyelashes. It was stunning.

Somehow, I got over my mute shock and started a conversation. As it turned out, we were both Jewish and originally from New Orleans. I knew we did not belong to the same congregation because I’d surely have remembered this guy and his lashes. I asked him if he was affiliated. Yes, he did belong to a congregation, but he wasn’t too crazy about it. I asked if he’d attended services there all his life, and he said no. Apparently, his parents paid for his membership. They’d belonged to a number of congregations over the years because his mother tended to fight with people. Uh, how many Jewish stereotypes can you fit into a seven-minute date?

Ding! Thank G-d.

Now, I feel really guilty about describing Bachelor Number Four. He was very nice and seemed like a heck of a lot of fun. But he was remarkably short, maybe five feet tall in shoes, and a rodeo clown. Yes, you read that right. A rodeo clown. I was born in New Orleans, and I had no idea that there was enough rodeo work in the area to make it a full-time job. And maybe I’m being snobby here, but it seemed to me the speed dating people used a mighty liberal definition of the term “professional.”

I tried to maintain a conversation, but my mind drifted to the image of the little fellow emerging from a tiny car with 20 of his friends. Or maybe only circus clowns do that. Anyway, I feared I was going to hell for thinking these thoughts, but the night was so surreal. I felt like I was dating on acid: distortions of space and size, warping time, ringing bells.

Ding!

When Bachelor Number Five approached my table, I exhaled. He appeared perfectly normal, handsome even. He was dressed neatly but informally. He did hold his head at an unusual angle, but I thought he was just being flirtatious. I had no idea what the next seven minutes held.

As soon as he sat down, we agreed that it seemed like we’d met before. We didn’t live in the same neighborhood or hang out in the same places. Was it work? I told him what I did. He told me that he had his own business related to the casino industry. Definitely not work.

Okay, was he Jewish? New Orleans has a small enough Jewish community that sometimes you just know people because you’re Jewish. He responded by asking me if I was Jewish, and I said yes. He said he was not, but that I’d have known that if I had looked in his wallet. No money. Dude, I’d just told you I was Jewish and your reply was an anti-Semitic comment?

By then, I was kind of checking out, so he filled in the conversation with talk of his work. Apparently, the name of his business, 1-ey*d Jack, had special meaning but not for the reason people assumed. He said that he’d had the recent experience of presenting his business card to a “n***** woman” who worked in a casino on the Mississippi Coast. After she saw the name of his business, she indicated that she knew why it was named 1-ey*d Jack—by pointing to his crotch. At this moment in the story, he gestured to his groin. Dear Lord, was this some sort of Neo-Nazi screw with the racially-sensitive Jewish feminist Candid Camera?

No, he was getting to his point. It seemed his business was actually named 1-ey*d Jack because, although his name was not Jack, he had only one eye. The other eye was glass. He tapped it with his fingernail to prove it. I nearly vomited on the table.

Ding!

Throughout these seven-minute increments of hell, my friend’s sister was having a jolly good time. She whooped it up with one and all. I kept thinking she was so much better than I was at embracing the moment and being open to possibilities. Yeah, she is generally a much more go-with-the-flow kind of person than I am, but there were also the cocktails. I wished I’d followed her lead on that.

After 1-ey*d Jack, I was done, so the final bachelor was a dream. He spent the entire seven minutes on his cell phone. Oh, he’d occasionally glance in my direction and nod, but other than that, nada. I didn’t even get his name. As I stared off into space, the rodeo clown winked at me from across the room.

Now, I have to admit, there were a few other fellows there who were decidedly less remarkable than those I’ve described. At the time, they seemed only slightly less wrong. Maybe, between the nerd, the plumber, the eyelashes, the clown, and the penis, I missed a gem. I guess I’ll never know.

But Karen was right. It did make a damn good story.