“It sounds like hell.”
“You’ll be fine. Now, the women stay stationary in the circle while the men rotate around the perimeter. You’ll switch to a new partner every three minutes,” he carefully explained.
“It sounds like square dancing,” I protested. “Do I allemande right or left?”
“It’s not square dancing. And you will not be promenading with anyone unless you at least try to talk to someone. Just be nice. Don’t be an ass,” he warned.
He sounded like my new ex-wife. Just be nice. Being nice lost me my home, limited visits with my children, and saddled me with a crippling alimony payment to a woman who needed to find herself. Instead, she found herself a podiatrist. All I found was a one-bedroom apartment.
“When can we leave?”
“Let’s go around at least once, okay? The women fill out little cards about you and then drop them off with the hostess.”
“So I can be humiliated in real time,” I concluded.
“That’s the spirit!” he laughed and drained the last of his drink.
“I’m not really up for this,” I said. Anxiety gnawed at my vital organs. And speed dating at a Ramada Inn near the airport was the exact definition of sad.
“Look, here are our name tags. See? You are lucky MALE #18.”
“How is 18 lucky?”
“You are obviously not Jewish,” he frowned.
“If I were Jewish, I would be much more interesting.”
“18. Chai. The Hebrew letters in chai add up to 18. It means alive and living. You’re still alive,” he said, patting me on the back. “You’re still living.”
“If you say so,” I replied, sceptically.
“Let’s get you a drink. They’re just about to start.”
Drink in hand, we awaited the cheery master of ceremonies to welcome one and all to speed dating.
“I’m MALE #19,” my friend said helpfully. “I’ll warm up the ladies for you as you come around.”
“Let’s just let things proceed organically,” I replied. Organic as in fertilizer. As others looked around the room to get a preview of possible mates, I checked for the exits. This exercise in futility had the potential of going south very quickly. If I left now, I could catch the end of the game.
“Take your positions!” said the MC.
A few characters made off color jokes.
Get it? Positions! Oh, you’ll get it.
A few women tittered at what passed for wit at the Ramada Inn this time of night. “After three minutes,” the MC continued, “I will ring a bell. That is your signal to rotate!”
“That’s what she said!” heckled a prime specimen from somewhere in the back. I cringed for him.
More nervous giggles as middle aged men and women held in their stomachs and scuffled around to take their positions around an outdated sunken bar with wood paneling. Music from the 1980’s blared, its synthpop attempting to enliven the mood.
As M maniacally sang about “Pop Muzik,” I wandered over to the chair with an #18 Scotch-taped to the back.
“Hi, I’m MALE #18,” I said, introducing myself to a 40-year-old with absolutely too much makeup on. Her eyeliner would have made Cleopatra proud, blazing out into little black wings from her slightly bloodshot eyes. I managed a grin that was essentially a lopsided grimace. In hindsight, it probably looked like indigestion.
“I’m FEMALE #18. We start with the same number. That’s how this works until we rotate. So, what do you do?”
“Do you mean how do I do?” I attempted to reconcile her rudeness.
“No,” she said, sizing me up quickly and finding me wanting. “I mean what. What is it that you do?”
“Shoobie, doobie, do wop / Infiltrate it / Pop, pop, shoo wop / Activate it . . .” sang M through the overly loud speakers.
“What do I do?” I practically yelled to be heard. “Well, tonight I am speed dating,” I joked.
“First time,” I smiled. “Can you tell?”
“I can always tell,” she said wearily.
"Have you done this speed dating before?" I tried.
"Yeah, a few times."
"Okay. Do you work nearby?" I asked lamely.
"Look, let me guess," she said. “Just divorced, right?”
“No,” I said defensively. “It’s been half a year.”
“It’s been six months. You aren’t over her. If you want my advice, just wait until you don’t hate her anymore. The opposite of love is indifference. That’s good advice from me to you.”
“New York, London, Paris, Munich / everybody talk about pop muzik!” At the direction of the MC, most of the crowd all joined in on the last two words.
A bell rang and we rotated to the left.
CARD FOR MALE #18 FROM FEMALE #18 - It’s obvious you aren’t ready to move on. Take care of yourself.
Depeche Mode was now singing “Just Can’t Get Enough” and I found it very ironic since I, Depeche Mode notwithstanding, begged to differ.
FEMALE #19 was overdressed, but not for a nightclub. She sat like an over pampered cat, with accessories that were matchy-matched in the most unnerving way. The exact shade of mint green seemed purposefully coordinated: her hairband, sweater set, modest jewelry and handbag. I was absolutely sure everything in her house was sanitized for her protection.
“Hi, I’m MALE #18,” I said, sitting down.
“God bless you,” she said, eyes unblinking, head slightly tilted.
I didn’t know how to respond.
“God bless you,” she repeated, her smile threatening to become brittle.
“And also with you,” I said, trying to remember the last time I went to mass. I made the sign of the cross anyway. For a number of reasons.
“There are no accidents,” she quietly said.
“How about car accidents? I don’t think people smash into each other on purpose, right?” I attempted humor.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“But reasonable people don’t cause accidents,” I circled back to her previous claim.
If she had blinked, I would have stayed all three minutes. But three gin and tonics and sheer terror made me excuse myself to the men’s room.
I made it back in time before the MC rang the bell.
CARD FOR MALE #18 FROM FEMALE #19 - "Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins." Proverbs 10:12. Call me.
As Soft Cell crooned about “Tainted Love,” someone loudly yelled “Taint!”
I couldn’t help putting my head in my hands, wondering what sloppy bucket of stupid I had fallen into.
“Hi FEMALE #20, I’m MALE #18,” I said. I didn’t even look at her.
“Hi MALE #18, I hate all of my friends for dragging me here. The last guy asked me about my bra size,” she said matter-of-factly.
I looked up to see a pretty brunette in a simple grey sweater that matched her piercing eyes.
“My whole life turned upside down six months ago, and I’m not even sure who I am anymore,” I confessed.
“I recently lost my job and I am having panic attacks about interviewing,” she replied. “Apparently rejection never fails to sting a little.”
“Oh, I am an expert in the field. I majored in rejection in college,” I smiled.
“Really?” she smiled back. “I normally reject people who are into rejection.”
“So, did you help yourself to the Ramada Inn’s nacho bar?”
“No,” she shook her head slowly. “For some reason I’m just not that interested in having explosive diarrhea tonight. But next time. Absolutely.”
“Is there any chance you want to skip out on this love fest? There is an excellent diner around the corner. It serves the best coconut cream pie you’ve ever had.”
“I’ve never had coconut cream pie,” she said, with a wry grin. “So I guess you’re right.” She grabbed her coat and purse.
CARD FOR MALE #19 FROM MALE #18 - Had to leave early. You were right. #18 is a lucky number.