Don’t tell my friends, though I think they already know, I haven’t been going out much in quite a while. I’ve tried blind dating, barhopping, online socializing, browsing the racks at men’s clothing stores, and more, and frankly I’m getting pretty desperate. That’s why I’m going to the speed dating event at a big hotel downtown tonight. I think there’ll be lots of upscale gentlemen who’re a lot better than the guys I’ve been meeting.
I’ve prepared carefully and am wearing my favorite dress, cut low in front and back, and smell of fine perfume. At the registration desk I pay fifty dollars and, without looking around the ballroom, walk high in heels to the bar and order a screwdriver. I casually take a few sips before turning to scan the room. I think I’m afraid to look at the men so check out the women and see lots of pretty ones as well as some I’m embarrassed for. Maybe some are embarrassed for me, too.
The lady hosting the event, who’d emailed me after I signed some list at a bar, steps on stage, asks us to be seated around the big round tables, and to about a hundred of us says, “You all appear to be in the appropriate age range for tonight, thirty-five to forty-five. Now, ladies will sit in every other chair around these tables and gentlemen will sit in the others. Ladies always talk to the men to their right. You have five minutes to chat. Less time wouldn’t be enough and more would be too much. When I start the music, you have one minute to use the notepads and pens at each place. Please tear off your paper and leave the notepads where they are so each of you always has one. Gentlemen, when the music stops it’s time for you to rotate clockwise to the next seat.”
We seat ourselves in the way indicated, twelve people to a table, and I turn to my right and say, “Oh, hi.”
“Hi, there,” says a plump man bald on top. “I’m Frank.”
“I’m Ellen. This your first time?”
“No, I do this quite a bit.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I’m a teacher. And you?”
“I sell electrical supplies, wholesale. What do you teach?”
“I hope your textbooks tell the truth about our country.”
“You mean about slavery and the holocaust that destroyed the Native Americans?”
“I mean about the bravery and ingenuity of European immigrants who’ve built the greatest nation ever.”
“I stress achievements as well as tragedies.”
“There’s too much negativity in our classrooms nowadays.”
I wave my hand at the waitress and say, “A double screwdriver, please.” Then I ask Frank, “How do you know what’s going on in our classrooms?”
“My kids tell me. Too many teachers are liberal.”
“How old are they?”
“Thirteen and fourteen.”
“They sound precocious.”
“I started training their minds early.”
My drink arrives and I take a couple of big sips, and the music starts. “Nice meeting you,” I say.
“Same here. You wanna exchange phone numbers?”
“Oh, sure.” We each tear off a paper and write.”
Frank strokes my shoulder as he heads clockwise to adventure, and a real tall man folds into the vacant chair.
“I bet you played basketball,” I say.
“I don’t like sports or hearing that silly comment for the millionth time.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“It’s all right. Actually, I’m used to it. But I’m unaccustomed to these gatherings. May I ask your name?”
“Ellen. And yours?”
“I’m a history teacher, Paul. How about you?”
“I don’t teach.” He waits, perhaps for me to realize there’s a punch line, before saying, “I program computers.”
“We all need computers.”
“I’m more relaxed with computers than people. I lose my worries online and only run into them again when I log off.”
I down a mouthful of my screwdriver.
“Lots of people spend more free time online than in conversation,” he says.
“I’m afraid so.”
“Talk’s boring compared to the universe of facts and ideas on the internet.”
“Sometimes I spend too much time online, too.”
“I didn’t say I spend too much time.”
“Why did you come here?” I ask.
“I shouldn’t have. I’m leaving.”
He stands and walks away. A few people at the table glance at me. Thank goodness, here’s the music bringing me a fine looking man.
“Gordon,” he says, and shakes my hand.
“I’m Ellen and very pleased to meet you.”
“What happened to your friend?”
“Probably had to rush home for a computer fix.”
“I’m a real estate broker and anxious to get away from my computers.”
“You have more than one.”
“Sure, many in my office, a laptop in my car, a desktop at home. I usually don’t turn on the laptop when I drive to San Francisco or Carmel.”
“You go there a lot?”
“Once or twice a month. I also love Napa, and I fly to L.A. several times a year. Every summer I go to Europe.”
“Usually France one summer and Italy the next, and side trips the month I’m there.”
“You get out of Sacramento much?” he asks.
“Where do you go?”
“All over. Tahoe. Reno. The Bay Area.”
“Haven’t been there since college but I’m planning to go this summer when school’s out. We could rendezvous in Paris.”
Gordon talks more about his glamorous vacations, and I want to shut the music off.
“Here’s my phone number,” I say.
He smiles and writes his on the paper and shakes my hand.
The next guys interrupt my thoughts about Gordon, and I’m relieved when they leave and the guys from the next table arrive and depart and the event ends.
I pick my phone out of my purse and enter Gordon’s name and number and am preparing to press dial when Frank the salesman walks by and says, “Thanks for the wrong number, bitch.”
I don’t bother looking at him. What a goof. I call Gordon and get a place that doesn’t exist.