Many things happened between 14 and 32. My skin cleared up, I got contact lenses. I finally grew into my boobs, but never stopped wearing winkle-pickers. And I learnt that dags in high school have all their best times to look forward to. But I was still without a Gentleman to share my successes. Speed dating beckoned.
You know who gets the most excited about speed dating? Couples. “OOOOH!” they shriek. “I would LOVE to come with you, if I was single. So exciting! I’m jealous!!!” They say this as they look smugly at their beloved bending over in his trackies. In reality, it’s just about the least appealing idea a single person can think of, but appears to be one of the things you ‘have’ to do to get ‘out there’.
The city last Thursday overflowed with young hopefuls bearing roses, teddy bears and teddy bears bearing roses. I had a new haircut, like the Cake song was all short skirt, long jacket and looked spiffing, but was unexpectedly toey. With one friend cancelling unexpectedly and two running late, I did a quick reconnaissance mission past the front door (the Longroom on Collins St, in case you’re interested. For non-Melbournians, it’s decorated as though the Big Brother house was designed by people with taste, and has a bathroom with a hair straightener).
It was thronged with polite men of all kinds in business shirts and suits, and women with straightened hair, lipgloss, little fluttery dresses, strappy shoes and implausible handbags. In other words, MY SPIRITUAL HOME. Sternly telling myself not to be a baby, I was interrupted on my stampede to the bar to be given a red stamp on my hand, and a picture of Kermit and Miss Piggy on a little card. This lame device was supposed to get people to roam throughout the crowd and seek out its pair, whereupon you could claim a prize. Thus ‘mingling’.
I put my card into action straight away and introduced myself to a number of gents. And the results were astounding! “Um, no,” said one disparagingly. “Can’t help you there,” said another with an up-and-down look I couldn’t mistake for admiration. One bloke was there in a purely supportive role for his mate, and couldn’t say much more. One was alarmed that I said hello, and darted off like a minnow. “Hyah.” snorted one bloke WHO LOOKED OLD ENOUGH TO BE MY DAD.
For someone who has no problems talking with strangers, this was not going well. I finally engaged a chap in conversation, only to spill my beer on his suit, and across a nearby table. He thanked me for making him smell of beer, and the people at the table looked at me pityingly. I bumped into some guy from the gym. I chaffed another about his Princess Mary card and he backed away, alarmed. Someone cranked up the music.
Els and Esta made their entrance, and I leapt on them like, well, a desperate woman without her friends at a speed-dating event. We continued our perusal of the room, while I became uncharacteristically clingy.
Although it had not been a full 30 minutes, every fibre of my being was telling me to leave. The aura of desperation hung so thick in the air you had to literally beat a path through it. Everywhere you looked, blokes were ranging up and down the room looking about abstractedly for someone to talk to, but not meeting anyone’s eye. I had not felt so judged on my appearance since Year 9, and started suffering flashbacks.
Finally an older chap (in a navy jacket with brass buttons that would have made Mr Huelsman proud) came up to claim my card. He was chatty, and we kept up the palaver while we walked to the prize table. He casually mentioned that he owned a Merc. I told him I was a freelance writer. He didn’t want his chocolate, and I opened my bag and pointed brightly, saying gosh I had to eat. He looked stricken, and disappeared. My sense of humour was not welcome at the Longroom that night.
The speed dating was about to start, as one of the ironed hair lassies was screaming incomprehensibly into a microphone, which distorted and crackled. Just think of when they announce the woodchopping at the Show, and you’ll know what I mean. We were herded into a small, humid room in the back, with no time to race to the bar.
Chairs were arranged along one side with pens and paper on each seat. Boys on one side, girls on the other. It was precisely as the dastardly picture at the top of the post describes. I was seated next to Goldie Hawn, who had brought her brother and best mate. A PA system was poised above our heads, from which alarming, shrieking sounds issued, none of which we could understand. Gongs sounded, and we were given three minutes each to talk with 20 gents.
The following comments were noted:
“How much cash do you pull down as a writer per hour? How much do you make per year? Have you hit the jackpot yet?”
“Wow, you look really hardcore, like all Gothic. You’re all dressed in black. Wow.”
“Have I seen you before on the Internet?”
“I’m having the best night! I finally realised how to talk to women!!”
“God, we talked all about you and didn’t get to talk about me.”
“I can’t talk to you. I can’t talk to anyone. This is too much. I have to go to the bar.”
And some stats:
Least pretentious: country boys
Least social skills: the under-30s
Questions about my ethnicity: 5
Most common profession: IT (about 12 out of the 20 I talked to, no kidding)
Men who asked about the performance of the men before them: 3
Soft handshakes: 4
Semi-normal conversations: 1
Men who squeezed my legs with their own in an overly-familiar manner: 7
Comments about the ‘man-drought’: 6,100,376
After about ten hours, the loudspeaker shrieking, crackling and gonging drew to its undignified close. Els disentangled herself from one man’s perusal of her chest. Goldie Hawn turned to me and shrugged, “What a pack of duds,” and disappeared to the bar, along with the other 400 people present.
Esta had bravely stuck it out in the main room while Els and I were in our interrogation. She had met some lively Greek gents who were delightful, but despite their age were still at the hair-pulling stage of social interaction. I asked her what she had seen in our absence, and she replied, “I see lonely people.” They then opened the doors and let the ‘normal’ folk come in, who surged forward with a mighty roar.
The place was cheek-by-jowl, and I wondered what they would do if there was ever a fire at the Longroom. We beat a path to the door, but before I did gave my number to someone on the way out. The one speed dater capable of semi-normal conversation, with the appearance of the only grown-up man in the room. We have a date this week. Am not holding breath.