Meeting over meat

When you’ve speed dated as much as me, you may develop the desire for a tougher challenge. Like speed dating and eating at the same time. I assume, anyway, that this was the inspiration for the organizer of the “Meet with your Meal” event.

I can’t be sure, since it’s hard to guess the motivations of a woman in her 50s who is wearing a clingy sweater, leggings and knee-high furry boots. Her decor was no match for the restaurant’s, however. Picture your favorite lobster shack, add some Hawaiian murals and Mexican art and plop the whole thing down in a quiet residential neighborhood. Oh, and in anticipation of Valentine’s Day, Cupid had puked on the place, after a dinner of red balloons and construction paper hearts. Our prix fix menu matched the walls as well as anything could; options included lobster bisque, baked ziti, fajitas and cheesecake.

Given the ambiance, it’s no wonder that the bartender seemed surprised to have a customer. He gushed appreciation when I threw a dollar in the tip jar. (Sidenote on tip jars: Make sure your server is looking when you tip. I once tipped while a ice cream clerk’s back was turned, and my companion convinced me that, in order to get credit, I should pull the money back out of the jar and put it in again. You can guess at what point in that process the clerk turned around.)

After obtaining my beer, I joined the only occupied table in our private area, at which four women were already seated and complaining about men generally and their absence from this event specifically (is there something contradictory about that?). But a male soon joined us and started off the conversation on an awesome note. In response to the very first question he was asked–something about whether he was from the area–he announced, “My great aunt is a very famous psychic. Not one of those crazy fake ones–a real psychic detective.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to hear more, as we had to keep moving, between courses of the meal and to keep the gender balance reasonably even. The age balance was pretty hopeless–only one guy my age, but several my parents’ age (a word of advice to those guys: jokes about your erectile dysfunction are not hot).

Maybe it was just a conditioned response to scarcity, but I was kind of into the guy my age, until he proved that silly icebreakers can actually tell you quite a lot about a person. Dinner was over and a group of us were finishing our drinks and entertaining ourselves with the conversation questions supplied by the organizer. We were listing our favorite possessions and when it was his turn, he said, “my vaporizer.” The elderly and straight-edge in the group (i.e., everyone except me) assumed that he had some kind of painful sinus condition until he explained that vaporizers are how the young’uns smoke the marijuana these days.

Ok, so he’s a pothead, I thought. Not a good sign, but not a total dealbreaker. Then we moved on to “What do you most appreciate about your life right now?” “My career” was a popular answer, with “friends” and “freedom” among the other responses.

Young guy went last. “Being single,” he said. “I was in a three-year relationship and it was very special, but I’m just loving being single, you know, so I get to come to events like this.”

Near-silence ensued, as we put on our coats and headed for home, all wondering the same thing: what had gone so terribly wrong in this attractive, normal-seeming young man’s life that a mediocre dinner in the world’s tackiest restaurant with a bunch of weird old single people was a highlight?

My money’s on the pot, but I guess only my new friend’s great-aunt knows for sure.

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