The fear was palpable. Poorly shorn men and women gathered downstairs at the main branch of the library, clutching their books, brazenly ogling the others who were milling about. Getting checked out at the library. And getting checked in for the night’s entertainment: speed dating, with a literary flourish.
I attempted to rope a few of my friends into this, and one showed. We leaned back and watched the chaos. After twenty women on the wait list were no-shows, the librarian finally hit upon someone in the crowd who had had the courage to show up. Six additional women and seven men were shooed inside, after a lengthy reading of wait-list names akin to a list of the dead. At the end of the men’s list, there were two additional spots and four dudes scuffing their feet and looking nervously down. I suggested that they Roshambo to get in. Nervous laughs and then they awkwardly looked at each other. One guy said he’d never Roshambo’d.
I had sacrificed my wait list position until I knew my friend would also get in. But now, he was in and I was outside missing the action. With the men all accounted for, I began to wander off, until a librarian frantically chased me down. “We have too many men! We need you!”
We had all dutifully brought our favorite books or books we were reading, to use for conversation starters. We wore numbers on our chests, if we liked someone, we would bubble their number on our card and if they bubbled our number, match-tastic! Slipping into the last seat, I pulled my book out and steeled myself for the onslaught. I gave my friend the thumbs up across the room. The librarians thanked us for coming and broke down the logistics of the evening: the men would snake around the room while the women remained seated. Even the librarians seemed nervous, sweated armpits, frenzied.
For the next hour and a half I had nineteen conversations lasting four minutes each.
What I remember from that blur:
* A lawyer in a purple shirt, so sure of himself and clutching this book: 15 minute meals by Cooking Light. Apparently he eats fast and doesn’t like spending more time cooking than eating.
* the cute twenty-something freshly moved from Brooklyn and living in a homeless shelter. He was spitting paper hearts out his mouth during the whole conversation, and reading Zorba the Greek.
* Leopard print pajama-bottomed dude with a self-help book. I complimented his outfit and he proudly mentioned that he was meeting up with his crew later and they all dressed like this.
* The guy whose daily routine involves watching Seinfeld, favorite episode: The Opposite.
* Long haired sci-fi lover who claimed that his job doesn’t take any time at all, so he can pursue other interests. His job? Software development. I never thought of that as a part-time gig. His other interests? Launching weather balloons from Tracy, CA, with friends.
* Yelp salesman who was extremely impressed with himself for working at Yelp. Reading a history of Palestine.
* A few effeminate men, one of whom had written his own book and published with CreateSpace. He bragged about firing his “real” publisher a few months before they were supposed to bring out his book. Yeah right. He also has no clocks in his house. The other effem had teeth which defy explanation– a line through the middle of the top row, but white on both sides. Perhaps falsies. Originally from what he deemed “the terrible city”, which is not Detroit, as I guessed, but LA.
* A guy with braces, and like all adults with braces, wildly self-conscious of them. He brought one of Roald Dahl’s children’s books. As is always the case when Dahl comes up, I mentioned reading in his biography that he had all his teeth extracted when he was in his twenties. This factoid caused the gentleman in braces to shift uncomfortably in his chair.
* A whirling dervish, glasses taped together in the middle with electrical tape. We covered so many topics in four minutes it felt like we were on fast forward; literature, comics, pop culture, the new Smurf movie and protests he’ll be leading against it. After the frenzy he handed me a card with link to his 80s appreciation tumblr.
At some point, the men’s snaking broke down and it became a free for all. Men were beelining towards cute girls. Chaos reigned. Librarians tried to pull us back into order by decreeing a mingle hour, but no one responded.
My friend met a woman who brought All About Scabs . He asked her to show him her favorite picture, and flustered, she pointed to the first page.There was a woman who brought Bukowski and Eggers, obviously trying too hard to appeal to the range of men. Other women brought Deliverance and Cloud Atlas, Anna Karenina, a Shel Silverstein biography.
There was a guy that I missed meeting who had a notebook of his own jokes, a whole section of one word jokes like “Alf-ghanistan”, a section of jokes turning the word Bjorn into Pjorn, an Oprah-themed section.
When I first proposed this event to my friend, his response was, “what on earth would i gain from this? ok i’ll do it.” After we surveyed the shambles of the room, and I saw his exhilarated face, I could tell it was a success. He bubbled five girls on his card. We decamped to the bar to debrief, double orders of bourbon.
The next morning, he IMs me, “I now officially regret three of my five choices.”
Update. Data from the librarians in charge.
Data: Match sheets
Matches for both women and men:
0 = 11 participants had zero matches
1 = 16 participants had one match
2 = 4 ” ” ” etc.
3 = 4
4 = 2
5 = 2
6 = 1
Data: Registration Lists
Totals attended: 20 women, 20 men
3 no shows
3 canceled by email
2 canceled from the waitlist by email
4 waitlisted & got in
69 waitlisted: 20 (considered the “real” waitlist at the beginning of the list); 49 (at the end of the list, were emailed not to come, they wouldn’t get in)
3 showed up from the last 49 waitlist and got in
2 canceled by email
3 no shows
5 waitlisted got in
2 showed up not pre-registered and got in