By Tom "Valentino to the Impaired" Waters
March 16, 2001

Believe it or not, up until a month ago, I had never trolled the collective chum nets of the evening singles scene. Not once had I sat on a barstool during last call as the sun peeked up from the horizon and prospective special friends, peg-legged and otherwise, suddenly looked more interesting to each other while some wretched Bob Seger song played on a beer-stained jukebox. For two years, I was alone, by choice most of the time, and was certain I knew desperation. A month ago, I received a formal instruction in despair by every lay person (now that pun wasn't my fault, dammit!) in the field. This probably doesn't sound that alarming, unless you take into account that I'm a stout lad of 24. This is my journey from daylight into darkness back into daylight and then to, oh screw it, here's what happened.

My prior dating philosophy consisted of waiting for nubile young coquettes raining from the sky to fall into my peripheral field of vision and, by nature of proximity, in desperate and sweet, sweet love with your's truly. Not the most effective method. Less effective is a better description. Dead right worthless is perfect. Now certain boys and certain men have the innate gift of picking up anyone, anytime, anywhere, be it a supermodel at a yard sale or the much sought after girl-next-door in the grains and nuts section of your local convenience store. It goes without saying that I am not this certain type of boy and/or man. It goes without saying that most men aren't, and most men wish that this sort of person would perish viciously in a freak soda machine explosion. Some people play it wholesome, and try their damnedest (bless their hearts!) to find love and its common denominators in haunts without alcohol, such as a library, a church service, or the occasional cross stitching club for straight men in their early twenties. However, I hate libraries, and most of the women who frequent bookstores are, at the risk of sounding uppity, a bit on the homely side. Secondly, being that I pay worship to the pagan deity of retail every Sunday, I don't have the opportunity to get in on any pious action that may go on thereabouts. And lastly, my stubby, hairy  fingers just aren't conducive to any macramé related activities. Conventional means of dating just weren't going to work, so it was clearly time for last-ditch efforts.

This is the point where I was dragged, kicking, screaming (and generally biting anyone that got within a mile radius), out of my happy pocket of seclusion and into the dismal and poor lighting of the lounge lizard stratosphere. I am neither an extroverted nor zany person in the presence of strangers, so the club life was always an option and a lifestyle that was looked down upon. How foolish it is to despise something one knows nothing about when you can research and divulge each revolting tentacle for it's singular foulness (in addition to the overlying revulsion). Like this Greek dude who descended into the Underworld to bring his true love back from the dead, I wandered down into the very gutters of the velvet rope and escaped with something far more valuable: validated parking.

Being that I have led, for the most part, a sheltered and suburban life, city and inner city conduct was never my field of expertise. This isn't a very good thing, either, as most panhandlers and run of the mill raving lunatics tend to prey on, and gravitate towards, people without this field of expertise. I'm not sure if it's because I have a face that's misleadingly kind looking, gullible, or naive, but the homeless home right in on me. Within five feet of leaving my car, some poor, ruddy vagrant will pop out of nowhere and begin with a cockamamie tale of woe so far-fetched that I can't help but reward his flair for creativity with the 38 and a half cents that the story was contrived for: "Yo, man, my grandma got crushed in the steam press at the laundromat and I ain't got no case quarter to take a rickshaw to go see her at the hospital in Baltimore. You got a case quarter? You gotta cigarette? Wanna buy twenty kilos of heroin?" No thank you. I suppose this sort of obstacle comes with the territory.

Awful techno music is another necessary evil of clubbing that has to be tolerated, as there is no alternative. On one evening, I heard the original version, house-trance remix, and 12" extended vinyl of a song that I think was called "Smack My Bitch Up" at every club we frequented. That's part of the charm of going out and dating, though; you go somewhere where you don't want to be so you can pretend that you're having fun and not looking to meet anyone in a place that's too loud, disgusting, and crowded to talk to someone even if you did make an acquaintance! A daisy chain of inevitable logic!

And then there were the Gothic, or 'Goth' people. They make up the ruling majority of the actual dancing type clubs. Goth people practice a system of ethics and beliefs that would make the Mormon code look cohesive. They dress in black to convey their spiritual numbness and/or angst at their parents. Ditto for nose, nipple, eyebrow, and prostate piercing. Some of them either pretend, or legitimately believe that they're vampires. I wasn't aware that vampires were typically five foot men with skin problems and lipstick, or three hundred pound girls with pewter crosses and hairy arms, but...fair enough. The musical collective prefers rancid techno with men screaming through speaker distortion about serial killing and other such nastiness that makes them, by virtue of listening, feel nasty. I don't plan on turning into a Goth person any time soon. It sounds too exhausting. Plus even I can't pretend to be that angry all the time.

Every club, lounge, and dive had it's own charm, or prepackaged lack thereof. In club-speak, ambience is a term that's synonymous with 'shit-hole that a lot of interesting people for some unexplained reason keep going to'. At one of the darker clubs, the toilet was little more than an open hole in the ground sheathed in darkness, where one stood in a voluntarily unidentified puddle (I wasn't about to investigate) and tried to aim for the desired target. The place had great ambience though, because a lot of lesbians danced and groped each other there, which, admittedly, does not bode successful odds for the single male, but is entertaining regardless. Plus it made up for the outlandish cover charge.

Every woman at every bar had a special tantalizing feature that stuck to the roof of my mind like so much mnemonic peanut butter, whether it was an interesting back pack with copulating children's show mascots, a nose ring bigger than any you'd ever see this side of a toreador, or in some cases just an ass that left my eyes out of their sockets and my tongue along the rail of the bar. It's a fascinating atmosphere,with it's own ethics and a corresponding band of acolytes who go faithfully into the night, without fail, until they find that fake someone who hits home with the little fake person inside of them.

Certain days had themes attached to them in the club utopia. At one bar, on Tuesday nights, only Englebert Humperdink cover bands graced the small plywood handicapped ramp that doubled as a stage. Some bars designated Sunday as Sexually Conflicted Day, where closet gays, asexuals, and the occasional Eunuch were allowed to get out, get down, and get dirty with each other, no one, or their catheter, respectively. And I'm certain it's widely known that Thursday is the day when people the world over place sponge candy in their underclothes and somersault the length of the bar onto a pool table full of Vienna sausages, but I was never privy to these things before. Just like I was never privy to dancing.

(Audible and extended sigh of disgust) I will never dance, even for the sake of finding action. No Bump and Grind, Slam Dance, Macarena, or other pasta-related dervish. There are some men who dance, and enjoy dancing, and these men are known to be gay. I myself am not gay. If I were gay, maybe I'd enjoy dancing, but gayness simply isn't in my genetic encoding. It's sort of tragic how women love to dance, are always looking for guys who want to dance with them, and have no alternative other than gay men. Sometimes drunken men dance, or desperate men, and you can still see how uncomfortable they are with their sense of coordination, self-consciousness, and overall burgeoning embarrassment regarding the fact that they're dancing badly. If I could make it to the bathroom without tripping over a level surface, or get on and off of a barstool without catching my jacket on a nail on a post that's three feet behind me and ripping the lining out onto the floor much to the amusement of my friends and any other strangers who aren't blind to wild, stunted spectacles, perhaps I would venture it, but I can't, so I don't. I did the twist once at the age of 13, when I didn't know any better, and the original videocassette, as well as any copies, were destroyed tragically in a freak gyro copter crash some years ago. One of the other things I learned was not to trust a straight man who dances well, as he is a professional, and therefore he is trouble.

There are lifer's on every notch of the gender rainbow in clubs, and you can spot them by following these guidelines: If you meet someone who's hair is glazed, greased, or so perfect that they look like they should be endorsing a product while they're talking to you, that's a good sign. If a woman is playing tiddly winks with a handful of diaphragms and an empty margarita glass, this is also a good sign. Persons who don't have a general air of shame and self-disappointment are almost always cold-blooded, no-nonsense, hit-and-run swingers. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it depends on your designated prey. Do you want a disease or a drink? A one night stand, four month relationship, or an interlude in the alleyway next to Bob the Hobo? It's an unforgiving meat market, and there are many different cuts of beef hanging from hooks in sub zero temperatures wearing nylons and pumps. You just have to know how to grade your beef. Fortunately, I lean towards the Upton Sinclair school of evaluation, as opposed to the Tijuana State Board of Excellence in Iguana Remainders.

That's not fair, though. One thing that I learned among many is that in life, there are diamonds in the dust, and the club scene is no different. The other things? Perhaps a roster is in order. Thomas' Rules Of Lounge Order, as it were. Relegated by the order in which they were discovered. Take note, and if it sounds silly, or outlandish, remember the source, and bear in mind that much pain and hardship was incurred for the sake of this invaluable scoopage I am imparting to you for the low introductory price of, well, free.

Rule#1: Bring A Decoy
This works on multiple levels. Not only do you not feel pitiful and shunned by the opposite sex, but you're gaining valuable information from the enemy lines while in their midst like Diane Fossey taking rectal temperatures from the inhabitants of  the chimpanzee house of a city zoo. This is a crucial, crucial rule. Aside from learning how to speak with the fairer sex without stuttering, mumbling, blushing, and spilling food and assorted drink on, you appear wanted in front of actual targets. Women at heart are lovely and sweet and all of those things, but women, when dealing with other women in the realm of dating, are vicious vindictive psychotics who would put John Wayne Gacy to shame. If they see that you're with someone who's having fun with you, their natural instinct is to go and ruin whatever jubilation said girl is having. The decoy actually gets something out of it too, as men are testosterone fueled atom bombs who will stop at nothing, including hitting on someone else's 'girlfriend' to strike it rich. But this is, of course, an irrelevant and unimportant side effect that makes you look more sensitive than you, in reality, actually are. This rule is a keeper.

Rule#2: Nothing Ever Happens On A Monday
This was obtained the hard way, and anyone with a brain in their head would have figured it out without unnecessary shadenfraude. Since bar folk and their ilk are perpetually in motion, it's patently obvious that after a wild Friday, a bombastic Saturday, and an Interesting Hat Sunday, Monday would be a good day for all around recovery and subsequent rehydration. One also has to factor in the possibility of the general after-parties that those in the know go to after their dive of choice shuts down at the legally enforced dawn hour(s).

Rule#3: Recognize A Good Thing When You Have It
When you're clearly on the road to pleasant chemistry (not including a drink with a quirky umbrella that changes colors every five minutes), follow it up and ride it out. Please see the attached.

Rule#3a: Don't Blow A Good Thing
With the exception of men whose first names are John and last names are Travolta, you are not the universal swinger. Trading up is frowned upon in the bar malaise, and should never be performed in the same night, at the same club. It's conceptually impossible to make someone feel as if they're the only person in the room and make lascivious gestures and eye winks to someone across the room at the same time. This is just plain rude, and I for one am disgusted at anyone who would do such a thing. Other than me, anyhow. Actually, I'm still riding a stationary shame cycle from my incident

Rule#4: The Harder You Try To Score, The More Bleak Your Odds Become
In a space age futuristic world full of more aphrodisiacs than people who have a use for them, it is my firm belief that confidence is, and always will be, the greatest hook with women. Desperately grappling for intimacy after the witching hour with anyone who happens to stumble or get sick next to you is not an example of confidence, but rather a dead end exercise in futility. This operates under the same universal principles as Rule 3 and its footnote: If things are going well, put some effort into the catch. If nothing's happening by 4 a.m., odds are nothing's gonna happen. Best to cut your losses, fold, and drive home with some dignity rather than a second cousin to Ilsaa the Bearded. Unless, of course, you're into that sort of thing.

Rule#5: Travel In Packs, Preferably of Well-Wishers and Hangers-On
It's murder out there, and one needs as many tricks as are humanly possible to gain the hometown advantage. In place, or addition to a reliable decoy an entourage adds to your personal star status and proves that you're admired and adored by many. What we're trying to avoid here is going somewhere completely by yourself and going out on a limb for someone only to get shot down horrifically by not only the intended princess but her two slightly heavy and overly giggly friends as well. Women always travel in packs, and so should you. One more time: Women always travel in packs. You see them marching like a battalion in malls, on the streets, and even to the bathroom in groups of 20, so bring some reinforcements. If you're lucky, your friends will recognize when you're interested in someone and help to build you up as the wonderful mystery that you most certainly aren't.

Rule #6 Perfect a Look
As in comedy, and also with dating, one must have a schtick. You can't open with something that's outlandishly out on a limb and expect consistent results, so it's best to flagellate with a routine that works. This sounds cliche', but it doesn't have to be, and when in Rome, be the fake toga wearing bastard that you can't stand. Or in this case, the Plebeian who says he 'enjoys Dave Matthews for his political impact on the 21st century, as well as his ingenious world beat innovation'. The horror of it all. I feel dirty just writing that. Before I lose track, make sure to have a look. Lounge chicks usually go for a certain type, so it's best not to confuse. There are many options and looks to choose from, up to and including four! You can be the leather clad bad boy who's an embarrassment to the girl's parents, whom she's trying to punish for spoiling her all of her life. Or perhaps you're more the sensitive Charlie Brown-pullover wearing new age man with a buzz cut and penny loafers of indeterminate color? This works on gold diggers. But then of course you can be the strikingly individualistic beret/beanie/handlebar mustache sporting, tortured misunderstood artist for whom life is painful and creation is bliss (translation: college chicks). If these sound like too much of a stretch, you can just be an asshole with a sizable wad of cash, which is not too shockingly the house special of the day any day at any bar in any town.

Rule #7 People Who Slur Are Not Anywhere Near as Charming as They Perceive Themselves to Be
 Circling back to the confidence game of all confidence games, if you want someone to feel uniquely desired after, the last thing to do is funnel a few liters of absinthe and deliver your soliloquy from the heap of cigarette butts and ground cheese doodles at the floor of the bar. Women like to feel needed, not lusted after by virtue of their biological bits and pieces. It's best in dating to stay on top of your game, which basically means that you shouldn't phonetically skip every other vowel in a given sentence while forming a basin of drool out of one side of your mouth. People who are drunk to the point of unconsciousness are more liable to get a ride home in a white van with big blue lights and a stomach pump rather than in the Lamborghini of some blonde viking. Utter inebriation is an agenda in bars, but shouldn't be mixed with dating, ever. Aside from a complete lack of charm, drunken people have a tendency to pretend that it's their conscience that has taken a vacation when in fact and in most cases, it's simply their sense of balance and/or bowel control.

Rule #8 If You Don't Have an Ugly Friend With You, You're The Ugly Friend
 Fetching females collect them like so many beat-up plastic barrettes under a vanity chest, and will look at you and your surrounding friends in the same manner. If the majority of your friends look suave and dapper, it's best to hang out with them on off nights and make an acquaintance with someone who has a growth on their neck, supplemental nostril, or similar deformity that will draw more attention to your own beauty. Granted, inner beauty may be important, but who are we kidding? If women were drawn to boys with flippers, we'd be sanding off our forearms right now.

Rule #9 The Sensitive Male Schtick Stopped Working About Five Years Ago
Now that everyone has the hang of it, the knack to understanding 'where she's coming from' and how you 'know how tough it must be to find your individuality in a male dominated world' in addition to the way you 'have psychological water retention that makes you feel psychically bloated in a succinctly feminine manner', nobody cares. As a man, pretending to be responsive to other's needs is about as current as wearing platform shoes and a tie wider than Marlon Brando. It's a fake out to our natural instinct, namely conquering and plundering. You know it, they know it, and there's no use trying to dress up your approach by limpening your wrist and discussing the crying jags you had while watching a Sandra Bullock movie. Masculinity is in, thank God, because we're not very good at anything else.

Rule #10 Lie About Your Job, Even If You Have A Good Job (And You Probably Don't)
 That's right, I'm an analyst for one of the city's largest subsidiary brokerages. I handle off-shore accounts when I'm not cramming for my LSAT's. You may not believe this, but I'm an advisor for one of the lesser Popes, it's not really a big thing. You get the picture. Just as decoys reinforce the fact that you can behave yourself in the presence of the opposite sex, a fake job can be save you from a raving psychopath, as well as reel in the abundantly plastic persons you may be in the mood for. Leprechauns are easier to spot than anything vaguely truthful in the small talk that sifts through the air in a crowded club, so why should you be any different? After all, perhaps you actually did have some government stealth jet experience in a former life and you're simply getting in touch with that.

-Magnanimous thanks to the Flying Bolis brothers, Melissa, and Lindsay, for patiently and diligently helping to create the monster at the end of this essay.

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