Glancing around the crowded, cavernous room, Jeff drained the last of his scotch and soda with one swallow. Waving the nearest waiter over, he ordered another. A double this time.
“You only get one complimentary drink,” Frank commented with a slight frown. ”And you should take it easy anyways. Speed dating is a great way to meet people.”
“This sucks, and I’m going to kill you,” Jeff replied. He wasn’t happy with himself for letting Frank talk him into signing up for the event. His divorce had been finalized only three months ago and the thought of another relationship made him physically ill.
“Lighten up, buddy,” Frank replied, looking eagerly around the room. ”I see a lot of great looking women here — and you get to have a date with every one of them. Here are your speeding tickets.” He handed Jeff a pen and a small pad of paper — on each sheet was a column of numbers with an empty box next to each number.
“Cute,” Jeff said, taking the pad.
“Just check the number of someone you want to see again — if she checks your number, the company gets you in touch. That way it’s a mutual thing and you don’t get a call from some whacko.” Suddenly the lights flicked on and off twice, and a soft chiming echoed through the room.
“Here we go,” Frank said with a grin. ”Have a seat — you’ve got five minutes for each date. Remember, the women always stay in their seats. When you hear the bell, move to the table on your right. Good luck!” He slapped Jeff’s back and walked away quickly before Jeff had a chance to reply.
Jeff took a deep breath, a long drink of scotch, then moved reluctantly to the nearest table. Placing his drink down, he took a seat and looked across the table at his first date. And felt fear.
Seated across from Jeff was a woman wearing more makeup than anyone Jeff had ever seen on a human. Ever. Except for a clown he had seen in a circus one time, and clowns don’t count. The woman stared at Jeff without blinking — likely because fast eye movements would cause a crack in the plaster covering most of her face. Jeff pretended to study his speeding ticket. Then the bell sounded.
“If you were a salad, what type of salad would you be?” the woman asked, as if it were the most natural question in the world. Her lips had twisted into a smirk, which Jeff hoped was an attempt at a smile. He hoped. Well, Jeff thought, This is going well. Let’s see, I could be any type of salad as long as there wasn’t a vinegar dressing because it would burn the shit out of my eyes…
“Uh,” he began, “Potato?” A good, earthy salad that no one could find fault with. That should do it. The woman made a clucking sound, shook her head slightly, then made a note in her pad. Uh oh, Jeff thought, bad potato salad.
The woman deliberately set her pad down on the table, crossed her arms, and looked over at Jeff. Her eyebrows were raised expectantly. Stellar, Jeff thought, my turn. Let’s see, if you were an animal would you attack with your talons or razor sharp teeth?
“What’s your favorite movie?” he asked, regretting the question as soon as he saw the look on her face. She looked triumphant, like a kid at a spelling bee getting a word she knew how to spell.
“Fatal Attraction,” she replied, staring unnervingly at Jeff. ”The acting was fantastic, and the suspense was incredible. I think the man learned his lesson — don’t you?”
Let me guess, and your favorite part was when Glenn Close boiled the bunny? Jeff thought. Is there a place for future restraining orders on this speeding ticket?
Jeff had a hard time believing that five minutes could take so long to pass, but eventually he was able to escape to another table. Five dates later, the chimes once again echoed through the hall and participants were encouraged to get up for a stretch. Jeff stretched his legs towards the bar.
“Hey buddy,” Frank said, joining Jeff at the bar. ”How’s it going?”
Jeff received his drink and glared at his friend. ”These people are crazy and this is a joke. I’m out of here.”
Frank frowned. ”Come on, give it a chance. One more round and then you can call it.” His voice had a pleading tone.
Jeff sighed and sipped his drink. “Okay, one more round.”
The lights flickered, and the chimes once again sounded. Jeff sat down and looked across the table. She was looking at him. Not staring, just looking with an interested, slightly amused expression. Her honey blonde hair rested loosely on her bare shoulders and she was wearing a simple black dress that showed just enough.
Why not? Jeff thought. ”If you were a salad, what kind of salad would you be?” he asked.
“Potato,” she replied immediately. ”Skin on, not too much mayo – hard-boiled egg sliced on top, paprika and pepper.”
“Favorite movie?” Jeff asked, starting to smile.
“Anything with Sandra Bullock – even those Speed movies,” she said, returning the smile.
“Sucks,” she said, smile widening. ”My name’s Angela.” She reached her hand across the table.
“Jeff,” he replied, taking her hand. From the horrified expressions of the daters at the nearby tables, it was apparent that touching was strictly forbidden during speed dating.
“Coffee?” Angela asked.
“Absolutely”, Jeff said. Still holding her hand, he stood up. With a polite nod to the disapproving contestants seated at the neighboring table, Angela rose gracefully to her feet. With relief the couple made their way quickly to the exit, stopping only briefly at the nearest garbage can to dispose of their unmarked speeding tickets.
Patrick Perkins writes in British Columbia.