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Dinner For Misfits: Part 1
by C.J. Michaels
2007-02-02 08:59:43
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Last time I attended a Spanish-themed singles dinner at La Tasca, I went dancing, collected three phone numbers and woke up with a beautiful South American who graced my apartment for the weekend.

It’s with the memory of that success that I walk the short distance from my Federal Hill apartment to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to go to another at the same restaurant.

I arrive at 6.45 and head to the upstairs bar. The organizer, Curtis, checks off my name and tells me I do not yet have a seat assignment. I’m a floater; a wild card. Instead of being determined by the questionnaire everyone filled out beforehand, my dining companions will be chosen according to whichever table is short of men. He does not actually say those words, he does not need to; it’s what happened before.

Several people wearing sticky name labels are mingling at the bar and Curtis instructs me to join them. Getting a drink in La Tasca is never easy and every order seems to require the attention of all three bartenders, so I am pleasantly surprised to be served immediately.

I get talking to Lisa, who’s dressed in a cranberry jacket and has a drink of a similar color. Already, the evening is looking up, but not for long. I make a quip about the matching colors of drinks and clothes and link it to my Guinness and black shirt but she assures me, far too quickly and with little humor, that there’s no connection. It’s as if I’ve made an accusation or, at the very least, been rather silly, so I move away. If this evening is to have a sequel, Lisa will not be involved.

It’s early, but no one else stands out as a worthy mingling prospect. The only other women are overly large and all four are being served sangria at the corner of the bar. They are obviously not familiar with this restaurant, where the sangria is pre-made in tubs and loses both strength and flavor as bartenders top it up with soda water and shovels of ice. By mid-evening, it tastes as one would imagine.

The men around the room look as far above the thirty-something age range as me and I can’t help feeling critical. A social occasion such as this demands a better image than jeans or tired office wear and being fifty does not validate a nineteen eighties hairstyle with a graying moustache.

A young man approaches me, holding a Miller Lite, which is a good indication that we have little in common. He heard my few words with Lisa and asks where I’m from, so we talk briefly about England. He thinks it’s great that I’ve come to America and asks me if I needed a passport. Now Americans need one to go to Canada, which he sees as a terrible imposition. Americans shouldn’t need passports to go to other countries, he asserts, they’re not terrorists. He’s probably twenty-two and wants to go to Paris. “They’ve got,” he says, “That big thing.” Some questions later, I realize that he means the Eiffel Tower, but the name is news to him; he knows it simply as the Big Thing and intends to climb it. This isn’t something the average tourist is allowed to do on vacation in Paris, but he’s insistent. I realize that he has little to contribute to my evening except, perhaps, character material for my new book.

It’s time for a second drink and I lean on the bar, holding out a twenty-dollar bill, but don’t achieve the same speedy success as before. Several times, my attention is taken by a nerdy man in a blood-red shirt and giant glasses, who continually apologizes; for what, I do not know. His interventions cause me to miss the approaches of all three bartenders and eventually he gets served first. After that, he definitely has something to apologize for, but he’s nowhere in sight.

It’s not long before Curtis taps on a glass to attract attention and announces that we should go downstairs to get seated. It’s like boarding an airplane. Name labels are examined, people without assignments are given them and, from the shuffling and reshuffling of bodies, it’s obvious that the questionnaires play no part.

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