I was single, depressed, and ready to go hedonistically ballistic. Four years of monogamistic trial and error had come crashing to an end, and I wanted wild parties, loose babes, and intoxicated copulation. Unfortunately, the Playboy Mansion doesn't sell day passes, so I'd require an alternative locale. Immediately ruling out Seattle—I defy you to find a swim-up bar in this dreary town—I booked a week at the Hedonism II resort in Jamaica (see "It ain't no Temptation Island," below).
Though all in all the experience was a letdown, I did enjoy several weeks of Jamaican fun, sun, and spliff-enhanced fornication. But nothing lasts forever—without a trust fund.
I returned to Seattle wanting something less expensive, more consistent, and even (gasp) meaningful. My goal: to find a real date by Valentine's Day. Seven weeks, three days, and 18 hours to score a suitable engagement.
The objective was not to secure just any V-Day rendezvous whatsoever. Anyone can scrounge up a gal pal, companion, or sleazy bat to hang out with for an evening. (If you ask out every single person you meet for weeks, eventually you'll wind up with SOMEONE who'll agree to a free meal plus flowers.) But sitting with average Anne at a mediocre fixed-priced meal among red roses, helium balloons, and chocolate cherubs while gazing at dozens of lovely couples truly in love sounded worse than being alone.
No, at the ancient age of 36, I wanted something more.
Dates 1-7: SpeedDating
My first attempt at finding Mrs. Valentine came at a Jewish singles event known as SpeedDating. Participants meet seven dates, switching partners every 7 minutes at the sound of a bell—not exactly traditional matchmaking but not chopped liver either. At the end, each candidate fills in a "yes" or "no" card for every "date," indicating whether they'd like to see the person again. If a match is made, male mensches are provided with princesses' phone numbers (to be put on SpeedDial) and expected to call within four or five days.
Except for one woman who seemed to be on a time delay, the evening was actually enjoyable (even Attila the Hun would probably be good company for seven minutes). In the end, I had three names on my dance card, two of which "matched" (apparently kindergarten teachers are too good for unemployed, pot-smoking, kid-phobic playwrights). I followed up with Laura, a pretty, lithe brunette with a button nose(job) and peppy personality from San Fran. We laughed a bit on the phone, making small talk and not mentioning how many other matches we'd scored in the SpeedEvent—no one wants to look like too much of a polygamist on the first date.
We met at Serafina, a dark, romantic bistro and the location of dozens of my previous first dates. I'm comfortable there, the staff knows me, and if the dalliance works out, and my wife/mate/lover ever asks, "Honey, do you remember where we first met?" I'll be able to respond instantly that the fabulous encounter took place at Serafina, of course.
Meeting at 7pm, the idea was to have a quick cocktail and canap鬠and, on the advice of my sister, be out in 90 minutes tops—regardless of how well it was going.
Things did not go according to plan. Laura, who had not eaten lunch, downed a martini and was loopy within minutes. Slow service and fast metabolism meant the calamari would not be sufficient, and before I knew what hit me, dinner was on its way. Talk, talk, talk: College life, special moments, favorite books, and employment histories soared from our mouths till our throats were raw. We'd gone from 7 minutes to two HOURS and 7 minutes, too far of a stretch, leaving us both exhausted with little left to say, hoping we could get the barkeep's attention and blow this Popsicle stand before having to yawn in each other's faces and sending things into true Humiliationville. The last 20 minutes consisted of smiling weakly and staring at empty water glasses. Bottom line: Listen to your siblings.
I decided to go deep in the well and fish out old yearbooks, foraging for past prom dates now divorced, out of rehab, or back in town after many moons away. As luck would have it, an old flame had just moved back from Philadelphia to take an Internet job (bad idea) after leaving her fianc頡t the altar (good idea). I'd last seen her four years prior during her engagement. In town for a mutual friend's wedding, we'd groveled in her rent-a-car like teens at a drive-in. Over the years, we'd dated sporadically, freaked out, and gone our separate ways.
Two dates into our latest bout, we were again groveling in cars, carpets, and carports. Our childhood crush was apparently alive and well 25 years later. Things looked good, if nothing else, to have a frequent sex buddy. I'd always been under the impression Alex had several relationships going at once and liked her more because of it. But before we could get into the details of a newer, more mature relationship, Alex headed to Hawaii for a week, and I was free to roam until her return.
Make Me a Match
Out of the blue (more like blue hair, as my mother's network of yentas was working overtime), I had the names and numbers of two women in my in-box. (I'm happy to date Jews but think doing so exclusively is a bit restrictive for my nature, not to mention eliminating 98 percent of the dating pool.) I refused to meet Bachelorette No. 1 after the matchmaker told me she was offended I had asked if the setup was "gorgeous." After gathering several referrals describing Jewess No. 2 as "cute," "attractive," and "sweet," we arranged to meet for lunch (I was getting smarter). At the Wild Ginger, I'd be looking for a cute woman, 5' 3", with shoulder-length brown hair, and she'd be looking for a man who looked nothing like me, as I'd exaggerated my weight, height, and hair color on the phone. The minute she walked in the door I knew exactly who she was, not because she was looking around like a woman searching for a stranger, but because we'd met—on a blind date—five years earlier. I hadn't recalled her last name in the e-mail, and apparently she hadn't remembered mine. "Natalie?" I began, extending my hand. "I'm Michael. You look familiar." She either didn't recall or didn't want to cop to the awkward nature of a previous date that had led nowhere, so we had a fine lunch, chatted about life, and ended with a hug. I can't remember the reason I never called her back the first time, but starting over with a lie was no way to go into my new future.
As anyone knows, the best trolling for sophisticated singles takes place in Belltown.
I hunkered down on a stool at El Gaucho, eyes open, waiting for a chance to jump into a conversation, threesome, or separation. To my left sat a pair of hammered babes painting the town by numbers. For 10 minutes I struggled for an opening line, then the homelier of the two suddenly bolted and Tamara literally fell in my lap. We were off to the races, affectionately babbling about nothing and celebrating Tam's birthday— a reason for more champagne if ever there was one.
Apparently Tamara's friend was in barf mode, enabling us to share several glasses of bubbly and enough small talk to know if we hated each other. By the time drunken Amy stumbled back to the bar, I had obtained the proper digits—barely legible numbers on a cocktail napkin.
Immediately after the besotted split, two new lovely ladies plopped on the warm stools—sisters, one living in New York (rock on ring finger). The other was Karen, recently divorced with two toddlers and living in Wallingford. Her sister thought that mingling might help get her "back in the groove." Karen's vacant stares and depressed demeanor demonstrated she was far from finding her groove-thing. But we all chatted for a whiskey or three, and I found myself charmed by Karen's shy sense of humor and sharp intelligence. I handed her my business card, looked her in the eye, and suggested we "do this again sometime." "Really," I babbled as she headed to the door, "let's have coffee or just hang out one day." She nodded, then laughed, and I knew my chances were down to one.
I waited a couple of days, then called Tam, who didn't live there and never had.
The "Model" Blind Date
The key to going on blind dates is to grill the person who's setting you up. In this case, a guy I play hoops with had briefly met a single woman at his wife's company Christmas party. She was a model (A MODEL!), he said, and what did I have to lose. I called his wife to get a little more information (i.e., measurements). Sooner than you can say "conference call," the three of us were chatting like nervous nincompoops, and the cover girl and I were date-bound for the following Wednesday. Upon her runway entrance, the slumped shoulders, low cheekbones, and denim skirt with stretchy waistband said all I needed to know in an instant (forget the 7 minutes of SpeedDating; at times all you need is 7 seconds). Turns out the faux Heidi Klum was a FOOT model for Nordstrom print ads. Bad date. Great feet.
Affaire d'Eastside Amour
Another friend convinced me I'd do better in Kirkland—no one knew me there, he said. By the time we got to the badly named Da Vinci's (the only artistic splash in the place is the vomit-splattered urinals), I was tripping, the juke was jumpin', and the next thing I knew, I'd gone home with a 45-year-old real-estate agent. (Did I mention the implants?) Sometimes, opposites repel: She liked Autumn in New York, I liked Apocalypse Now. I voted for Ralph Nader; she didn't vote. She goes to Starbucks. I'm a Vivace person.
Her condo resembled a lifeless model unit—all Monet prints, doilies, fake flowers, and fireplaces. Short of her being a Republican smoker with herpes, a firearm, and eight children, this—for me—was as bad as it gets. I would have enjoyed a one-night stand, but the Handi Wipes on her bedside table scared me. I used the occasion to flesh out my theories on radical environmentalism, and she was soundly asleep on her salmon-colored couch when I hit the road.
Popping the Question
Alex and I were getting along fabulously—mainly because we kept the talking to a minimum, saw each other infrequently, and, remarkably, were slowly growing more comfortable (and experimental) with one another. Just as I was about to ask her to be my valentine (time was running short!), Alex dropped the bomb: She had recently met someone special with whom she wanted to "try things out." Evidently, our sex life was getting in the way of her efforts. Ever the player, Alex made it clear we might return to our old ways if her coupling didn't work out. While I appreciated her straightforward communication, the sad fact was I'd been nuked by a sweetheart trying to change her swinging ways, leaving me without a sex buddy, and—worse—sans valentine. For the moment, I can hope Alex's beau is hit by a bus on or before February 14.
It's Not Over Till It's Over
Never be surprised by the unexpected. For almost two years I've been flirting with a teller at my bank. We chat about the weather, our clothes, and penmanship. (What the hell else is there to talk about?) Basically, she's a nice person I know absolutely nothing about. Lo and behold, she wanted to know if I was free on Valentine's Day. Instantly, two devils appeared, one atop each shoulder: "She's hot!" screamed the horny one. The other was more levelheaded: "Don't fuck with someone who has access to your money, boy!" Maybe she was making small talk. Maybe she lived with her boyfriend. Maybe I should have asked for clarification.
The role reversal had left me speechless, panicked, and—as per my nature— I immediately made up a story about going skiing that weekend, realizing too late that St. Valentine's Day is on a Wednesday, then wishing I'd kept my mouth shut or mumbled something about taking my mom to dinner. As there's no escaping the long arm of justice in this world, she and I will undeniably find ourselves at the same restaurant on the 14th. This fabrication will then linger with me each and every time I walk into that fucking bank, the one located so conveniently close to my home that I cannot—will not—switch banks.
I thought about my options in these last desperate days: Prison brides are all the rage, as inmates apparently have a great deal of Internet time on their hands.
Throwing caution to the wind, I could always enlist an escort (from these very pages) and hope it turned into something less hourly and more long-term. This option was flawed for three reasons: First, I would hate to accidentally hire someone I knew. Second, if the courtesan was a cop and busted my sorry ass, my parents would read about it in the Queen Anne Crime Blotter. (Degrading glances at family functions would be unbearable, and I'd have to deal with my uncle: "So, havin' trouble gettin' dates?") Third, my tryst of choice (a lovely 23-year-old named "Cherry") was booked for the time slot I was interested in. (For Valentine's Day, escorts, like fine restaurants, must be booked far in advance.)
I even considered dragging the ex to dinner to rehash our four years and see if we could find some middle ground on our religious, financial, and philosophical differences. Then I remembered she'd taken off to India for five months.
A Fresh Start
Suddenly it hit me: As commitment-phobic, paranoid, and uninterested in cohabitation, marriage, and infants as I am, maybe solo is the way to go. Keeping all options open, I'll play the dateless wonder.
I've booked a table for two at Seattle's most romantic restaurant. With a single table setting, a lovely bottle of wine, and a journal close at hand, when "the right girl comes along," it will be apparent I'm available. I'll dine without expectation, enjoying my own company (and that of the staff forced to work on such a romantic occasion). Dressed to the nines, I'll squat for both sittings, hide roses under the table, and play possum—a master plan created for one purpose: If a gorgeous redhead appears across the room with her brother, her hairdresser, her ex-steady, or just a loser who treats her like dirt and needs to be shown the door, just in case my lovely valentine decides to excuse herself from her lame-ass date of the moment to inquire if perhaps I'm alone, there will be no mistaking my position. I'll say, yes, dear, please, sit. There is no time like the present; a world of opportunity awaits.
It ain't no Temptation Island
by Michael A. Stusser
The Hedonism resort's motto matched exactly my intent: "Be Wicked for a Week." Shoving in as many mind- altering substances as possible with as many nude nymphs as could fit on a revolving king-sized waterbed sounded exactly like the sabbatical I needed. I packed a toothbrush, bathing suit (optional), SPF 45 sunscreen, and about 800 Trojan condoms. Bring on the bacchanal!
Upon entering the Hedonism hotel lobby, my mood took a wicked turn from wild, frothing anticipation to deflated melancholy. More Holiday Inn than Satan's Den, the naked dog pile, hot-tub orgies, and pagan rituals were nowhere to be found. As I was to discover, Hedonism in the new millennium is like marriage in the old—conventional, monogamous, and far from the free-for-all love fest I was looking for.
Twenty-five years have passed since the original Hedonism resort opened in Negril, Jamaica. While the staff do their best to generate hedonistic tendencies—serving an ever-flowing flood of rum punch and organizing pajama parties, naked Twister, and drug-filled raves—visitors today are apprehensive about jumping in with both feet (hands, legs, etc.). The summers of random sex, key parties, and LSD punch have gone the way of "No Nukes" concerts and rotary phones. Hedonism now is a place for couples (who make up 52 percent of the clientele) to explore their wilder side, which means lounging in the buff, wearing dominatrix outfits to dinner, smoking a fatty, and then returning to their rooms to do it missionary style. And while the overall atmosphere is relaxed, Hedonism is a long way from living up to its name.
This isn't to say the Hedonism experience is without merit. While I didn't experience a swingin' orgy, my week at the resort was eye-opening and "successful" (Yes!). With a "let it all hang out" philosophy (visitors can sun at Prude beach or Nude beach), the resort creates opportunities and provides the "all-inclusive" setting for revelry to occur. The experience varies widely, depending on guests. (I missed the adult film convention by a week, and a group of bondage fanatics arrived just as I was checking out.)
During my stay, two surgically enhanced strippers from Toronto made the trip a worthwhile endeavor, not with their lap dances (which were also enjoyable), but with their unbridled enthusiasm—chatting up the singles contingency, encouraging folks to enter the Appleton Dance contest, and generally being good sports in a hootenanny that would have fallen flat (no pun intended) without their presence.
The clientele at Hedo resorts are mostly American (75 percent), average 38 years, and for every babe, there are 1.4 guys (promotions are attempting to even that ratio with "3-some is a free-some" specials, enabling three women to attend for the price of two). Sweet and sour, stretched and sinewy, young and aged, pro and novice, the clientele varies widely. The one consistent at Hedo: Half their business is made up of returning guests. Perhaps, over time, inhibitions, like tan lines, fade.
In retrospect, my own life is fairly hedonistic: Sex-crazed, I drink, dance, and flame up at any opportunity. Everything in life is a trade-off. No one gets laid 24/7 (except maybe Dennis Rodman). Relationships are work, and true love hard to find. For the money (a single all-inclusive room at Hedo II is around $325 per night without airfare—call 1-800-GO-SUPER), true hedonists are better off going to Vegas and buying their debauchery the old-fashioned way. Then again, there's not a lot of snorkeling or roots rock reggae in the desert. Yah mon!