This chapter will likely be cut from the novel. This is despite the fact that it is about 85% strict autobiography. Or maybe it’s because of that fact (ie the details of my real life are less interesting than the fiction I’m crafting for the rest of the book). Anyway, this is the first part of the certain-to-be-cut chapter, and it tells the story of my first (and thankfully, only) speed dating misadventure.
I hope you enjoy.
“Whoops! Looks like you messed that up.” The middle-aged woman behind the desk chided him cheerfully as she crumpled up Clancy’s nametag and tossed it under the desk. “Let me get you another one.”
“But my name is ‘Clancy,’” he said slowly, irritated by the woman’s suggestion that he had messed anything up.
“Sure it is. I’ve got you right here.” The woman behind the desk pointed to a spot on her clipboard. “But we’re doing sports tonight. So write down your favorite sport instead.”
She put a new nametag on the desk in front of him. Clancy frowned.
“It’s abstract.” The woman added helpfully.
No, thought Clancy, it’s asinine. But he didn’t say it.
He was given a blank nametag and a sharpie marker. The nametag was the ubiquitous blue-bordered rounded rectangle design with the boilerplate greeting:
Below those words was a blank space, and this was where Clarence was supposed to write the name of his favorite sport. He wanted to hold up that blank nametag to the hostess and ask “do you know what this says? It says ‘Hello my name is’ (emphasis added).” He refrained.
In most situations, Clancy prided himself on being a non-conformist. He might have wondered why he was so upset by the idea of writing anything other than his name on a “Hello my name is” nametag. But he knew the reason. Becky Shoat. Mrs. Paxton. Third grade.
Flashback to a third-grade field trip to the natural history museum. Clancy thought it would be funny to write “Inigo Montoya” on his “Hello my name is” nametag. Any time someone asked about his name, Clancy would solemnly declare: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
Becky Shoat had not seen “The Princess Bride,” nor did she like Clancy. When she heard him deliver his line, she went straight to the teacher to tell about what she had overheard Clarence Keane saying. Clancy was quickly and quietly ushered out of the school group by a museum security guard and within a few minutes was escorted to a back room marked “SECURITY.”
“…we thought you should be aware of the situation,” Head of Museum Security was saying into the phone. “We had an anonymous tip that one of your students was making death threats against another student’s father.”
Clancy could hear squawks of shock and disbelief on the other end of the line.
“He was operating under an alias at the time…” Head of Museum Security skimmed down his page of handwritten notes, “Montoya. But the student’s real name is—what is it?” he cupped the receiver.
“Keane,” replied Mrs. Paxton, Clancy’s teacher. She was already in the room when Clancy entered and shot him an icy stare that chilled him right down to his third-grade marrow.
“Keane,” repeated the officer into the telephone. “Yes, Clarence Keane.”
Clancy looked down at his nametag as realization dawned on him. He had fallen victim to a classic blunder: never assume that anyone else will appreciate your cleverness.
It was a lesson he would never really learn.
Clancy tapped his fingernails on the desk, the sound drawing him back into the present moment. He had a black sharpie in his hand and a blank nametag in front of him. The woman behind the desk was staring at him, wearing a look of thinly-veiled impatience.
“My favorite sport…” Clancy said, reminding himself of the task at hand. “To play or to watch?”
“Either one,” shrugged the woman. “But hurry up we’re about ready to start.”
Clancy didn’t really like sports. But he had to put down something.
I don’t really like sports. But I have to put down something. I guess I could put down football, but that’s boring. Unless I say football and then clarify that I mean “soccer” because that’s what the rest of the world calls it. I don’t really like soccer, though. I’ve tried to like it. I don’t really have a favourite. I could write down a sport that I kind of like even though it isn’t my favourite. But what if I wind up dating a woman I meet here tonight? And because she reads my nametag before we speak, that means that the first thing I communicate to her is that my favourite sport is…I dunno, baseball. It’s not, and I know it’s not. That makes it a lie. Our entire relationship would be built on a lie. Like a house built on the sand. OK maybe I can cover up my nametag and explain that it’s not my favourite sport and then let her see it. Then she would know that a man of integrity (because I told the truth) and a rebel (because I refused to write down my favourite sport and instead wrote down one I simply like). I should choose something strategic. Something that will be a good conversation starter. Bowling? Too blue collar. Golf? No, I’m really bad at golf. So are most people. But whenever anyone asks if they play golf they say yes because it’s something you are supposed to be able to do. So everybody lies about playing golf. If I write golf not only am I lying but it’s a highly unoriginal lie. So no golf. I do like mini golf. But who writes “mini golf” on their nametag at a speed-dating event? It suggests that I’m poorly endowed. Or maybe the opposite, because I wouldn’t write “mini golf” if I was self-conscious about the size of my…um, “manhood.” If I’m hung like a stallion I have nothing to be self-conscious about so why not write “mini golf?” But I am. Self-conscious, that is. I wouldn’t be consciously evaluating my self if I wasn’t slightly insecure. Quite right. But what’s the big deal? Or the not-so-big deal? Think about how awkward it would be if you were actually hung like a horse. The practical encumbrances would outweigh the bragging rights. But horses could be good. Barrel racing? No, too feminine. Polo. Polo is masculine. And refined. But I’ve never even seen a polo match. I wear polo shirts sometimes. Do those really have any connection to the sport? What if I put down polo and then some girl asks me about the shirts. I’d have to say I don’t know. Maybe that would be refreshing, since men always pretend they know everything. Although maybe women expect men to pretend to know everything. So if I don’t pretend to know everything maybe that undercuts my masculinity. The worst thing would be if it was a test. Maybe she knows about the connection between polo the shirt and polo the sport (if such a connection exists) and she’s just asking to see if I know. Any woman worth having wouldn’t want a man who couldn’t pass a simple fact check on a speed date. I need to choose something she won’t know about. Not something she’s never heard of, but not something like polo where there’s an obvious question about shirts to follow up with. I wonder if Marco Polo had anything to do with the sport of polo. Part of his lasting legacy. Although these days you’re more likely to hear his name at the neighbourhood pool. Kids yelling out “Marco!” “Polo!” Pool. What about pool? Too pedestrian. Nine-ball? Is nine-ball technically a sport or a game? I guess it depends. You play it on a pool table though. You play billiards on a billiards table. You play snooker on a snooker table. That’s it: snooker.
While Clancy was contemplating his choice, the woman behind the desk was gathering up papers and her clipboard and the extra unused nametags. She stood up, her body language telling Clancy to hurry along. She might have left Clancy there to think about his favorite sport for the rest of the evening, but she didn’t want him to take her sharpie. She cleared her throat conspicuously, prompting Clancy to finally write a word on the nametag. The word was “snooker.”
“Done?” she asked, smiling as she held out her hand to retrieve her sharpie from Clancy. He ruefully capped the marker and handed it back to the woman. As she walked away from the desk she wondered why he looked so pained…and what on earth “snooker” was.
Clancy immediately regretted his choice. Snooker. The word looked vaguely obscene, written carefully in bold black sharpie, although it didn’t resemble any swear word he knew. He had seen an actual snooker table once, sometime in his youth. He remembered that the game involved lots of red balls and a semi-circle.
Snooker…wait a minute. Wasn’t there some strumpet on a reality show named Snooker? Jersey Shore, maybe? He couldn’t be sure. Reality TV was not really something Clancy followed. He generally pretended it didn’t exist, as if by ignoring it entirely he could make it go away. At the very least, he thought, if I boycott the genre, that might make a dent in their profits. (It hadn’t.)
He shamefully donned his nametag and approached the throng of speed-daters as Mr. Snooker.
The Puissant Lounge had an area that was always cordoned off and closed to the general public. Only VPPs (Very Puissant Persons) were allowed beyond the ornate folding partitions that separated them from the riff-raff in the rest of the establishment. Clancy was slightly disappointed to learn that the VPP area was exactly like the rest of the lounge: concrete floors, halogen pendant lights, and walls covered by some kind of corrugated aluminum siding. Along the walls to his right and left were some elevated booths, tall-backed and upholstered with a stylized zebra print cloth. In the middle of the room, two rows of large armchair-like furnishings were arranged in pairs across low, wide tables. Each table had a card with a number printed on it. As he surveyed the room, Clancy realized that these numbers went from 1 to 12. Would there really be 12 speed-dates in tonight’s rotation? The thought was slightly overwhelming.
the array of women assembled here in the VPP area made Clancy wonder how many of them listed a “great personality” as their best asset on their online profiles.
Having a scheduled series of awkward conversations with 12 women would have been daunting enough. But the array of women assembled here in the VPP area made Clancy wonder how many of them listed a “great personality” as their best asset on their online profiles. He didn’t consider himself a superficial person, but he doubted that he would have found any of these women attractive enough to approach them if he encountered them in a bar.
But then he remembered Harold’s words from that afternoon. “Clance, you don’t go to bars. And even if you did, you wouldn’t have the nerve to talk to anyone.” Clancy had stopped by the Humble Grocery to make an eleventh-hour appeal to back out of the speed-dating event.
“Maybe so,” Clancy allowed. “But I don’t see how this will be any less awkward. I never know what to say in a first meeting. I always get nervous and wind up giving some lecture on something nobody cares about.”
It was true. Clarence Keane possessed a wealth of knowledge on a vast assortment of obscure subjects, and Harold enjoyed Clancy’s frequent expositions on whatever topic he was enthused about at the moment. Clancy was always genuinely excited about sharing his insights and revelations, but his tendency to teach had proved reliably ineffective in his interactions with women.
“Remember our strategy, Clance” Harold said. “Keep asking questions. Keep her talking. You only have seven minutes per date. A handful of strategic questions should be all you need to let her talk for seven minutes.”
“But what about my cold?” Clancy whined. It was his last-ditch effort to weasel out of it. “I’ve been sick, you know. I don’t want to make other people sick. And my voice is still kind of hoarse…”
“All the more reason to let her do the talking,” Harold stated plainly. “And you’re not contagious. You’ve been on antibiotics. But if you’re worried about your voice, take some of these with you. All-natural honey lemon eucalyptus cough drops. Just got them in. On the house.”
Clancy wondered where in nature you could find honey, lemon, and eucalyptus together, but he accepted the package of cough drops. Clearly he wasn’t going to be able to convince Harold to let him skip the speed-dating.
Clancy felt a hand on his shoulder. It was the woman from the front desk.
“Please take a seat at table number three,” she said, gesturing to one of the booths. “We’re going to get started.”
Ascending into the booths required a step up from the ground and then a good deal of inelegant “scootching” to maneuver around the metal and glass table that was bolted to the floor. Clancy smiled lamely at the girl who was already sitting in the booth: a ruddy brunette with a solid, athletic build. Her nametag said “Archery.” Archery nodded politely and Clancy realized he had forgotten to cover up his snooker as he scootched into the booth.
“OK, ladies and gentlemen! May I have your attention please!” the front desk woman’s voice was nasal, almost shrill as she tried to project loudly enough to be heard above the ambient Puissant noise from the other side of the VPP partition. “You will have seven minutes at each table. When I ring the bell, you will have three minutes to wrap things up and move to the next table. The gentlemen will rotate and the ladies will stay put. I’ll ring the bell again to signal the start of the next round! Any questions?”
Clancy was not thrilled to learn that these “seven-minute” dates would actually be more like ten-minute dates. But that didn’t really constitute a question, so he shook his head along with most everyone in the room.
“OK! Your first date starts now!” A loud, clanging cowbell signaled the start of round one and the VPP zone came to life as twelve awkward conversations started simultaneously.
Clancy wanted to be sure he struck first with a question that he might properly implement Harold’s strategy. The cowbell had caught him off-guard, however, and Archery got in a “hello” straightaway. Social reflex prompted a “hello” from him. Not wanting to leave any space for her to sneak in an interrogatory, he followed immediately with a one word question, “archery?” The result sounded something like:
Archery smiled, slightly confused. Clancy gestured towards her nametag. “Archery. Your favorite sport is archery?”
“Oh yes,” she replied.
“To watch? Or do you shoot yourself?” The question didn’t come out the way he’d wanted it to.
“Well, it’s difficult to shoot yourself with a bow-and-arrow…” she raised her hands and pantomimed the act of pulling an arrow back on a bow.
“Of course not. I mean, of course it is. I mean—” he realized she had her imaginary bow pointed right at him, and it made him uneasy. “I mean, are you an archer? Do you participate in archering—archery?”
“Yes,” she said wryly, and let her imaginary arrow fly. Clancy blinked, wondering if the imaginary arrow had gone through him or was lodged in the middle of his forehead. He decided not to ask.
“What kind of archery?” was his follow-up question. “Like, target shooting?” He had seen an archery contest at a Renaissance Fair once, and the thought crossed his mind that this girl might be a LARPer. That would be cool. He had always been curious about the Live Action Role Play crowd. Maybe he could ask her about what kind of wizards they allowed. He had always thought he would make a good wizard.
“Bow hunting,” was her reply. There was no trace of irony of mirth in her face. Clancy was immediately glad he hadn’t asked her about wizards.
“Bow hunting?” he repeated. “What kind of, uh, animals do you hunt?”
“Large game,” she said coolly. “Elk mostly.”
Clancy cursed his stupidity. Of course they don’t call them animals, they call them game.
“Elk? Wow. What do you use, like a crossbow? Or a compound bow, is it called? The one with the pulleys?”
“Sometimes,” she said. “But I prefer a longbow.”
Clancy shuddered. That sounded pretty hardcore. He wondered whether she had used a longbow when she imagined shooting him a minute ago.
“So…how did you get into bow hunting? That’s kind of unusual for a…” he trailed off awkwardly.
“…for a girl?” she completed the thought, her tone indicating she did not appreciate Clancy’s sexist preconceptions about bow hunting.
“No, just in general,” he amended clumsily. “You don’t come across a lot of bow hunters.”
“I used to think the same thing,” she went on as though she hadn’t heard him. “That bow hunting was for men. I remember when my grandfather was teaching me taxidermy and was telling me stories about the hunts behind each animal. I asked him to tell me about the bobcat in the living room. He just laughed and said ‘That? That was your grandmother!’”
“Your grandmother was a bobcat?” Clancy asked, sounding concerned.
“What? No, of course not,” there was a touch of scorn in her voice. “She killed it.”
“I figured if she could do it, then I could do it. I started training, and the next season I brought home my first buck.”
“Wow,” Clancy was out of his league. He knew nothing about hunting. The only thing that came to mind was a fuzzy memory of Pierson v. Post, a landmark Supreme Court case about a fox hunt. Something to do with property rights. But he had to follow up with a question, and quickly. Should he ask about Pierson v. Post? No. Fox-hunting? No, they probably didn’t use bows for that. What did they use? Hounds! Dogs!
“Do you use dogs?” he blurted out.
“No,” she said reproachfully, “it’s illegal to hunt large game with dogs.”
“Really?” he said. She had brought up the subject of the law, maybe it would be appropriate to bust out Pierson v. Post after all. He struggled to recall the details of the case.
“Yep,” she nodded. “So I leave my dog at home when I go hunting. But she loves to go running with me.”
“Oh, you’re a runner?” Clancy was relieved to have another line of conversation to pursue.
“I try to get out every day, but at least four or five times a week. It’s important to stay active.”
“Absolutely,” Clancy agreed. He wondered if he had been running four or five times in the past decade. Don’t give her a chance to ask. “And your dog likes running?”
It was a dumb question, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Yes, although I’ve been doing marathons recently and that’s too far for her, so I don’t take her out as much.”
“Marathons?” Clancy was impressed.
“Yes, it’s a long race. Just over 26 miles,” her tone was slightly patronizing. What kind of idiot has never heard of a marathon?
“Oh, I know what a marathon is,” Clancy prickled. That wasn’t the intent of his question. “That sounds awful…ly difficult. Twenty-six miles. Do you enjoy it?”
Archery laughed nonchalantly. “I love it. But it is funny, when you think about it. That Prometheus ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens and died. Or was it Athens to Marathon? I can’t remember. Point is, he died. And now we do it for fun!”
Clancy had some familiarity with the story of the Battle of Marathon. He couldn’t remember the name of the runner, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t Prometheus.
I have some familiarity with the story of the Battle of Marathon. I can’t remember the name of the runner, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Prometheus. That’s ridiculous. Prometheus was a god. He gave fire to the human race against the decree of Zeus. He was punished by being chained to a rock for all eternity, and each day an eagle would come and eat his liver. Because he was immortal, he wouldn’t die, but his liver would grow back only to be eaten again the next day. By the eagle. I wonder if it was the same eagle or a different one each day? Whatever, that’s beside the point. The point is, he couldn’t have run from Marathon to Athens because he was busy being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten by an eagle. Furthermore, he was IMMORTAL, meaning he couldn’t have died after running 26+ miles because he cannot die. Prometheus. She thought I was an idiot that didn’t know what a marathon was, then here she is, telling me that the history of the marathon includes the death of Prometheus. I really should set her straight, she shouldn’t go through life thinking that the activity she does for fun was enough to kill an immortal god. But wait. I can’t lecture her. That’s what you always do. Stick with your questions, it’s working so far. I could ask her “Are you sure it was Prometheus?” That’s a question. But not the kind of question you’re supposed to be asking. It could be a good segue, though. I read this fascinating article on Prometheus as the first philanthropist. His gift of fire helped humanity in two ways: physically and intellectually. It was warmth and protection but it was also inspiration and purpose. And all philanthropy really falls into those two areas: either taking care of people’s physical needs or supporting their minds and spirits through endowments for arts and education. Great article. I’d like to tell her about it. Wait, that’s not a question. I can’t put that into question form. Maybe I can be Socratic about it. Lecture by asking the right questions. So she lectures without realizing it. Wonderful! Don’t think of it as speed-dating, Clancy. Think of it as speed-Socratic dialogue! That will make this evening so much more enjoyable. Maybe you can start with Frankenstein. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, of course. “The Modern Prometheus” was her subtitle. Such a sad book. It’s a travesty that most people think of Frankenstein as a hideous monster. And not only because Frankenstein was the name of the scientist, not the monster he created. Why isn’t Frankenstein considered women’s literature? That would be a good opening question.
But Clancy never got to formulate his Frankenstein question. His mind was quick, but that whole thought process still took a good ten seconds or so. Archery felt the silence and, for the first time that evening, asked Clancy a question of her own.
“Hmm?” Clancy said, aware that his date had just said something to him.
“I said, ‘what do you like to do for fun?’”
Clancy realized he had dropped the ball. He had been distracted by the death of Prometheus and his subsequent musings on philanthropy. Now his date had asked a question, and he had to respond.
“Um…” he began, ineloquently. Fun. What do I do for fun? She said she runs marathons for fun. Yeah that was right after the bit about Prometheus. Maybe I can mention her fun comment as a segue into a question about Prometh—no. Stop. Don’t go there.
“What do I do for fun?” he repeated slowly, trying to buy time as he redirected his thoughts. What did he do for fun? He wasn’t sure he ever had fun. If so, was it because of something he did?
Archery looked on patiently as Clancy squirmed.
“…I guess I should figure out how to answer that question,” he said, laughing awkwardly. “I’ll probably have to answer it again tonight.”
“Yes, you should,” Archery laughed politely, but did not seem to find any humor in the situation.
“Well, I like to crochet,” he said.
“Crochet?” Archery seemed surprised…but not in a good way. “You mean like knitting?”
“Kind of,” Clancy allowed. He hated it when people lumped crochet and knitting together as though they were the same thing.
“OK…” Archery said, looking around the room.
“I used to think the same thing. That crochet was just for women…” he did his best impression of Archery, trying to make a humorous reference to her earlier comment. He was hoping she would laugh, recognizing the irony. She didn’t.
“…and now?” she asked.
“I still do.” It was his final attempt at humor.
Archery shrugged and looked down at her watch.
Clancy sighed. What else could he expect? Here he was talking to this Hunger Games girl, who runs marathons and kills elk with her longbow. He wasn’t masculine enough for her. Hell, he wasn’t masculine enough for himself. He began to wonder if “mini golf” would have been the most appropriate choice after all.
“Three minutes to wrap things up and move to your next date!” called out the woman from the front desk.
Archery quickly extended her hand for a farewell handshake. Clancy didn’t need any additional prompting. As he scootched out of the booth, he marveled at how seven minutes could feel so much like an eternity. He thought about Prometheus, chained to that rock for eternity. He thought about Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus, and wondered if she crocheted.
He did not think about the one thing he should have: that the booth was a step up off the ground. He was soon reminded of this unfortunate reality and found himself face down on the puissant concrete floor. Some kind speed-daters hurried over to help him to his feet. The woman from the front desk came scurrying over.
“Check his eyes!” someone said. “I think he hit his head.”
“Yes, he might be concussed,” someone else chimed in.
The woman from the front desk held his head between her hands, looking carefully at the size of Clancy’s pupils.
“I’m fine,” Clancy said, embarrassed by all the hubbub.
“Ask him his name!” someone called out helpfully.
“What is your name?” the front-desk woman asked earnestly.
“Snooker,” replied Clancy.
The woman looked concerned for a moment, then she looked down as his nametag and smiled. “He’s fine!” she pronounced, and a few people applauded softly.
The cowbell clanged again.