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April 28, 2007

Comparative Review: Grad Student Speed Dating vs. Not

Until yesterday, what I knew about speed dating came entirely from the movies, and mostly consisted of the fact that its constitutional lameness makes it a perfect backdrop against which to illuminate, in timed three-minute segments, the wry comedy of human desperation, misconnection, and loserdom.

What I also knew is that it is quite hard for grad students to date in my town. In part, this is because undergrads make up 99.9% of the sexually available/desirable population here, and theyâre off-limits to us. (Theyâre also younger and more attractive than we are, and therefore not overly interested in us.) Itâs about 10 times harder if you also happen to be gay, in part because the dating pool is so much smaller and messier. So the chance to meet new ladies doesnât fall into my lap every day.

It didnât fall into my lap the day we got the first of what would become an impressive barrage of emails about the speed dating event, either. This is because the event was originally set up as a strictly heterosexual event, for grad ladies and grad gents to meet each other. That was fine with me, as I could snicker and delete the email without having to think about it further. However, one of my bigmouthed friends, who is also gay and single but who never had any desire or intention to participate in the event, emailed the organizers and got on their case about excluding homosexual grad students. Since he was right, they restructured it to allow for same-sex meetings as well.

I want to repeat this. He was just being difficult; he never even intended to go. But guess who had to restructure their event? They did. And guess who ended up going? I did. The fact that Iâm choosing to lean on this point might make more sense if I explain that my friend has a history of roping other people into shit that he then backs out of â yes, Iâm still talking about that goddamned French seminar, merci very much.

In truth, he didnât even remotely talk me into speed dating. I talked myself in, after the organizers sent a new email revealing the new (and apparently elegant) structure. There would now be four rooms:

1. Women for men; men for women (the hetero room);
2. Mixed (which I interpreted to mean bisexual, coy, and ambiguous);
3. Men for men (homo room A); and
4. Women for women (homo room B).

Although this may be self-evidently idiotic, I was transported into the following fantasy about the womenâs room, complete with swelling music and out-of-focus camera work: There are, for starters, a respectable number of people there. Among them is at least one woman that I wouldnât ordinarily have a chance to meet because our departments and disciplines tend to be pretty parochial. A nice redhead from math, maybe. Someone who would generally understand the pressures of grad school but would never want to hear about the particulars of my dissertation or to run proofs by me. Someone whose life revolves around shit as dorky and boring as my shit, but who likes to go out and drink too much whiskey and doesnât ever want to go dance to stupid house music.

This doesnât really seem like too much to ask, right? Right?

As the Dread Event neared, the fantasy started evaporating. For one thing, I got a somewhat harried email from the eventâs organizer, letting me know that only four women had signed up for that room. By the next day, we were down to three, and could she put us in the âmixedâ room? I decided to hang on. If there were only three bona fide lesbians in there, maybe my mathematical redhead and I would find each other that much more quickly.

Unfortunately, the other night, I was hanging out with a couple of my acquaintance, both of whom are lesbian grad students. They held their poker faces while assuring me that they thought this was a great idea, but then quickly put their sappily intertwined fingers on exactly the scenario Iâd been trying not to think about.

âYou know itâs just going to be you and [name eliminated] and [name eliminated],â they said, grinning, instantly naming two single lesbians in our department whom I cannot or will not date and who cannot or will not date me. âAnd youâll have like twenty minutes to talk to each of them.â

âYeah,â I said morosely. âI know. But maybe â â

âBut you should definitely go,â they said. âAnd then tell us who showed up.â

I spent all yesterday hemming and hawing and then talked myself back around to my original position, which was that if I didnât try, I would have to stop complaining about never meeting anyone. So I went.

The scene was kind of amazing. It didnât look like grad students. The men, smelling of Axe body spray and sporting popped collars, looked like frat boys. The women, in very low-cut tops and straightened hair, looked like sorority girls. There was some token nerdishness, but there was no funkiness of any kind, something Iâm very used to from my grad student friends. The organizer informed me, sounding no less harried about it in person, that theyâd had a hell of a time signing up gay grads after all, and I was in fact the only âwoman for womenâ whoâd showed up. âThere was only one gay guy who even signed up,â she told me. âI donât even know if he came. Can I please put you in the mixed room?â

I was about to bag the whole thing, but just then, my friends N. and C. walked through the door, looking as instantly unnerved as I was. C. is a great girl who was wearing normal clothes and looking a bit surprised at some of the other womenâs sartorial choices. N. is about 7 feet tall, the nicest guy ever, and was the only black person I saw there. They were there for dating too, also in the âmixedâ room. I decided to hang out. We each accepted a free beer and clung together like some appropriate metaphor likening three sane grad students in the middle of a gross meat-market hook-up party to drowning people and some mode of rescue.

No one will ever know what the âmixedâ room was supposed to be, because the one lesbian wrecked it for everyone. They herded the majority of the crowd into the warm, well-lit hetero room, and put the âmixedâ people out on a balcony with two circles of chairs and no light. It appeared that the âmixedâ room contained at least two people who had wanted to be there, N. and C., and twenty or so other people the organizers hadnât know what to do with: some people who had been wait-listed for the hetero room; a couple who had crashed the event and just wanted to hang out; and me. N., C., and I decided we were going to just sit together and drink our beers, but our âtimer,â the guy responsible for making sure that no one talked to anyone else for more than three minutes, started separating us into a male and a female circle, just like in the hetero room. N. and C. looked at me pityingly. I sidled up to the âtimerâ and tried to let him know that I wasnât there to meet men in a dating way, and if there werenât ladies in this room who might want to meet me in a dating way, Iâd probably just go. He apparently changed the plan right then and made this whole room â er, balcony â a strictly non-dating group, counting us off randomly into two mixed-gender circles of people who spent the next hour or so making excruciating small talk, 3 minutes at a time, with half of the people there, and not meeting the other half. N. was in the outer circle and C. and I in the inner, so he speed-dated both of us. N. and I spent our three minutes making big nonplussed eyes at each other and talking about our regular hang-out night at the bar.

N. and C. and I bailed out of there as soon as it was done, not staying for the party, but went and had Chinese food instead and compared notes on the weirdest people weâd made small talk with. C. and I both had the confrontational guy who Iâd thought was mad at me for getting his name wrong, since it was too dark to read his name tag, and who spent the rest of our three minutes accusing me of plagiarizing his list of hobbies and making negative assessments of my character based on my decision to subscribe to Netflix. Evidently heâd been much the same with C.; weâd also shared the stoned guy who shoved a roast beef sandwich into his mouth the entire time while talking to me about tattoos. There were also some really nice people there â C. and I had also shared an incredibly sweet girl who I talked with about the American Girl novel series, as well as an economist who helped me rationalize my student loans. N.âs best was an incredibly awkward astronomer who shared intimate details of his dream to be the kind of blistering salsa dancer who can clear the floor at any club. Everyone, including that guy, was straight; no one was from the humanities.

N.âs car died at the liquor store and we walked back to his house, drank pear vodka, and watched several episodes of âUgly Betty.â This was the first time Iâd seen it; it was pretty good. Mostly it was a relief to hang out with people I genuinely like and not have to talk to them.

[Edit: I just had to remove the end of this entry because I realized that in order to create my punch line I took a story that was told to me in strictest confidence and then wrote it here. That sucks, because a phone call I got this afternoon both demonstrated that I was looking the wrong, because expected, place for the gay ladies last night, and it also put the icing on this whole fucking cake. I'm still coming up with a replacement moral/ punch line.]

Posted by katie at 08:53 PM

April 24, 2007

My family is not this exciting.

This is the story, summarized from a Chronicle article, of how a 19-year-old boy, his mom, and his grandmother all ended up in the San Mateo County jail last week on theft, drug, and prostitution charges.

Mom, who is 39 and advertises herself on Craigslist as a âGoth girlâ prostitute, stole a car several months ago by walking up to a man sheâd never met, telling him that she was an old friend of his, and asking to borrow his car. Although Iâm certain this would never work for me, even back when I was an actual girl-aged Goth girl, this guy hands her the keys.

If this were a movie, weâd now cut to the following scene:

PARKING LOT, late at night, several weeks later. Crickets are chirping, and so forth. MAN is standing in the same spot. He clearly has not moved. His beard is growing out and he is covered with a fine layer of dust. At the beginning of the shot, he is wearing an EXPECTANT EXPRESSION, which slowly changes to a DOWNCAST LOOK.

MAN (in a sad voice): I donât think sheâs coming back.

So the man finally figures it out and reports his car stolen, including the idiotic part about how he believed that this woman he didnât recognize was actually an old friend. After the cops are finished laughing, they look into it and find that the woman already has a warrant for probation violation and a record as long as my arm. So they track her down through her Craigslist ad and set up a âdateâ with her at a motel in San Mateo. When they get there, they find her prostitutinâ away (presumably corseted up like an aging Goth club kid), and they find her meth and her syringe. They donât find the car.

Mom tells the cops that her mother and her son â thatâs the 19-year-old and his 57-year-old grandma â are in the car, somewhere nearby, with an underage runaway girl. This turns out to be true. Grandma turns out to have a fake ID in her purse, which she tells the cops she uses to pass bad checks. She also turns out to have a record slightly shorter than Momâs. The son doesnât appear to have anything except a runaway teenaged girl and a big grin. Oh, and a stolen car. So they all get hauled in and, in one heartwarming intergenerational courtroom scene, arraigned on various charges:

Son: Auto theft and receiving stolen property.
Mom: Probation violation, drugs, prostitution, and auto theft.
Grandma: Receiving stolen property and unenumerated charges related to the fake ID and check fraud.

Thereâs a great MST3K episode featuring a movie called I Accuse My Parents. This 1945 morality tale was about a basically good kid named Jimmy whose chilly middle-class home life drives him to crime and gangsterism, and to falling in love with a trashy nightclub singer named Kitty. The movie starts with his inevitable murder trial and attempts to build his case, via flashbacks, for how his parents made him this way through their drinking and arguing. All of this is, of course, an elaborate set-up for the filmâs punch line; while Jimmyâs the one whoâs on trial for killing someone, he does a neat redirect to pin the blame elsewhere: I Accuse My Parents!

Well, I Accuse My Parents too. Talk about insanely boring middle-class families. Sorry, Baby Sister, but you know itâs true. Whenâs the last time you and Grandma got busted joyriding in a stolen car with an underage runaway while Mom was getting cuffed for meth and prostitution, dressed in fetish gear? Yeah, thatâs what I thought. Me either. I rarely even ask to borrow my actual friends' cars; Iâve never talked a stranger out of his keys. Iâve only used Craigslist looking to purchase a car, cheaply but for real money, and for apartment listings, and once I contacted a few people who had chairs for sale. I once worked in a motel room for a night, but it was because I sprayed too much bug spray in my apartment and I had to relocate elsewhere to sleep and study. Iâve written some checks I shouldnât have, but they were to the phone company and my credit card company, and it was my real account and it only happened because I was broke and I canât do math. I even paid the $35 overdraft fee.

I blame all of this on my boring-ass parents. They donât really drink at all, let alone too much. Consequently, they fight like normal people, not like alcoholics who hate each other. And unlike Jimmyâs parents, when I won an essay contest, they tended to notice and say something nice. On the other side of the scale, when I was in high school, my mom handed me down her old car; she didnât even go out and steal one for me. I had to procure my own drugs and teenaged girls, for Godâs sake. My mother always seemed convinced that I was going to end up in a life of drugs and prostitution, and that I was going to haul my sister down that road with me, but I think our upbringing was just too normal, vanilla, white-bread Girl Scout for that. Boring!

All of this is why, rather than living an exciting life of intergenerational crime sprees or ending up in the arms of a gangsterâs floozy, I am sitting in my clean, bright apartment, SINGLE, with about 9,000 books, writing questions for a grammar quiz on restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses, phrases, and appositives, because I care more that my students can write intelligibly than that they think Iâm cool. Thatâs hopeless by now anyway.

Can you find and fix the two grievous errors in the following sentence?

Anyone who thinks their family is vanilla, obviously hasnât met mine.

Posted by katie at 03:06 PM

April 12, 2007


What's kind of awesome is when you're in a terrible, freaked out, traumatized mood, and you go on YouTube and search for baby pandas. And you get videos like this:

So Fucking Cute Baby Panda Sneeze

or this:

Baby Panda Awwww!

or this:

So Many Goddamn Baby Pandas and One in an Incubator!

And then, you know, it's not impossible to be pissed off, but mostly what I'm pissed about at the moment is that I don't have a baby panda. And that they grow up so fast. *sniff!*

Thank god the computer virus demons gave me my YouTube back. This is going much better than the time a few months ago when, inexplicably, my YouTube stopped working and I had just watched a documentary about cult suicides with a bunch of friends and I had to come home and look up "puppies" on Wikipedia before I could go to sleep. It was perfunctorily informative, mind you, but not so cute.

Posted by katie at 12:42 AM