Participants in the March of Dimes Bid for Bachelors have to meet a few qualifications. They must be legally single. They must be interested in finding a committed relationship. They must be attractive, respectably employed, all-American--the kind of guy a bachelorette would love to bring home to Mom and Dad.
And, they must be mighty brave.
No shrinking violet would agree to stand on an auction block before 700 enthusiastic women, all rating his worthiness in the price tags that they scream. No timid soul would fly off to Rome for a weeklong blind date with a woman he knows nothing about, other than that she paid a pretty penny for the pleasure of his company.
"I take my hat off to the guys who are running off on an exotic trip with someone they've never met before," said Bob Randolph, one of 31 Orange County men who will subject themselves to the fund-raising device Oct. 26. "Committing yourself to seven or eight days could end up being awkward. I went for something a little simpler--a day on Catalina Island--but still fun, hopefully."
The bachelors range in age from 27 to 71, and their options range in extravagance from candlelight dinners to Hawaiian vacations. "We wanted a mix of date packages, so that there would be something for everyone," said the event's organizer, Bill Johnson. Bachelors are left to their own devices in planning their fringe benefits. Many obtain sponsors--airlines, hotels, restaurants--but others foot the bill themselves.
Volunteers aim to bring in $100,000 at this year's auction for the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting birth defects. The Orange County chapter reliably fares well with the nationally presented Bid for Bachelors, placing first the past two years. "We go all out," Johnson noted. "Last year we averaged about $2,200 per date package."
That jaunt to Rome comes part and parcel with Irvine attorney Louis Benny, 36. "At first I thought about offering a ski trip, but I figured Rome would actually be easier with someone you don't know," he said. "On a ski trip, you have lots of time on your hands. You go skiing for a few hours, and then what? But in Rome, you never run out of things to do."
A first-class vacation likewise will boost Lt. Col. Gary Hesselgesser's marketability. The 41-year-old Army officer promotes himself with two lures: a trip to Washington for the presidential inauguration, followed by a Caribbean cruise.
"When I was putting together my package, I thought, 'Gee, this sounds like a lot of fun--with a girlfriend,' then I started feeling a little chicken," Hesselgesser admitted. "But I can get along with anybody. I'm not necessarily looking to fall in love.
"It's all for a good cause. I wanted to have a strong package so that I could raise a lot of money."
Even with his relatively plain-wrap date package, 27-year-old Irvine resident Tim Tyrell probably will attract a generous donation from the cheering crowd. He is, after all, a football player for the Los Angeles Rams.
"Coach wouldn't let me take off more than a day," explained Tyrell, who will take his high bidder on a sunset dinner cruise through Newport Bay.
Just back from the Rams' big win in Atlanta last Sunday, Tyrell was in the midst of preparing himself a gourmet meal as he conversed. "Can you hold for a second while I pull my frozen dinner out of the microwave?" asked the authentic bachelor, adding, "I need a girlfriend who can cook."
Two of Tyrell's siblings were born with birth defects. "I've always had a special place in my heart for the March of Dimes," he said.
Mary Forenza, 41, of Laguna Beach, has the enviable task of screening bachelors for the auction. Most of the men were referred to her by a recruitment committee of 50 volunteers. "I love it," she said. "How many single women have other women calling them with the names of all these great guys?"
So many people supplied referrals, in fact, that she "ended up with enough men this year for two auctions." A sort of debutante ball for males, the fund-raiser has become a prestigious event in its four years of existence.
"I'm presenting to Orange County the most eligible men of the highest integrity that I can find," Forenza said.
Organizers strive to maintain the sense of dignity surrounding Bid for Bachelors. "It is not Chippendales," Johnson said, alluding to the male strip-tease nightclub. There are no double entendre jokes, no "Gypsy Rose Lee" music, no swiveling hips and, of course, no G-strings.
Still, there is a lot of hooting and hollering from the audience--as 33-year-old Johnson remembers well from his moment in the sun last year as a March of Dimes bachelor. "The energy of the room is overwhelming," he said. "Now I know how performers feel."
That same "energy" gives some of the bachelors cause for jittery nerves. "It scares the heck out of me," confessed Adam Gutteridge, 28, the maitre d' at Antoine's restaurant in Newport Beach. "How many women do they say will be there--700? That's too many." The Corona del Mar resident will treat his date to a weekend in New York.
"I might have to tie my feet together to keep my knees from shaking," worried Randolph, 39, a Mitsubishi executive who lives on Balboa Island.
"The male species is real sensitive, even though we try not to show it," Hesselgesser said. "A lot of male egos are on the line here."
Nationwide, six marriages have resulted from the Bid for Bachelors, although none locally--so far.
"I'm not expecting to meet the woman of my dreams, but I'm sure I'll have a good time," said Kirk Morgan, 28, a sales manager in Laguna Beach. Morgan decided on a ski trip to Colorado because he "wanted something active, not mushy and romantic."
"To me, it's just another adventure," said Charles Welton, 36, a Santa Ana catering manager who will spring for a trip to Acapulco. "I don't put any pretentions on this. I know the person who bids on me is doing it for the March of Dimes. I'll just go have a good time with a wonderful person."
Bid for Bachelors will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 26, with a no-host cocktail hour, at Le Meridien, 4500 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door and $50 for preferred seating. All proceeds benefit the March of Dimes. For more information, call (714) 631-8700.