Nothing says "I'm a desperate loser" quite so clearly as voluntarily going on a "Flirting Safari," other than actually saying, "I'm a desperate loser."
The nearly 50 people who gathered to go on the amorous adventure at a bookstore on a recent night seemed to realize this. Nobody wanted to sit in the front rows.
For the next hour, a "relationship coach" would take the anxious yet hopeful crowd on this safari, an audience-participation seminar that promised to transform us into kings of the Jungle of Love.
Two guys in the third row dealt with their nerves by discussing depressing German philosophers.
"As far as Kant goes, in that respect, I loathe him. Look what it did to his personal life."
Hey, kid, forget Kant's personal life. I don't see Kant here with us trying to get a leg up in the eternal Twister game of love.
Our mistress of ceremonies arrived. She was a woman who looked as if she'd gotten her clothes at Zsa Zsa Gabor's yard sale. A woman whose romance credentials included appearing on "The Montel Williams Show" and "Hard Copy." A woman who was worried about getting lipstick on her teeth.
"If you see lipstick on my teeth, please tell me."
And, most important, a woman promoting a book. A book whose title I won't give here, because I don't want people to buy it.
The Kant guys didn't need to buy it. Their philosophical discussion had inspired them to write a book of their own, called "How 2 Get Chicks"--and they'd "make the 2 really large!"
One of the first things Die Fluhrter had us do was breathe. Deeply. She asked the women to add a sexy sigh at the end. (This was very empowering, as was the moment later when we twirled around like ballerinas while the men made catcalls.)
Breathing, the author said, is good for flirting. One, it relaxes you. Two, if you get bored and yawn, you can say you were just breathing.
We would stop to breathe approximately 30 times in the hour we spent with her. It felt like warmup for an exercise class. An exercise-in-futility class.
Next came the importance of looking interested, of maintaining eye contact and expressing overall encouragement.
"Is it just me, or is this really stupid?" the guy sitting to my left said.
I tried to look uninterested.
Flirting also exists on a metaphysical plane, our Romance Rabbi said. It's important, for example, to give mental hugs, not just to others, but to yourself as well!
I felt dirty. I mentally slapped anyone who might be mentally hugging me.
Audience participation time.
The author summoned two people, Paul and Beverly, to serve as laboratory love rats. Tension mounted as she commanded them to ask up other people from our group that they'd like to meet. Beverly proved too shy, so our Dating Drill Sergeant enlisted another woman to help her out. Her name was Susan.
Susan, our leader said, is a "genetic celebrity." Although this could not have made Paul and Beverly feel too good, it was true. Susan was gorgeous.
Why is Susan here? I hate Susan. Susan should go away.
The three would-be flirters scanned the crowd. Half the audience seemed eager to be chosen. The other half looked as if they'd rather have their fingers sliced off one by one while listening to a loop tape of Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997."
There was no way I was going up there. I affected my uninterested expression once again.
It worked. Paul, Beverly and Susan made their selections, and I wasn't one of them.
The Kant guys were up there, for the love of God! Susan had chosen them! Maybe they knew something about "How 2 Get Chicks" after all.
When the Flirtstress spoke again, she had more lipstick on her teeth than on her lips. She asked the flirting guinea pigs to explain their selections, but without using any simple, one-syllable adjectives like "nice" or "good."
This seemed to stymie them. Paul in particular. The best compliment he could come up with for the woman he had picked was "color-coordinated." Seven syllables, and she still wasn't flattered.
Captain Coquette wasn't done. She used her captives to demonstrate more sure-fire flirting techniques, such as the "double take." She had us practice in unison, which resulted in everyone looking at the back of everyone else's head.
This seemed pointless, so I took the opportunity to offer our leader a tip of my own.
"You have lipstick on your teeth."
She seemed genuinely grateful, wiping her teeth with practiced efficiency. She released the love slaves, but not before a parting mental hug.
But our hour of bondage wasn't over yet. She had more to share.
She had fears:
"I'm afraid we're going to end up a society of single people where everybody's single!"
She had techniques:
"I know a woman who uses tennis balls. She writes her phone number on them and throws them into convertibles."
When the show was over, people started lining up to buy her book.
May as well take a bathroom break and call it yet another unsuccessful evening, I thought.
On the way to the bathroom, I ran into the man who had been sitting to my right. He started talking to me. He was old.
I don't normally go for men who remember the Eisenhower administration, but I tried to be polite.
"I know I'm a lot older than you."
"Are you involved with anyone?"
"No. I mean, yeah."
So I lied. So I ran away. So I disregarded everything I'd heard in the past hour. I decided Lady Lipstick's rules did not apply if the guy approaching you is: a) temporarily emboldened by a commercially motivated pep talk and b) old enough to be your grandfather.
I had a sudden urge to revisit Kant. But on the way to the philosophy section, I got distracted when a book I'd been planning to buy for weeks caught my eye: "Dating for Dummies."