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Davis, California

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Column: Bar exam

I am not a pick-up artist. Let’s get that out of the way. I’ve subscribed to the “stranger danger” philosophy for nearly two decades, and it’s a tough habit to kick. This strategy saves me from the shady crowd, but makes it tough to meet the lady crowd. Be it bars or parties, crowds of strangers are to me what fourth quarters are to LeBron: They make my game disappear.

But this past weekend I met up with my Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. I needed help if I was ever going to do what had eluded me thus far in my career: successfully exchange phone numbers with a female stranger in a bar. My goal was not one, not two, not three … OK, my goal really was just one. I guess this is where the similarities between LeBron and me end. Good thing, it was getting hard to pick a pun and roll with it; not all of them are slam dunks (see what I did there?). Anyways, this is my story.

My unaware wingmen for Thursday night were actually wingwomen. I figured I should observe how guys try to talk to these beautiful girls before I try anything myself. Awful logic. As it turns out, most guys don’t find it prudent to hit on girls that are already with a guy. Who knew I’d be disappointed in morals? But I did catch a couple guys executing the first strokes of their own pick-up artistry.

Between making fun of a guy that looked like Michael McDonald and making small talk, I noticed guys stealing glances at the girls I was with. It’s like locking eyes would be their signal to come over. But it’s not like locking eyes with a friend, when there ain’t no mountain high enough to keep you from getting to each other. This was between two strangers.

I understand it’s a way to measure mutual attraction, but I think it makes more sense to try spontaneous conversation. The across-the-room staredown reminds me of a predator trying to stalk its prey; it can come across on the creepy side very easily. Those were my last observational thoughts that night. Shortly after, I became shipwrecked off Long Islands and my conscious brain sank into oblivion.

I spent my Friday indoors. I was on the spin cycle of the shame spiral I began that morning for the entire day. After a night like that, I wake up to a fine mist of hangover and regret that covers me like Axe body spray. It’s a devilish cocktail that renders me incapable of facing the outside world. Not surprisingly, I did not go out that night. I put all my eggs in Saturday’s basket.

Alas, fate is as cruel as she is calculating. That night, I found myself at a friend’s house, which isn’t a bar. I’m not complaining — it’s just that strangers are hard to come by in that setting. I postponed my test to the following weekend. Does that sound like an excuse? Yes. Were there girls there I didn’t know? Sure. Did I talk to them? No. Why? I couldn’t tell you.

On the walk to Jack in the Box with my roommate, I tried to make sense of it all. I laid out the parameters myself for what would pass the test, and I still ended up with two Fs and an ENWS (Enrolled No Work Submitted). But fate wasn’t finished with me yet. By the time we got there, Jack in the Box had closed its doors. As my roommate tried to walk through the drive-thru, I found a cab and unknowingly made my weekend a success.

There she was, leaning against the hood smoking a cigarette, the cloud of smoke making our chance connection an ‘80s music video. The years of inhaling packs a day made her sound like Miley Cyrus, so when she called out asking if I needed a ride, I could barely muster a yes. She took one last hit and the glowing embers intensified, mirroring the blood rushing to my face. Here was my chance — I had made conversation. By the end of the ride, I had her number.

Sure, the card had a man’s name on it and an AOL e-mail address and smelled like it soaked in perfume for hours, but by golly it had 10 digits on it. I don’t care if I threw it away because it stunk up my room — doesn’t change a thing. I gave myself a test, and I passed.

If you think his grading criteria is flawed, NOLAN SHELDON can be reached at nosheldon@ucdavis.edu.


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