The Sex Issue

Forget unemployment, the deficit, environmental degradation: President Bush recently said that one of the biggest challenges America faces today is trying to improve the military's morale. So this month, knowing that any one of us could soon be drafted to fight in Iraq, we've decided that instead of using our hard-earned advertising dollars to set up funds for war widows, we could better save the world by lifting our own spirits. In other words, we blew all our cash on vibrators, cock rings, butt plugs, strawberry lube, vaginal sleeves, naughty board games, and s&m gear for our staff.

Well, not just for our staff. After asking for a little "research" help from our friends, we were suddenly overwhelmed with volunteers--straight and gay, male and female, single and attached, slutty and hard up--who wanted to show their patriotism by creating a consumer guide to sex toys. And so we assembled the recruits who would test devices and write the accompanying seventh-grade jokes: Among the group are a waitress, a toy-store clerk, a library archivist, two musicians, an Internet developer, and a City Pages writer--some of us first-time users, some of us more experienced, all of us willing guinea pigs. (Many of the toys we tried are available in sex-toy shops around town--but if you're afraid you'll run into your mom at one of them, you can also purchase them on a wide variety of sex-positive websites.)

Since no one here is a certified sexpert, the following evaluations are not meant to be taken as gospel--they're simply average people's opinions. The text below is, however, intended to encourage you to try this at home. Regular use of the following items is guaranteed to lift every voice in song.
Praise be to sex toys.

And God bless America.

 

Toy Story
How to vibrate, lubricate, and plug your way to true happiness
BY SYBIL FRENCH

Rabbit Pearl

Welcome to the three-second orgasm. If you've ever wanted to perform like a 13-year-old boy--with a speedy, shameless whoops! signaling that your foreplay just turned into a postcoital cigarette--this is the toy for you. Don't worry if the five inches in length and one-and-a-half inches in diameter don't quite make it the Dirk Diggler of vibrating dildos: Gratification, like God, is in the details. Tumbling silver pearls rotate around the transparent midsection. The fluorescent-pink, true-to-anatomical-shape head spins around like it's orbiting its own personal sun. And a small plastic rhinoceros lies near the base of the looming pink tower--like the arm of a bong--patiently flicking your trigger from the front with its horn. A baby bird rests upon its back. (Don't blame us if you get aroused the next time you watch Animal Kingdom.) What's more, there are eight (!) different speeds each for external (rhino) and internal (orbiting head) vibration, ranging from powder puff to powder keg, so that you can choose the rate at which to supersize your petite mort.

Keep in mind, this particular toy wasn't exactly created for those schooled in the tantric arts. (How do you say "quickie" in Sanskrit?) And its audacious shape prevents it from being very discreet. But if those airport security folks find it, just use the Time-Tested Vibrator Excuse--claim it's a muscle massager. After all, at the end of a long, hard day, who doesn't rub her shoulders with a fluorescent-pink, multi-speed, vigorously rotating, synthetic rhino-faced cock?

STYLE/RATING OVERALL : ********* 9

 

Candy Coated Kit

Any six-year-old can tell you that food is fun to play with. Ever stick Froot Loops on each fingertip and proceed to eat them off? Well, appetizers are even tastier when placed on lower extremities. Still, even if whipped cream has the power to transform a simple fuck into a Herb Alpert album cover, it can also cause some nasty infections--which is why the Candy Coated Kit may be a safer, if less satisfying, bet. With Sizzling Body Candy, flavored Shunga Aphrodisiac Oil, and two pairs of Edible Undies (along with one inedible iCandy Smoothie vibrator), the Kit is like having a three-course meal served on someone else's platter. The strawberry Body Candy--a pile of semi-explosive sugar shards that lie on top of the skin--might be the smoothest going down. When licked, it snaps, crackles, and pops like private Pop Rocks. Don't use too much at once, though, or you'll feel as if America's War on Terror is raging in your pants.

Even greater risk of disaster lurks in the Edible Undies. The supposedly gender-specific male briefs don't differ substantially from the female bikini, meaning that a guy's main course is shoved uncomfortably outside the confines of his makeshift Fruit of the Looms. If you can still bring yourself to put your tongue on the sticky fabric, you'll find that you've probably tasted better Saran Wrap. But like your mama always told you, think about all the starving children in China...

OVERALL RATING: ** 2

 

Remote Butterfly

This one's for the nature lovers. Of course, you can't find a purple butterfly stapled to a thong flitting around in the natural world. Yet this vibrator-cum-G-string feels so much like one of God's creations, you'll be ready to believe that a giant monarch just soared in from a Walt Disney movie to nuzzle your nether regions. The string-bikini-like harness joins together at the front, where the perfectly positioned rubber insect rests, its motor-powered abdomen lightly tapping out Morse code. But the pleasure in this toy isn't just for its wearer: Since the vibe's surge is controlled by remote (with a range of up to 25 feet), you can hand off the reins to your channel surfer of choice. Once you discover that you can slip the slim, compact Butterfly under your jeans and no one will be any the wiser, you'll want to wear it everywhere you go, letting your button pusher surprise you wherever necessary--at the grocery store, at the laundromat, at work.

Before you're tempted to cart it along to your nephew's baptism, though, remember: This little device grinds and wails like you've got a lawn mower shoved down your pants. Unless you want to make everyone around you into budding lepidopterists, best to use it at home.

OVERALL RATING: ********* 9

 

P-Spot Plug

"What's the big deal about a butt plug?" the ever-playful Village Voice sex columnist Tristan Taormino once asked. "It just plugs the butt? You mean it doesn't light up or spin while it's in there? It can't burn CDs or store data? It's not a two-way pager or a PlayStation external device?"

It's true: This anal stopper won't even do so much as take your temperature. And with its skinny head, fat, sloping body, and a profile not unlike that of Notorious B.I.G., this thing ain't winning any beauty pageants. But a real penis is a marvelous, bliss-inducing instrument, and it doesn't exactly dress to the nines and release rainbow-colored sparks when it's ready to be used. As with a penis, the delight of the plug is in feelings of friction and fullness. If you've never had a toe-curling prostate-induced orgasm before, no matter what your sexual orientation, the P-Spot Plug can help you become the Indiana Jones of your own asshole, exploring the Southern Hemisphere, making discoveries. Plus, when you're going through all that excavation, it's comforting to know that the P-Spot encounters all "foreign substances" in your stead, leaving your now-very-clean fingers free for other tasks.

First-time users might be cautious of its size: At four inches in length and nearly two inches in diameter, it could make for a slightly uncomfortable initial entry, possibly meaning that your toilet will need a morning-after visit from Tidy Bowl. If you're willing to make the journey, though, it gets easier with time.

OVERALL RATING: ******* 7

 

I Rub My Duckie

Why are so many female sex toys shaped like cute little animals? Anyone with double X chromosomes has so many butterflies, bunnies, birds, and ducks flocking around her hips, you'd think she had St. Francis of Assisi hidden in her knickers. It's strange: There's nothing especially erotic about a duck--unless, of course, that particular duck is sitting on Taye Diggs's lap, right next to a big ol' bottle of lube. Which makes you think: Why can't the manufacturers at Good Vibrations create a vibrator that's a plastic replica of someone as cute as Justin Timberlake? (Most of us would love to fuck his brains out, but unfortunately, it looks like said brains are already gone.)

Still, if you can stomach the idea of choosing the mallard over the man, you won't be disappointed. With its pleasant face and chubby yellow body, this waterproof bath-time companion looks and floats just like the one Ernie had on Sesame Street. In fact, it's probably just like the one you had back in preschool. And if its vibrations also recall the one you had back in preschool, then you had one lucky childhood.

Squeeze the waterbird's middle, and its beak and tail flicker very faintly. Because you can't alter the speed of the vibrations, and because the toy is meant for external pleasure only (what, no Go-Go-Gadget Tail?), this duckie probably won't deliver waves of mind-blowing pleasure or create a monsoon in your tub. As a subtle aphrodisiac, though, I Rub My Duckie does pretty well. When you're looking for a little tub fun, all you really need is something to get you wet.

OVERALL RATING: ******* 7

 

Kama Sutra Game

The idea that anyone would need a board game specifically designed to facilitate foreplay sounds a bit specious. Any type of play is a good aphrodisiac: If Monopoly came with a free sample of K-Y Liquid, no one would ever make it past St. Charles Place. Then again, Milton Bradley never manufactured a board where you can land on a space that reads, "Remove all clothing from the top of your body and go back three spaces." Kama Sutra is like the X-rated version of the Game of Life: You roll the dice, advance a few spaces, and follow the heterosexually bent instructions listed either on the square where you land or on the Kama Sutra Game card you're told to pick up. But if you're hoping that the ink will command, "Show us your tits!" you'll be sadly mistaken. Much of the therapy-session-like text has less smut-mouth appeal than an Eve Ensler play.

"If your private parts could speak to your lover," one card asks you to answer, "what would it tell them? What would it ask for?" To which any remotely intelligent female should reply, "For God's sake, shut up so I can get stuffed already!"

OVERALL RATING: ** 2

 

My First Cock Ring

Dan Savage once suggested that if two gay men really want to profess their undying love for each another, they should exchange cock rings at their wedding. Gay or straight, it's good advice: With this country's reputation for short partnerships, slipping a bolo tie around Mini-Me means that your erection might just last longer than your marriage. Arrange My First Cock Ring's three-inch-diameter band around your better half (family jewels and all), move the silver latch up to lock the size, and your southern circulatory system will create a flesh antenna so taut that you'll pick up radio stations from Bangladesh.

Unlike the stretchy material of the cock rings you may have contemplated using in the past--you know, like your sister's hairband--this plastic one holds a consistent tension. Which means that, if you can endure its occasional pinching, you'll also be able to ride on for such an epic length of time that you'll expect credits to roll and an Ennio Morricone score to play softly in the distance. Our words of advice: It's a bit disconcerting to see the parts your Speedo covers suddenly morph into a big purple eggplant. So whatever you do, don't look down.

OVERALL RATING: ******* 7

 

Bonds Have More Fun

This beginner's bondage kit includes red vinyl, velcro-secured handcuffs lined with black faux fur so soft you'd think you had fuzzy baby chicks Krazy Glued to your wrists. Of course, even if you actually were wearing future KFC wings as bracelets, you'd never know it. A matching reversible blindfold keeps you in the dark--that way your sighted companion can surprise you with a smack from the accompanying paddle. The leather side of that paddle performs such delicious karate on your rump that if all dog owners replaced their rolled-up newspapers with it, every poodle in the country would be relieving himself on the Oriental rug.

"Yes! I'm wicked! I've committed major sins!" it will make you declare, desperately trying to convince your punisher to lay it on. "I'm turned on by 7th Heaven! I've worn Birkenstocks with socks!" Sadly, the fuzzy underside of the paddle doesn't measure up to its leather half: Being hit with the lackluster thud of faux fur is about as sexy as batting at your backside with a dead squirrel. (If you're looking for lighter play, the complimentary feather duster might better tickle your fancy.) Still, it's a small complaint about a largely addictive kit. Once you go Bond, you'll never go back.

OVERALL RATING: ******** 8

 

Wahl Coil
Hitachi Magic Wand

Rachel Maines's The Technology of the Orgasm reports that as early as the first century A.D. and as late as the 19th century, Western doctors encouraged physicians or midwives to massage female patients to orgasm with vibrators as a cure for hysteria. You wonder: If you've got a volunteer who is ready and willing to double-click your mouse five times a day, wouldn't committing yourself to a mental institution be the only sane choice?

Even if modern times have rendered a doctor's appointment less exciting than it was in days of yore, the Wahl Coil and the Hitachi Magic Wand make the safe, sterile tools of the medical world seem sexy. Both best-selling, classic vibrators are white, comfortable, relaxing, and impeccably clean, with a shape that mimics the devices tucked away in a surgeon's drawer. The two-speed Wahl Coil looks like a suction cup with a glue-gun grip, while the Hitachi Magic Wand is more akin to a tennis ball situated atop a foot-long electric-toothbrush handle. Because neither bears any resemblance to the male anatomy (unless someone has very special plumbing) these happy sticks can be particularly lesbian-friendly. And just in case you're still sheepish about owning them, both come with instructions that feature someone using the toy to soothe a sore back. (We tested its spine-tingling quotient--it's the next best thing to having a full-time masseuse.)

Our only gripe: The Wahl's collection of somewhat cumbersome attachments, which inexplicably includes a "scalp massager." Judging by what we learned in health class, we know there's no "scalp" between a woman's thighs--although if there were, that would explain those Herbal Essences commercials.

OVERALL RATING, WAHL COIL: ******* 7

OVERALL RATING, HITACHI: ********** 10

 

Fleshlight

To think of all the precious time men spend callusing their hands when they could just unscrew the top of a flashlight, quietly hump the spot where the double-D batteries go, and be done with it. This gray plastic device is a dead ringer for a Black & Decker, but it might not help you on any camping expeditions: Inside the fake extra-large portable spotlight is a smooth, 10-inch-long lavender sleeve of waterproof thermal plastic connected to the fleshy manhole of your choice: anus, vagina, or simple, neutral crack. When used with the proper lubricant (see Lube Sampler Pack, below) and condom, the slick, comfy SoftSkin can help you experience the ins and outs of true love. (We recommend both guys and dolls always use a condom with sex toys to keep them clean. If you don't, you'll find that your infection-harboring tool really is the gift that keeps on giving.)

When you've slowly worked your way through every small, pleasurable nuance of foreplay, play, and afterplay with the Fleshlight (estimated time: five seconds), your "partner" sometimes makes an unsettling gurgling sound as you pull away. But we doubt that the fact that the Fleshlight is both a literal and metaphorical whoopee cushion will turn you off entirely. When you've already decided to make love to a giant inanimate vagina that someone put together on an assembly line, modesty probably won't be a problem.

OVERALL RATING: ********* 9

 

Bend Over Boyfriend Kit

Sex slang has a way of making the entire English language sound dirty. We are tired of telling lewd-minded Frasier fans that "Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs" is not about a girl who gives rim jobs while masturbating. Let's face it: Sometimes you need to distinguish between circling someone else's hidden asterisk with your tongue and literally shoving arugula in your mouth. Which is why the plain language in Dr. Carol Queen's Bend Over Boyfriend informational video is so necessary. The movie--which comes in a kit that includes a Malibu Terra Firma fabric harness, a Crystal Jelly Boy dildo (nearly six inches long and almost two inches in diameter), a one-ounce bottle of Embrace lube, a 10-pack of latex gloves (your choice of size) and two condoms--uses clear instructions to lead you through both the emotional and physical preparation for allowing a woman to take the dominant role in anal sex with her boyfriend.

First-timers might feel uncomfortable going straight to the harness. (If this applies to you, let your latexed fingers do the talking and make "no glove, no love" your mantra.) But the faster you move beyond the video, the better: Bend Over Boyfriend features many unsavory-looking couples twisting themselves into compromising positions. Somehow, it's hard to take an instructional video seriously when it helps you peer directly into the chocolate starfish of some guy called Cupcake Jones.

OVERALL RATING: **** 4

 

Lube Sampler Pack

Lube is the best intimacy enhancer money can buy, hands down--or hands up and down, if you prefer. It makes Fleshlights smoother, Rabbit Pearls easier to insert, and any natural tool of the trade into a readymade Slip 'n Slide. In fact, if we had our way, the next sexual revolution would begin with replacing every soap pump in America with a lube dispenser.

Wetter is always better, and this particular lube variety pack allows you to pick from a virtual tapas bar of pocket-sized samples: Hydra-Smooth, Astroglide, Elbow Grease Light, Eros, ID Lube, Liquid Silk, Maximus, Probe, Slippery Stuff Gel, and Slippery Stuff Liquid. Of the lot, Astroglide--which, if you ask us, deserves an extra "s" after its first letter--is truly the sodomite's best friend. Sure, it doesn't stink like oranges or make an aloe and vitamin E face mask for your orifices, but it glides like the Ice Capades. Save the baby oil for the baby.

OVERALL RATING : ********** 10

 

NightLight Condoms

There are few things that any man requires in life: physical dominion over his younger brother, World Series rings for his favorite ballclub, and the ability to see his own erect penis glowing in the dark. NightLights are the first and only glow-in-the-dark condoms that are FDA-approved for preventing pregnancy and STDs. And anyone who thinks that means they don't qualify as sex toys has never seen them in action. Expose them to light for 30 seconds and you'll be blessed with the green lightsaber Luke Skywalker never had.

These contraceptive glowsticks are almost as revolutionary as the birth control pill. Don't most breaches of bediquette stem from the clumsy obscurities of plug and socket? Who hasn't cringed when the lights go out and a once-obvious orifice suddenly becomes elusive? Or when, because of blind maneuvering, the instrument of your manly pride dislodges with a hollow thup? NightLights solve all such dilemmas.

Perhaps the best thing about NightLights, though, is that they restore a sense of humor to an act that can be taken way too seriously. When you're emitting animal grunts, sharing strangely shaped protuberances, and going through movements that no one should see outside of yoga class, it's good to have an excuse to laugh.

OVERALL RATING: ******** 8

 

Sex Toys We'd Like to See
STORY BY CITY PAGES STAFF
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ELECTRIC 69

Beep Moi™ Vibrator-Pager

Gives new meaning to the phrase "booty call." This strap-on accessory combines the discreet charm of a Remote Butterfly vibrator with the utility of a silently vibrating Motorola pager--all in one slim, battery-powered, jelly-rubber device. Perfect for crowded rooms and dull parties. Advanced models hum at different speeds for different callers.

 

Whoring Maximo™ Furry Sex Doll with Instant Messaging

Ideal for teddy-bear fetishists, this plush line of stuffed sex toys translates instant messages into spoken words and vice versa, allowing for two-way conversations in a voice that sounds like lovable, dirty old Grover. Anatomically correct.

 

Every Breath I Take™ Chastity Belt with GPS Tracking System

Bringing BDSM into the age of surveillance, this locking metal undergarment comes in either male or female models, both complete with a miniature GPS Tracking System. The shield and chains allow for waste evacuation, but prevent masturbation and sex. The belt also records the location and movement of the wearer, including address and duration of stay.

 

Easy Diver™ Oxygen Mask for Underwater Oral Sex

By allowing the wearer to breathe safely and comfortably through the nose while underwater, this half-mask frees up the mouth for better uses. Ideal for hot tubs and shark cages.

 

General Sherman™ Vibrating Razor

Heating up skin while burning off hair, this plug-in massage-razor combines the pleasures of intimate shaving with the warmth of a heated vibrator. Advanced S&M models tug at individual follicles, as in old razor ads from the 1970s.

 

The Denigrator™ Talking Dildo

Available in both Pillow Talk(tm) and Cheap Date(tm) models, this semi-realistic silicone dildo comes complete with a recording device at the base to play messages when in use. Advanced models include a motion detection system that cues a variety of prerecorded greetings for anyone who comes across the toy in the dresser drawer: "Sorry, honey, you just can't compete"; "You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you're talkin' to?"; "Hands off, Billy!"

 

How to Lose a Dozen Men
(and One Woman)
in 11 Days

by Sarah Sawyer
Illustrations by Electric 69

My love life hasn't exactly been the kind that leads to marriage. I've been asked to lie to my dates' wives, baby-sit their children, distract the outraged strippers that followed them to my apartment, hide moonshine in a tree stump while the Tennessee State Troopers searched our campsite, and talk those same officers out of ticketing us for public nudity. Once, a lover of mine asked me to call Live Links, pretend to be a stranger, and have phone sex with him. I complied, only to have him leave me for another woman in the chat room. Now, I regard the word girlfriend as a synonym for sucker.

In spite of all this, I'm still six for six in the bouquet-catching department, and God gave me child-bearing hips for a reason. I refuse to believe that I've been making monthly payments on my fertility since age 12 only to be subjected to 20-odd more years of Star Trek reruns and dinner for one. So, inspired by any number of stupid TV dating shows, I decided to do something about it. I would turn Minneapolis into my own dating boot camp, forcing friends to set me up, experimenting with dating services, approaching strangers on the street--anything to fill my dance card. For the next seven to 10 days, I would tattoo my own chest for a bike messenger, fight with a carpenter for the love of a nude model, and listen to a pastor liken the dating scene to a John Cougar Mellencamp song. I would take a one-week leave of absence from personal shame and just put myself out there. That was my pledge.

And this is my book of love.

 

My Face Hurts from Smiling:
Three-Minute Dating at GameWorks, early evening Thursday, January 23

Three-minute dating is a little like square dancing--only without the dancing, and with the squares doubled. Today, GameWorks in Minneapolis is helping singles choose their partners. I join the women who are sitting at various tables, arranged around the perimeter of the room. Individual men choose a seat at my table, chat with me for the titular length of time, then rotate to the next table when the event host hits a buzzer. The problem is, most Minnesota men feel rude leaving after only three minutes. They stay longer so that I feel interesting, thereby screwing up the whole process. My longwinded visitors include an advertising exec, some musicians, a customer-service clerk, a film student, and a guy who has a fetish for the name Sarah. Nobody catches my interest. My face hurts from smiling. I don't meet anyone I want to date. I see one guy who turns my crank, but he turns it so hard that I decide he's probably an alcoholic or a womanizer. I don't even bother to say hello.

 

It's Not His Belly She's Rubbing:
Dancing at the Fine Line Music Café, late evening Thursday, January 23

My friend Tom and I decide to look for people to dance with at a Boogie Wonderland show at the Fine Line in Minneapolis. I get there first. A guy from three-minute dating shows up and sits on a barstool, trying to make eye contact with me. I avoid it. Tom arrives. We resolve to hang out until they play "Love Will Keep Us Together." We order a couple of drinks and the band plays music I haven't heard since I outgrew my Big Wheel. The crowd is having a blast. The dance floor is so full of freestyling wigglers that there's no room for Tom and me to disco, so instead we troll the crowd for potential dates. No probable candidates. We do, however, see a couple snuggling to our left. They look as if years of marriage have made them morph into the same blobby body type.

Tom watches them and says, "I love it when fat couples rub each other's bellies." I smile in agreement. The woman shifts slightly to the left, and we see that it's not his belly she's rubbing. We both raise our eyebrows. There's a long pause.

Tom says, "Is it out?"

"Yes," I say. "I think it is."

 

Your Last Name Is Sawyer? My Last Name Is Finn!
Bike Messenger Race, Twilight Tattoo, late afternoon Saturday, January 25

Time and distance are no obstacle for love and desperation. When I hear that the Stupor Bowl IV--the sixth annual scavenger hunt/bike-messenger race--is going on in Minneapolis, I decide that all the sweaty bikers will be more than happy to ride for miles just to encounter me waiting patiently for them at one of the race's destination points. The contestants are due at Twilight Tattoo near Bloom-Lake around 4:00 p.m., so I invite myself over. The guy working the ink needle doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he helps me put a temporary tattoo that says "SWF" on my chest in marker.

"Hey! Do you want to go out with me next week?" I holler at a never-ending stream of messengers. I get some strange looks from the first few bikers. The fifth one says yes. He's strawberry blond, with a face that's obscured by polar fleece. We exchange names and phone numbers.

"Your last name is Sawyer?" he says, amused. "My last name is Finn!" I begin to dream about the two of us getting married on a very Mark Twain-like raft adrift on the Mississippi River.

He calls me three days later. We won't be painting any fences together.

 

He Bites Me Hard on the Throat:
Online-Personal-Ad Date, Eli's Bar and Grill, late evening Saturday, January 25

Those who have given up on true love must not own computers. Online, there are thousands of eligible bachelors, all waiting to get into your cyberpants. Scrolling through websites, I come across Scott in the website personals of a certain local alternative weekly: His ad is poetic, but not too poetic. I decide to call him--collect.

Meeting Scott here at Eli's in Minneapolis, I notice that he looks just like his picture: medium build, blond, good haircut, classic dresser, with little wire-rimmed glasses and a great complexion. In his mid-30s, he looks like he once was the heartthrob of a high school production of West Side Story. Before the first beer is over, I know that he has three children, one of whom is very into Star Wars. He's articulate and interesting. It never occurred to me I might meet someone articulate and interesting online.

From Eli's, I invite him to Lee's Liquor Lounge to hear a band. Evidently, I date so infrequently that when I walk into Lee's with a man, you'd think it was the Second Coming. Mouths drop open, no one asks me to dance, and when an old friend taps me on the back to say hello, he apologizes to my date--presumably for touching me. Scott and I listen to some music, and then he drives me home. After a little discussion, we agree to kiss goodnight.

While we're making out, he bites me hard on the throat. My first thought is, What is he thinking? I don't like to be bitten on the throat! Then it dawns on me: Oh!He likes to be bitten on the throat. So I bite him back. He comes totally unglued. Check and mate.

 

Blah Blah My Mother:
Friend-Arranged Blind Date, Nina's Coffee Café, late evening Sunday, January 26

Never do yourself what you can force others to do for you. Some good friends insist that I should go out with Martin, an attractive fortysomething man who is just my type. We decide to meet at Nina's in St. Paul.

There are five people in the coffee shop, and three of them appear to be working. I find my date easily: nice features, hair thinning a little on top, wearing a sweater and a jacket. He's sitting by the window, reading the paper over a steaming cup of something or other.

Because he knows my good friends and because he just oozes this approachable nice guy vibe, I'm instantly at ease. We've barely met, and all of a sudden, I'm babbling like a dork, blah blah my mother this, blah blah my family of origin that. I'm poised on the edge of discussing my feelings when something makes me pause.

"Tell me, Martin, what is it you do?" I ask.

"I'm a therapist," he says.

 

I've Woken Up with Money Stuffed in My Pants:
Stranger-Arranged Blind Date, Sawatdee, late evening Tuesday, January 28

The Twilight Tattoo artist who helped me attract bike messenger Finn sets me up with his musician friend--we'll call him Johnny. When I talk to Johnny over the phone, he tells me that he has never really been on a "date" before--he usually just hangs out with girls. I ask when he'd like to meet up. "Well, I'm unemployed," he says. "Any time is good for me."

Johnny picks me up at 8:00 p.m. I look him over while he drives: He's about 27 years old, with extravagant wings tattooed on his forearms. These markings are there not because he's a rock 'n' roll drummer, but because he's covering up less interesting D.I.Y. tattoos his high school girlfriend gave him with an ink pen. He's wearing jeans, a sweater, and a knit hat with the name of a restaurant on it--even though he was recently fired from said restaurant for punching a hole in the computer monitor.

As we arrive at Sawatdee in the Warehouse District, Johnny graciously opens the car door for me. "For a guy who's never been on a date, you seem to be doing pretty well," I say.

"Well, I've seen this sort of thing done, you know, on TV," he responds.

As the night progresses, we move from Sawatdee (8:00 p.m.), to Pizza Lucé (9:30 p.m.), to Grumpy's (10:30 p.m.), to Triple Rock (11:30 p.m.). At each of these places, Johnny makes a point of asking the staff if they're hiring.

During the night, he offers some fabulous sound bites:

"I've been known to give lap dances when I get drunk, and I've woken up with money stuffed in my pants. It's a good feeling, 'cause now I've got five bucks I didn't have before."

"It would be cool to place an I Saw You ad that reads, I saw you getting your ass kicked. Hope you're okay. Call me."

When he mentions that he's looking for a design to cover an old tattoo on his chest, I suggest Kilroy peeking over the wall. I draw an example on a cocktail napkin.

"That guy?" Johnny exclaims. "I hate that guy. Look at him, lookin' over that wall, like he's better than me."

 

He's a Vegetarian, but He'll Still Stab My Octopus:
My Dinner with Pablo, Pazza Luna, late evening Thursday, January 30

Feeling exasperated, I send a mass e-mail out to everyone I know. "Either ask me out yourself," I demand, "or get your friends to do it!"

My friend Pablo writes a gracious response: "I'll take you out, baby."

Pablo and I have known each other for some time because we are both performers around town. He picks me up at my place. "Before we go to dinner, I've got one errand to run, okay?" he asks. "My mom likes to meet all my dates. She'll ask if you're Jewish. Just don't say anything."

We arrive at Pablo's house. His mom begins the interrogation.

Pablo's mom: How did you meet?

Me: Swing dancing, and also through our mutual involvement in theater.

Pablo's mom: What do you do, Sarah?

Me: Oh, I do a little theater and I write for the papers.

Pablo's mom: Tell me, Sarah, are you Jewish?

Me: [Look miserably at Pablo. Look miserably at Mom. Look at floor, thinking,I hate to lie to his mom. What to do? Decide:Oh hell, fuck Pablo.] No, no, I'm not Jewish. I'm Presbyterian.

Pablo's mom: Oh...

[uncomfortable pause]

Pablo's mom: [bursts out laughing] Pablo, I just can't do this to her! It's too mean!

It turns out that Pablo has orchestrated this whole scene--maybe to test my mettle, maybe to be funny, maybe a little of both. I box him about the ears.

Leaving his mom behind, Pablo takes me to eat at Pazza Luna in St. Paul. Because he's observant, considerate, and sharp, conversation with him is challenging, comforting, and funny. While we're eating, he even offers to cut my seafood pasta for me. My hero! He's a vegetarian, and he'll still stab my octopus.

Later, we look at the ice sculptures from the winter carnival. Pablo takes me on a little tour of St. Paul, pointing out some of his favorite nightspots and filling me in on the culture of Rice Street.

Pablo thinks I'm foxy. He says so. I put little stars by his name in my black book--and also on the bathroom wall in several local watering holes.

 

Here Are a Few Things You May Want to Ask Bob About: How Is His Golf Game?
Matchmaker-Arranged Blind Date, Famous Dave's BBQ, Minneapolis, early afternoon Saturday, February 1

In this city, you can pay someone $500 to find you a date. I discover this while looking over the website for the Matchmaking Connection (www.thematchmakingconnection.com), and decide to make an appointment. A woman named Andrea personally interviews me, promising that she'll match me up with approximately 10 dates. She sits with me for an hour, asking about my hobbies, eating habits, religious preferences, and romantic history. The questions are hard to answer: I realize I don't really know what I am looking for, and that all of my dates in the past have just added up to a long game of trial and error. It occurs to me that I wouldn't approach any other life decision this haphazardly.

Later Andrea e-mails me about a man she thinks might interest me. From her notes, I learn that she's matched me with Bob, a 35-year-old bank employee who has never been married. Andrea gives me information about Bob's height (5'10"), eye color (blue), hair color (blond), social group (good friends he's known since high school), and hobbies (playing golf). The e-mail also notes:

"Here a few things you may want to ask Bob about.

How is his golf game?

Who is his favorite comedian?

Does he have a new niece or nephew?"

The long setup is finally over: I meet with Bob at Famous Dave's. He's wearing a sweater, a jacket, and khakis. As we talk, I decide that he's a perfectly good-looking man. A darling man, in fact, who is pleasant in conversation, seems like great family-man material, and...would be perfect for a friend of mine.

I plan to set them up.

 

I'm a Cold, Forked-Tongued Bitch:
Lust-Inspired Ask-Out, Monte Carlo, early evening Saturday, February 1

I first met Christina nearly eight years ago at the Loring Block Party. She was pregnant with her daughter then, and looking at her crazy, curly blond hair, I thought she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life. Since then, I've discovered that she's a teacher, a carpenter, and a nude model--depending upon when you catch her. Did I mention she's incredibly hot? (Lest you doubt the snackiness of my Saturday-night date, you can see her naked at the Icebox Gallery's Skin 2003 photo exhibit this March.)

Recently, I ran into Christina at a coffee shop and finally worked up the courage to say something really suave.

"Gee, you're pretty," I drooled.

"Sarah, if you want to go out with me, all you have to do is ask," she replied.

Eventually, I did.

Christina picks me up in her red pickup truck. I open the door and she hands me a single pink long-stemmed rose and a box of Necco Sweethearts with "To: Sexy Hot Mamma Sarah. From: Christina" written across the top. She gives me a sweet little hello kiss.

After drinking flirtinis at Monte Carlo, we head to Christina's holiday party for her carpentry job. This is how I find myself on a first date, watching complete strangers receive "Employee of the Year" certificates and speaking about their dreams for the company. They seem like a fine crew, but I'm feeling a little out of my element. Happily, the white russians are strong.

Christina introduces me, responding to the raised eyebrows by saying outright, "Yes, it's a real date." One of her male co-workers gets a little jealous. He repeatedly calls Christina away from our conversation and insists upon holding her hand under the table. When he gets pouty, she tries to console him. Then I get jealous. She holds his hand, then holds mine, and I get snippy and wriggle away. Around last call, I'm tired and cranky. A friend of the jealous dude informs me that I'm a "cold, forked-tongued bitch."

"Little man, you're about to learn what fork-tongued means," I growl.

Suddenly, it's time for us to go.

 

Clothes on, Hands off, Don't Go Horizontal:
Singles Group, Woodbury Church of Christ, early afternoon Sunday, February 2

I'm starting to realize that I just can't meet a decent, God-fearing family man in a nightclub. So I decide to attend a church singles group to see if any good Christian men are willing to knock me up.

The Woodbury Church of Christ looks a little like the religious version of Disneyland. I fully expect Tinker Bell to descend from the steeple on a fly-wire, wave a magic wand, and turn a couple of pumpkins into husbands for me. Instead, I find a maze of youth groups. After locating a roomful of people a little closer to my own age, I walk inside: There are many women in sweaters from 1989, and a lot of men who look just a little off. Chad, a young pastor with chestnut hair and a shiny wedding band on his left hand, speaks to us about the rules of attraction. He starts to advise, "Clothes on, hands off, don't go horizontal," but ends up making a cute Freudian slip. "Clothes off, hands on," he says, and he's immediately interrupted by tittering 30-year-olds.

Undaunted, he goes on to remind us that God is the ultimate relationship counselor. "A wise person remembers the John Cougar Mellencamp song, 'I fight authority, authority always wins,'" he insists.

The future Mr. Sarah K. Sawyer is probably not sitting at this table.

 

Love and Human Remains:
The Aftermath, Monday, February 3

Right, so now what? I've been on 10 different dates in 11 days, and there's still no ring around my finger. This is what it's like to be single and searching in the city. I have my eyes open. I'll work with what I've got.

I imagine I'll be seeing Christina the Carpenter again, although I fear it might end weirdly. I'd like to go out for another date with Scott the Personal Ad Guy--unless he never speaks to me again for writing this article. I'm going to call Martin the Therapist and invite him to a concert, just to see what happens. And Pablo? I'd marry Pablo tomorrow, if he asked me.

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