“Why hasn’t anyone tried to puzzle-piece us yet??” Tara cried, as we collected our drinks at the bar.
I laughed. “Relax, we’ve only been here five minutes.”
“Now remember,” I instructed. “We’re undercover. No mention of the blog, okay? Undercover.”
“Undercover,” she repeated, nodding. “Right. No mention of the blog.”
“I’m so excited!” she exclaimed, as she glanced around the bar.
“Well, I’m glad one of us is,” I said.
I’d asked Tara to join me at the Jigsaw Puzzle Singles Event because she has a cheerful personality and can talk to anyone. Over the course of the past few months, I’d realized that I do not have those qualities. I’ve actually been to a few other Singles Events throughout the course of this project that I’ve never even written about. Mostly because not much of consequence had happened.
Although, there is one I will write about, but it won’t come into play for a few weeks as it leads into a Series that I’m starting in October.
Anyway, during these events, I usually would end up quiet and awkward, while whoever friend I’d brought would have to do all the talking. I figured it would be this way again, so that’s why I thought Tara would be a great choice to join. But as the days wore on leading up to the event, I started to feel wary of my decision. In addition to having a sunny disposition, Tara is also very pretty, very blond, very smart and, well… let’s just say it right now, very young. She is only 22, so effectively could be my daughter. In real life. I worried that the event would consist of all the guys taking an interest in her and me feeling ignored and like the old, ugly friend again.
The Jigsaw Puzzle Singles Event consisted of each guest being given a puzzle piece that they would wear around their neck on a thick piece of string. The goal was to find your piece’s fitted match. Once you did, the two of you would be entered into a drawing to win a Best Buy gift card. There were a number of combinations so the chances of finding a match were pretty good. I liked the idea of this event for the same reason I liked the idea of Speed Dating.
You could have an out.
If you didn’t like the person you were talking to – you could use the dynamics of the event to allow yourself to get away. That evening, this happened to come in handy more quickly than I’d anticipated.
The first guy who approached us, immediately made the hair on my forearms stand on end. He was mouth-breathing and had small, deep-set eyes under thick protruding brows. His smile creeped me out. Once it was established that neither Tara or I was a puzzle match, he became quite angry when we wanted to move on.
“So, what? That’s it? You’re just going to leave now?” he asked. He was staring at Tara in a way that made me feel uneasy. Was I wrong or did his teeth look somewhat pointy?
“Um, yeah,” I said, trying to sound breezy. “You know, that’s the game. Um, have a good night!” I grabbed Tara’s hand and moved us to the back of the room.
“That guy is a total serial-killer,” I said. I turned her to face me. “Don’t look at him again.”
Someone was hitting me on the back. Not poking me politely, but actually slapping me. I turned around and saw a guy in his mid-forties sitting on a couch. “Hi, uh, can I help you?” I asked.
He pulled himself up and stood in front of me. Too close. “You’re not so tall,” he said with a peculiar gleam in his eye.
I took a step back and stammered, “Well, I wasn’t…trying to be.” I swallowed. “Shall we see if our pieces fit?”
“Yes,” he said and lowered his chin so his face was near to mine. “And we’ll check our puzzles as well.”
Now, if I was Thalia or Marlie, I would have had some sort of snappy comeback and told this guy what’s what. But I tend to find myself feeling weak and silent in these situations. So instead, I mutely held out my puzzle piece to him. It did not fit.
Then he turned to Tara, who was looking at him wide-eyed. He grabbed the piece hanging around her neck and tugged at it, so it pulled her towards him. He clicked his piece into hers. “It’s a match!” he said, triumphantly. “Let’s go get our raffle ticket.” Then he grabbed her arm tightly and pulled her off into the crowd.
She turned back to me, imploring. “Tracey?!”
“I’m right here!” I called. “I’m right here.”
He was still holding her arm when we made it up to the front to retrieve their tickets. He then spun her towards him and there was something about the way he was looking at her. Like she was Little Red Riding Hood and he was the Big Bad Wolf, that made my head start to pound with black rage.
Now I was the mouth-breather.
I pulled her away from him. “Now, that’s enough,” I said. “You got your ticket. We’re going to go mingle now.”
He cocked his head to the side and offered a slick grin. “Is that so?”
“Yeah,” I said. “It is so.” I dragged Tara into the middle of the crowd.
This type of scenario repeated itself over and over. To the point where I found my previous weakness gone and in it an odd fierce sense of protectiveness. I kept having to step between the leering men and Tara, putting my arm across her and saying to them, “Back.The. Fuck. Off.”
“Wow, Tracey, I’ve never seen you like this before,” she said. “It’s like you’re in Mama Bear mode or something.”
“Yeah,” I muttered. “Or something.”
Now, to be fair, everyone else at the event seemed to be having a great time. Connections were being made, drinks were being bought and the mood was upbeat and lively. Tara and I introduced ourselves to the guy who was running the event and he seemed sincere and earnest. It was clear he really just wanted everyone to have fun. And Tara and I did meet some nice, normal guys.
Such as the young one who spent the majority of the time showing off his neat-o backpack with the cell-phone charger built right in. Or the one guy who was very funny and charismatic until he found out where we worked and then kept pestering us to give him the information for our HR team so he could send in his resume. This made us laugh.
Towards the end of the evening, we were chatting with a guy who was cracking me up because he was saying, “What’s with this exotic beer here?” and he pointed to the bottles in our hands. “I mean, it’s shit. I don’t know any of these, which means they’re no good. I mean, if it was a good beer, I’d of heard of it when I was growing up, ya know? Coors Light, Keystone, Budweiser – now those are beers. This,” he waved his hand at us dismissively. “I don’t even know what this is.”
What made me laugh at this was that Tara was drinking a Becks and I was drinking a Corona.
But what shut me up was then he said to Tara, as he leaned a little closer to her and murmured in a low voice, “So what is it with you? Are you some sort of Taylor Swift wannabe?”
“I…don’t know what that means,” Tara said, with an uncomfortable smile.
I sighed and shook my head. “Is that some sort of pick-up line?”
“Nah,” he said and looked at me. “I’m just trying to figure out what her deal is. She’s all blond and from the South, I mean, what?”
“Have a good night,” I said and walked away. Tara followed.
“Let’s finish our drinks and get out of here,” I said.
“Okay,” she replied.
We moved to the side of the room to an area less-populated. We chatted lightly as we finished our beers.
He looked harmless enough as he made his way towards us. On the shorter side, bald, about my age. We talked for for awhile, after finding our puzzle pieces didn’t fit and then he said to me, “So you’re from New York and you,” he said, pointing at Tara, “Are from the South, visiting her?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m from California. We both live here now. We work together.”
“So you,” he said more slowly, narrowing his eyes and gazing at Tara pointedly. “Are from the South and visiting her here?”
“No,” Tara said, also slowly. “We both live here. We work together.”
He closed his eyes then. “Just…just let me have my fantasy.”
“Okay,” I declared and slammed my beer bottle on the table. “Time to go.”
“Ew!” Tara exclaimed. She slammed her bottle next to mine.
When we reached the street outside, I spun to her. “Jesus Christ Tara, does this sort of thing happen to you all the time?”
“Yes,” she said, nodding. “All the time.”
“My god,” I said, shaking my head. “How do you handle it?”
“I don’t know…I don’t really know how to handle it. I don’t really know what to say in those situations.”
My heart kind of broke a bit for her in that moment.
She continued. “But you, you were great! You totally stepped up.”
“Hmm,” I said. “I don’t know why, really. That’s not like me.”
“Your Mama Bear instinct,” she said, smiling.
I laughed. “I guess so.”
“I really did have a good time tonight, Tracey.”
“Good, I’m glad. Thank you for coming with me.”
“Anytime,” she said and gave me a quick hug. “Okay, I’ve got to get going. I’ll see you Monday.”
“Okay,” I said. “Have a good weekend.”
And as I watched her moving into the crowd, I felt a little ashamed of myself. Here, all week, I’d worried that she’d get all the attention and it would make me feel old and unattractive. Instead, I’d seen that getting all that attention, is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.
And the thing that really got me was about all this was – it was the younger guys who were respectful and polite. It was the men my age who were leering and drooling and being inappropriate. Maybe that’s what gave me the strength to stand up to them – because I felt like we were on the same playing field. Like: Don’t try to play this fucking game in front of me – we’re the same age and you know I’ve seen it before. I will shut it down if you try it on my friend.
Fuck those fucking perverts.
Like I said, I believe Tara and my experience that night was unique, as it seemed all in all the event was a total fun success for everyone else.
But that being said, I think I’m done with Singles Events for awhile.