Getting Up To Speed

SURE, YOU'VE HEARD about speed dating, but do you know anyone who's done it? Me, either. It's the ultimate quicker-picker-upper — all about garnering more dates in one evening than I snagged in high school. Call me curious. Call me ambitious. Call me a sucker for complimentary appetizers. Fasten your seatbelts, Peeps Without Partners. We're going speed dating.

Needing backup, I give my unattached friend, Raul, loads of tequila and promise he'll meet some real babes. In exchange he gives me his Visa card. Let the countdown to courtship begin!

Wednesday a.m.: Contemplate skipping work to spend the day at Nordstrom getting makeover and matching undergarments. Am I dressing for the proverbial car accident mothers warn of? Hate everything in closet so grant permission to skip gym tomorrow in favor of the mall.

Wednesday p.m.: My eyebrows! Raul insists men don't notice stray hairs out of arch. "But if you're worried, don't cover the pimple on your forehead. They'll be distracted by it."

Thursday, The Big Day, 10:12 a.m.: Delight co-workers with impromptu fashion show. Decide black pants aren't sending right vibe.

Thursday 1:47 p.m.: Boss won't hold meeting at the Gap so I'm stuck with black pants. Can live with them. Cannot, however, live with fur above my eyelids. Beg Brow Girl for emergency appointment.

Thursday 1:50 p.m.: Denied by Brow Girl! Bridal party going Brazilian!

Thursday 4:19 p.m.: Call Raul to say I'm not going. Find him at Nordstrom where he's about to purchase a Hugo Boss suit. Remind him people in Seattle don't wear suits to funerals let alone first dates.

Thursday 5:59 p.m.: Buzz Raul for six minutes before he answers, apologizing he couldn't hear over blender churning out margaritas. I call a cab.

Thursday 7:28 p.m.: I'm in. I'm close to tears as I survey a crowd that already appears to have coupled off. Suddenly speed dating seems less like the fun way to meet singles and more like all that was evil about junior high.

Thursday 7:29 p.m.: After two pints I'm brave enough to paste the obligatory name tag on my chest — Shelly No. 814.

Thursday 7:45 p.m.: Realize the crowd appears so friendly because (get this) they are.

Date No. 1: Out of the 20 potential couples in the room, Raul and I end up at the same table. Didn't pay $28 to remember we're not interested.

Date No. 2: Has an undisclosed number of cats, lives with his dad and hasn't eaten a vegetable since 1977. Has it been eight minutes?

Date No. 3: Nice-looking, friendly, no cats. Having fun until he notices region above my eye sockets. Spend the next six minutes digging in my purse pretending to need a tissue.

Date No. 4: Have a hard time hearing No. 4 because, well, he's not talking. I compliment his shirt. He looks down as if surprised he wore one.

Date No. 5: My cell phone rings — major faux pas. For the last 48 minutes you couldn't hear hyenas in heat, but suddenly I'm dating the whole room. "Sorry," I say. "Probably my husband." Raul laughs.

Date No. 6: No time for small talk. His first question is "Do you want kids?" I tell him deciding between Coke and beer is proving difficult, so unsure of kids. He informs me that if I'm in this age group, I better start thinking about it. I choose beer in hopes it will sting more when I throw it in his face.

Date No. 7: I feel like I've just been through the interview process for Secret Service and can't think of anything to say, so I tell No. 7 this. Laugh ourselves into a chatty eight-minute blur until — ding! It's over. The organizer says find a computer and select our matches, but no one leaves. We're nice people meeting other nice people. The only awkward part is being in a room with so many people I've dated.

Raul and I meet up. "I got fingerprinted on my sixth date," he says. "Is that weird?"

"I met someone's mom," I say. "Is that weird?"

No, not weird, and it is great practice. No pretense, no pressure and knowing everyone is single makes chatting easier than oversleeping on a Monday. I didn't find true love, but at least I can say my last seven dates have been in this century. That's worth $28.

Shelly Mazzanoble is a Seattle writer. Paul Schmid is a Seattle Times news artist.