LOOKING FOR LOVE IN

ALL THE STRANGE PLACES

Playboy, Sept. 03

 

HEAR HOWARD STERN TALK TO COREY ABOUT THIS ARTICLE, 8/2003

READ REACTION TO THIS ARTICLE IN THE PLAYBOY LETTERS SECTION, 12/2003

 

by Corey Levitan

 

      Who wrote the rule that you can only pick up at bars? Either some guy who doesn't get laid as much as he could, or someone who wants to keep this secret hidden from the rest of us...

      There is no inappropriate place to meet women. As long as you have half a wit and at least one ball, you can make it happen anywhere.

      To test that theory, I tried my luck at alternative locales that respectable society killjoys would deem inappropriate at best and, at worst, deserving of police attention.

      Working in my favor is the fact that a babe's bullshit detector is cranked several notches lower at a memorial service than at a sports bar nickel-beer night. Working against me is the fact that I'm not exactly George Clooney.

      My mom thinks I'm adorable, but really, I'm just OK. I'm 5'6," have a big honker and a funny little voice. The last time I spent an hour in a gym, I had on blue shorts with my junior high's name on them.

      Will I get laid or maced? There's only one way to find out.

 

FUNERAL

      Wearing the dark suit and shades of Agent Smith from "The Matrix," I park at Forest Lawn, L.A.'s McFuneraLand, where so many burials overlap that vendors sell flowers from buckets outside the gates. It's best to have options when you're checking out what lady luck can dig up for you.

      Judging from the mourners filing past, the Church of the Hills is hosting the trendier of two chapel funerals. I enter clutching a tissue for effect, but there is no reason to be nervous. This isn't a wedding with an invitation list. Many at your own funeral will be strangers to your family and friends.

      In fact, the entire burial process seems designed to help construct my lie. I study the helpful memorial card with the deceased name and photo. And the more people speak from the altar, the more information I have about the dearly departed.

      "It's very sad," I murmur to an attractive Latina to whom I strategically made sitting beside appear accidental. She is in her early 20s, fetching in a lacy black dress. She's voluptuous but tough, like J-Lo's cop in "Angel Eyes." Or was that "Out of Sight"?

      "Yes, very sad," she responds quietly, with an accent. English doesn't seem to be her first language. (Awesome! That will facilitate getting six feet over!)

      "How did you know her?" J-Lo follows up.

      "Work," I say. Hell, everyone does something.

      "Oh," comes the somewhat puzzled response.

      From a subsequent eulogy, I learn that the deceased was a homemaker. Strangely, I am not called on the carpet. People refuse to suspect that the guy down the pew at a funeral doesn't belong there. I feel like Leo DiCaprio in "Catch Me If You Can."

      The dead woman's brother is now speaking. He regrets how much they used to fight as children.

      "Did you come alone or with your husband?" I ask J-Lo, clarifying with "su esposa."

      "Mi marido?" she asks, cracking a small smile. I had inadvertently inquired about her wife.

      "I am not married," she says.

      "A pretty girl like you?" I ask.

      Her smile widens as noses blow all around us. The casket is closed and pallbearers begin their short march to the gravesite.

      "She was such a sweet person," I say.

      The priest reads from scripture as our dear friend is lowered to her final resting place. I reach under my shades for an eye rub, then pull out my tissue for a honk.

      J-Lo gives me a hug. Everyone hugs at funerals. She holds it even longer than I hoped, as I inhale her sweet perfume. I've been on dates that haven't gone this far.

      "Can I call you?" I ask.

      I stare at the number for a week before tossing it. I don't believe in hell. But I believe I might end up there anyway if I pursue.

 

SCIENTOLOGY MEETING

      I don't want to knock anyone's religion, but it seems to me that Scientology preys on the fucked-up.

      "Exactly what is destroying your belief in yourself?" asks one "Dianetics" ad.

      Then again, fucked-up women are the only kind I've ever received casual sex from. 

      I arrive at Scientology's castle-like Celebrity Center in the Hollywood Hills for its Tuesday night newcomer meeting. A cute young redhead leads me to a class about detoxification, the first step in becoming a member. Afterward, she escorts me to a screening room. For 10 minutes, I watch actors with '80s hairstyles tell each other how great L. Ron Hubbard's self-help books are.

      "They're available everywhere they sell books," one enthuses, "even in the bookstore when you leave. But they go fast, so you better hurry."

      Once dark-adjusted, my eyes behold three model types in the front row. I scoot up behind the cutest, a ringer for the singer Brandy.

      "If the books are available everywhere," I say, "why do we have to buy them here?"

      "So you're not one of THEM?" she responds.

      Sure enough, they ARE models. Scientology is sponsoring a runway show for L.A.'s Fashion Week. They were rehearsing next door.

      "They came and got us and forced us to sit here," Brandy says.

      "Let's split," I say, as though gathering together fashion-show pussy posses was something I have done more than once in this life. As we sneak down hallways lined with photos of satisfied Scientology members, I tell the girls I know the owner of the Nacional, a trendy L.A. nightspot. (Truth: I know a bartender who hardly works there anymore.)

      "Hey!" the redhead shouts around the corner. We are busted. "Didn't you like the movie?" I tell her I just wanted to check Scientology out, but that the pressure was a little high for a sale right now. The models flee.

      "Well, you're not going to leave without buying a book," Red insists.

      "I hear they're available everywhere they sell books," I respond, smiling. "I'll buy it in a bookstore."

      She is not buying my story, but I am not buying her book. After a five-minute stand off, I exit the building near the Scientology coffee shop, where a blonde with double-D breasts and collagen lips orders coffee.

      I cross in front of her to grab a teabag as she stirs in some cream. In my mind she is naked, and the cream she is ingesting is mine.

      "So, did you buy a book?" I ask. Hey, it already worked once.

      "I have three," she says.

      Within a few minutes, Nina tells me she was abused by her parents and escaped from a bad marriage to Vegas, where she got implants and took up exotic dancing. Already revealed as a non-believer, I offer a bulletproof cover story. I'm a screenwriter with a character who's a Scientologist. I'm here for background detail.

      "You're in film?" she asks. Nina is a budding actress. She joined Scientology because so many of its members work in show biz. She agrees to accompany me to the Nacional.

      "Screenwriters get no respect," I tell Nina after discovering (there must be a mistake!) my name is not on the list. Idling on the wrong side of the velvet rope, I ask what Nina liked most about her former career.

      "Being in absolute control of the guys I lap-danced for," she says. "They had no idea what I was going to allow them to do."

      I don't like strip clubs, I tell her, because they make me feel like I'm a big, walking penis.

      "You're NOT?" she asks, biting her red lips. "Too bad."

      Tonight I've experienced both Tom Cruise's religion and his effect on women.

      Once inside, I nab a corner of couch and lean my face into Nina's. She does what's best for her career.

      I don't know how much it costs to make out with a stripper with big fake boobs in Las Vegas, or if a strip club will let you get that far. But tonight I'm down only about $40.

      "Don't touch there," Nina says. "You're not allowed ... yet."

      No sir, I don't want to knock Scientology at all.

 

OB-GYN OFFICE

      Pregnant women are perfect pickup targets. They're self-conscious, hormonally inclined to play house, and pissed off at some other guy. Plus, their tits are the size of two extra heads, AND you don't have to worry about getting them pregnant.

      The brunette sitting across from me is 5'4" and dark-complected, with jarringly green eyes and more curves than Lombard Street in San Francisco.

      "I see why you guys hate it here," I open. "It's creepy."

      I'm at a medical tower in Beverly Hills housing three separate OB/GYN offices, in case my first try doesn't click. The need does not arise.

      I worried that the receptionist might ask why I was visiting the gynecologist, or at least which patient I'm waiting for. But she never looked up from her stack of insurance forms.

      The brunette is curious, though. Those green peepers keep bouncing off her "Elle" magazine at me. I volunteer my cover story: I'm picking up my sister after a "procedure," squishing my face up on the word.

      "Say no more," she says, then continues reading. I had better say more. She could be called in at any moment. An elderly couple sits nearby. I avail myself of the cheap comedy op.

      "In vitro, huh?" I ask. The brunette giggles, the couple doesn't understand. The woman asks me to repeat myself.

      "I said hi, my name is Gloria!" I offer loudly. "Watch out the doctor doesn't give you too much testosterone!"

      I high-five myself inside my head. I'm not usually this funny.

      The ice is officially broken. The "Elle" hits the coffee table for good. Caitlyn is a shoe buyer for a department store.

      "Oh ... I wear shoes," I volunteer.

      I told you I'm not that funny.

      The words coming from Caitlyn's mouth aren't nearly as telling as the glint of metal darting up and down in the process. Pierced tongues are like membership cards to the oral sex club.

      But if you think asking for a girl's number at a club is embarrassing, try finding the right moment in an OB-Gyn office. I dig my thumb into my palm and just do it.

      "Do you think we could get together sometime, maybe in, say, a podiatrist's office?"

      She smile and nods. I mean, who's not giving her number to a guy nice enough to pick his sister up at the gynecologist?

      I hand Caitlyn a pen and the nearest something to write on, a pamphlet titled "Vaginitis: Causes and Treatments."

      A week later, we're on a date. "So where are we going to tell our friends we met?" I ask Caitlyn after the hostess seats us. Hooking up in an unusual places provides good conversational fodder.

      Then the food arrives -- yellowtail, eel, fish eggs -- and I realize I haven't selected our restaurant wisely. If you hook up at a gynecologist's office, sushi is probably not the call unless you want to think about her potentially defective vagina all night. I convince myself that Caitlyn was just in the office for a tune-up. (She's not visibly knocked up.) It helps that she's all dolled up as hot as driveway tar in Phoenix.

      I charmed her back to my apartment for a nightcap or four and do some playing-doctor of my own. After a full physical exam, I determine that her tongue isn't the only thing that's pierced.

 

SEXAHOLICS MEETING

     Fuck A.A. and N.A. meetings. I'm going straight for the babes with the problem I want.

      That the self-help group's official name is the more clinical Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous does nothing to tame my preconception: the slutty dancers from the "Addicted to Love" video, sitting around and wondering how they can control their animal urge to blow the first guy who asks.

      And maybe Steven Tyler lurking over in the corner.

      The reality is sobering: 20 men and five women sitting in a circle in a church basement, four of whom look more like Robert Palmer than his dancers. Who would agree to enough sex to get them addicted?

      The decent girl, I'll call her Samantha, is about 40, blonde and wearing a business skirt and heels.

      We take turns sharing. One guy is a chronic masturbator, another a cheating husband. I figure I need a more appealing story. Besides, they already have a chronic masturbator.

      "My name is Corey and I'm a sex and love addict," I say, mimicking everyone else.

      "Hi Corey!" comes the collective response.

      "All my relationships end up codependent," I announce. Samantha fills the corner of my eye as I speak. She is watching.

      "I fall in love way too deep and way too fast."

      I have just come to a job interview claiming that my biggest flaw is working too hard. Besides "I had one drink with dinner, officer," it's the biggest lie going.

      When it's Samantha turn, she says she was kicked out of a drug treatment center for boffing another patient.

      "I couldn't resist my baseline urges," she program-speaks, twirling her hair in the cutest way. "I don't even know how I ended up on a basement floor with this guy."

      Then she drops a wet blanket: "I have four months abstinence, and counting."

      Yes, the platform these 12 steps lead up to is abstinence, not sobriety. This is a lot more inappropriate place to pick up than I thought. But hell, I'm already here.

      You can't chat privately during the meeting. But there is some mulling around a coffee pot afterward. I tell Samantha that her talk moved me. I didn't tell her what part of me.

      "I liked what you said, too," she says. "It was brave of you to come here. I wish I didn't have to keep coming here."

      While discussing my baseline urges, I am overwhelmed by a bigger one. I excuse myself to go use the bathroom.

      "Hi there," says a voice from the next urinal. I refuse to look, in case it's the chronic masturbator.

      I'm always uncomfortable with urinal chat, particularly when I'm at full mast. But this time, logic is there to back up my homophobia. It's the guy who sat on my left during the meeting. Jeff is muscular and wears too much cologne. And I thought I sensed him lightly brush against my palm when everyone clasped hands to recite the Lord's Prayer.

      "First time, huh?" he asks.

      He's correct. It was both my first time at a sexaholics meeting, and my first time being cruised in a men's room.

      I cut my stream painfully short then zip up. I rinse for two seconds, no drying. Samantha was still back in the classroom, but putting on her coat.

      "Can I get your number?" I ask. I stick my wet hand into my pocket and pull out a pen. Her face appears suspicious.

      "You seem like a good person to talk to about this stuff," I explain.

      "You want me to be your sponsor?" Samantha asks. "It would probably be better if you got a male sponsor."

      Just as she finishes, Jeff interrupts.

      "I'll be your sponsor," he says.

      Samantha takes her cue to leave. The very existence of Jeff is evidence that the bad karma created by this article is returning before it's even published.

 

LESBIAN BAR

      Decent specimens of the opposite sex look even more attractive if there's nobody better in the room. I call this the "room phenomenon." (Of course, you might have to take the room with you in order to date this person.)

      At the Palms in West Hollywood, even the men with the crewcuts and facial hair are women. My theory is that at least some might be bisexual -- hopefully the ones without sideburns. And if my theory is right, then the room phenomenon will favor the only guy there -- me.

      Women wear a curious mix of sweats and bondage gear chat at the bar. On the dancefloor in back, they gyrate to techno songs with lyrics such as "I just want to fuck you."

      My friend Brenda Jo is here, because arriving by myself or with another guy might have raised some unplucked eyebrows, and also because she's, unknowingly, part of my rap.

      I walk over to a 25-year-old Lisa Loeb type, sporting black glasses and a T-shirt reading ORGASM DONOR.

      "My friend is thinking about coming out of the closet," I say. "So I dragged her here, but she's shy." This explains what the hell I'm doing here, I hope, and also elicits sympathy.

      Lipstick Loeb looks at me silently, then at her friend, her apparent orgasm donee. They both return my stare with cold eyes.

      "I thought maybe you would have some advice," I say.

      More coldness. Glaciers start melting.

      "Be yourself," the friend says, before turning away as if I walked off, but I didn't.

      Perhaps I should consider rephrasing my thesis to "there's no inappropriate place to pick up HETEROSEXUAL women."

      Worse, Brenda Jo has walked over and is eavesdropping.

      "What did you say about me?" she asks. I'm bad at lying to people I know, so I don't. She huffs off to a bar stool, from which she informs me to fuck off whenever I pass.

      I throw three more raps, each of which is as well-received as Pamela Anderson's breast-reduction surgery.

      "You enjoying yourself?" asks a hot blonde cocktail waitress.

      Eureka, the hot blonde cocktail waitress! I order a vodka and tag along as she sashays back to the bar with her tray.

      Waitresses are hard to read. They're like flight attendants; it's their job to be nice to you. But I am hardened by my recent failure, in both senses of the word. So I jump right in.

      "You worked here long?" I ask. It's Sandy's second week.

      "Shh, don't tell anyone, but there are no men here," I say.

      Sandy laughs.

      "Oh, are you looking for men?" she asks. "Those bars are just down the street."

      "No, I'm looking for women," I say. "And I think I found a great one."

      The room phenomenon not only helps you look better, it helps you sound less cliché.

      "You're sweet," she says. "What are you doing here?"

      As I begin explaining how dedicated I am to my friend's sexual awakening, Brenda Jo interrupts.

      "Can we go now?" Brenda Jo says. "I hate it here so much I'm getting hives!"

      "I understand," Sandy says with a wink.

      "Can we continue our conversation another time?" I ask, penn whipped out. (Thanks to the practice from this article, I have become Doc Holliday with a felt-tip.)

      Sandy's number occupies the slot in my cell phone where Brenda Jo's once was. She hasn't called back yet, but I know where she works.

 

PORN SET

     Hitting on a porn star at work doesn't seem inappropriate -- if you haven't been to a porn set.

      These hardbodies are here to do a job -- and I don't just mean of the blow and hand variety. They don't want to think about off-camera sex. And certainly not with extras.

      Extras are actors who don't have sex. Usually, they're friends of crew members who weasel in for a free show. On the porn social ladder, their rung's below the guy who washes off the dildos.

      Today, I'm an extra in an upcoming Jill Kelly production called "Sex and Marriage." It's about a wife who's upset with her husband's lack of interest; I mean, as much as a porno can be ABOUT anything.

      I catch myself sneaking a glimpse of Ashton Moore getting dressed in the trailer, even though in about 20 minutes, she'll be naked in front of me and 10 other guys, receiving a saliva bath from two other actresses.

      "You're such a hot slut, getting your pussy eaten," Ashton will be told by Neveah (Heaven backwards) Ashton, between nipple licks, as Jenna Haze slurps the clam. This is the first time I have seen anything like this without the use of a pause button. Even more of a trip is hitting on these women afterward, as though I hadn't just witnessed the swabbing of their labias.

      "Are you Heaven backwards because you're the opposite of heaven?" I ask Neveah. Things are going well with this blonde 20-year-old until inquiring as to whether she has a boyfriend she works with.

      "He's in Vegas," she says. "Don't make me think about him or I'll cry and ruin my makeup." Haze also has a boyfriend, the cameraman on this shoot. And Ashton Moore is married.

      My only chance is with Cynara Fox, a 22-year-old brunette with two pairs of wet pink lips. We talk about her craft.

      "I don't do anal," she says. "But I do do double vaginal." (Mom, set an extra place at the Seder table!)

      Fox is in my scene. Sight unseen, director Cash Markman cast me as a mobster who buries his accountant alive. One look at me, however, and the casting changes.

      "Nope, you're the accountant!" he says.

      Great. Every 22-year-old girl in porno wants to make it with an accountant.

      The assistant director hog-ties me, then throws me in the trunk of Markman's Buick.

      "By the way, this is a gay bondage video," he jokes. I hope.

      I'm hoisted over to a predug hole in the ground, then shoveled over with dirt from my feet up to my shoulders. Fox accidentally drops my feet.

      "I'm sorry!" she says on the ride home. My stinky shoes and socks are in my hands, which are tipped with black fingernails. My underwear is brown. I smell like a bag of Miracle-Gro potting mix. Yet I have an in.

      I stop checking myself for ticks and begin rubbing my feet, feigning pain.

      "That's OK," I say. "You can make it up to me." My black, rubbing fingers transfer from my feet to her thigh.

      "What's that?" I ask as I trace her snake tattoo.

      "A snake tattoo," she says. She captures my fingers, then delivers a long, lesbian bar-like stare.

      "I can't be with you," Fox says. "I have a girlfriend. And I don't fool around off camera -- unless you're Jude Law or Hugh Jackman."

      I check. I am neither of them. It's time to reveal my secret -- no, not the one about wetting my bed until grade school. Playboy wanted me under cover, so porn stars won't flirt just to try and get a pictorial. (Not only can I not get them a pictorial, I'm lucky if I get a free copy of this issue.)

      Fuck that. "My readers want a happy ending to this article," I say.

      "We can fuck," Fox agrees.

      Apparently, I AM motherfucking Jude Law.

      I shower up in the trailer bathroom, where the soap is buried under a case of douching apparatus. Then I meet Fox in a darkened corner of the soundstage.

      "God, you're beautiful," I say.

      "And you're hot," she says. "I would have totally fucked you, even before I knew who you were."

      This is about as believable as the acting in "Penetrator 2: Grudgefuck Day."

      "But I was thinking about it, and I just can't," Fox says. "I have a reputation right now in the industry as a slut, and doing this wouldn't help."

      Exactly how does one obtain a reputation as a slut in an industry where the nastiest possible sex is had, on camera, for money? And why would that reputation be a bad thing?

      I decide not to try and point out the illogic in her argument. I mean, I had some time to think about it, too, and had Cynara and I done it, for the rest of my life, I would have had tons of explaining -- and STD testing -- to do before most girls would agree to our first date.

  

SINGLE PARENT GROUP

      It's perfectly appropriate to meet other single parents this way -- unless you're only pretending to be one.

      As Hugh Grant noted in "About A Boy," women are more open to sex if they're single parents. They no longer have time to meet guys, and they don't feel sexy smelling like Kool Aid.

      Furthermore, there's little you can do to appear worse than her ex -- at first.

      Unlike Grant, I don't have the budget to buy a car seat for effect. So I improvise. I show up to Single Parent Rapid Dating with a wallet-size of me holding my two-year-old niece, Leah, and a pacifier that strategically falls out of my pocket whenever I reach for the photo.

      "Oh, she's so cute," coos one after another, as I bend down to pick up the pacifier.

      In general, Rapid Dating seems like a good method to meet desperate women. Every five minutes a new one is brought to your table -- not unlike a Thailand trip I once took, which is another Playboy article altogether.

      On a sheet of paper collected by the event organizer, you write down the person's name and circle "YES" if you're interested.

      Honestly, the mamas Grant bagged in the movie were a lot hotter than the ones I saw. Out of 15, only three are doable. I play around with a couple who aren't, telling them my daughter is locked in the car outside.

      "Tell me you're kidding!" says a woman who resembles Roseanne Barr without the fame or money.

      The women tend to ask innocuous questions. ("What's your dream vacation?" "What music do you like?") But after seeing the photo of Leah and me, they can only ask about my fake daughter.

      I tell them Leah's mom didn't want to settle down and give her a proper home.

      "But I did," I say, tears welling. "Oh well, what can you do?"

      This lie is worlds better than pretending to be divorced, which means there's a woman out there who considers me unfuckable. And the beauty is that the supporting details can all come from truth.

      "Leah used to love Bear but now she's getting into Spongebob Squarepants," I tell Gina, an audiologist from Santa Monica.

      Those same details paint me into a corner, however, when I'm asked Leah's birthday by Sharon, a petit blonde attorney.

      "Late February," I say, estimating when I usually send a card.

      "I mean February 26," I correct myself, even though I'm not sure.

      "What's her mom's name?" Sharon asks.

      "Ilana," I say.

      There were already too many lies to keep track of -- especially the one about me being a volunteer big brother -- so I told the truth. Ilana is Leah's mom.

      I can't say for sure, but I think I may have done permanent damage to the area in my brain that stores sexual imagery. I mean, she's cute and everything, but I have just pictured my sister having my baby.

      The bad thing about single moms is that they have more issues than you may want to deal with. During my first phone conversation with Sharon, she yells -- not at me, but her other caller. (I hear the tail end of a loud "asshole" as she clicks back over.)

      "I'm sorry," she says. "I'm in a horrible custody battle with my ex-husband for my son."

      Then again, I'm not in this for the long term. My lie guarantees that. Hugh Grant was only forgiven because it was a movie.

 

BRIDAL SHOP

      My original idea was to crash a wedding and hit on the bride. I'm happy to report that I'm capable of better ideas.

      Hitting on the bride while she's dress-shopping means there's still time to convince her she's chosen the wrong husband, and there's no guys around to beat you up.

      OK, fine. I'm not really expecting success. I just want to see where this one will take me.

      "So when are you getting married?" I ask a 5'10" beauty who has on a flowing beige number under scrutiny by a girlfriend.

      "Do you work here?" the friend asks me. "We have some questions."

      I explain that I don't, but I do have a suggestion for the bride.

    "Maybe she should try someone short, cute and with an incredible set of cajones instead," I say.     

      The bride laughs.

      "Are you for real?" she asks, looking around for Jamie Kennedy or Ashton Kutcher. Her friend yanks her away like a secret service agent.

      "Wait, he's funny," the bride says.

      Funny doesn't get you laid. But I wasn't getting laid here anyway.

      "Renee likes funny guys," the bride tells her friend. "What do you think?"

      This is a discussion about setting me up.

      "I think he looks like the agent from 'The Matrix,'" the friend says. I had just come from my funeral mission, still in the shades and black suit.

      A fat guy with glasses approaches the source of his store's commotion.

"Can I help you, sir?" he asks.

      "Just looking," I answer. But this is not good enough. Drew Carey still hovers.

      "My friend's fiancé is moving here and wants me to check out bridal shops," I elaborate.

      He's not believing this shit. I am politely asked to leave, but not before I drop a business card on my new girlfriends.

      Renee never called. But this proves what can almost happen anywhere.

 

NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS

      "N.A. has more hot chicks than A.A.," says my friend, New York comedian Roy Silverberg, who tagged along for this assignment. "And they're much looser."

      It sounds right. You hear about coke whores, never martini whores.

      Alas, the church-basement meeting we found in Queens was packed with nothing but guys and fat chicks in dirty sweatpants, clutching boxes of candy and fresh cigarette packs begging to be unwrapped during the break.

      You can always spot A.A. or N.A. meetings. Outside, 50 people smoke like Mexican taxi tailpipes, talking about how healthy they feel with their bad habits behind them.

      "Dude, don't call them fat in your article," Roy says. "That's not nice. Call them chubby or jolly."

      So we sit down and this really chubby and jolly chick in front of us offers me a stick of gum. I'm talking REALLY chubby and jolly -- dimpled elbows and a mattress cover for a dress.

      Was my breath bad?

      "No dude, that means she likes you," Roy says. "She's offering you food, the most important thing in her world."

      All new people to the room have to introduce themselves. All eyes fix upon us. They know.

      Next a guest speaker is introduced, a man so desperately addicted he used to carefully hide bags of heroin behind phone booths along his route to work. (That way, even if he hit traffic, he would never have to go without.)

      "Dude, the hottest chick ever just walked in," Roy says, nudging me.

      She sits directly behind me. Roy is off to the side and has a good view. I have to turn 180 degrees. But that's awkward. I get up and fake a bathroom run.

      Roy is right. She is brunette and sparkling in that 18-year-old way, with Carmen Elektra's face and perky B-cups. I nod hello as I sit back down.

      "I'll wait for the break to say hi," I whisper to Roy.

      "No, during the break everyone's hugging each other and shit," Roy responds. "Do it now!"

      The heroin addict has entered catharsis mode. More than 30 pairs of eyes stab into my back, several choking back tears. Just being here without a drug problem is inappropriate enough. Interrupting the meeting to open with a hottie would be over the line.

      "Dude, write her a note," Roy says.

      Good idea. I'm better at writing than talking anyway.

      "Hi I'm Corey. You're ____," I scribble, leaving a space to be filled in. "You're also adorable."

      My U-turn gets only as far a J-turn before the stabbing eyes get me again. These people look like the extras hired to mourn Madonna at the end of "Evita." Even a note pass would be awkward.

      "Give it to me," Roy says. "I'll hand it to her."

      The note is swiftly passed to the gum-offering chubby and jolly woman in front of me.

      "It's from him," Roy says, pointing to me. Talk about getting stabbed in the back.

      "Hi Corey," the woman whispers, remembering my name from before. Her wall of a back jiggles up and down with joy. The last time someone told her she was adorable, she ate bugs from the sandbox.

      Her name is Julia. I know because my note came back with a heart over the "i." During the break, she stares at me like Sylvester at Tweetybird.

      "Sorry, Julia, we have to go now," I say.

      "What do you mean?" Roy says. "We don't have to go anywhere."

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