A Recollection by Stephen A. Schrum
(With names changed just in case...)
I am a fairly social person. I enjoy hosting dinner parties and barbecues, and attending the same. I enjoy the company of others in many forms, and have several very good and close friends, though they are scattered all over the United States. At the same time, as part of my Gemini/Cancer cusp traits, and probably resulting from a childhood that often had me supplying my own entertainment, without others to play with, I can also be quite content on my own, reading, playing a computer games, doing solitary hiking, or watching a movie on TV.
Perhaps because of the latter, I find it hard to understand those who need the company of others: those who seek the noisy environments of small bars where everyone knows their names, or-worse yet, by my standards-those who join groups whose sole purpose is to provide society for those who are "joiners." From two experiences visiting such social occasions I, apparently, do not fit into this category.
The first of the two experiences transpired one summer in the early 1980's. Home from my large university, I volunteered to help with the summer theatre workshop at the small local college from which I had transferred. B.R., an adjunct instructor at the college, agreed to let me design the sets and direct two of the scenes. The show, Lovers and Other Strangers, by Renee Taylor and Joseph Bologna, presented tales of people in various stages of courtship and relationships: a young man bringing a pick-up home; a fiancé having last-minute second thoughts; a couple undergoing marital problems; and a young man returning to live with his parents after the break-up of his marriage.
The casting of the show requires some elaboration. In the first scene, we cast my high school friend J., the very antithesis of the pick-up artist. In another scene, my close friend M. played the young fiancée. The rest of the cast included acquaintances from past shows, but the most noteworthy was a history professor at the college in the role of the father. In real life, his son had charmed a young woman-of whom I was very much in love-away to Texas, to live in a school bus, before her graduation.
The father was himself divorced, and attended a weekly singles group. I won't mention the name of the group, since I believe it still exists (or did at the time of this writing), and still meets on the grounds of a local private school. In any case, he decided it would be a good marketing idea, given the topic of the play, to bring members of the singles group to the show. The group would provide us with a built-in audience. Then we, members of the production group, would go to the Sunday evening meeting after the show closed, to lead a discussion about the play.
In an effort not to be just a place for singles to mingle as a prelude to sex, the club operated in this manner: people would arrive, register, pay the fee, and put on their nametags. That entitled one to drink non-alcoholic punch and sit at the picnic tables in the school's dining room. After the registration period, the members split up into small discussion groups of 8 to 10 people each. Some hard-hitting topic would be introduced, with conversation to follow. The intention, I assume, was to put the proceedings on a more intellectual level. Once the discussion ended, there would be dancing, so you could get closer with the person or persons who most closely matched your opinions during the discussion.
We, the traveling players, arrived en masse, and managed to get in free, since the history prof had arranged for us to be "guests." However, we still had to wear nametags. This occurred during my rebellious period when I found nametags tantamount to being branded. I often secured them in odd places (on a rear pocket, or over my belt buckle), but tonight I went along with the convention: left side of the chest. I even refrained from using variant spellings of my name ("Stiv," being a favorite).
As we sat sipping the Hawaiian Punch, with no unnatural preservatives added, and waited for the discussion portion of the program, I glanced around to see what the singles club had to offer. I immediately made a series of empirical observations:
1) At 22, I was one of the youngest people there.
2) The attendees sat divided by gender, men on one side, the women on the other, very much like a junior high school dance.
3) In spite of it being a weekly event, the attendees didn't seem to know each other, or didn't interact very much.