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Frenzy in the Aisles--or, When Squeezing a Juicy Tomato Is OK

August 18, 1987|BILL MANSON

ENCINITAS — It's just one of those evenings. Picture this in your local supermarket: A shriek rings out at the fruit department. Two lines of young men and women grab at oranges, bananas and melons and pass them down the chain, from one to the other between their legs, under their chins, between their elbows. A roaring crowd is cheering the race on.

Two aisles over, between the freezer chests, another group has set up paper towels like ninepins and is bowling toilet paper rolls at them.

Up near the deli a woman is racing around waving a card and shouting, "Romeo! Romeo! Wherefore art thou?" Or words to that effect.

Sound unfamiliar? Well, it could be coming to your supermarket soon, if last Friday's experiment catches on.

A supermarket singles night.

It is largely the creation of Mindy Goss, a North County public relations consultant. Or rather, it is her clients' adoption of a concept already well-tried back East. For once, a crazy idea is coming to California, not from it. Supermarket singles nights have become regular monthly events, especially in the Midwest, where 2,000 to 3,000 singles turn the grocery aisles into social avenues that replace liquor, low lights and loud music with boisterous teen-type evenings of flirtation through parlor games.

It's almost Victorian in concept. Yet, right now, east of the Rockies, it is very in, very cool. The idea is to stage familiar events in unfamiliar surroundings; to provide snacks and soft drinks with plenty of games and prizes, and to do everybody, including the supermarket, a bit of good.

With Goss, the idea was one step wider. She had two clients, a North County food store, Casady's, and a dating service, Successful Singles. About a month ago, talk among the three suddenly coalesced into the idea. Why not combine singles service and the supermarket and emulate those success stories Back East?

Friday evening begins quietly enough. Sponsor K-Lite radio sets up its giant "Lite" bulb outside Casady's, a haven for unwaxed apples, unsprayed veggies, wild honey and cashew-nut butters. By 7 p.m., Rick Rockwell, "Skippy" of TV's "San Diego At Large" fame, and Pam Finn of K-Lite were ready to roll.

The age range is surprising. Real young people aren't here. It's 25 to, well, 65 and beyond. The social spectrum encompasses advertising execs, realtors, some of North County's followers of the Bhagwan Rajneesh.

"OK, everybody," booms the mike. "It's party time! Look at the name on your card you got when you came in. I want the first Fawn Hall and Ollie North who can find each other to come to me here and collect two sa-weat shirts!"

And suddenly, the evening takes off. For sure, the non-threatening atmosphere of the supermarket helps. This is no deep-breathing partner-search. People are learning to be kids again. To play. The aisles are scurrying with people calling a dozen names.

"Any Ollies?"

"I gotta find a Tammy!"

"My name's Chuck. Who am I supposed to be looking for?" Up comes this 65-ish woman. Her intro tag says "Blanche/Juliet/Hot/ No. 9" (which are: real name/match name/opposite quality/number).

"You Romeo by any chance?"

Juliet turns out to be a merry widow who lives in the neighborhood.

"Don't worry about me," she says. "I'm just cruisin'. Always cruising. I'm here for nothing but fun. Cruising. That's what I do! Been on four (cruises) since my husband died. Next I'm going to Panama. But this is great, isn't it? Just what North County needs. My husband and I moved up here after 42 years in San Diego. Soon as we got here, he died. I didn't know a soul. This is the kind of thing they need. Uh, excuse me, I've got to find my Romeo."

The mikes announce a game of "opposites."

"Hey, anybody," calls a younger woman. "I'm Oil. What's the opposite of oil? Water? Vinegar? Lava soap?"

Eight Marriages

"This is fabulous," says Terry-Sue Berg, the president of Successful Singles. "Who knows what tonight will produce? Since we've been operating we've already had eight marriages."

A 6-foot fake-feathered robin waltzes by just as the "Friendly Fun with the Fruit Line" is getting under way. Rick Rockwell, who's starring in the soon-to-be-released film "Return of the Killer Tomatoes" as a black-market tomato racketeer (specialty: "Acapulco Red"), has them lined up on each side of the fresh fruit tables. At the top end, two baskets of assorted fruits. At the other, two empty buckets.

"Now remember," he says, "no hands."

Team 2 wins. Lisa/Lucy/Hot/ No.2 was on the other team. She's not worried. She's a single mother in her late 20s who's only just come out of the isolation of bearing and rearing a first child alone. For coming out of the cold, she credits Berg.

"She's great. She has a child suffering from a brain tumor, so she knows what it's about. She says you've got to force yourself to get out and meet people. She doesn't like the video approach. Too separating, cold. She makes you get out there, one on one, like here.

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