If there's a phrase you're likely to hear more frequently at singles bars than "What's your sign?" it's "There's got to be a better way to meet people than singles bars."
That's why every so often we see everything from health clubs to laundromats to grocery stores trumpeted as "The Singles Bars of the '80s" in magazines like People or Cosmopolitan or Chain Store Age.
From what I've seen of the intense competition and ultra body consciousness typical of health clubs, they don't strike me as all that different from Orange County singles hangouts ("meat markets," as their patrons affectionately call them) such as the Red Onion and Hoagy Barmichael's.
As for socializing at a laundromat, I suppose you can tell a lot about people from their laundry. I'd tend avoid anyone with a basket of clothes sorted into piles of black, black and black, or that included more than one T-shirt emblazoned with "I Don't Get Mad--I Get Even."
The concept of grocery stores as hip pickup spots could give Stephanie Edwards a whole new angle in her commercials for the Lucky stores. But because I paid for my Cal State Fullerton studies by working as a grocery clerk, I have a tough time thinking of Ralphs or Safeway in those terms. Instead of glancing provocatively over the fresh vegetables when I go to the store, I find myself habitually re--stacking the Cheerios.
But now Orange County has a new entry in the Unconventional Meeting Places Derby.
The folks at the Pacific Symphony have come up with what they call the "Classic Encounters" series of concerts, aimed at music lovers who are single. For $60 to $100, "Classic Encounters" subscribers can buy tickets to a four-concert series at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Considering today's drink prices, I estimate that's the equivalent of one, maybe two visits to one of the county's hot singles spots. It already sounds like a bargain.
In addition to the performances themselves, "Classic Encounters" subscribers are treated to a post-concert reception where, theoretically, they will mingle with other unattached concertgoers.
Of course, this could lead to a whole new caste system, should the nabobs who can afford a top-price orchestra seat decline to mix with the lowlifes in the third tier.
But following clarinetist Richard Stoltzman's recent performance with the symphony, the evening seemed to unfold as advertised in a banquet room at a nearby hotel. Concertgoers mulled over their evening of Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Dvorak while a live jazz combo provided music for a few who took to the dance floor.
And not once did I hear a conversation launched with, "What's your favorite key signature?" or end with, "Would you like to come to my place and see my Stravidarius?"
The idea seems a natural for culturally conscious Orange County, where a newly awakening appreciation of the arts is coupled with a substantial population of upscale, professional unmarrieds. And bringing people together for classical music is a timely and logical extension of a media trend of portraying the fine arts as sexy.
Sigourney Weaver countered the stereotype of classical musicians as drab, bookish types with her role as a beautiful and sexy cellist in "Ghostbusters."
And earlier this year in "The Witches of Eastwick," Susan Sarandon played another attractive cellist who engaged in a sensual and fiery--literally--duet with Jack Nicholson's charmingly devilish violin virtuosity.
Does a highbrow event like the symphony really guarantee any more stimulating an encounter than you'd expect in your average singles snake pit? Maybe not, but judging from all the smartly dressed women and sharply dressed men at the "Classic Encounters" reception I attended, it does effectively cut down on the riffraff.
Indeed, one woman said she had taken a lone subscription to a concert series for the first time in her life because she was fed up with the usual singles gatherings where "most people don't know the difference between an oboe and a tuba."
Still, I couldn't help thinking of "Play It Again Sam," in which Woody Allen attempts to pick up a woman in an art gallery by charmingly commenting: "That's a lovely Jackson Pollock--what does it say to you?"
The woman replies that it symbolizes the degradation of the human spirit in a bleak, godless universe and then announces she's committing suicide on Saturday. "What are you doing Friday?" he immediately asks.
Pacific Symphony executive director Louis Spisto, who masterminded the "Classic Encounters" program, admits that the campaign is just an encouragement to subscribers and that its success will depend more on the music presented by conductor Keith Clark & Co. than on the receptions afterward.
In other words, if you strike out, blame Stravinsky.