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Breaking the ice, along with small-talk rules

Tell

February 02, 2006|Dallas Nicole Woodburn | Special to The Times

IT isn't a blind date, but it's close. I met Mike a week ago in Spanish class and have only seen him twice since. Then today, after class, he asks me to lunch. He's cute and friendly, so I say yes.

At the entrance to the USC dining hall, we are intercepted by a woman with a smile and a clipboard. Little did Mike and I know that this seemingly innocuous encounter would catapult our fledgling relationship over the common first-date stages of small talk and mindless gossip, giving us instead a vivid picture of what might happen if couples skipped straight to the tough stuff.

"Would you two mind taking a short survey?" Miss Clipboard asks. Mike and I look at each other and shrug. "Sure," he replies. She beams: "Thank you. I'll ask you a few questions and you can answer together verbally. OK?"

"OK," we say in unison. I wait for the first question, expecting it to be something about my voting patterns or Internet use or my opinion -- "two sticky thumbs down!" -- on the dining hall's soy barbecue ribs.

"Which of the following do you consider to be casual sex?" Miss Clipboard asks. She is thoughtful enough to give us a list of options. However, it would have been more thoughtful of her to give me a paper bag to put over my head.

"The choices are," Miss Clipboard offers, "A) a one-night stand; B) friends-with-benefits; C) sex after drinking; D) sex before marriage."

I search for the answer in the dining hall ceiling to keep my gaze away from Mike -- who, meanwhile, is busy looking out the window at flying Frisbees and footballs and everything else but me. "Ummmm ..." he says.

"Can we put down more than one answer?" I ask.

"Of course," Miss Clipboard says. "There is no right or wrong response."

Easy for her to say.

Mike, perspiring as if he just swallowed six jalapeno peppers, seems to believe it is his manly duty to offer an answer. Still avoiding my gaze, he says, "Um, how about A, B and C?"

"Yeah," I agree, before Miss Clipboard has even circled "A."

We stumble through questions about birth control, the effects of alcohol on sexual encounters and society's perspective on casual sex. Then comes the final, million-dollar zinger: "Do you believe casual sex is OK? Yes or no."

"Ummm ..." I mumble, sneaking a look at Mike; he sneaks a look at me. We simultaneously avert our gazes to our suddenly interesting shoe tops. Neither of us wants to be the first to answer, because I know he is thinking the same thing I am: What if I answer no, and he says yes? Or if I say yes, and he says no?

Miss Clipboard grows impatient. "It's a simple question," she says. "Yes or no."

We finally allow that while neither of us is OK with having casual sex ourselves, if others want to do it, that's fine for them.

"That's all," Miss Clipboard says. "Thanks for your time."

I practically sprint into the safety of the dining hall with Mike close behind. As we sit, our lunch "date" starts as awkwardly as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal riding together for 18 floors in an elevator.

But before too long we are able to carry on a conversation, which in my opinion is pretty remarkable under the circumstances. Then again, maybe not: After all, what more do we have to lose? I find myself less worried than I usually am about saying the wrong thing -- and, in turn, I'm able to relax.

I mean, the guy already knows my sexual habits and opinions. Will he really care if I have different taste in movies or root for the Angels instead of the Dodgers?

Indeed, we skip over much of the awkward first-date chatter and instead venture into otherwise taboo -- yet oh-so-interesting -- topics such as religion and politics. When you've already shattered first-date rules with sex talk, why not go all the way and actually have an opinionated conversation?

When we head out of the dining hall nearly an hour later, Miss Clipboard is still there, searching for her next victims. Despite trying to hide our faces behind our trays like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie ducking the paparazzi, she flags us down.

"Hey, you two." she says. "I forgot to get your contact info -- we're going to have discussions about the survey, and you're welcome to join in."

I consider feigning deafness, but Mike gives in and offers his e-mail address -- albeit one as fake as Meg Ryan's orgasm in the restaurant scene in "When Harry Met Sally."

"Thursday night at the quad!" the woman calls after us. "Seven o'clock!"

Mike glances at me, smiling slightly. "So, whaddaya think?" he asks. "Soy barbecue ribs for dinner and a sex talk afterward?"

I laugh. "Sounds like a perfect second date to me."

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