Everyone knows that people who hang out near the food at a party fall into two groups: they’re either socially awkward or hungry. Last Friday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, I fell into the latter category, but I met someone who didn’t. “So, have you tried one of these yet?” he asked, holding up a chocolate cookie the size of a nickel. We were standing at the buffet table at the museum’s First Fridays event and he was groping for conversation.

“You wear glasses,” he noted, wringing his hands. Now there’s a pickup line for ya. He wasn’t bad-looking–big, pretty eyes, salt-and-pepper hair–but he seemed supernervous and wouldn’t stop talking even though it was clear, at least to one of us, that this was gonna end badly. “I wear glasses and I have astigmatism,” he said. Note: he wasn’t wearing glasses. I slid my glasses to the top of my head, hoping he’d get the hint. “Are you nearsighted or farsighted?” he asked as I wandered off.

First Fridays is ingeniously packaged as a high-minded art extravaganza, where for roughly the same price as admission during regular hours you get to walk around the museum between 6 and 10 PM on the first Friday of every month (the same night lots of galleries have openings), sample mozzarella sticks and chicken wings from Puck’s, and drink booze from a cash bar. But underneath that good-for-you artsy facade is a tawdry meatfest packed with twenty- to thirtysomething singles in Prada shoes and stylish glasses, all covered in a thin, grimy film of desperation.

The museum’s own PR for the event provides a couple of hints about its true nature. “Get your Mac on at our G5 iMac digital matchmaking station,” says the MCA Web site, referring to a program designed by a Columbia College digital-media class that color-codes your personality according to how you respond to images of, say, a do not enter sign, or a rainbow viewed from the inside of a car. You get a little colored dot to stick on your shirt, and there’s a chart in the middle of the foyer that tells you which colors you’re compatible with. (I’m “Charismatic Blue,” by the way: “Parties and social events are a specialty of yours.” Spooky.)

Usually that’s about as blatant as the hookup side of the evening gets, but this being February, the MCA had to play the V-Day card. In one corner a few banquet tables were loaded with construction paper, stickers, markers, and scissors so people could make their own valentines–which, OK, is kinda cute. When you walked in, you were handed a badge with a number and a suggestive phrase (new love, my baby, loverboy, etc). If someone wanted to talk to you, instead of approaching you like a grown-up (or inquiring about your ocular health), they could leave a note for you at the coat check. If the dry-erase board next to it had your number on it, you had a message. The coat check was swamped all night.

I meandered over to the message center at ten minutes to closing time and saw about 30 people huddled around the board, hoping, hoping their number would show up. It was a low point in hookup history. Enough of this matchmaking malarkey, I decided. I grabbed a bunch of little pink message slips and started writing notes to people I saw milling about, signing them from fake numbers. To a guy wearing a bright white zip-up cardigan: “White after Labor Day–BOLD!” To a woman in a tight top that accentuated her large breasts: “Nice tits!” To a serious-looking man with his arms folded in front of him: “Why so cross?” To a curly-haired woman who hungrily searched the message board every three minutes, only to walk away forlornly every time, I scribbled the helpful “Last-minute love? I’m a lesbo.”

Later, at a birthday celebration for John Dal Santo–who’s known for the parties he and his roommates keep throwing in their Wicker Park loft no matter how many times the cops bust them, and for his sleazy, girlfriend-stealing alter ego, Johnny Love–I stole a bottle of cheap sauvignon blanc that tasted like mustard. The scene there was no less strained than the one at the MCA. The only lighting was a red strobe shining on a disco ball overhead, which made it feel like the first real rave I’ve been to since I was 17; Johnny kept pouring champagne all over everyone as he danced on a window ledge; and, subtlest of all, girls paid admission on a sliding scale according to how much clothing they were wearing–several young ladies were dancing around in their bras and panties.

Come on, people. I know it’s almost Valentine’s Day, but you can’t force these things.

Saturday night I was lying in bed reading the latest issue of V magazine, still recuperating from the previous night’s events, when my celly rang with a 630-area-code number I didn’t recognize. “Hi,” a man said affably. “A friend gave me your number. I heard you do some acting?”

Though the man hadn’t identified himself, I was curious. “Sometimes,” I said. “Why?”

He told me he was in charge of casting a new reality show to be shot in Aruba and that the friend (mine or his?) said I’d be good for it, and asked that I describe my acting experience.

I asked him to tell me more about his project first.

“It’s an all-female cast. We’re just looking for fun party girls who like hanging out with girls–”

I interrupted him. “It sounds too sexy for me. Thanks, but I’m not interested.”

His voice suddenly turned menacing. “I didn’t even finish telling you what it was about, you dickhead!”

I hung up. For some people, the world is divided into two groups: “fun party girls” and “dickheads.” In one phone call, I’d jumped categories. I was oddly proud.

I checked online the next day, and sure enough, I found a listing on Craigslist for the casting call: “We need the most pretty females in the area to cast a all girl reality show this summer. It will be on location in Aruba, and will be tons of fun. If you like other females, this is the project for you.”

Let’s think about that pitch for a second. What stands out? “If you like other females”–huh?

Perhaps anticipating this reaction, the ad goes on to say that there’s no nudity. No acting experience is required. “Be yourself, and be lots of fun. We hope the pilot gets picked up by Spike or Playboy.” And it pays $7,500 for three weeks of work, “up to 70k in residuals” if the show gets picked up by a major network.

“We will meet soon and discuss the details of the show in person,” says the ad. Well, no, thanks. I like other females just fine, but like I said, you can’t force these things.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Beno.