AT FIRST GLANCE, MY BLIND DATE for the afternoon -- a guy named Joe Troise -- didn't look as boring as he'd described himself over the phone. "I'm the dullest guy I know," Joe had said, just before launching into a 20-minute riff on his twin passions -- the Bowling Hall of Fame and any television show that features his dream girl, Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Oops, sorry, must have dozed off there for a minute.
Anyway, after Joe suggested we meet at the checkout counter of a local supermarket and stand in line together -- "It's one of my favorite things to do" -- he offered some clues as to how I might recognize him: "Just look for an average-looking guy wearing a gray polyester suit, a clip-on tie and bowling shoes."
I had no trouble spotting Joe in the supermarket -- the book he was carrying, "Dare to Be Dull," was a dead giveaway. It also proved to be a tip-off to what lay ahead: lunch in the cafeteria of a downtown office building -- "The best, just the best, macaroni and cheese in town," he raved -- and then a trip out to the airport to watch the planes take off and land.
We capped off the day by sharing a taxi ride back to the city with a Mexican family from Brownsville, Texas. Joe told them all about the history of Calvin Coolidge who, as it turned out, was Joe's favorite president. He followed up with a critique of all the films starring Karl Malden, his favorite actor.
If you're wondering why I'm obsessing about Joe Troise, the reason is simple: I just read that July is National Anti-Boredom Month. And even though my date with Joe was a few years back, I always think of him whenever I encounter the word "boredom."
Joe, for your information, was the founder and president of the International Dull Men's Club -- a loosely organized group that claimed to speak for millions of American men -- and I was the reporter assigned to investigate just how dull he was.
So. Just how dull was he?
Well, Joe Troise was s-o-o-o-o dull he turned out to be interesting.
And here's the really scary part: Before the afternoon was over, some of the things Joe said actually started to make sense to me. Things like:
"You know, the dull and boring are the unrecognized majority among us. These are the modest and hard-working people who perform the necessary functions to keep us going. It's the dull who fix our cars, type our reports, collect our garbage. If all the dull people were to go on strike, the country would come to a standstill."
And this on trends: "We dull and boring men are willing to eschew trendiness. We snap our fingers in contempt at men's bikini underwear and gold neck chains and bizarre health foods that taste lousy. We like lime Jell-O and tuna melts."
In other words, once I got past the startling news that Joe Troise's reversible polyester jacket was gray on both sides, I began to see that here was a man who, for all his so-called dullness, was willing to sit down and be counted. "Boring, dull people are people who are not always tooting their own horn," he said modestly.
But there was an edge of pride in his voice when he spoke of not having to be one of those people who seek out exotic vacations just so they can brag about how humid it is in the Amazon rain forest. Joe Troise vacations, instead, with the group he formed: Club Dead.
"We take safe and predictable vacations together," he told me as we stood in a mall watching a waitress operate a cappuccino machine. "We don't push anybody. Members of Club Dead don't even have to talk to anyone if they don't want to. We have a fleet of recently repaired 'Lazyliner' motor coaches, all of which are glass-bottomed for your sightseeing pleasure."
By day's end I found myself oddly attracted to Joe Troise. I think I detected a spark of interest from him, too. As we parted, he asked whether I'd like to go on an upcoming Club Dead tour of bottling plants. It was tempting, but I said no.
Another guy -- an un-boring guy, for instance -- might have felt rejected, but not Joe. I can see him now, happily whistling "Three Blind Mice" as he headed for a hotel where he planned to sit in the lobby and watch people as they checked in.
Calvin Coolidge, Karl Malden, Dwight Eisenhower, Walter Mondale, Mr. Rogers, Joe Troise. The Boring Guys Hall of Fame. They don't make them like that anymore.