Things get hot, hot, hot, at party

Mixer lures singles looking for love

December 13, 2003|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,SUN STAFF

Michele Bleech, a 29-year-old sales rep with McNeil Pharmaceuticals, was sent home early from work on Thursday -- with orders to go buy herself a dress. But not just any dress.

"My boss said I have to show legs," explained Bleech, who plunked down $179 at Gia & Company for "a black chiffon number with spaghetti straps."

That "number" wasn't needed to help close a million-dollar Tylenol sale. Bleech's boss simply wanted her to have, um, a leg up on the dating competition at Baltimore magazine's "Hot Singles" party, held Thursday evening at the Walters Art Museum.

It was raw and rainy outside, but heat-wave conditions prevailed inside the Walters. Blame it on social friction, on the energy generated when the two sexes are drawn together. More than 500 unattached men and women paid $65 apiece -- cash only, please -- to commingle with the magazine's 45-member Class of 2003 Hot Singles.

The museum was an ideal venue, since its current featured exhibit, Eternal Egypt, includes several sculptures of Hathor the love goddess. Those ancient Egyptians were a lustful bunch. They believed sex was even part of the afterlife ... which Baltimore bashers would contend is how far discriminating city singles may have to extend their search for a suitable mate.

Max Weiss, one of two editors at the magazine who culled the herd of several hundred potential hot singles, wants to showcase people she and her readers "would like to spend time with." Worthy candidates must possess three qualities: attractiveness, charisma and an interesting job. But this being Baltimore, Weiss is willing to compromise. "Two out of three ain't bad," she said.

That hot-singles theme is a bit dicey, if not oxymoronic. After all, this is a town that downplays pretense and chic. Eccentric Singles, sure. Singles You'd Most Like to Be Trapped in an Elevator With, yeah. Baltimore's Hot Singles? That's a questionable premise, as brazen in its own way as Ocean City submitting a bid to be host of the Winter Olympics.

Nan Rohrer agreed, and she's one of the 2003 Hot Singles. Rohrer, 29, works for the City Department of Parks and Recreation, and relocated two years ago from Atlanta. She's outgoing and outspoken. A spunk machine.

"This is Baltimore, sweetie," Rohrer observed during the thick of the Walters gala. "I never would have made Atlanta's Hottest People."

Still, being a Baltimore Hot Single is a badge of distinction, especially given that part of the reason for throwing a formal celebration is to allow Ordinary Singles to meet (as in "hit on") 2003 Hot Singles -- and vice versa.

This was combat flirting. The handful of Hot Singles who were given full-page-photo treatment must have felt like 10-point bucks on the opening day of hunting season. Michele Bleech was a prime target: She landed the feature's opening spread; choice real estate, the equivalent of owning the boardwalk in a Monopoly game.

Bleech admitted to feeling a "little nervous" about the fuss. But she also hasn't had a serious relationship in four years. Partners are much harder to find than black dresses: "This is Michele we're dealing with here. I'm picky because this is me." She insisted she doesn't expect perfection, just something "pretty darn close."

As singles gatherings go, this one was palpably intense. Witness Michael Bogdanski, a 26-year-old software engineer and Hot Single, who announced to Max Weiss upon arriving at the Walters: "I'm not here to play Tiddlywinks."

Dining and dancing took place in the museum's Renaissance Sculpture Court, where the acoustics are on a par with those of an empty gymnasium. Complete-sentence conversations were all but impossible, lost in the cacophony of rebounding sounds: WHAT what DID did YOU you SAY say?

It was the Night of a Thousand Snap Judgments. And a reminder that life is nothing but a figurative continuation of high school. We never graduate. Insecurities stick with us -- How's my hair? Did I just say something really dumb? -- squares of toilet paper stuck to the shoes of our better selves. Dreams, large and small, are as elusive now as they were 20 or 30 years ago. That Perfect First Impression. That Perfect Date. Perfect Job. Perfect Happiness.

It's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory ...

As time goes by, you find yourself even scrutinizing the marble inhabitants of Renaissance Sculpture Court. For instance, 18th-century French writer Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle: hawk nose, weak upper lip, receding hairline.

Loser.

Pietra Francavilla's full-size, anatomically correct statue of Apollo: strong, silent type; nice abs.

Definitely a Hot Single.

Shortly after 11 o'clock, the bar closed. The band packed up. The house lights went on. The bubble burst.

Michael Bogdanski, who had bought a suit for the occasion, slipped off into the night, hand in hand with a new-found woman friend.

Jaime White, a nurse at Hopkins Hospital, had come hunting for a specific Hot Single. She walked laps around the museum all night, searching for him. White finally found her quarry -- but too late: He was surrounded by "a harem." She never got to fire a shot and introduce herself.

Michele Bleech went home with four phone numbers. Quality guys. There may be more to come. Her Hot Single reputation is spreading. Bleech said she just received a very interesting e-mail invitation: "A matchmaking service in Philadelphia wants me to participate in a bachelorette charity auction."

Time to buy a new dress?

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