"We should probably meet for a drink first." That was the consensus as I arranged for myself and two friends to attend the "Rescue Me" fireman singles party Wednesday night at a bar on the Bowery.
All of us are single, but none of us go to singles events on a regular basis. Still, I found something alluring about a party in which the only men in attendance were firefighters, and convinced T. and H. to tag along.
T., who usually goes for crunchy, hippie types, had absolutely no interest in meeting anyone and was convinced the entire thing would be cheesy. She showed up in jeans. H. and I were slightly more excited, wearing dresses and wedges and fluffing our hair in the bathroom of a bar down the street before we headed over.
As we approached the location, the doorman clarified: FDNY event? We nodded yes. A handsome, hunky guy standing off to the side teased, "You don't look like firemen." We laughed. And then he followed us in. It was the first — and for me, the last — flirtation of the evening.
When we checked in, we were given a sheet of questions intended to be ice-breakers. It seemed like it would be easy enough to make the rounds, asking questions.
Once inside, it was clear that the odds were pretty bad.
"What's the ratio?" I frowned at H.
"60/40? Not in our favor."
As our eyes swept over the faces in the crowded bar, we saw men — all clean-cut, short-haired or bald, all in dress shirts or casual western shirts — surrounded by women. Often there were three or four women circling one man; sometimes it seemed that there were as many as ten women around two men. Almost all of the guys were built — strong, thick-necked, muscular — and a few seemed a little over-developed. T. had a look of disdain on her face as she surveyed one particularly steroid-ish dude.
"That guy's boobs are bigger than mine. I kind of want to be like, oh I love your muscles," she said, clearly finding him (and his tweezed eyebrows) ridiculous. "I'm so glad this is not speed dating — I don't have to smile." She sighed. "I think I was picturing handle bar mustaches." There were no handlebar mustaches to be found.
I looked down, saw condoms on the floor, and decided more drinks were in order. H. went to the bar; I went to the loo. The conversation amongst the ladies there was hair-related.
"She's smart and everything, but her bangs!" One said.
"Her bangs are a mess," another agreed.
Back in the crowd, I found T. with a fairly adorable, dimpled new firefighter who'd informed her that a Class C fire was electrical. He'd just recently taken his exams and it was all fresh. "Two of my bosses are here," he said, looking vaguely uncomfortable.
As he drifted away, T. sighed. "If I brought that guy home my mom would be so happy." He was not her type. None of them were. H. brought drinks over and we scanned the crowd again: Clusters of women, all long hair, long lashes and big smiles, crushed together around solid, beefy men. It was hard to find someone to talk to, since every man seemed already occupied. We moved to the back room, where it was a bit cooler and less crowded, and T. approached a rogue loner. I could only hear snippets of their conversation:
"Does your company have a Dalmatian?"
"If you saw a cat in a tree would you get it down?"
"I teach hot Bikram yoga."
Wait, what? She'd found a fireman who taught yoga?
Just then I saw a guy stand up on a banquette and fist pump for a couple of seconds and then sit down again.
After a while, we noticed that some of the dudes had round orange stickers on their shirts. I asked one man what it was. "Someone gave it to me. You're supposed to give a dot to the guy you like the best, and he wins a prize or something," he said. We'd received no stickers. I went to the check-in table and procured some. When I found H. and T. again, T. was explaining how she was ending up talking to so many guys: "The key is to be super drunk and not give a shit."
T. also told us about a gentleman who'd stopped her as she was coming back from the ladies room: "He asked me if I played basketball. I said yeah, even though I don't. He said are you good and I said sure. He said, 'We'll play; I'll take you home and beat the shit out of you.' I said that is not a good pick up line."
The music got louder: Hey I heard you were a wild one… and some ladies pounced on a pole-dancing pole to the left of the bar, whooping it up and taking photos. H. said, "I'm just so fascinated by these mating rituals." T. agreed: "As an anthropology major, this is very informative." I was listening, but also looking around for someone to give my sticker to.
Time passed. We drifted in and out of rooms, separating and then coming back together, with anecdotes:
"He had a really thick Eastern European accent, and she was like, where are you from? He said Brooklyn."
"One guy said to the other guy, I'm fucking wasted, and the guy goes, Really? Because you've had two drinks."
"I said, I thought it was a fireman pole, I thought guys were gonna slide down that pole. He said, 'If they get drunk enough who knows what could happen.'"
H. informed me that she'd made friends with the doorman, who'd told her that he'd worked a lot of singles events and the firemen were definitely the most polite. "He says the Wall Street guys are rude assholes, like, 'Why do I have to wait in line?'"
"You guys," I said, "It's quarter to ten and I haven't given my dot to anyone." I had my eyes on the handsome man we'd seen outside on our way in. "I want him to have my sticker." They sent me off with some encouraging words, and I found myself alone with him, by the door.
"Hey," I said. "I haven't given anyone my dot, but you're the only one I would give my dot to."
"That's a compliment," he said, stating the obvious.
I asked him where his station was, I told him I used to live in that neighborhood. The exchange lasted ninety seconds, tops; then he said: "You're going to have to excuse me," and walked away. I'd been ditched.
I went looking for my friends and found H. sitting with T. and the yoga teacher. He and I hadn't been properly introduced. "I'm Mark," he told me. He had a deep Queens accent; it sounded like "Mok." As T. and Mok discussed music and minor 80s movie stars, I tried to think about the concept of being interested in a man solely based on his job. Of course there's the uniform. There is something about a man in uniform, especially a military and firefighter uniforms: Power. Respect. Honor. Sometimes in New York you'll see a clutch of firefighters shopping in the supermarket together, muscles flexing as they reach into the meat freezer. It's easy to picture them cooking dinner together, dining together, laughing, all while knowing that at any minute they may have to drop everything and march into leaping flames. It's inexplicably hot.
Being a firefighter isn't just any job, of course — it comes loaded with a lot of qualities that are traditionally associated with males and masculinity: danger, adventure, bravery. For decades, little boys nationwide dreamed of being firemen when they grew up. In post 9/11 New York, , firefighters have an even more elevated status. (The calendar alone is legendary.) Basically, signing up for the singles party is signing on for mingling with heroes. Exciting for anyone, maybe, but perhaps even more appealing to a woman with a desk job. It's a very conventional trope at work — the big strong man who can save you — and maybe, the modern twist is that the woman doesn't need saving, but craves that feeling anyway. Or likes knowing that he could save her, if she needed him to. Obviously the name of the event — "Rescue Me" — is a play on an ancient damsel in distress narrative, but in today's dating scene, a lady could dream of being rescued from the single life. Maybe if you spend all day kicking ass at work, you know you're strong, but you want someone to turn to when you're feeling weak. Wanting someone to look after you is different than needing someone to do so. There's an episode of Buffy in which she, the most badass of all badasses, says to a vampire named Spike, "Will you just hold me?"
Soon we were all ready to go. Mok walked us out to find a cab and exchanged numbers with T., the one who didn't dress up and who didn't give a shit. "Well, that was… interesting," I said. We were all laughing in the back of the taxi as we headed uptown; H. joked, "Maybe I'm more of a cop girl."
This morning, T. informed me she'd gotten a late-night message from Mok.
"He asked if I got home safe," she texted.