Most women in New York, whether they want to admit it or not, know that dating here revolves around fantasy: the fantasy that the underwear model you’re eyeing across the room might possibly know who Heidegger is, or that the promising surgical resident you’ve been dating for two months won’t max out his Visa after buying his next MetroCard. Although I’m not much of a sports fan, my most recent dating fantasy-which developed as much of New York City and the rest of the world obsessed about the World Cup-began with a game of soccer.
I was at my gym on the cross trainer a few weeks ago when I came across a World Cup game on the mini TV: Portugal vs. South Korea. I was about to switch channels when the camera zoomed in on the faces of a bunch of men from the Portuguese team trotting onto the field. I was brought up short at the sight of them and then turned my attention to the big 30-inch bolted to the wall for confirmation.
It was true. The players were beyond stunning. I noted their chiseled faces, striking eyes and exquisite bodies with awe. “What is this?” I asked myself, wondering if I had stumbled upon some genetically manufactured sports franchise. It was as if God had amassed the best aesthetic attributes he had created since the dawn of time, shouted “Here!” and hefted them all onto one soccer team. The players, impossibly sinewy and cut, ran tirelessly about the field-hair tousling, legs pumping, looking gorgeous and camera-ready all the while.
I saw the game in its entirety. That was how I began, early mornings, to watch World Cup games while I exercised. It didn’t take me long to discover that most of the players for the other teams also had inordinately good looks.
In the midst of leg curls one morning, watching David Beckham score another goal, I got an idea. What better place to meet an athletic foreign guy than by watching a World Cup game at the local bar? It always seemed that it was foreigners who were attracted to the game. This was a plus, since I’d grown weary of American men my age-in their 30’s-most of whom seemed to be undergoing some twisted, premature midlife crisis and were henceforth fixated on screwing 21-year-olds.
When I got home, I called my friend Paul, who’d been watching the games at a bar in the East Village. We arranged to meet at 7:00 the following morning to watch Spain vs. Ireland. I went to bed pleased that night, imagining the man I hoped to meet in mere hours: dark-haired , 6-foot-1, multilingual, built both in body and intellect.
When I arrived at our meeting spot, Paul and his two friends, a young Spanish couple, were already there, swaying on the corner like drunk bobblehead dolls. While I had slept, showered and had ample time to coordinate my outfit-sexy yet casual in a punk, I-don’t-mind-shots-of-Jack-before-8-a.m. sort of way-Paul and friends hadn’t gone to bed, having watched the Sweden vs. Senegal game at 2:30 that morning.
At the bar, there was a doorman and a small group standing out front, which meant we had to wait until some people left. Was my man inside conversing in Spanish and French with his pals, sipping Guinness, I wondered? The city was just rising and the neighborhood still felt serene. A bakery truck idled across the street making morning deliveries, and a young Mexican guy sleepily hosed down the sidewalk in front of a deli.
Twenty minutes later, the bar’s door shot open and a group of people scuttled out like cockroaches, running drunkenly in all directions, shouting and yelping and slapping their hands to their eyes like Lot’s children in response to the nuclear-bright sunlight. We went in. The place was crowded like the D.M.V. on a Thursday afternoon, but it was electric. There were foreign men, to be sure-brogues and Castillian Spanish abounded-but all eyes were glued to the game. Worse, people weren’t making eye contact; the only homage being paid was to the blue TV gods scattered across the room.
What I had forgotten about the World Cup was what a high-stakes game it is. A losing team can find its country plundered overnight, its populace driven to the brink of senility, while winning teams can fly home to find an entirely new civilization has been erected while they’ve been in transit: young virgins shipped in from all corners of the world, and the dirt roads now streets paved with gold. It didn’t take me long to figure out that even if I’d come nude, in red sequined stilettos, not only would I be ignored, someone would probably tell me to move because my head was blocking the screen.
More than 15 minutes into the game, I still hadn’t spotted anyone who looked even remotely close to the studly steed I was hunting for. Most men in the place-not unlike your standard bar scene-were either blind drunk or had their arms draped around their girlfriends. My claustrophobia mounting, I decided to cut my losses and head home to watch the game when Paul stuck another pint in my face.
At half-time the buffaloes stampeded the bar, so Paul and our crew made our way to a safe corner. I was enjoying my first unencumbered view of the game when a guy I’d noticed earlier, handsome though still not quite of the caliber I’d had in mind (think David Blaine, without the mouth-breathing, methadone-withdrawal stare), wandered past. Feeling a bit bold after a shot of tequila, I asked if he was Spanish. “Puerto Rican,” he said in a New York drawl, smiling. This might be interesting, I thought, as he came closer.
“You looking for some?” he whispered in my ear, and I raised my eyebrows, thinking that with another shot, I might ponder dropping a few of my requirements. ” You looking for some?” I slurred, smiling coquettishly, as he took his hand out of his pocket and half-opened it between us to reveal a cluster of pills. “Viagras,” he winked. “Great for after you’ve been up all night watching the Cup, but aren’t quite ready to go to bed. For men and women,” he added, winking again-twice this time, for extra effect.
I stared at him with disbelief. Viagra? Sure, I had come here to get my blood flow going, but not like that. I turned around, swerved back to Paul and told him I was going home to watch the last half of the game by myself.
Everyone knows that unless you’re criminally insane or insanely drunk, bars have always been horrible places to meet men-but now I’ve learned it gets worse if your potential mate is distracted by the fact that the reputation of his mother country is on the line. My initial, whimsical fantasy of stumbling upon a few doppelgängers for the Portuguese team proved a bit misguided. But even if I had met a stunner, chances are he would’ve been useless, having blown his wad thanks to the teeth-gnashing, boozing, stomach-churning spectacle that goes hand-in-hand with watching the match. Which, I guess, ultimately makes me the winner.