BLISTER 


When I was prepubescent twig with hair issues, the term "buddy" was typically reserved for less-likable rerun comic foils named "Boner," "Clyde" or, worse still, "Buddy." These days it's most commonly heard in the chipper parlance of Midwesterners with Christian rock collections, and not usually as a term of endearment (e.g., "I'll tell you what, buddy, you better fetch your mama's D.C. Talk fanbook or I'm a-gonna tan your hide"). Either way, I've never liked the word.

"Hey, buddy," I Willie Aames into Tony's portable vocalization transport receiver. "Do you want to do something awful with me so that we can laugh about it later?"

"What is it?" his ear and phone light up.

"To the best of my understanding, it's a standard-issue middle-class Orlando networking mingle of the happy hour variety," I spiel. "Only this time, it's for the benefit of the ‘intellectually challenged.'"

"Like our president, you mean."

"Or like me, even," I snivel as I try to turn down the soundtrack to my latest Eurythmics-aided emotional breakdown. "Sweet dreams are made of this (sniff); who am I to disagree?"

"Shut up, and I'll be right over."

Back at my pad, while Annie Lennox continues to fall apart over the span of a decade, Tony and I attempt to conjure guises for ourselves: he a Patrick Bateman sort in a tie, one who says words like "globalization consultant" before wowing with deal-closers like "I'm in the business of making things shine — I'm not happy until everything is shining"; me, well, a post-pubescent twig with hair issues, one with a column that makes people not want to shine anywhere near him.

"Free fondue" reads the banner outside our destination du jour, Brix Eurobistro. "(Restrictions apply)" follows. Who puts restrictions on fondue? Nobody puts fondue in the corner, etc.

Granted, said "Eurobistro" is carved into the side of the Metropolitan condominiums, the former site of the Harley Hotel — aka "the rhinestoned whorehouse that Leona Helmsley built" — so most of the cheese is already implied. By the time we're at the door, we're so exhausted by our moot attempts to summon the ghost of her poor overdosed son (he died here, you know, and I once did it full-on in the pool here, too), that we've dropped our assumed guises altogether. Or at least Tony has. Mine is inescapable.

"Are you a Buddy, or are you just here for the one time?" a pretty girl flanked by three persons of varying mental challenges asks.

"One time, I think … er, hope," I motion silently.

She quickly Sharpies a nametag, carefully dotting my "i" with a heart at Tony's goading, and sends me off with a raffle ticket and a seemingly inappropriate "Go get 'em, heartbreaker!"

"Are you interested in playing human bingo?" another attendant asks without any mental challenge implied at all.

Am I ever. What? To be clear, this is Business Buddies' monthly event, which benefits Florida's Best Buddies program, itself part of "international nonprofit" Best Buddies, which sports a huggy Keith Haring image for its logo, but is clearly not a homosexual affair (unless, of course, you're an intellectually challenged homosexual … and I am). But the human bingo thing is a confusing beast all its own.

"No, it's not," Tony B-4s. "It's a singles/swingers kind of icebreaker module."

"Oh, like a key bowl?" I politely shove my own keys into my nethers.

Not exactly. Each attendant is provided with a bright orange sheet of paper (presumably the fluorescence is to indicate that you are playing) with a 25-square grid. Within each box are a number of accomplishments or social indicators which you are supposed to go around the room and locate people to sign: like someone who's run a marathon, or somebody else with a MySpace account. You know, heady stuff.

In a twist of irony, each of the seemingly "special" buddies milling about the milieu has bright orange hair, a bit like Annie Lennox. This should not be funny.

"Is it a red-headed stepchild kind of thing?" I cross that line.

"I think it's a one-box-of-hair-color kind of thing," Tony double-crosses it.

Awfulness quickly shoved aside, we get to gaming with the worst of them, bouncing around the room like numbered balls for a few seconds, then taking root at an outside table to soak in the ambience of middle-aged men in oxfords and the not-quite-there skinny girls they run with. "Ooooh, look at the bowling shirt on Beau!" (It's easy because they have nametags.) Euro '80s hits satellite in the background.

"Well, it is a Eurobistro," Tony echoes a bunnyman.

Over a period of about 30 minutes, we pretend to have run marathons, to have our Ph.D.s, to know every American Idol winner, and to be able to say the alphabet backward, all to help out some hasty networkers anxious to reach their bingo goals (which is sad, really, as the only prize is another raffle ticket, and even sadder because I can actually sing the alphabet backward).

We are not having a very good time.

"Oh my God, it's Michelle Valentine's sister!"

A girl who, oddly, is Michelle Valentine's sister purple-blouses over with some singles event postcards. She says her name is "Charlette," or rather her nametag, stuck to her arm (like a tattoo!), does. The spelling, she insists, is an issue.

"You mean like Sublette?" I play both a county in Wyoming and a politician in Florida.

"Ha …." She doesn't get it. Who would? I'm not sure I even do anymore and suggest a hasty exit.

"Hey, buddy, can I have a cigarette?" a not-hot guy grabs my arm on the way out the door.

"They're menthols," I stinge.

"Beggars can't be choosers," he dials a cliché as he lights up some cancer. "Thanks."

Sure, buddy. Sweet dreams.

bmanes@orlandoweekly.com

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