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Craigslist Blues

How can the party be over?

By Annalee Newitz

IT WAS MY FIRST dot-org party and basically I went there to get laid. OK, so I wanted some free brie and I figured that I'd get to see some friendly dot-org types like DJ Mermaid and Scott Beale. And I also wanted to meet Craig. You know, Craig Newmark, the unassuming, bashful guy whose name graces the ever-expanding nonprofit community service known as Craigslist.org.

Like geeks across the Silicon Bay--and soon, all over the world--I've been using Craigslist.org to organize my life. When I was breaking into freelance writing a couple of years ago, I got all my leads from job postings on Craigslist. I found a roommate by posting an ad in the roommate listings on Craigslist. And Craigslist event announcements have led me to many glorious evenings of music, insanity and theatricality.

So when Craig wrote to me and invited me to the big Craigslist shindig on June 8, a little lightbulb switched on over my head. Time to cruise for geeks!

So naive and hopelessly romantic was I, dear reader, that I actually dressed up for this party--something I never do. On top of my boots, fishnets and slip, I sported a Bubblegum Crisis T-shirt for true nerd cred. I put gel in my newly multicolored hair, and stuffed my wallet with business cards to hand out to anyone who had that ineffable, seductive combination of superbraininess and total alienation that always turns me into a blushing, stammering dork.

Accompanied by the lovely Chelsea, who was even more decked out than I was in a vintage silk ensemble and funky fake-fur wrap, I wandered into the foyer at the Regency, where a small business casual crowd had gathered to put on their name tags.

As soon as we drifted inside, we realized there was something wrong. Nobody was dressed up.

Small, sedate groups gathered around tables and munched pizza. This being a dot-org party, the booze wasn't free, so nobody had gotten hopelessly soused yet. Craig was standing in the front of the room, talking quietly into a microphone about how Craigslist is now expanding into other cities.

The whole thing was confusing, particularly for somebody who had just come to meet people and get laid. Was this a writers' event, in which case I should stay sober and actually hand my business card to people I wanted to do business with? Or was it a social scenario, in which I could randomly approach beautiful, red-haired strangers and ask them why they had come?

I opted for the red-haired stranger, whose unruly curls looked perfect with her smeary lipstick and weird raincoat. But she was all about schmoozing, and although she admitted she was "mortified" to be at the party just for work purposes, it was clear I'd have to wander elsewhere. I think I was on my second vodka cranberry by that time.

Lately, I've come to realize that I'm a hopeless romantic. I fall in love easily; I listen to Hank Williams and get misty-eyed on the bus; I pine tragically for this long-lost boy I know who moved to a distant, cold place and may never come back.

It all has to do with being a geek. It's the time alone with my monitor, musing about machines and the ethics of free software and coming to know other people purely through the medium of text. The irony of the Internet is that it reminds us that there are always more luscious, amazing people to meet and fall in love with, even if they're in Alaska or China or the Czech Republic.

And the irony of the Craiglist party--a celebration of one of those online communities that provides romantic dorks like me with so much Loretta Lynn-style hope--is that nobody there was looking for love.

As the evening wound to a close, I tried one last time. He was a vision of nerdy outcast-ness with circa-1985 glasses, bad haircut, T-shirt and khakis. Writing madly in a notebook, he was interviewing people at the party for a story. What could be better?

We chatted for a while, and it turned out he was a tech journalist like myself. So far, so good. He responded pretty well to flirting, but like a typical geek he seemed to have precious little grasp of social graces.

As the geek writer in question turned to Chelsea to get her thoughts on the party, it was clear he was out of his depth. Although I had been dressed up in a way that obviously startled him, I was enough of a weirdo to fit into his nerdy vision of the world. Chelsea, however, stumped him.

"Are you an exotic dancer?" he asked her. Then, as we began to walk away in disgust, he shot me a pleading look, asking, "That's how they dress, isn't it?" In the immortal words of They Might Be Giants, here's where the party ends.

Annalee Newitz ([email protected]) is a surly media nerd who does not hold Craig responsible for the lack of sex at his party.

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From the June 14-21, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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