A Loungy Kind of Love

A date with romance has us turning Far Eastward

Long before 07/07/07 sent legions to Las Vegas in search of an Elvis wedding, the Japanese knew it was the ideal date for getting lucky. For them, the seventh day of the seventh month annually celebrates two lovers who were too busy getting busy to be bothered to do their work. Sounded like my kind of holiday. I settled on Saki Lounge for the scene of my indulgence.

When I arrived, white light illuminated the doors and a fashionably disheveled hottie — his blond hair tousled and his crisp, fitted shirt casually untucked — strutted confidently toward me. And then he disappeared. Another beautiful morsel materialized and vanished. These were, of course, virtual beefcake — models in a fashion show video-projected onto the doors of the Atlantic Avenue destination.

It made sense: The Delray nightclub has been the scene of many fashion shows, with the catwalk extending from the bar inside right out the door. Events like these packed the place. You couldn't see the miniforests of dark-stained bamboo for all the bodies. The ambience of flickering votives was lost in the flash of cameras. The sheerness of the delicate fabric that surrounded the red-cushioned VIP area was less apparent than the dense buzz of excitement.

Tonight, except for the thumping of the booty-shake music, the place offered the Zen that its décor intended. And by that, I mean it was nearly empty. Bartender John explained that the crowds were unpredictable, even at 11 p.m. on an overcast Saturday like this one.

Instead of ordering a house special — a Bloody Geisha or a Dragon's Breath, for instance — I chose a pomegranate martini, which seemed right for the fruit's mythological significance, even if was a completely different myth from a totally different culture. (Think of it as mythological fusion rather than sloppy multiculturalism.) And I asked John to turn down the music so I could share the story that had by chance brought me here with this group, all of whom had graduated from Spanish River High in the past five years.

As I enjoyed my sweet/tart cocktail whose fruit is nostalgic of the sweetness of reunion after bitter separation, I shared the legend that inspired the festival, Tanabata. The lovers, I explained, were separated by the heavens as punishment for their obsessive love. Represented by stars, one on each side of the Milky Way, Altair (the cowherd) and Vega (the weaver) reunite only once a year. Astronomically, the stars intersect at this time, but according to legend, a flock of birds creates a magical bridge across the river of stars so the lovers may conjoin.

"If it rains, the lovers have to wait again until next year," I said with genuine wistfulness because, after more than a year of transatlantic dating, I longed for my own distant love. The night's forecast of rain felt personally symbolic. "Talk about star-crossed lovers!"

My young audience was unmoved.

"Have y'all been lucky in love?" I ventured.

The young woman next to me, Chelsea, blushed. Her friend Lauren filled me in: "She's getting married."

"It was actually luck that we even met," Chelsea recounted. It was an evening a year and a half ago, and plans to go to one club somehow shifted to another. She reluctantly provided her phone number to a brash young man at the new venue. "When he called, I didn't answer — twice. But something told me to answer the phone. We talked for three hours and made plans for lunch. Lunch became dinner. Dinner became coffee. Coffee became dessert..."

I winked. "Dessert?"

"Just dessert," the wholesome cutie assured me. But his just desserts did come later. Once she finished at Florida State U in Tallahassee, she moved back to South Florida, where they got together again. They'd shacked up now for three months, and things were about to be "unofficially official."

"You've been pretty lucky in love," Lauren observed, her friendliness made all the more apparent by the headband that pulled her chestnut hair back from her smiling face.

"It's not luck; it's fate," Chelsea corrected her.

"Luck and love are really two different things," Lauren said. Her own romantic history, she said, included a recent foray into the eHarmony universe, where, despite rumors to the contrary, there is no extra store of luck.

"Now I keep getting these newsletters," Lauren said. "It's a constant reminder there is no match for me."

I consoled her with a brief story of "the eight dumbest days of my life." After friends and family finally convinced me to try Internet dating, I met my "match": a guy whom I'd first met in school — and wisely rejected — a decade earlier, proving that the "old-fashioned" approach was actually ten years more advanced than the online alternative.

Lauren said she didn't need a perfect match to live her life. Despite her youthful loveliness and affable demeanor, she had never had a serious relationship.

"I can be independent," she said, more confident than defensive. "I don't think it's unlucky. I've learned a lot."

Another Spanish River/FSU alum, Kaela, breezed into the bar. I figured the Boca chica with the Paris Hilton-inspired looks — from the cut of her platinum-blond hair to the big buckles on her slouchy purse — should be plunged into the conversation.

"Have you been lucky in love?"

"Not in the last two weeks," she replied nonchalantly, more concerned with finding a spot at the bar that suited her.

Kaela scrutinized the Night Rider.

"Have you ever seen Grey's Anatomy?" she queried. It was a question I'd heard dozens of times. "You know who you look like?"

A chorus of omigods! ensued. In truth, I'd never seen the show, but apparently I'm a ringer for a character named Addison. Maybe hoping for a good omen, I wondered aloud if my impersonator was gifted in the love department. The answer was a resounding no. But according to the girls, it wasn't luck but rather infidelity and indecision that were the problem.

"Karma is a bitch," Lauren concluded.

I changed the subject by excusing myself to meet the couple across the bar. These two guys emitted a glow that rivaled the rosy concoction in the martini glass that sat on the cement bar top in front of them.

"Today I am lucky in love," Nick declared.

"We're still in the honeymoon phase," added Jason, explaining that they'd been together only four weeks.

The two finished each other's sentences as they told the story of their introduction at the Lounge in West Palm Beach. Jason had checked Nick out. Nick sent him a drink. Jason ignored it, too busy socializing with coworkers to pay attention. Up to this point, the Live Earth concert had gone virtually ignored on the flat-screen TV behind the Saki Lounge bar. That is, until a female performer and her entourage began crawling across the stage. Nick interrupted his story to interject, "Who's that doing the Little Miss Sunshine dance?"

Was there better proof that, even over 40, Madonna's still got it?

Nick, the acute social observer, got back to the basics of Material Boy romance. "Three months: You're seeing each other. Three more months: You're dating. Six months: You get a contract on your desk. After six more months, it's up for renewal."

Finite, romantic contractualism: It could appeal only to a jaded control freak. But there was more. Nick's description of love levitated away from his own workaday materialism: "You feel outside of your body. It's like a sigh, a weird breath — breathing in and out and knowing everything is going to be OK."

John, our bartender, brought me back to the South Florida way of the world. In three years, he hadn't had a girlfriend, he was saying, but he had had "slam pieces," a term he had invented.

Lauren made sure I understood the proper use of the term: "It's somewhere between a booty call and a girlfriend. Whenever I see him with someone, I'm like, 'So is that your new slam piece?' "

John had his own explanation, thank you. "You actually have a relationship, but for outside reasons — location, work, marriage, or whatever — you can't be together."

The Milky Way never seemed wider and more unnavigable.

As I finished off my drink and the girls invoked the wisdom of Dr. Phil ("Relationships aren't 50/50; they're 100 percent, 100 percent"), I thought that the clouds above Delray must have washed away any chance for the cowherd and the weaver's reunion. Then it occurred to me that, even if it did rain here, there would always be clear skies somewhere. Finding favorable conditions just takes a little effort.

A symbolic martini and a silent prayer at Saki Lounge couldn't hurt.

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