It's that nowhere time when Friday is Saturday but no one acknowledges it, and the bar's pulse is drunk and sluggish. Dance music throbs like a building-sized headache and the place reeks of stale air and deflated expectations. Even the underage girls look haggard, their face paint drooping, their hair ratted.
A cadre of guys with greedy eyes and cheesy suits strut in and survey their surroundings. The dance floor is dead, the dancers barely going through the motions. Up against the bar, a large girl in a tiny tank top gropes her man's back and butt while he does his best to ignore her and chat upthe bartender.
It's the last chance for romance, and some of these people will soon be going home together. Hopefully, for their sakes, the sex will be hotter than the set-up, or it will be an even sorrier walk home in the morning.
Urbandictionary.com defines a one-night stand as: "Hooking up with someone for one night of sex with no strings attached and hoping to never see them again."
The one-night stand is invariably followed by its decidedly less glamourous sibling, the walk of shame: "After spending the night at a member of the opposite sex's house, having to walk home in the morning looking trashy, romped and hungover."
Common sense would dictate that if you can't handle both sides of the pick-up coin, you should probably keep your pants (or mini dress) on, and naked strangers off your bed/floor/couch/roommate's bed and/or kitchen table. But this is easier said than done when you're drunk and horny. So be careful, and remember that your sober self has to live with the consequences of whatever your drunk self does for fun.
"If you're confident and comfortable with your decision then it's a great morning," says Heather (names have all been changed to protect the guilty), "but if you feel awkward and uncomfortable now then walk away. It's your gut feeling. You know what you want."
Heather and her group of girlfriends are walking up George Street past The Dome. They're chatty and laughy with booze, but they've yet to get sloppy. The night is still youngish and they look fantastic.
"Be protected, feel confident and you're set," says Kylie. "You're the one controlling the one-night stand. It's your one-night stand, not his."
"But at least respect his feelings," adds Heather. "Maybe he wants more than a one-night stand. If you know he wants more then maybe you shouldn't bring it to that point...but it depends on how you feel. If you're like 'Well, but you know what, he's hot,' well then...."
The girls all burst out laughing. They're unapologetically out for themselves, like many of the men they'll soon meet.
"I don't think it's different the percentage of men or women who will or won't ," says Erika. "I think it's the forethought that's different. Guys are going out thinking 'tonight is the night I want to take someone home,' where girls will be maybe equally likely to go home with someone, but they don't walk into the club thinking 'I'm picking up tonight.'"
While that may be true for some, the idea that women in general are passively along for the ride and "oops, surprise, just happen to get picked up," doesn't ring true. More realistically, women and men have different ways of working to fulfill their desired intentions and men may be more blatant in how they pursue them.
JD would agree. Sitting down after a long day at work, JD looks tired, but becomes animated as he starts to talk. Wiry and streetwise, JD has been on and off the pick-up scene, between long-term relationships, for the last 15 years. After countless nights working the bars, he and his friends got bored and decided to cut to the chase by going straight to Pizza Corner.
"The older I got the less interesting was," says JD. "I didn't want to spend the money or the four hours talking, so we'd just go to where the bar went. And surprisingly enough it works. I remember one time I took a woman home from European Pizza, just waiting in line. I guess the hardest part is having the gall to do it."
Describing their tactics, JD could be synopsizing a special on the Discovery Channel: The pack arrives and scouts the scene; they eye the women walking the streets and lining up for pizza; they branch out in pursuit of their chosen prey, but are careful to remain in sight of their brothers at all times in case a fight breaks out (where JD comes from, "you fight one, you fight them all."); if one gets lucky, he signals to the others before escorting his new lady friend off into the night; the remaining men rinse and repeat until their options dry up and it's time to call it a night.
Their methods are tried and tested, but when it comes to one-night stands it's hard to know how much truth is involved. And depending on who you are and how things go, this can seriously screw with your head.
In JD's case, "It's more shameful in the morning," he says. "It's not even that I regret doing the deed, the regret is how I did it...especially if I like her. Like if the conversation went really well before we had sex and I saw something there potentially...then it bothers me because I want to tell her."
But he never has, and as a general rule he never has contact with his one-night stands again. "Usually I try to stay away from anything long-term that I meet at a bar. I think I have more disrespect for the other person than I do for myself in that case. Not disrespect, I shouldn't say that, what's the proper word?" He searches, then concludes: "Less trustworthy I would say. I'm a little less prone to trust if I picked them up at a bar."
Yes, the heinously hypocritical double standard of "sluts versus studs" is still alive and well, but for himself JD now realizes it cuts both ways: "I used to have this thing in my head, I was a bit like, had women on a pedestal, and any woman with respect for herself wouldn't do that. But how does that change from what I'm doing? Now I see that," he pauses. "Now I'm past all that. I'm at the point where I think they have just as much right as I do to go out and pick up without being judged."
After-the-fact judgment can play a major role in how you feel about yourself following a one-night stand, and the harshest judge will probably be you. It starts the moment you wake up and the little voice in your head starts yammering its congratulations or condemnation as you struggle to collect your discarded clothing from a strange apartment or dorm room without waking last night's partner or their potential roommates.
"It all depends on the individual," says JD. "If they're OK with it and they're not going to wrestle with it in the morning, I'd say it's fine, but if you're one of those people who beat yourself up for two weeks because you had three hours of fun, you probably shouldn't put yourself in that situation. You shouldn't take anyone home."
And so it goes. You bid adieu to your gentleman or lady of the night, go home, shower, sleep more, talk it over with your friends and all that's left are the memories. Or in some cases maybe it's the beginning of something special. Or maybe it burns when you pee.
The waiting room for Dalhousie Health Services feels like an underground bus station to somewhere crappy. "I Don't Like Mondays" plays on pillar-mounted speakers, followed by "I Kiss You When It's Dangerous." Economy-sized bottles of hand sanitizer sit on the check-in counter, and a stuffed puppy looks dejectedly through a Plexiglass barrier of unclear purpose (in the bus station scenario it would be bullet-proof and cash would be exchanged for tickets through a metal grate at the bottom).
Sitting on the alternately red and blue, faux-velvet chairs, it's easy to imagine students waiting in dread of what may be going wrong in their nethers.
Dr. Glenn Andrea has worked at Dalhousie Health Services for 15 years. He also works at the STD Clinic (in the Dickson Building, 1278 Tower, 5th Floor, 428-2272), but says they see more positive results at Dal "in terms of people that actually have chlamydia, genital warts and herpes" because of the population. Says Andrea, "it's that time in your life."
Andrea (his real name) exudes a feeling of calm, non-judgmental caring, which is exactly what you want in someone who's going to be swabbing your privates. The clinic does between 20 and 30 full STI tests a day (genital exam, swabs, urine and blood testing), but this number increases after peak student hook-up times including frosh week, Christmas break and reading week. And while the majority of test results are negative (Andrea ballparks it around 95 percent negative), positive results can be devastating to those who get them.
"Generally people are very upset," says Andrea, "and they may be embarrassed because people often view having an STI as being dirty, which is completely wrong because bacteria and viruses don't care if you're clean or dirty or nice or usually monogamous---it just happens."
The most common STIs (The "D" of STD was changed to an "I" because infection sounds better than disease) affecting the local population are genital warts and herpes in terms of viruses, and chlamydia is the most common bacterial infection. The best way to avoid them "just happening" to you (aside from ye olde abstinence) is to be prepared and talk openly.
"Pack a condom---male or female," says Andrea, "because once you're drinking and in the heat of the moment you're not going to go find one if it's not readily available. And it never hurts to talk to your partner in advance about their history of STIs and recent testing, although with somebody you're meeting for the first time, you're not going to get the full story, so assume the worst and protect yourself. And remember that condoms don't protect at all against genital warts and herpes which can be spread through any kind of skin-to-skin contact."
As Saturday night bleeds into Sunday morning, line-ups swell outside the dance bars. Judging by the amount of skin on display, a lot of people are looking for herpes tonight. Or maybe they just want to dance. Both are plausible. It's the middle of the night, downtown is drunk and everybody's looking for something---whether it's a friend, a slice, a cab or a lay. Just remember that whatever you're after, you're going to have to face yourself in the morning. So make it worth it.
"Walking into my house, with the birds chirping, broad daylight, same clothes I had on the night before, yeah, you don't really feel the greatest," says JD. "You go back to bed and try to sleep more of it off. And then for the most part you wake up and you try to forget about it. And if you can, then you're not ashamed of what you've done. And if you can't, you're ashamed. In my opinion."
1. Bruddahs an’ sistahs, if you’re going downtown to get on down, BAG IT. Or start singing along with Frank Zappa: “Why does it hurt when I peeeee? I don’t want no doctor to stick no needle in meeeee. I got it from the toooooilet seeeaat…. ”