#91: Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974)

Throughout 2022 I’ll be counting down my 100 favorite albums, because why not. I’m up to number ninety-one.

It was a Friday night in 199something. I was in my studio apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, flipping through the latest issue of a magazine called Homo Xtra (seriously, that was its name), which could be found in gay bars throughout New York.

I was browsing the personals in the back when a half-page ad caught my attention: “Dating Techniques For Shy Gay Men Workshop.” Are you kidding me? A workshop to learn how to date? That’s pathetic. Let’s be real – if you need to pay $30 to attend a workshop that teaches you how to go on a date, you’re a loser. You must be extremely desperate and extraordinarily needy to attend a dating techniques workshop.

Before I tell you what I was taught there, let me say that in theory a dating workshop is a good place to meet someone, because everybody there is single and looking.  I’d been single for a few years and was looking for some romance in my life. About 40 guys showed up, and as we silently took our seats, I performed a quick scan of the room. At the risk of sounding judgmental, I will tell you that the people there looked like the type of guys who would attend a dating techniques workshop. One could tell they lacked the very basic social skills to meet someone. That’s not who I’m looking for in a partner. I prefer guys who are sure of themselves, who aren’t challenged by the simple acts of saying “hello.” I can’t stomach a wallflower who won’t put forth a minimal effort. That’s my role.

In addition, I wasn’t sensing any physical attraction to anyone.  There was one guy who was moderately cute, but his facial expression made it apparent he didn’t want to be there but he had to be there because he’s the biggest of the losers. As I continued to look in the mirror, I told myself that over the next three hours I will be transformed from a lonely and introverted personal ad scourer to a dating superstar who’ll have to fight men off using a metaphor for a giant fly swatter that isn’t coming to me at the moment.

The workshop was led by a therapist named Dr. Aaron Kreshman, a man around six-feet tall with a full head of salt-and-pepper hair, wearing chinos and an untucked faded blue button-down dress shirt.  I’m terrible with ages, but I’d peg him to be between 40 and 70, certainly no older than 75.

 “Who here would like to tell us why they chose to attend the workshop?,” he asked.  No hands went up. I wanted to tell him “Nobody here is going to answer you. We’re all shy,” but I was too shy.

“Today all of you will learn how to find your soulmate, your life partner, your one true love. The techniques I’m about to impart I’ve been using for years.” He’s been using them for years? So, he hasn’t yet found his soulmate, his life partner, his one true love. That didn’t offer me much hope. Still, I wasn’t pessimistic. Merely negative, fatalistic and despairing. 

“Open a conversation with a stranger by offering a compliment, but keep it above the waist.”  As the guy sitting on my right, who looked around 25 or 40, took notes, the doctor continued.  “You can say ‘I like your shirt’ or ‘You have pretty eyes’ but don’t say anything about what’s below his waist.” Excuse me? I’m not crass! I’m shy! I’m not going to approach a stranger and say “Hey, person I’ve never met, you have an alluring swimsuit area,” though I’m open to dating someone who says that to me.

A student whose nametag read Jerome had a question. “What do you say to a guy if you’re at a bathhouse?”  I snickered to myself, and by to myself, I mean I let out a very loud laugh.  I appreciated Jerome’s sarcasm, though the glares I got from him and Dr. Kreshman made me realize that Jerome is unaware of his most attractive quality. 

Dr. Kreshman responded “You need to be honest with yourself.  You’re not at a bathhouse to find a date.  You’re not going to find a man to spend the rest of your life with leaning against the wall of the shower room. Your future husband probably isn’t reclining naked in a hot tub with seven other guys.  Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with going to a bathhouse. I go a few times a month.”

The note-taker next to me wrote that down.

Dr. Kreshman then covered how to make an entrance. Avenging my chuckle at Jerome’s question must have been on his mind, as he pointed to me. “You, get up and show everybody how you enter a bar.”  I stood up and walked across the floor.

Dr. Kreshman addressed the class. “Did that walk make a favorable impression on any of you?” Several men shook their heads. “Would you want to date someone who walks into a bar like that?” Jerome snickered and said “No.” “Anybody else?” Everyone responded “No.” “Would anybody even notice someone who entered a bar like that?” In unison they replied “No!”, coupled with laughter.

“That walk says ‘Ignore me – I have no self-esteem.’  You need to enter a bar like a mighty lion – strong, powerful, fierce.  Try it again.”

I started to strut across the room. “Lion!” yelled Dr. Kreshman. I exaggerated my strut. “Lion!” he yelled again. You may think that as a shy person I’d be mortified, but by this point, I already decided that there was nobody there I wanted to meet and so I had nothing riding on this. Fornicate these people. I don’t care about them or what they think about me. They want a lion? I’ll give them a lion. This is what I did, and I ain’t lyin’. I got on all fours and strode across the room, wiggling my butt like I was wagging my tail, and when I got to the opposite end I let out a roar.

“Now that’s an entrance!” Dr. Kreshman patted me on the back as I went back to my seat. “That’s how one enters a bar if one wants to make an impression.” Maybe if I want to meet someone at the circus.

“You make your entrance. You meet someone using your opening line – above the waist. All goes well. You chat for no more than five minutes. Then you give them a card with your name and phone number on it. On the back of the card write something referencing the conversation you just had.”

We practiced this as a group. Each attendee chatted with another attendee and then wrote something on an index card and gave it to the other person. Someone gave me a card on which he wrote “You could be the next Jerry Steinfeld.” Steinfeld. Steinfeld, with a t. Jerry Steinfeld. Either I said something very funny to him during our conversation and he felt I was as funny as Jerry Seinfeld, or I wasn’t remotely amusing, like someone he knew named Jerry Steinfeld.

The workshop ended and I was armed with several new dating techniques.

The following Friday night I strolled over to a bar two blocks from my apartment. I walked in the way I normally walked, grabbed a copy of the latest issue of Homo Xtra, and headed back toward home to peruse the personal ads. I’m not the king of the forest. I’m not a dating superstar without a metaphor. I’m Jerry Steinfeld. Shy Jerry Steinfeld.

I’m too shy to say “hello” to a stranger. In his song “Too Shy to Say,” one of the superb numbers on his Fulfillingness’ First Finale album, Stevie Wonder is too shy to say “I love you.” Either way, we’re both left pining for romance. Stevie captures that feeling so well, lyrically and melodically, in this song and on “Creepin’,” another of the album’s highlights.

Elsewhere on Fulfillingness’ First Finale, Stevie advocates for optimism for the future (“Smile Please”), looks forward to an afterlife away from the greedy and dishonest (“They Won’t Go When I Go”), advises us that God lives within him (“Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away”), and counsels a reggae woman to “boogie on,” something I say to the reggae women in my life on an almost daily basis (“Boogie On Reggae Woman”). He also calls out then President Nixon for being all talk and no action on “You Haven’t Done Nothin’.” Two days after that song was released on a single, Nixon resigned. Stevie, where were you between 2017 and 2020?

There’s more from Stevie Wonder to come on this list.

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