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Get Your Gaze On 

The latest matchmaking craze is all about the eyes.

Staring at hot girls is much harder when they stare back. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Staring at hot girls is much harder when they stare back.
The Clear Choice Custom Vision Center, lost in a sweeping business park not far from the freeway in Brecksville, seems a better fit for drafting HR policies than brewing romance.

It's the night after Valentine's Day, and I haven't had a date since B.K.C. -- Before Kelly Clarkson. But word is the vision center, which does laser surgery by day, is branching out. Tonight it will play host to the latest craze in matchmaking -- the eye-gazing party.

Basically, guys and girls take turns sitting across from each other. It's like speed dating, but you don't talk. You just . . . gaze. A staring tournament where the winner gets laid: I guess that's the theory.

Not surprisingly, this started in New York, the birthplace of other horrible concepts like $18 martinis and the Yankees. But like most things New York, someone got wind of eye-gazing -- It must be cool! -- and brought it to the mainland.

That someone is Bill Schneider, the vision center's marketing guru and the guy behind Eye Gazers Cleveland's first event. The center's huge reception area has been converted into a serious lair of love: dark as hell, a hundred flickering candles, free Bud Light, and a shitload of cheese cubes.

I crack open a beer as Schneider explains why a laser-surgery office is playing matchmaker. He heard eye-gazing parties were big in New York, and thought hosting them might attract people to their business. He also likes the idea of setting people up -- and always enjoys an excuse to serve cheese cubes.

I crack another beer as Schneider explains the rules. The guys -- there are 11 of us tonight -- will sit in chairs scattered throughout the room. The girls -- also 11 -- will rotate from man to man, stopping at each for three minutes apiece. The goal, he says, is to eliminate banal, first-date conversation -- What's your name? What do you do? How many kids should we have? -- and just connect.

Sounds awkward, I know. But as Schneider explains it, I start to swell with confidence. I've never been skilled at introductory banter -- Three? Is three kids too many? -- but gazing is a skill I've honed for years.

The rearview mirror, elevator doors, the sunglasses on the guy in the checkout line -- if there's a reflection, I'll stare into it. Over the years, I've amassed a deadly arsenal of gazes.

There's my Smoldering Sexy Stare. As I focus my baby blues, I purse my lips and squint, fully embracing my Pierce Brosnanness. Melt, I think to myself. Go ahead and melt.

I can also lift my hand to my chin and tilt my head slightly, as if I'm about to provide penetrating insight on the thematic underpinnings of Dharma and Greg. The Intense Intellectual Look, I call it.

Then there's my go-to look, the nuclear option in my cache of visual weaponry: the Thoughtful Caretaker Glance. It always works on the girls at the Gold Horse. With the aid of a few well-placed fivers, they'll dance for me every time.

I giddily take my seat, awaiting the parade of women, wondering how I'll juggle all their phone numbers.

Tonight's the night, I think. The night all that staring in the mirror finally pays off.

What to open with?

Conventional gazing strategy says you adapt on the fly -- Intense Intellectual for girls with glasses; Smoldering Sexy for anyone in a halter top or leather. But the last time I made an impromptu dating decision, I ended up at Kay Jewelers, buying a quarter-karat engagement ring on credit.

Before I know it, there she is: blond and tan, with eyes so blue you could dive in and forget to come up for air. Bill flicks on some soft music, possibly the soundtrack from Karate Kid II, and rings some chimes to signal the start of Gaze One.

"Let's get our gaze on," I say. She locks her eyes on mine, as if to tell me to Please stop talking.

As time wears on, I grow edgy. My left hand jumps from my chin to cheek to temple, conveying a Smoldering Intense Thoughtful Freak Stare that seems to make her uneasy. And my eyes: They're flying around, watching everything but hers, focusing especially on this guy across the room, who looks to be melting a saucy brunette with some sort of Sultry Seduction Stare. Dammit!

Either I'm not the gifted gazer I thought, or someone laced those cheese cubes with Adderall.

They keep coming like this for an hour. A pale, oval-faced woman sits down. I manage to lock eyes, but she looks so deeply into mine, I nearly start to weep.

An olive-skinned woman, with eyes that fall down her cheeks like tears, gets to me too. Maybe it's that soft, tinkling piano -- is that the United Airlines theme song? -- but I can't help but imagine that her parents are being held hostage in a jungle somewhere. When the chimes ring, I want to ask if they're OK, but she just walks to the next guy.

Then comes The One. She has the auburn hair of a Spanish princess and the soft, sun-kissed skin of a separate -- but just as hot! -- Spanish princess. Her name is Rachelle, and though she tells me this as she sits down, I knew it from the moment I peered into her warm, hazel eyes. She somehow pulls me into her gaze like a child to her bosom. Suddenly, I'm gazing with her, and wondering whether I'll wear a vest or cummerbund to our wedding.

The chimes ring.

"Wow," I say. "That was . . . awesome."

"Yeah," she says, then admits she works for the company that organized the party.

In other words, she's a pro.

How did I know it would come to this?

The final chime rings, and I sink into my chair. I expect to be joined by the rest of the guys, so we can collectively moan about how there are no single women in Cleveland, and how we certainly wouldn't meet any here. At an eye-gazing party.

But they don't come. They're too busy talking to women. To the sassy blonde, the girl ripped from the pages of Maxim. To the oval-faced brunette with the intense eyes, who suddenly looks like marriage material.

I hear them saying things like Hey, that was kinda fun and Awkward at first, but a kick! They're laughing together like they've known each other since grade school. And the place is running out of beer, typically my cue to leave.

Heading for the door, I watch a long-haired fellow pull a pretty blonde in for a hug. He scribbles down her phone number. Someone tells me it was his second of the night.

Bullshit, I think, gazing into my bathroom mirror later that night. Bullshit.

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