Love Stories
ELUSIVE LOVE
Cupid Shrugged

They're a nice pair -- except for the guy

On to Platforms dance club on Seventh Avenue, a place for those who adore being on display and those who adore watching them. People, mostly men, stand on platforms and survey the booty dancing below. Music is the usual '70s disco fare, songs Brantmyer has thrilled to for years.

"We are family," the women chant along with Sister Sledge. There are stacked heels and pony tails, hip-surfing denim and curve-enhancing Lycra.

photo
The fourth Mrs. Brantmyer is out there somewhere, says Brantmyer, assessing the crowd at Platforms in Ybor City. "There's a lot of fish in the sea," his mother tells him. "Keep fishing, baby, you'll catch her."
[Times photo: Jonathan Newton]

For the first time tonight, Brantmyer makes a strategic maneuver, sidling up to a cluster of blonds. He makes no disguise of eyeballing a woman in a white nylon midriff. Towering over her by two feet, his open stare travels down her dark roots to her bleached strands, and then farther south, coming to rest on what could be mistaken for two suspiciously large water balloons.

She keeps her face turned away, conspicuously "unaware." Soon she edges in behind her friends, using them as a buffer.

He later explains: "It's a hostile environment in a bar. Girls travel in groups. They're sort of self-protected."

He moves on, positioning himself so he can peer out a window above the entrance. He adjusts the blinds so his view is unhampered. Watching the women approaching and entering, he takes swigs of draft beer from a plastic cup.

He's struck with a sudden insight:

"A lot of guys go out to get laid. I go out to have a good time and know that I could get laid."

His buddies take turns poking each other in the crotch with their umbrellas, giving themselves a hearty, adolescent laugh.

Brantmyer's "blue-green-hazel" eyes, as he describes them, bore down on the dance floor. He likes the way a dark-haired woman grooves, her white shirt tucked tight into her jeans.

"She's available," he says. She never glances his way.

But there's a wispy blond in a glistening gray shirt sitting behind him.

"Phil said she was looking at my ass," he explains.

photo
Standing in the front window at Platforms, Brantmyer and his friend Mike Barthle, center, can see and be seen. "I'm judging most women on the surface feel and the attraction I have for them," Brantmyer says.
[Times photo: Jonathan Newton]
She's with a guy. Other men might see this as a barrier, but not Brantmyer. "I like girls who are with guys, because (then) you know they're worth something," he says.

When her date walks away, Brantmyer makes his move. He's grabbing her left hand, working her finger, asking her about the ring she's wearing, and now, with his right hand, he's stroking her left thigh, back and forth, and he wants know what her deal is, and he's leaning into her, talking close to her ear.

And now she's furrowing her brow, and reclaiming her hand, and arching away from his tanned face and smooth nails.

He rubbed her the wrong way, she later confides.

"He's a cheese ball," says Lisa Davis, 34.

But Brantmyer sees indecision, not dislike.

"It's very difficult for a single man in Ybor to work any kind of magic," he says.

On the midnight watch

It's just after midnight. A few more hours and the bars will close on another weekend. If Brantmyer doesn't meet someone soon, his only companion tonight will be his oversize TV.

He zips back to his north Tampa apartment and changes into a black shirt more suitable for the uptown clubs. After downing another Michelob Light, he's ready.

From outside, Club Joy looks like a bit of South Beach plopped down in a north Tampa strip mall. It shares a parking lot with Carolina Sofa Company and Clearwater Mattress.

Brantmyer flashes his Joy club card and a satisfied smile, and breezes past the cashier collecting five-dollar bills. Inside, he orders an Absolut with cranberry, rocks. He has downed more a half dozen drinks tonight, and he's just getting started. A nice buzz makes him happy, loose. And "girls," he explains, are drawn to a guy who's having a good time.

The dance floor is crammed with women who live in houses with green lawns, who perm their hair and don short dresses cut low for Saturday night. And if you're a man with gel-dashed hair, gold chains and oversize suits, you'll never feel alone here. The modish downtown set is miles away. This is a suburban utopia, a place where moments of dangerous abandon are tucked safely between hours of respectable jiving.

Suddenly, a woman in a black dress shimmies up her bulky dance partner and sits on his shoulders, her crotch in his face. People pause over their drinks, dropping their jaws a little, smiling. Some clap and cheer.

Brantmyer is leaning on a railing overlooking the dance floor, explaining why he hasn't stunned anybody into submission.

The rain, he says, is keeping away women "of quality" tonight. They're at home because they don't want to get their hair wet.

Of the hundreds who have turned out, "There's nobody I want," he says, and moseys off to order yet another Absolut.

Another man takes his place at the railing and scans the dance floor. All over Club Joy, there's a whole lot of ogling going on. Men are standing and staring, leaning and staring, sipping and staring. Precious few are actually doing.

They have their reasons.

Gil Rimi, 36, St. Petersburg, postal worker, standing by the bar: "I guarantee 50 percent of the women are married."

Fred Smith, 48, Ocala resident, high school ROTC instructor, standing near the disk jockey: "Women, when they come out, they're already after a certain build."

Ike Maliarakis, 24, Tampa, University of South Florida, MBA, leather jacket, positioned near the pool table: "Some people are a little too old here."

Bruce Kidd, 34, Boca Raton, medical supplies vendor, 48-inch chest: "If I want to meet single women, I go down to South Beach because they're all very attractive, very available and very young."

Dave Muscara, 37, Pinellas Park, postal worker: "There's a lot of people to choose from but as far as meeting someone and having it be meaningful, it's probably not a good thing. I come out of habit, mostly."

Majid Shekari, 32, Gainesville, manager of Oriental rugs store, gray silk suit: "It's a meat market here, and I won't sell myself short."

The bravado is as thick as the Polo cologne. But beneath it all hangs the unmistakable odor of defeat. Clubs like these are supposed to be hot spots, places where singles intersect, grind against each other and throw off sparks. And yet most of these men are rubbing up against only the railing. They stand there watching, their arms crossed over their chests or their fists in their pockets, like downhearted Little Leaguers who didn't get in the game. They haven't done much tonight, and not much is what the night has come to.

Brantmyer returns to report that he spoke to a woman -- a blond -- for some 10 minutes before he noticed the rock on her left ring finger.

She should be at home with her husband. Probably has kids. Some nerve she's got, putting on airs as if she were ripe for the picking.

"In these 1990s, you almost have to second-guess everything," he says with disgust.

Closing time

The lights are coming up and the disk jockey is reminding the unsteady crowds to tip the bartenders and waitresses and be safe out there on those wet streets.

"See you next week," he says.

You can e-mail staff writer Kathryn Wexler at wexler@sptimes.com.

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Links:

www.match.com ... An online dating service. "Whether you're looking for an activity partner, a casual date, or a lifelong companion, we just might have the person for you."

http://www.movietunes.com/
soundtracks/1977/fever/tracklist.html
... Listen to a clip from the Bee Gees' tune, "Stayin' Alive."

www.ybor.org ... This site includes a listing of Ybor night clubs.

Brantmyer butts to the front of the valet line, but it's nearly a half-hour before his Explorer arrives. While he waits, a woman outside in black nylons and black shorts saunters through the drizzle, looking for her car. A man standing 20 feet away shouts, "Cellulite! Pounds of cellulite!"

A few men, leaving without dates, stare at her buttocks and chuckle.

Later, Brantmyer sits in his car outside his apartment. A bottle of his cologne, Realm, is on the console by his knee. Its synthetic human pheromones are supposed to render men irresistible.

Not a good night, Brantmyer says. He's thinking he should try looking for women in health clubs. He has heard some grocery stores have singles nights.

In bars, he says, "people are so full of sh--."

What's more, "I wasn't really in the mood."

Cupid Shrugged: Part 1
Lasting Love
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