Anthropologically speaking, Selectrocution is a scream, a shrill cry reverberating over the crowded dance floors of singles clubs.
Like glandular sixth-grade girls who pass notes and keep lists of their favorite boys, Selectrocution gets right to the point. Patrons wear initials on their lapels, mingle, and proposition each other via a video message board.
They also submit to being ranked for desirability -- or totally rejected -- by others in the bar and matched by computer at evening's end with anyone expressing mutual interest.
"I make no bones about it. It's nothing but judging people by their looks," says Jeff Aydelette, creator of the game, which is played at about 35 bars in 14 states. "But that's the way the world works."
In the '60s it was live bands and free love. In the '70s it was disco music and tight pants. And in the '80s, it is data-processed dating. Cyrano de Bergerac would need his own set of software to survive today's social scene.
"Everyone puts on a plastic shield [socially] and this sort of took it away," says Dennis Doughty, whose Norfolk club featured the game every week for about five years until it switched formats to attract an older crowd. "They're still coming in and saying they met through Selectrocution," he says.
In fact, at least 20 couples who met at Doughty's Selectrocution game got married. Five of them had receptions at the bar.
Who says computers are impersonal?
If you enter the Georgetown Library bar on the first Tuesday of every month, you will be looked at very carefully. Your clothes will be eyeballed, your dance techniques examined, your skin condition, muscle tone and hair style scrutinized.
The winners, those who get messages, computer matchups and high rankings, will not only meet people, but leave the bar feeling good about themselves.
The losers will be Selectrocuted.
"Yeah," Aydelette says, "a 300-pound girl with pimples and greasy hair" will, if not among anyone's top five choices, receive a printout at evening's end saying, "Sorry, you have just been Selectrocuted."
But, he adds, "a regular old Joe Blow will have an easier time meeting women playing this game than if he were in a regular nightclub."
The youngish crowd (average age 20 to 23) at the club on a recent Tuesday had different reasons for coming. Some were regulars, some heard about it from friends, and some walked in by mistake. None admitted being nervous about being judged, or particularly concerned about the rankings.
But Eddie Lewis, the club bartender, says he hears plenty of interest in the ratings. "A lot ask, 'When will they tell me how I did?' " he said. Lewis also said Selectrocution night attracts a more attractive crowd.
As the patrons lit up their cigarettes, maintained their smiles and danced to tunes like "Sex Shooter" and "Body Talk," the messages began flashing across the board:
D.B. Female: I think I love you. D.D. Male.
To M.S. (Male): Tickle me with your mustache. From D.B. (female).
Hey M.D. Female: If you're a doctor you can operate on me. L.K.
To J.W. Male: I want to make love to you tonight. From Z.Q. Female.
To E.B.: I want to make your blood rush to your head.
B.O. Female: You're hotter than hot. I'd do anything to dance with you.
To L.R. Female: I'm sincerely glad I met you and I hope we get to know you better.
Lisa Olsen and Leib Kaminsky, two 19-year-olds from Bethesda, have attended Selectrocution six times. "We scope together," says Kaminsky. "I use her as bait. She uses me as bait."
Kaminsky once finished second in the rankings. "Amazing, isn't it?" he says. "We stuffed the ballot box."
Olsen once finished fifth. "Must've been a slow night," she jokes. She once met a man at Selectrocution and attended one of his parties, but nothing developed. He happened to be at the club Tuesday night and the two were sending messages back and forth.
Kaminsky also met some women through Selectrocution, and corresponds with one. "She's nice, but sleazy," he says.
Roberta Kotz, 19, trying Selectrocution for the first time, says she felt comfortable in the bar. "I don't think a majority are lasciviously sitting there checking it out," she says.
But Debbie Smith, who didn't know about Selectrocution when she came to the club and declined to play, says the game is "pathetic."
"I'm glad I'm here with someone else because it would make me very self-conscious," she says.
"I think it's really sad. These people are really trying."
Quinton Smith comes to Selectrocution regularly with his friends but never plays. "I just like watching everybody else . . . I'm really too shy to do it," says Smith, 20, of Alexandria.
Smith does partake in one aspect of the game. He sends messages, even to the less attractive women, to give them a lift. "You can make a girl's night if you write the right kind of message," he says.
"It's like a meat market, but it can be fun sometimes."
It can also be lucrative. Selectrocution night always packs them in at the Georgetown Library.
At 35, Aydelette stands out a bit in the crowd. "I'm getting to be an old man in these places," he says. His frustration with the singles game prompted him to invent Selectrocution, which initially provided both his social and his financial livelihood.
Now he has a growing business and a wife named Susan. Guess where he met her?
"She was a good patron. Sometimes I'd flirt with the patrons just to get things going with the game. But with her, it was sincere," he says.
She was a government employe from Vienna, and came to Selectrocution unintentionally. She finished 13th out of 67 the first night and that inspired her to keep returning. "Finally, one week she was Number 1," Aydelette says, "and thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread."
A self-styled North Carolina "country bumpkin," Aydelette quit his job at a New York securities firm to develop Selectrocution. After hundreds of evenings in clubs, he has noticed some trends.
"Our best patron is the lady who is attractive but wants confirmation she is appealing. Even if they're in the top 20, it's an ego boost and they will be back."
Another discovery: Once people receive their computer rankings, they usually leave the club, many without ever searching out those who chose them.
Aydelette says most people don't play the game to find one-night stands. "A lot of people go home and talk and get to know each other," he says.
Even if the message gimmick doesn't work, it gives people a reason to talk to each other. Roberta Kotz, the first-time player, sent R.R. a message: "I like your eyes, do you want to dance?" When he didn't answer, she approached him and found out that he hadn't been looking at the video screen. She and Rick Rovira danced and talked for about 30 minutes.
The conversation, she says, was "better than usual."
They exchanged phone numbers.
For others, the game provides only rejection. "Some guy asked me to dance and I told him I hurt my leg," says Lori Shaver, 19, of Alexandria. Another woman was so upset by her ranking that she retreated to the bathroom. "She had a poor attitude about herself and that didn't help matters much," says her friend Dawn Hook, 18, of Arnold, Md.
Before they play, contestants receive a cautionary note for fragile egos, and few seem to take the game very seriously. Richard Sprague, 20, who was Selectrocuted this particular night, says he feels no more pressure than he does at a regular singles bar.
"It's only for fun. It's no replacement for personality or anything," says Tom Michaud, another of the 30 Selectrocution victims.
The top-ranked woman, Babe' Avanzini, 20, of Potomac, says she was surprised by her victory. "There are a lot of girls more attractive," says Avanzini, who is blond and thin and has modeled.
Doug Smith, a 6-2 tan, blond Californian, wasn't quite as pleased with his seventh-place ranking. "It makes me feel like seventh place rather than first place," he says.
The two Selectrocution regulars, Kaminsky and Olsen, left the game early out of frustration. Olsen had mixed results. "The new one I wrote to did not respond." But the old friend from Selectrocution invited her to a party, and she's mulling it over. She says he was with another woman most of the night.
Kaminsky struck out. "It was terrible," he says. "She's standing right behind [me] and she didn't even respond . . . But that's okay, I'll be back next time."