When the Nasher Sculpture Center opened its doors not long ago, some bozo said, in a televised blurb, "This will put Dallas on the map."

Now, we're not certain who made the comment, nor are we quoting verbatim. One of our favorite pastimes involves consuming massive quantities of bourbon while watching Fox 4 news, so our ability to recall events with any degree of accuracy rivals that of an MSNBC personality. The statement, however, reveals an embarrassing lack of cultural aplomb. A garden full of cast-off construction material simply pales compared with the cartographic value of more significant icons: J.R. Ewing, America's team, tequila Slurpees and presidential assassinations.

Yep, Dallas has a lot to be proud of.

This week, while others debate the what-ifs of Kennedy's presidency, we plan to reflect upon his greatest legacy: inspiring Americans to embrace public service. Forty years after the day when Dallas first appeared on this country's figurative map, the spirit of Camelot stirs anew, particularly among the Burning Question crew (boomers all). Kennedy taught us that a little liberal do-gooding could effect positive change. Thousands joined the Peace Corps, for example, and their work made it safe for Americans to shop for jelly doughnuts in the divided streets of Berlin or stroll the picturesque trails of Vietnam.

So in memory of the late president and our city's most important contribution to history, we hearken to Kennedy's call and, this week only, shrink not from our responsibility to serve the greater good. We seek to answer this week's Burning Question not because it involves women and alcohol, but because it is hard. Um, that is to say, because the energy we bring to this endeavor can truly light the world.

OK, it's because we could drink, chat up babes and charge it all to our editor.

Clearly women can meet men in a bar. Every establishment we visited during our selfless venture into public service featured men of all types (inebriated, semi-inebriated, Boris Yeltsin inebriated). Yet a majority of the women we spoke with complained that men worthy of anything more than a fake smile and uncomfortable conversation are few and far between. "You would think you could find a decent guy, but there aren't any," says a distraught Sara, slurping drinks at Champps in Las Colinas, in a typical response. Over and over, women described men sidling into bars looking only for action, men suffering from an inadequate understanding of decorum and so on. "Nine times out of 10, in a bar it's all about bullshit," laments Shelly, a denizen of the Candle Room.

Not that women find men in bars entirely useless. "People who are outgoing, active and social go out, so you have something in common," explains Renee, hanging out at Republic. Yet the atmosphere and the alcohol add a touch of wariness to any encounter. Bars attract the wrong type of men, according to common concerns, and a more than modest intake of alcohol leads to regrettable errors in judgment.

"After a couple of drinks, inhibitions go down and everybody looks good," confirms Meghan, knocking back a few at Boston's in Irving.

We bought her a know, just to say "thanks."

Circumstances such as those described by pessimistic women demand a set of rules--or self-control. "As a girl you have to be careful," says Valerie, drinking at Republic. "I make it clear I'm not going home with them, and the assholes will leave."

She probably added something more, but we broke off the interview abruptly.

The image of the sloppy encounter, prevalent or not, discourages many women from anything other than, well, sloppy encounters. Roya, eyeing the crowd at Nikita, puts it succinctly: "Men decent enough to sleep with, yes. Decent enough to date, that's another matter."

Why then do women congregate at pickup bars? Well, several women mentioned a yearning for self-esteem: Men flatter them, they feel good about themselves--and it ends there. Others look for innocent conversation or dance partners. Those sitting alongside the bar at happy hour consider men iffy. "They are going for drinks before going home to their wives," Shelly says. "You can't trust it." Closing time is even worse, for obvious reasons.

For the most part, according to Sheli, a patron of Cool River, pessimistic women have one thing in mind when they slip into a bar full of desperate men. "You gotta get free drinks somehow," she says.

Yet several women mentioned friends who met their future husbands while scoping Dallas bars. The laws of probability also suggest that decent men are sprinkled throughout the crowd on any night in any establishment. "No matter what place you go to, there'll be someone to catch your eye," notes Sherri at Nikita.

Or, as Roya says: "Can you? Yes, I'm sure you can. Have I? No, I haven't. Why not? Because I'm wasted."

Ultimately, then, it's possible for women to meet decent men in a bar. Yet sincerity in this milieu is always subject to proof. Distrust--and a long history of male duplicity--mars the experience for many women.

"Most guys at bars are not ready to commit," bemoans Ashley, drinking at Boston's. "It's not impossible, but it's very rare."


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