Last night in New York, a group of (presumably) single guys gathered by a couple of phone boxes in Times Square. On the face of it, there's nothing too remarkable about that – people date all the time in New York, right? It's what Americans do. But then again they were these phone boxes, with a public access CCTV camera trained upon them 24 hours a day (navigate to Cam 2). There was also a cut-out of that "Forever Alone" guy's face stuck on the side of them, and 4chan had lured all the single men there by pretending to be women who wanted to date them. Stir that all up in a big, cruel pot, and you have yourself a "Forever Alone Involuntary Flashmob". We grappled with our consciences and managed to pin them to the ground long enough to send a couple of photographers down to capture the sadness.
Here's the plot outline. The agreed start point was 7.30pm, but so many people had heard about the prank that I couldn't access the 'cam until just before 8pm. After peering at it for about five minutes, I realised that I was sat by myself in the dark at home at 1am on a Friday night, pitying at a bunch of guys for supposedly being "forever alone". The sudden sense of irony was pretty crushing.
You couldn't make out a great deal from the webcam at the time, but in retrospect, everything seemed to revolve around the man in the red jeans. All the other lonely men seemed to recognise him as an exemplar of loneliness, probably because he was wearing red jeans and carrying red roses. 'Is it a coincidence that red is both the colour of love, and the colour of shame?', I thought to myself, as I apologised to the only pizza delivery guy I could find at that time of night for not being able to tip him.
Turns out this fella was the first to arrive – keen as mustard, at 7.15pm. Our photographers told us you could tell who was there to be stood-up, because they were constantly checking their phones. Little did we know it at the time, but this was to be the start of a beautiful relationship.
Not all of them had the misfortune to show up wearing fedoras.
Though this guy did have the misfortune to show up on a weird little motorbike.
Here's our guy in red!
And here he is leaving quarter of an hour later with a girl on each arm. I wonder if they were his 'IRL' friends, or girls who were watching online who'd taken pity on him? Turns out it was nothing as exciting as the latter: he was actually there to promote his internet start-up company. Which presumably explains the miasma of loneliness that the other men picked up on and were attracted to like sharks in a swimming pool at an all-girls boarding school.
Here are a couple of black and white shots because loneliness always looks more lonely when there are just two colours. The poignancy factor's also buoyed by the presence of the beautiful advert woman and, somehow, by the close proximity of a TGI Fridays.
At some point, someone came down and started handing out cuddly toys. Are men who wear fedoras aware of internet memes? Because that guy seems pretty confused by Pedobear.
It seemed like everyone involved took it in pretty good spirits. At least they'll be able to use this as sympathy ammo for their next real date. After all, what's a more surefire way of getting laid than spending all night talking about the time you were the victim of a cruel meme-prank set up by an online community of people you'll never meet?
UPDATE: Read an interview with one of the victims of this prank here.
PHOTOS: BRAYDEN OLSON & PHOENIX EISENBERG