Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ticking Away the Moments That Make Up a Dull Day

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.

--Roger Waters



Having spent the last 53 hours without walking no farther than across a Saturday-after-Thanksgiving-crowded bookstore, and back to the kitchen in my parents' house (or to check on the cake I baked), and also to the car after a movie last night, I am a lump. A slumping lump. A vapid, yawny pile of impulses. Eat now? Eat later? Too early for beer? Naaaah: beer now. Beer at 3:15 pm: good. Read On the Banks of Plum Creek for the 67th time? Watch Best in Show, or 1-AA football, or one-star 1999 Hank Azaria flick? (Don't they ever show Remington Steele, ER or, God, TJ Hooker, on cable anymore??)

I thought I was unmotivated back in Chicago, sheesh, I've devolved into a veritable over-nourished, under-stimulated, candy-popping (Dad loves Halloween candy year-round), disaffected suburban teenager since I turned the thermostat down to 63 (please don't freeze while I'm away, orchid-I-have-managed-not-to-kill-for-the-last-month!) in my apartment and left it Thursday morning. I should have an X-Box or Playstation and a bag of Flamin Hot Cheetos (with lime) to play just to make my recreant, newly adolescent self just picture-perfect.

About five minutes ago, I had an actual thought that wasn't about when we are eating again, if I should check Ebay to see if any new Mark Jacobs coats have been listed, or if I could wheedle my mother to take me to Fayette Mall tomorrow, instead of visiting my grandfather in the nursing home and because they hate it when I drive their cars--Christ, I am 16 again! The thought was: ... Oh, wait. Dammit. Damn it. I lost it.

...nooo, okay, yeah, it was: In Chicago, I walk an awful lot.

I mean maybe in the neighborhood of miles per day--depending if I am late for the express bus in the morning. Weekly miles and miles of treading, tromping, trawling necessitated by, well, existence. To work, to do, to live.

Thus and so, even after a couple low bipedal activity days, I feel absolutely stunted.

Because even if you feel like you're not moving, in the city, you are moving. Always going somewhere, about to do something, even if it's dropping off a four months' pile of delicates at the dry cleaners or taking out the garbage.

I miss how difficult life is in the city, because, however minuscule the destination, however much you feel like you're just waiting, waiting, waiting, however smothering the steely grey urban winter or grimy-hot street summer is--each step has purpose.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Liz Unphair

Liz Bashing Redux:

Maybe it's because I am still stunned she sold out (ha! punny! Sold! Out!) three nights at the Black Orchid (still locationally inexplicable), or that I'm stunned she's back again (Vic Theatre next Tuesday, thereby vitiating any sacred musical vibe left there by Tweedy and Co. during Wilco Week May 3-6), but I have to put forth another beautiful parenthetical slam on the former Blow-Job Queen, this time from Time Out Chicago's music calendar:

She's hired Sheryl Crow and Jason Mraz's producers for [her newest album], who have added more than a touch of Turning Leaf merlot flava to her Astroglide persona.

Am I going to fully (and in slobbery homage to the listings editor who's permanently sequestered behind a venti dark roast and a Mac who wrote this) bash Liz in these parts later?

Oh, hell yeah I am.

PS: Oh Christ. This just in. Now I'm glad I missed the Series game Saturday night.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

"I'm Bare-Boned and Crazy... For You"

Dave Matthews' "Crash."

Unfathomably, gently gorgeous song.

...fall...

...whispered latticework promises from someone who hopefully won't be so peculiarly new for long...

...being 27 and open to love's possibility, to chance, tipsy kisses, cold gusts up skirts, snowflakes on cheeks, being pushed on a long, link-chain, rubber seat swing next to Belmont Harbor...

My first months here, I tramped around a city that had a golden belt of possibility cinching it, listening to this song.

I do, I realize that at the same time, this lovesick anthem has whirred and clicked in the cd changer of every Kate Spade-ed female Loop-bound Account Manager who ever lived on Broadway and Surf and got groped in Tai's Til Four and thought it might be love.

But, yeah, it might have been for me too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Magic Nose Goblins and Other Things I Loved About 1993

Bloodsugarsexmagick
Drinking
"On the Pulse of Morning"
Snow
Import Night
Debaser
The Uptowner
Clinton
Divine Hammer
Groundhog Day
Radiohead before they became Radiohead
Beavis and Butthead
Pleasure
Siamese Dream
Riverwest Stein
Finger Lickin' Good Y'all
UW at the Rose Bowl
Pasties and G-String, Beer and a Shot
Sidney Hih
The Beautiful and the Damned
Scary hot dogs in the side bar at the Landmark
Walt Mink
Oriental Drugstore
My little brown wool thrift-store vest over a white mens v-neck t-shirt
Drinking
The Marriage of Bette and Boo
Hum
Brian Mitchell saying "My car was stolen and found over on 30th and Gibippy"
Exile in Guyville
More snow

Thursday, September 08, 2005

We Got Less Than Nothing

Okay, I have opened the floodgates.

Ouch! That was the wrong metaphor. But you know what I mean...

There is just too much being said--and not widely disseminated--out there to avoid sharing, musing. And to stop thinking.

In a speech Tuesday in Congress, our own freshman Senator from Illinois, Barak Obama, got to the heart of it:

And so I hope that out of this crisis we all begin to reflect - Democrat and Republican - on not only our individual responsibilities to ourselves and our families, but to our mutual responsibilities to our fellow Americans. I hope we realize that the people of New Orleans weren't just abandoned during the Hurricane. They were abandoned long ago - to murder and mayhem in their streets; to substandard schools; to dilapidated housing; to inadequate health care; to a pervasive sense of hopelessness.

This isn't political pontification. This isn't Reflex Liberalism, or its less diplomatic sibling, Knee-Jerk Reactionaryism (eg. "Bush doesn't care about black people"). This isn't even the unfathomably collossal fuck-up of FEMA and whoever actually has been running that organization besides two preppy former college roommates who are more accustomed to handling horseflesh and golfclubs than crises.

You and I saw it last week: it's real.

But that was Obama's conclusion. To start, he recalled his visit to the Astrodome in Houston:

...a conversation I had with one woman captured the realities that are settling into these families as they face the future.

She told me "We had nothing before the hurricane. Now we got less than nothing."

I urge you, read Obama's entire speech here.

Friday, September 02, 2005

It's Perfection and Grace: What's Not to Love about Steely Dan?

There's a couple of people walking a wiggly beagle outside the window right now--but that's beside the point. It's precisely the kind of scene you won't find in a Steely Dan song.

The top's down, palm trees nod overhead, we whoosh toward TJ. Glass-top tables and ice buckets puddling on a half-moon patio overlooking the sinful city.

Living hard will take its toll
Illegal fun
Under the sun, boys

My love for Steely Dan is both indefatigable and inevitably met with confusion and dismay.

I am alone in a Steely Dan-hater world. They are the ultimate players to hate.

Yeah, I mean you, all you player-haters.

I had thought SD was a sound my dad should check out--yeah, my dad.

"Those guys?" he said, sort of high-pitched. "Ah, hell, that one was just too scary to look at, I can't listen to him."

But no, Dad, Steely Dan's not to look at, it's to feel.

It isn't jazz, it isn't quite rock--it sure as hell isn't easy-listening. It's complex, it's syncopated, it's funky, it's just...escape.

I love a man who sings in an Aqua-Velva voice with Humbert-esque glee of girls who just started shaving, wearing high, tight shorts. Of the hallucinatory joys of tequila and the glitter of California mansions clinging seductively to desert mountainsides. Of sucking down scotch-and-waters in a palm hut bar in Antigua til blind, twisting a bitter peg in the hole of your broken heart.

Who are these outlaws? And where can I find them?

I'm a bookeeper's son
I don't want to hurt no one
Don't take me alive

Now, don't get me wrong, they truly are a couple of scary-looking mofos. Actually, nowadays they simply look like quasi-wealthy, fully-nerdy men in their late fifties. Like computer programmers, software guys, who started out in, say, '81 or '83, and, as we all know now, were wheelbarrowing cash up the street by '99. Or at least that's what they looked like the day I saw them on Rush Street a few summers ago. Well, I didn't see them, but my companions, my boyfriend at the time and our friend, did, because they stopped dead in front of Carmines after these mid-life crisis nobodies passed us, looked at each other, and screamed in unison like a couple of cheerleaders: "Steely Dan!"

Now, if these Glamour Profession wannabes can recognize Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (who never seemed to be clearly depicted on album covers or sleeves) on the street, it was worth checking out. Which I eventually, then obsessively did. I obtained Pretzel Logic through Gaucho by the end of 2001. At my workaday desk, I could envelop myself in tales of hard living, fast driving, faithless women, supple girls, and activities suspiciously resembling smuggling.

Endless nights and and bottomless drinks that would become watery memories during the car ride the next day. Afternoons stretching out on beaches where no one has a tan line and calls are made on phones ferried over on silver trays. Gauloises and Veuve Cliquot. Later, once the jet lands stateside, Bushmills and Marlboros.

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I'll play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whisky all night long
And die behind the wheel

One of the recent times I went home to see my parents, when my dad suddenly inserted an SD reference into the conversation in the car from the airport, slying saying, eyes on I-64, "Drink your big black cow and get out of here," I was vilified.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Last One in the Pool's a Polyester Bride

And then he said, "Do you wanna be a polyester bride?
Or do you want to hang your head and die?
Do you want to find alligator cowboy boots they just put on sale?
Do you want to flap your wings and fly away from here?"

"Princess, do you really want to flap your wings and fly?
Because you've got time."
He keeps telling me, "You've got time."
But I don't believe him
"You've got time."

I keep on pushing harder
I keep on pushing farther away
But he keeps telling me, "Baby,"
He says, "Baby, yeah."

Yup, it's Liz Phair. Posted here perhaps in honor of her reappearance as a live performer at the Black Orchid at Pipers Alley (whatever...). Not that I am going. Not that I want to go, because, as Jim DeRogotis eloquently cranked in the Sun-Times about her current output of "adult contemporary radio pap a la Sheryl Crow" (whose lyrics I would never post publicly even though I've been known to touch a couple at Karaoke):

My God, what happened to this woman's self-esteem, let alone her brains? What possibly could have inspired one of the sharpest songwriters of her generation to turn to writing such utterly banal crap?
I know who's a Polyester, Sarah McLaughlin-ized Bride.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Move Over

"I like to use the expression 'to get out of your own way'...if I get out of my way, I won't make any mistakes, I won't have any regrets, I can do something I believed I could do but didn't know I would do. I find that works for me in film, and it works for me in life."

--Bill Murray, 2004

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Stedman Rocking All Night Long

Today as I pulled a tab off the number ticker at the Italian deli, the one at the base of the Hancock Tower, and was salivating over the kind of sandwich I would select today, something nearly as huge as Big John loomed next to me; a shadow was thrown across the case of caprese salads and cannolis.

[Dum-dum-DUM!]

Yep, it was Stedman. Yes, that Stedman, Oprah's...uhhhh...boyfriend? Beau? Life partner? Swain? Sweetheart? Paramour? Intended? Permanent Fiance? Lover?

Whatever.

The man is...enormous. Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man-sized. (and it's clear, isn't it, that there's an entire generation that remembers 1984 in blinding clarity and that will employ this form of measurement, thanks to Aykroyd, Ramis, et al).

A teeny-tiny woman backed into him, and, once she peered upward and saw who it was, murmured his name, mesmerized (and it's clear, isn't it, that I am embellishing the story for blog-effect).

Then Stedman, the Most Useless Man in America, proved he's still the winner and champeen of that title by continuing to wander around L'Appetito in his gray Armani, scraping beige-colored gelato out of a cup and carrying some papers and a folder of some kind. Finally, he settled, alone, at a small cafe table, and continued to scrape-scrape-scrape and to stare into space. Or, rather, into Earth's upper stratosphere, because that man is HUGE.

Meanwhile, in Africa, Oprah continues to nurse starving children back to health with soccer balls and copies of "O" Magazine and chicken-salad sandwiches while supervising the construction of huts custom-designed by Nate.

What else is a Permanent Fiance to do, then?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just Look Above.

Maybe it's the way the evening sun slants through the longest day of the year, gilding the delicate under-wings of a gull that's wheeling over street grit and spilled tacos, and ambitious spires and useless billboards, hothouse condos and bitter minds that reminds: when a waterside bird can soar like that overhead, there's something bigger than this city.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Pass the Dutchie: An Ultimate Where-Are-They-Now List

Add names, or identify current whereabouts...

Cracker
Duncan Sheik
The Smithereens
Pure Prairie League
Voice of the Beehive
Howard Jones
Primus
Ric Astley
The Romantics
Right Said Fred
Robbie Nevil
The Jungle Brothers
Simply Red
The Bangles
Suzy Q
Was (Not Was)
Poco
Toad the Wet Sprocket
C+C Music Factory
Timbuk 3
Marcy Playground
Jellyfish
Jody Watley
Slade
Taylor Dayne
The Dandy Warhols
Nina
Go West
Bad Company
Sir Mix-A-Lot
Skid Row
The Fixx
Elastica
Jamiroquai
Morris Day and the Time
Blind Melon
Stereo MCs
Fishbone
The Housemartins
Dead or Alive
Fastball
The Divinyls
Leo Sayer
The Motels
PM Dawn
The Plimsouls
Royal Crescent Mob
Dexy's Midnight Runners
Lisa Loeb
Falco
The Cranberries
Little River Band
Faith No More
The Blow Monkeys
Paper Lace
Bronski Beat
Fine Young Cannibals
The Georgia Satellites
Walt Mink
Martika
Victoria Williams
Soul Asylum
Gary Wright
Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Johnny Hates Jazz
Eddy Grant
The Dream Academy
Frente
Kajagoogoo
Rockwell
Superchunk
Prefab Sprout
Bettie Serveert
The Fall
Yaz
Eddie Murphy
The Cult
Lloyd Cole
Better Than Ezra
Charlie Sexton
Gin Blossoms
Scandal
Joe Walsh
Billy Ocean

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

"My Mind is Filled with Radio Cures"

Funny how some songs or albums suddenly become the soundtrack of your life. You have to hear them in sequence, you have to hear them when it's way too late to be up but okay, just track 3 one more time while you empty your bulk email folder again, when you've been driving nowhere, really, a continuous Grand Prix of Western, Chicago, Wabansia and Ashland, when you've been in the car parked outside for, God, was it really two hours, when you're peering up to the broken clouds above Big John downtown and trying to remember if it's toothpaste or cotton balls you need at Walgreens. You have to hear them in the morning, and and fuck it if you're gonna be late for work again, and then, once at your fluorescent desk, Media Player unspools the soundscape your life's become for nine hours, docked under a spreadsheet you can't ever seem to finish.

But way, way beyond the urgency of listening is the fact that holy shit, how could he have written this song and known me-when he doesn't know me? And the guitar crescendoes at the precise moment I need to think of what I long to think of but shouldn't, and my eyes close at the gentlest piano bridge, and the whispering coda makes my fingers curl like I'm holding someone's hand in mine. Maybe I etched the lyrics myself while in that moonlit, half-awake moment of clarity just before falling asleep.

***

We went to see Wilco at the Vic Wednesday night. It was honestly one of the best shows I have ever seen, not just because they played over two hours and over 25 songs. I am not relinquishing the top spot to Tweedy et al because I love other shows for other reasons from other phases of my life. (Crowded House, 1991; Replacements, 1991; Beastie Boys, 1998; Erykah Badu, 2001) Let's say it's the best show now--but still damn close to the top.

What was amazing about the night was the feeling that every single human in that theatre really, really wanted to be there, and embraced every song with the same yearning, attuned precision with which the band played. We all had a huge crush on each other. I mean, I was drinking dregs from a stack of 5 cashed beer cups during the third encore, and I still felt it.

Tweedy's face is heartbreaking. It's boyish and hurt and fierce and doughy. A heart laid bare.

The soaring and aching of sex and the crashing and burning of love. The delicacy of a rose petal. A mosaic of sound created with almost painterly detail, layer after layer, each brush on the high-hat and feedback howl deliberate--and free.

***

Picking apples for the kings and queens of things I've never seen
Oh, distance has no way of making love understandable

***

How can this not score my daily walks and thoughts?

Friday, April 15, 2005

There Ain't Much to Rake Anyway in the Fall

"A person can work up a mean, mean thirst
After a hard day of nothing much at all..."
--P. Westerberg

Monday, March 14, 2005

CTA: Take It!*

We came up with some new expansions of the CTA acronym:

Coming Tardy Always
Crap Transportation Administered
Crooked Transit Action
Corrupt Thieving Administrators

and

Cut This, Assholes

*I did not create nor appropriate this phrase. Mars and Kerri said their friend said it, and it was funny.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Not for the Feint of Heart

I noticed something during Karaoke Thursday last week: How come when my theatre/performer- type friends get up to the mike, we just…well, sing? And when the other 98.125% of the urban out-on-a-Thursday-night population yowls and warbles up there, it’s complete with ass-shaking disco moves, or Korn-style microphone management (cord wrapped around arm, right leg braced front), or Mick Jagger cock-strutting. I am fully aware that I clutch the mike stand like it’s the last paddle on the Titanic and just FOCUS ON THE WORDS. And those other people, they perform it. We, we just…plant it.

Friday, March 04, 2005

A Final Rose Is Not a Final Rose: The Anti-Bachelorette

I watched the live “After the Final Rose” finale of the latest installment of ABC’s The Bachelorette on Monday night. (To the peanut gallery: Let he who is without reality-show sin cast the first remote control…) Jen Schefft is a sweet-faced blonde from Chicago—it makes sense she is an event planner/public relations professional. Jen’s just the right combination of Midwestern practicality, 21st century assertiveness, and feminine acquiescence, with her soft voice, wide eyes and determinedly set jaw. I can practically see her tossing her hat on the plaza in front of the Hancock Tower, just like Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis thirty-five years ago, as well as extolling the benefits of upgrading to premium-quality sashimi for your next trendy cocktail event.

But Jen became the reluctant Bachelorette that night, not only dashing her swains’ hopes for a happy ending (and lucrative bottom-feeder celeb career and plenty of airtime on Extra!), but probably pounding the final nail in the coffin of ABC’s Monday night True-Love juggernaut. The bloom is off the Final Rose, folks.

"I just want to make sure that we do it right,” she vowed after turning down her second televised proposal, from Jerry. Runner-up John Paul was dissed and dismissed just before, in the first hour of the program, previously recorded in the New York penthouse or rooftop or wherever the final showdown occurred (I didn’t watch it since I couldn’t fast forward or Tivo through the lame—I mean lamer—parts. I cannot afford that kind of convenience).

Seeing him Monday night before a live audience after being (ostensibly) apart for the last several months, Jen rejected Jerry, an LA art dealer who actually appeared to be a wee bit too canny to appear on a reality dating—well, marriage--show, AGAIN. The newly terminated couple perched uncomfortably next to each other and gamely answered chuckleheaded questions from host Chris Harrison, who’s about as much a non-entity as you can get this side of a black hole, yet who still managed to feign enough surprise at the break-up to garner a Daytime Emmy nomination. If only the show was on before 5pm.

Then Chris turned the True Love Inquisition over to the audience. The first questioner was visibly perturbed with her Bachelorette’s decision (or non-decision). “I mean, what is it going to take to satisfy you, Jen??” she demanded, quivering under her carefully-chosen Banana Republic outfit.

That’s right, how dare she? Doesn’t she know you can marry someone you select from a group of bleached-teeth TV suckups you’ve romped across NYC with for six weeks?

“You can’t make yourself fall in love with someone,” Jen parried, both to the irate Bachelorette fan whose faith in True Love she had trampled, and to ex-almost-fiance Jerry. “You know that, don’t you?” she implored the sucker. Ever-suave Jerry was at a loss for words.

Chris alluded to the rumors swirling that Jen has been dating her boss, who turns out to be Chicago nightclub impressario Billy Dec (who has to have the most asshole-sounding name I have ever heard, ever). Jen demurred with enough shock to give Chris a run for his money in the Daytime Emmy race. "I'm not dating anyone," she remonstrated, widening those already-wide eyes, not even her first TV-fiance, the Tire King of San Francisco (also with an a-hole name), Andrew Firestone.

The first domino to fall in this go-round, eager-faced John Paul from Oklahoma City, told the cameras after his own sucker punch, "I think Jen made a mistake. I think six months from now she'll regret it. Jen's going to wake up, she's going to be 32 and [still] looking for a husband... looking for someone she knew was there and passed up, and it will be too late at that point."

Oh my God, the horror! She still might be single at 32, and thereby well on the way to a hairy chin, a bus pass, and 15 cats in a frowsy one-bedroom apartment in a Sheridan Road highrise.

Jen, let me have a moment with you, girl-to-girl: You are my new hero. By rejecting the Harry Winston engagement pabulum they offered you, in your own sweet, blond Kelly on 90210 way, you told the omnipotent architects of reality TV, millions of True Love brainwashees, and the ABC network (and hell, probably FOX too) to shove that Final Rose up their arses.

Maybe you should have stayed in Chicago and conducted your Husband Search from barstool at John Barleycorn. It's sad, but you might have had better odds.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Truth Will Set You Free, Single Disposable-Income Women Everywhere

It was enough to drive someone to the self-help bookshelf at Borders (or better yet, the silent, non-judgmental safety of Amazon.com). The straw that broke this particular single person’s back was the married friend’s response to some reflexive whining over weeknight beers about not dating anyone lately:“There are plenty of people interested in you. You’re just too picky.” Okay, okay: that single person was me. Thankfully, I had a copy of He’s Just Not That Into You waiting at home. While not a boyfriend, at least it was hardcover, had that seductive and comforting new-book smell, and possibly could provide a brief antidote to loneliness, or at least future loneliness. Subtitled “The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys,” He’s Just Not That Into You is squarely aimed at a youngish (mid-twenties to mid-forties), sophisticated audience—one that would include viewers of urbane television programs like, say, Sex and the City. In fact, the slender volume’s authors, Liz Tuccillo and Greg Behrendt, both worked for the wildly popular program as a writer and consultant (for the “straight male” perspective), respectively. The book was inspired by an episode in which the Miranda character receives a lightning-bolt revelation from Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend that her most recent date, who had not yet called, was probably “just not that into you.” Apparently, for men there are “no mixed messages,” and if he doesn’t call after the date, he’s not into you. Period. Ever-resourceful Miranda puts this new philosophy into practice, but it backfires (no pun intended) after she tries to let a first-date fellow with gastrointestinal distress off the hook when he turns her down for a nightcap.

Nevertheless, Greg and Liz (they go by first names only, keeping with the chatty, confidential tenor of the book), as well as Simon and Schuster, sensed a trend afoot in this fault-free concept of relationships and wrote a dating-help book from an ostensibly male point of view, one that’s mercifully less cringe-inducing than some of the other for-singles guides out there, like Stop Getting Dumped! All You Need to Know to Make Men Fall Madly in Love with You, Marry “The One" in 3 Years or Less, How to Make a Man Fall in Love with You: The Fail-Proof, Fool-Proof Method, and the utterly grisly-sounding
Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School. Nauseated after ten minutes examining these tomes of desperation on Amazon (in preparation for reading Greg and Liz’s book, of course) I started to worry that He’s Not That Into You was going to be The Rules in Hugo Boss clothing. Since the book originated in the writers’ room at Sex and the City, it promises—and proves—to be a more palatable how-to manual than the typical delusional dispatches crowding today’s bookshelves and webspace, fitting neatly into 21st-century chick-lit landscape. At a basic level, not only would it replace How to Deal with Difficult Men and Still Keep Your Sanity on Bridget Jones’ bookshelf, a real-life gal could leave, without discomfiture, the dust jacket on it while reading on the El. Matters of vanity aside, though, He’s Just Not That Into You is flavored with Sex and the City’s salty wit, but just like television comedy, the book is as reductive as it is instructive.

The basic premise, explained in Greg and Liz’s light, laconic prose: if a guy doesn’t call after a date, ask for a date, seem physically attracted to you, or commits major league infractions like disappearing or sleeping with other people, then “he’s just not that into you.” Simple. As Greg, who is a stand-up comedian and former, possibly caddish, bachelor, says, “When a guy is into you, he lets you know it. He calls, he shows up, he wants to meet your friends, he can’t keep his eyes or hands off of you. I don’t care if he’s starting his new job as president of the United States at 0400, he’s coming up!” Another of the dozens of cute Greg epigrams that pepper the book includes “Don’t waste the pretty!” Greg wastes no time informing us that we, who are collectively “delicious” and “foxy,” are all dating the same guy: “He is a man made up entirely of your excuses.” How does he know? Need you ask? He’s a guy, one who finally settled down and married a woman to whom he is obviously devoted; one who knows that guys “would rather lose an arm out a city bus window than tell you simply, ‘You are not the one.’” And why does he care so much? “Because I am tired of seeing great women in bullshit relationships.”

Fair enough; he’s got our back. Liz, a single New Yorker, cheerily substantiates Greg’s proposal with her own bathetic one: “Assume rejection first. Assume you’re the rule, not the exception. It’s intoxicatingly liberating." This back-and-forth Carson-McMahon shtick structures the book, which spreads its already-thin hypothesis like a dusting of snow over the entire mountain range of relationships: the foothills of absent phone calls and follow-up dates, crags of all manner of breakups, and the hideous alps of abusive behavior and dating a married man. “Real-life” questions from fictitious women are answered by Greg to illustrate the myriad excuses those noncommittal men use to perpetuate all manner of “bullshit” relationships, like he’s “got a lot on his mind,” “afraid to get hurt again,” “just not ready.” Or this classic:

The "Maybe He Doesn't Want to Ruin the Friendship" Excuse

Dear Greg,
I'm so disappointed. I have this friend that I've known platonically for about ten years. He lives in a different city and recently he was in town for work, so we met for dinner. All of a sudden it felt like we were on a date. He was completely flirting with me. He even said to me, as he was checking me out, "So, what, you're working the whole 'model thing' now?" (That's flirting, right?)...Well, Greg, I'm disappointed because it's been two weeks and he hasn't called me. Can I call him? He might be nervous about turning the friendship into romance. Jodi

Dear Friendly Girl,
Two weeks is two weeks, except when it's ten years and two weeks. That's how long ago he decided whether or not he could date a model or a girl who looks like one. Can you be a pal and give him a nudge? Nudge away, friendster — but watch how fast that nudge doesn't get a return phone call…Here's the truth: Guys don't mind messing up a friendship if it could lead to sex, whether it be a "(expletive) buddy" situation or a meaningful romance. Go find someone that lives in your zip code who will be rocked to the core by your deep conversation and model looks.

Liz follows up Greg’s snappy and snippy dispensations to sympathetically explain “Why this one is hard;” Greg responds again with results from his decidedly non-scientific polling of other males about the excuse at hand. There’s even a checklist concluding each chapter to remind you what you should have learned (e.g. “You already have one asshole. You don’t need another”).

The chapters are titled with equally artless syllogisms (“He’s Not That Into You if He’s…Not Calling You; …Married; …Not Having Sex with You; …Breaking Up with You; …A Really Big Freak”) that lead to this basic and as I see it, two-pronged premise: 1. Men aren’t that complicated, and 2. If he has issues, other women to sleep with, phobias, lack of purpose or personality, he’ll get over them to be with you. So, women of the world, stop analyzing his mixed-message behavior like Jane Goodalls of the dating world and move on! That’s crystal clear in Chapter One. Then, after unfurling ten more exasperatingly redundant and sporadically amusing chapters of Greg-and-Liz quid pro quo, Greg reaches his pinnacle statement: “By staying with a guy that is not that into you, you are ensuring you’re never going to find one that is.” Thank God, I was getting worried we wouldn’t get to this—or any—core-shaking conclusion.

And buried at the bottom of page ninety-six is the peg on which the fretting single gals and hollow-feeling girlfriends, and Sex and the City fans can really hang their obsessive hats: “Remember always what you set out to get, and please don’t settle for less,” Greg announces. “These guys are able to exist because there are a lot of women out there who allow them to.” Hey, wait a minute—I’m still at fault here? Twisting the knife further, Liz concurs that “there’d be an awful lot of better-behaved men out there” if we ladies insisted on better behavior. Thus Greg, in his infinitesimal wisdom, not only posits that all guys are like him, ready to flop down like doormats in front of that transcendent woman who can finally make him change, but also that relationship behavior is simply a matter of supply and demand. It’s that…simple?

But it’s the simple tropes that embed themselves most deeply in popular culture—remember “Where’s the beef?” “He’s just not that into you” is an exercise in obviousness that is well on the road to maxim (not the magazine). How do I know it’s such a phenomenon? All of the (heterosexual) male friends I polled recently about the book—or the idea of it—recognized He’s Not That Into You immediately, and one demanded to borrow my copy. As I queried some of them at a pub about the soundness of Greg’s rationale, the greatest hits of Paula Abdul (all three of them) blared from the jukebox in the background. Now, I believe in Jukebox Fate (whereby a song appropriate to the occasion or conflict at hand will play at the precise moment in need of emphasis), so my quiz was underscored dramatically by Paula bleating “Straight up now tell me is it gonna be you and me forever?” and “He’s a cold-hearted snake (look into his eyes),” both songs that truly do describe the exact range of emotions unmarried woman in endures in the dating world. Needless to say, the respondents agreed that “Oh, yeah, definitely not into her if you don’t call her,” but trashed Greg’s theory that if women have to be the aggressor and ask a guy out, then—well, you know the rest. “Men like to pursue women,” says Greg, “We like not knowing if we can catch you.” However, even after a couple of rum and Cokes, one of my friends was decidedly more ambivalent: “I may not be into someone, but if she asks me out, then all of a sudden I am sort of into her.”

Would that it could, but Greg’s “powerful silver bullet” (as Liz calls it) can’t pierce the complexity of everyday life and every situation. In terms of “setting a level of what you will or won’t tolerate” in a relationship, the concept is compelling, but there’s a profound reason He’s Not That Into You is disquieting, and it’s that we have to instruct women in 2005 they are (loaded word) empowered. Sure, Fate’s Jukebox now blares Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman (Part 1)” instead of Olivia Newton-John sweetly warbling “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” heightening countless pick-up and breakup moments nationwide, but it’s alarming that women today still are struck by an emotional na├»vete that requires the sort of reductive, smart-ass reasoning brotherly Greg offers up to lonely hearts. And it is lonely out there. He admits as much to us—after eleven chapters of chastising pep talk. He concurs that being lonely “sucks,” and then Greg suddenly morphs into the Jesse Jackson of dating, testifying that since he believes “life will turn out well,” it will. That’s a big leap of faith to make in a world that is soundtracked and wallpapered with true-love stories, one driven by a multi-million dollar wedding industry and in which singles, according to the He’s Just Not That Into You philosophy, should both assume the worst and hope for the best. Liz says she feels “more powerful” since implementing his strategy. For my part, I'm uncomfortable with such a singular and, yep, forced point of view. I mean, Greg is just a guy, too. I’m not convinced we should trust him, either. But even if I “waste the pretty,” at least I do know it might just be okay to be picky.