Call me crazy, but I'd expect the male co-author of a book entitled Guys Are Schmucks to be some sort of slick-haired pretty boy with tailored pants, a silver-tipped belt and an outsized fondness for himself. He'd be one of those who finds his womanizing endearing, a mark of his playfulness and desirability.
But neither Bob Richardson, a retired advertising executive (think Marlboro Man and the Jolly Green Giant), nor his breasted co-author Dr. Laura d'Angelo, a psychiatrist living in Nashville, seems to be characterized by the least bit of schmuckiness.
When I say this to the charming octogenarian sitting across from me at lunch, Richardson disavows me of this notion, at least as far as he's concerned. "We grow out of it. Did you know a man can have sex with a woman and have absolutely no affection for her whatsoever?" he says, as if to inform my naïve sensibilities. I do, of course, know this, but for this sweet man I feign surprise.
While the authors impose this value of schmuckiness on all men, they do it more in the service of advancing an ideaand helping women understand what they're getting into with the opposite sexthan in condemning half of the surface earth's population. (This is, after all, a Cold Tree Press production of only 73 pages in overlarge font. It ain't literature.)
The engaging d'Angelo, who carried the water on this project, didn't just sit down to recycle some crap from the hourly sessions she's had with patients over the course of a career. The idea came innocently enough, when a male friend tried to set her up on a date after she divorced her husband of 20 years. (No, he didn't have an affair.) This friend described the prospective beau as a serial monogamist who breaks off relationships the second a woman wants to get married. When d'Angelo asked her friend why in the world he'd want her to go out with a guy like that, he said, "Laura, let me tell you something. All guys are schmucks. If you can learn to accept that, you'll do fine."
"Not exactly the words I expected, much less wanted, to hear," d'Angelo writes in her introduction. "But when I brought this up in conversations with male friends during the next few months, each and every one of them agreed.... And each and every one started telling me about their personal experiences as a schmuck.... Men were comfortably telling me about themselves and enjoying it. At 47, I figured I had something to learn. Hence, these conversations were the springboard which led to more formal interviews, and this book was birthed."
What d'Angelo seems to be telling us is that men are simpleand flawed. (Course, aren't we all?) They will stray, they will get lazy, they will frustrate, but not all of them will do it all the time. They grow out of their schmuckiness, learn to become more respectful and regretful of their mistakes. In fact, they look to women to keep them from being schmucks. One of d'Angelo's most interesting findings is that, in his own mind, a man is only as good as his wife thinks he is. But these are things that women don't seem to know. "In spite of our female intuition, we still have some very basic things to learn about guys," she says.
D'Angelo even interviewed her two sons, Alex and Max, one of whom agreed to do so as long as his psychiatrist mom didn't abuse her powers. Their anonymous testimony was no doubt invaluable in the chapter about boyhood (entitled "Pranksters, Rascals and Risk-Takers") and the one about teenagers, "The Vice Squad and Proud of It." Of course, this launched us into a conversation about how my oldest brother once set fire to a neighbor's yard, how that same brother once pushed me off a deck face first, and how he and my other older brother have many fond memories of holding me down and spitting on me. (I still love you, John and Michael, you asswipes.) D'Angelo wasn't surprised.
Predictablyand unavoidablyd'Angelo also covers marriage, infidelity, dating and other equally weighty topics with a dose of humor and, occasionally, uh, descriptive prose. ("A woman who enjoys the deep love and warmth of a man's affection will invariably reciprocate by caressing his penis with her mouth.") Er, this is not the book, perhaps, for your pre-teen or your mother. Save it for your Sex and the City groupie friends.
But do pick it up and wrap it up this season. 'Cause the two folks who wrote it are among the least schmucky people I've ever met.