November 20, 2008
I’m working on too many speculative projects—and putting off the one that I’m sure would sell the best. Since I fear I’ll never get around to writing the thing, I’ve decided to spill the idea. If one of you can bang it out before I do, you deserve to rake in the bucks. Just invite me to one of your signings.
As a 43-year-old bachelor, I figure it’s only fitting that I write a book on relationships. I’ve had a long series of them, so I’ve quite a research base from which to draw.
I have known (albeit not well) quite a few instances of what I’ll call the opposing sex. And I’ve tried, really tried, to understand how those people’s minds work. And realized that this is impossible. What is more, from the looks on their faces, and the tones of their final, exasperated emails, I can tell that they feel the converse. Other writers have noticed this chasm between the sexes, and attempted to bridge it with titles like (I’m relying on memory here): The Troll on the Couch; Men are Pigs, Women are Crazy; and The SCUM Manifesto. The “take-away benefit” promised by such books is that the reader will understand the other sex, and conduct relationships smoothly ever after—responding to words and behavior he/she once found merely bizarre with a knowing look. “Ah, that’s what he’s doing…” or “What she really means is…”
I have no faith in such books. If they really worked, the people who bought them by the truckload would still be married to each other—instead of hanging out at Barnes and Noble trying to meet their next ex in the Self-Help section. No, the book I intend to write is more a counsel of perseverance, a Zoloft offered to Job.
I call my contribution Men are Bottle Rockets; Women are Cuckoo Clocks. The title alone should sell the book; indeed, it practically writes it.
Now, I don’t mean to make a caricature of either sex….
Scratch that. I certainly do. There’s more truth in cartoons than glamour shots, and stereotypes are solider than smarmy euphemisms.
So here goes: Men are more narrow-focused than women, and we seem to them sometimes obsessed. When we want a brown belt, we buy one—then leave the store. We watch a single channel at a time, and our attempts at multitasking end badly. I’ve never heard of a woman crashing her car just because she was trying to put on makeup, talk on the phone, and steer through rush hour traffic at 75 mph—while I’ve known guys to rear-end vehicles while pushing a radio preset button. Women crash cars when they’re paying full attention—just enough to lapse into dangerous indecision. “Will he think I’m a bitch if I try to merge…?” Kaboom.
The male mind really is like a small, solid-fuel incendiary with no moving parts. I’m always amused to overhear women in restaurants, speculating about the motives of their men. “When he tells me, ‘I’m sick of casseroles,’ what do you think that means?” Elaborate theories ensue, and all the gals at the table jump in with gusto, taking turns pretending to listen before embarking on anecdotes of their own. Women talking of men’s emotions sound like cat ladies insisting that their tabbies are doing algebra. “He just doesn’t know how to articulate it.”
I’ve offered this helpful suggestion to female friends: “If you’re wondering, really wondering why one of us does or says something—if your psychology minor and self-help books don’t answer the question, here’s a useful heuristic exercise: Imagine you’re Snow White, then pick a dwarf: Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Lazy, Dopey, Bashful or Horny. It’s pretty much one of those.”
It’s obvious that male sexuality is much more univocal and single-minded than women’s, so there’s little point dwelling on that. “Bottle rocket” pretty much sums it up. That chapter will be short.
Conversely, the female body and mind is gloriously Baroque, like the exquisite timepieces painstakingly made by craftsmen for royal courts. They have gears and flywheels and pulleys, chains and ratchets and dials. They register fine distinctions, and react to slight changes of pressure. Sensitive instruments always, they can find in a simple male grunt all the subtleties of a chess problem. When we sneeze, they can read our minds. On the other, if we get everything perfect, if we study the mechanism and handle it with gentleness and precision, they’ll respond to us as the Watchmaker meant them to.
Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Regular as clockwork.