Single White Nerd: Real Men Eat Steak
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and it seems like I should talk about love. Or relationships. But I’ve done a lot of that here, so instead I’m going to do some counter-programming and talk about . . . men.
I remember when men were men. When Hemingway and Fitzgerald would sit in the corner booth at Musso & Frank’s in Hollywood and sling back whiskey like water. They’d talk about women and bull-fighting. Clap each other on the back and hold court over a throng of wannabes and ne’erdowells. They’d fill up on steak (the real man’s meal of choice) and stagger out into the balmy Los Angeles night to fling their masculinity against the page in bold black ink.
Ok, so maybe I don’t actually remember those days. But I’ve read about them and that’s almost the same.
I’m fixating a bit on Musso & Frank’s because I ate there last week with a group of five men. We sat in the corner booth; the same booth that had once welcomed Hemingway, Fitzgerald, John Fante, and Chandler now cradled our 21st Century buttocks. We were five men who had come together to eat meat, drink alcohol, and generally be manly. As I sauntered through the joint’s doors, I had high expectations for the evening ahead. What ribaldry awaited me in the circle of manhood? Should I have brought singles for the strip club? Cigars? Would we get into a bar fight and spend the night in the cooler?
With visions of Bogie and Bukowski sparring in my head, I slid into the booth. “Gentlemen,” I said tossing my cap onto a nearby hook, “What’s the haps?”
Hank, a married 30-something who recently purchased a house and impregnated his wife, greeted me: “Hey, Mike. Jerry was just telling us about his new jogging regimen.”
“Oh yeah,” I said, “You training for a marathon?”
“Nope,” Jerry replied, “I just run back and forth in front of my house. That way I can run in if my wife needs help with the kids. A mile is about 40 passes down the block.”
Eric, a new father, chimed in. “Why don’t you just get a treadmill? That’s what I did. Super easy to pause the program for a second to change a diaper.” He punctuated his point by taking a sip from a glass containing an absurdly frothy beverage. It left a frothstache on his upper lip.
At that point, a waiter arrived to take my drink order. “Whiskey,” I said with a loaded glance to my fellow men. Subtextually I was reminding them why we were here: to be men. Not to trade diaper stories. Gross.
“Hey guys,” Hank said in a hushed tone, “Mike here is. . .single.” Four sets of married eyes turned towards me. “Bang any hot chicks recently?”
Now this was more like it. I could share stories of amorous conquest and adventure. Tales of drug and sex-fueled road trips to Vegas. Of all night bacchanalia in the Hollywood Hills.
Only problem was that I don’t really have stories like that. I mean, sure, I have a few tawdry stories involving sex. But for the most part, I’m not so much the paragon of the swinging single. I watch lots of netflix, read books, go out with friends, have the occasional date. The dates generally go. . .fine. A girl and I meet, we chat, end the night with a mostly chaste kiss or hug, go our separate ways and that’s that.
“Yes,” my fellow meat eaters said in near unison, “Tell us tales of the single life! Let us live through you! You are the keeper of the flame of masculinity!”
If I were the keeper of the flame, we men were in trouble. I considered making up a story for them. Maybe something about meeting a woman in Vegas and making out with her in every nook and cranny of a Casino. Maybe something about drinking myself into a stupor and waking up in some strange girl’s bed, a fan whirring overhead as I wondered what happened to my underwear. Or a bullfight. Maybe a story about a bullfight ending with me standing triumphant over the felled beast, accolades and flowers falling upon my head.
Nah. Those would be lies. I couldn’t do that to these guys. They deserved honesty. “Well,” I said, “I helped this girl move last week. That was cool.”
“Did you bang her?” asked Hank.
“No. Her boyfriend was busy, so I figured I’d help out. She bought me pizza. I left the pizza out on my couch all night and ate it in the morning. It was a little congealed, but mostly fine. Washed it down with warm beer. I barely even got sick.”
“Mmm, pizza,” mused Jerry. “My wife makes the best pizza.”
“So does mine,” said Eric, “Hey, we should have a pizza party and play date for the kids.” Nods around the table. iPhones came out and schedules checked. Within moments, four men had made a date for their families to get together.
The steaks arrived moments later and we dug in. As our serrated knives gnawed into the tender beef and we made manly ‘num-num’ noises of enjoyment, my mind went back to Hemingway and the men of the past. What would they think if they could see this group in their old booth? This bunch of husbands and fathers. And one single fella who can’t down more than four shots of whiskey without puking. No doubt they’d be appalled.
But you know what? Talent aside, they were miserable, suicidal alcoholics. Why should I care what they would think. Except for the fact that, you know. . .they were cool.
I sipped my whiskey and chewed my steak, looked around the table, and an unexpected sense of gratitude warmed me (or it might have been the whiskey). I was thankful to be at this table with these guys. These 21st Century men who took responsibility for themselves, communicated openly, and were unashamed to drink girly drinks. I raised my glass:
“A toast,” I said, “To the real men. To you.”
My manpanions stopped eating and stared at me. “Dude,” said Hank, “What are you? A girl? Just eat your steak.”
And so we did. Manfully.
Go see Michael Kass play men onstage in February! Monday nights in the world premier of “Small Talk” and February 13th at the Natural History Museum in a new piece developed by Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company about. . .the mating habits of spiders. No joke.