Monday, June 30, 2008

Male Décor

Okay, check out this list and tell me, what do these 15 gentlemen have in common?

Jake Gylenhaal
Paul Newman
Mark DeRosa
Matthew Fox
Daniel Radcliffe
Daniel Craig
Adrien Brody
Bobby Flay
Terrence Howard
Casey Affleck
James McAvoy
Josh Brolin
Kosuke Fukudome
Heath Ledger
Frank Sinatra

Stumped? Okay, their pictures all appear on the walls of my 25-year-old daughter’s cubicle at Kohl’s, where she works in the ecommerce department. Clearly age is not a factor in her mind, nor is race, creed or color. Young and old, chefs and second basemen, noses big or small, these guys all serve together as Manzi’s décor of choice.

She is quite new at Kohl’s and enjoys when other employees are brought to her cube to be introduced to her, especially the females. They try to keep their eyes on hers politely, but invariably the “art” is too distracting and they are forced to check out who they might spot on her walls. “You have the Daniels!” exclaimed one visitor. Nice.

Not all workplaces are suitable for this sort of hobby, but it hasn’t been that long since I kept an array of male faces under the plastic mat on my desktop. I had a job once where I had a lot of cabinets, and I stuck dozens of photos of Sting on the inside of the cabinet doors. Nowadays, being a mature 51-year-old Marketing Communications Specialist, I tastefully limit my face displays to computer wallpaper (I’ve made some dandy ones of Kerry Wood, Neil Gaiman, and Les Stroud recently).

Years ago at our last house, I kept a “Mini Sports Hall of Fame” on the inside of the pantry door. I recall it included Wayne Gretzky, hockey goalie Ed Belfour, Eric Kramer of the Chicago Bears, the Brewers’ Paul Molitor, triathlete Mark Allen, and even sports announcer Bob Costas. Of course the ultimate expression of this sort of thing in the sports genre is card collecting, and I used to pour for hours over my collection of hockey cards, trying not to drool on the more valuable ones.

In my opinion, the best male décor is, like Manzi’s, eclectic in nature. Variety is the spice of life and all that. One room can really make a statement if you combine, say, a bit of Josh Holloway here, some Anthony Hopkins there, and over there, a nice Chow Yun-Fat. Of course, keeping to a single theme can be fun too: I can see designing a space that includes all “Love Actually” men: Rodrigo Santoro, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, etc.

Well, if I have any point today it’s that I don’t think a woman of any age should feel embarrassed or shy about male décor. Beauty is to be celebrated, savored, and treasured in all its forms, and that goes for Elijah Wood’s eyes, Hugh Jackman’s smile, and yes, Manzi, Adrian Brody’s nose.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Seduced by Humor

Well, it’s been awhile since I updated you on the status of my crush on author Neil Gaiman. About a month ago our “relationship” hit the skids when I read his short story collection Fragile Things. Was the book that bad? Actually, it was excellent, and helped me realize I wanted to get back to writing short fiction. However, several of the stories truly freaked me out and I found myself more perplexed by and scared of Mr. Gaiman than attracted to him. What can you expect, really, from a horror fantasy collection? But I was emotionally unprepared to deal with the man’s monstrous side, even having read his admittedly dark American Gods.

I put the whole thing out of my mind and carried on. 2008 is the year in which I am alternating between reading Gaiman and C.S. Lewis, so I turned to A Grief Observed (marvelous!) and otherwise did a lot of writing and playing Peggle. I had brief “love affairs” with Benjamin Linus, cucumber margaritas, and Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster (don’t worry, Kerry Wood, you’re still my main man baseball-wise). I also had a longer and more intimate dalliance with Nate Jonas, the bestselling sci-fi author who wrote The Vicious Views of Eyes, and who is completely fictitious and the male lead in my new short story “Nate and Erica Write a Sex Scene.”

You may suspect from that last sentence that all this while I was in denial, seeing as I chose to pen a tale about a romance author and a sci-fi author collaborating. My protestation that Neil writes fantasy and that the four-letter-names-beginning-with-N is pure coincidence will probably sound like I doth protest too much. But seriously, Nate is more a much nicer version of Harlan Ellison, and younger of course. When you read the story sometime in 2009, you’ll see he’s nothing like Gaiman.

So I was totally on a break, until I had to take a book to the oil change place last Saturday and picked up Anansi Boys. Ah, Neil, what a multi-dimensional creature you are! This spin-off of American Gods is, as the author frequently points out in interviews, totally different in spirit from its predecessor. And worlds apart from the often horrific Fragile Things.

For one thing—and perhaps the most important thing—it’s hilarious.

I’ve watched interviews with Neil and the man really can be, and frequently is, funny. It’s that polite, smart, quirky, articulate kind of British humor, perfectly employing absurdity and hyperbole. “Shaun of the Dead” type humor. It’s disarming, it’s charming—it makes you smile while you’re laughing if you know what I mean.

Another author would say, “Mrs. Dunwiddy was amazingly old.” Neil Gaiman says, “There were geological ages that were probably younger than Mrs. Dunwiddy. As a boy, Fat Charlie imagined Mrs. Dunwiddy in Equatorial Africa, peering disapprovingly through her thick spectacles at the newly erect hominids.”

And Anansi Boys is not simply seasoned with this humor like Neil’s other books I’ve read. It’s jelly-rolled with it. I’m telling you, reading this book is like enjoying one of those 12-layer tortes, and the frosting is humorous-Neil-Gaiman flavored.

Okay, I’ve said before how sexy humor can be. Let me tell you, I should have listened to myself. I read a chapter of this book, I sit there letting Neil spin his yarns to me, with that voice so British you can hear it from the printed page. His words make me grin, fill my belly with that warm, happy, delighted feeling. Every page brings new pleasure, and it’s actually physical, not just cerebral. Then I reluctantly put down the book and there’s that great picture of Gaiman on the back cover.

All right, I surrender!

I’m still in love with this guy and I suppose the fact that he can also scare the crap out of me only makes it all more interesting. As Alan Tudyk (Wash from “Firefly”) can tell you, when I fall for funny men it’s hard to get over it, and as Eddie Izzard can tell you, when they’re Brits it’s even worse. (Oh yeah, and Nate Jonas is American, so there.) If Neil could sing and survive in the wild, I’d simply have to let my reason go and become a stalker…but fortunately, he and Les Stroud are separate people.

[Sidebar: Ryan Dempster, if you google your name and find this, I’m aware that you are one of the funniest men in pro baseball. I am trying not to read your interviews lest you attempt to lure me away from my devotion to Kerry with your hilarious Harry Caray impressions and what-not.]

Okay, so Neil and I are back on. I bought Smoke and Mirrors and Neverwhere last weekend. I figure I’ll need to go back to some more serious Gaiman to prevent myself from driving to Minneapolis and staking out the comics shops where he reportedly hangs out. But first I have to get through Anansi Boys with my heart and sanity intact.

Pray for me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Guys, Go Ahead and Fake It

When it comes to sexy, what guys don’t realize is how effective faking it can be. I mean faking being sexy. When guys lampoon sexy moves, eight times out of ten it works as well as if they were seriously trying. Well, at least it does for me, and every woman I’ve had the occasion to ask said the same thing.

Let me illustrate from one of my favorite TV shows, “How I Met Your Mother.” (But please don’t comment with any spoilers…I’m a jenny-come-lately here and am only on Season 1, Episode 4). Womanizing Barney occasionally gives nice guys Ted and Marshall tips on pick up lines. For example, he teaches Ted the proper way to intone “I’m Ted Mosby, Architect” when introducing himself to a girl. It’s supposed to be comedy, but Ted’s fake sultriness totally works. Marshall (played by the always irresistible Jason Segel) is a big goof from Minnesota, but when he fake-entices women, feigning self-confidence and swagger, it’s likewise completely effective.

Yes, Barney, I know you use every un-original, worn out trick in the book, but sadly, I’m still a sucker for winks, the hand-as-pistol gesture, and the come-hither look.

Another terrific example of faking-it-works principle is my favorite guilty-pleasure movie, “Zoolander.” In this film Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson play rival male supermodels, and have multiple occasions to strut on the runway and pout for photoshoots. I’m not saying they aren’t just as funny as intended…it’s just that they’re also really hot, in a bizarre sort of way. Ben and Owen were not trying to be seductive, they were going for laughs. But the stuff is sexy anyway.

Ironic how the sexiest scenes in the media so often occur in comedies, hey? And you’ll be hard pressed to find stuff like this in your daily life.

You know, guys can be their own worst enemies. For one thing, most of them have an aversion to dancing. The ironic truth is, any guy who isn’t grossly overweight, has a decent sense of rhythm, and is willing to fake that he’s sexy on the dance floor is going to have the chicks eating out of his hand. It doesn’t take Brad Pitt good looks, lots of practice, or some inborn mystique. Honestly, guys, we women are remarkably easy to fool.

For examples, see the afore-mentioned Jason Segel as “freak” Nick on “Freaks and Geeks,” disco dancing. Hot. Or, for that matter, Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite in his dancing scene. The crotch thrusting works, even when you look like a total dork when you stand still. Have you seen the school spirit dance Vince Vaughn leads in “Old School”? That move where he beckons with his finger has been replayed countless times by my daughters and I. It’s the little things, gentlemen.

If you absolutely can’t dance, there are other options. Try out this little exercise. Go to a mirror and (1) lower your chin, (2) look out the tops of your eyes at yourself, and (3) affect a serious look. Now tweak that until it becomes as seductive-looking as possible, and practice a few times. Try this look out on women at parties, shopping malls, or church festivals and see if you don’t make a few ladies squirm and giggle. If more men did this, we’d be riled up all the time. (It would also help if eyeliner came into general fashion for men.) A friend of mine managed a look like this for a shot at a wedding he was in, and while he totally did it as a joke, I would have paid cash money for a copy of that photo.

I suppose I should put in here some sort of disclaimer: indeed, I can’t guarantee you 100% that any guy who fakes being sexy will pull it off. I’m just saying that most of the time the difference between hot guys and guys you don’t notice is that the former are good at pretending to be hot. I’ve told you countless times, face and physique matter less to women than self-confidence. Don’t have any particular self-confidence in this regard? You can even be joking, you can even feel ridiculous, but pretend to be serious and we’ll buy it. After you’ve made the gesture and shrugged it off as funny, we’ll laugh along with you…but inside we’ll be filing the scene away as fantasy fodder, and making a mental note that you’re more attractive than we thought you were.

Do a girl a favor today, and pretend you think you’re sexy.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Let’s Hear It for the J’s

Even if you’re unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs personality testing (I’m an INTJ), you will be able to follow my discussion topic for today. One of the scales that Myers-Briggs examines is J (Judging) vs. P (Perceiving). You can tell by the J in INTJ that I’m J. I’m, in fact, very J. My husband is also J, and truly a joy to live with. My first husband was P. That was a challenge.

Okay, so what’s the difference?

J’s plan ahead, P’s figure things out as they go along.
J’s like order and structure, P’s like flexibility.
J’s are goal oriented, P’s are more into the process of things.
J’s act according to principles and plan, P’s are spontaneous.
J’s appreciate and apply standards, P’s are more easy-going.
J’s are organized and orderly, P’s not so much.

When it comes to sex appeal, for a lot of people P’s are a bigger turn-on. Think Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Christian in “Moulin Rouge,” Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind,” or Jim on “The Office.” That free-spirit, devil-may-care type just seems like he’d be fun, right?

Well, today I’m here to sing the praises of J-men.

A couple of things set me off on this topic this week: First, I’ve just been annoyed in both my work and personal life by people who are disorganized and purposeless. Second, I just watched this episode of “Dirty Jobs” in which Mike Rowe and a bunch of volunteers cleaned litter and junk out of a cave/sink hole. Mike, like me, was really irked by the people who dumped all this stuff, ruining a lovely natural area, when it was just as easy to discard it properly.

This little incident with Mike seemed to crystallize for me the J vs. P battle. I’m not saying all P’s are litterbugs—lazy and shiftless slobs. But Mike and his band of brave volunteers, some of whom had to put life and limb at risk rappelling into this hole, seemed to symbolize the half of society that wants the rules followed and cares about keeping things orderly. And the dorks who dumped their old washers into this cave represent the half of society that simply doesn’t give a crap about that sort of thing.

Before I digress any further off the subject of sex…. Okay, so there’s a lot about Mike Rowe that is hot, but one thing about him that I really like is that he really does care about keeping the world clean, orderly, safe, and functioning properly. That’s a turn-on to me. So let’s take a look at a few other guys whose J-qualities get me excited.

Jamie Hyneman – “Mythbusters” – Okay, I usually sing the praises of Jamie’s P partner, Adam Savage. But I want to go on record that I realize having to work with Adam would make me crazy, his charms notwithstanding. I love that Jamie is methodical and painstaking, and also that for this reason he nearly always beats Adam in head-to-head challenges. Being capable is a very hot trait in men, and it’s a lot easier to be capable if you are a J: the sort who can make a plan and execute it. Jamie isn’t as cute and funny as Adam, and sometimes he’s kind of gruff and scary, but his J-ness has always made me feel he was pretty attractive anyway. Honorable mention goes to Grant Imahara who I’d say is also a J.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – “Star Wars” – To get a better sense of Obi-Wan’s P-ness, just compare him to his padawan, Anakin Skywalker. While Anakin is freaking out over one thing or another, flying recklessly around Coruscant and losing all focus on the goal of becoming a Jedi, Master Kenobi stays rational and in control. There are a lot of sexy P-men in this category, the cool, controlled type who make a woman feel safe and in good hands. It also helps that Obi-Wan is single-mindedly dedicated to serving the Force and doesn’t interpret rules of conduct based on his current emotions. That trait can be seen frequently in military heroes of real life and fiction and to me is always attractive.

Admiral Adama – “Battlestar Galactica” – Speaking of military men, and being me, I have to mention the Admiral. Interestingly, I think perhaps his J-ness has gotten him into trouble this season. (I didn’t like the show as much in 2008, for a variety of reasons, including that Bill hasn’t been at his best.) The chaotic shifting in goals, the lack of certainty as to who is the true enemy, and so on, have taken their toll. I know that I, as a J, would be hard-pressed to keep from cracking. The discovery of the identities of the Final Four of Five Cylons reduced the stoic, strong, grim man I’ve adored into a blubbering guy in a bathrobe. Okay, so I’ll admit it’s not always easy to be sexy when you’re a J.

Dwight Schrute – “The Office” – Now dweeby Dwight is not your classic sexy guy. But in my opinion, when his J qualities come to the fore, he can be almost alluring as well as hilarious. There is no gray in Dwight’s world, and sometimes that’s very refreshing. He is never afraid to leap into a heroic role, take charge, enforce the rules, and act upon on his principles. A lot of people might consider that the definition of a fun-sucker, but some of us J’s find Dwight’s act a turn-on. Right, Angela?

Sawyer – “Lost” – Okay, I threw Sawyer in here because at first blush, a lot of you might think he’s actually a P. Doesn’t he seem like the wild, fly-by-night type? Well, hold on, think about it. It takes planning and organization to be a con artist. Even having given up that trade, Sawyer’s the one who bartered to collect what he needed to enhance island life, from drugs to paperbacks and reading glasses. He has a strong and stable personal code and sticks to it. He’s not the one who cheated on Kate, remember! And Sawyer never blusters off into the jungle without a plan. He’s the perfect illustration of how a J-guy can still be exotic and interesting and hot.

And speaking of Lost, let’s not forget the ultimate in hot J-ness: Benjamin Linus. Need I say more?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sex Scenes from the 60's

I tend to get nostalgic in the summer, so today I'm going to take you back some forty years to my childhood...

Needless to say, the 60's was a very interesting time to come of age. My enlightened parents, as you read in a previous blog, were conscientious about my sex education. But of course, part of any child's induction into sexuality includes events influenced by culture and society, and mine certainly was.

One of my earliest sex-related memories is of the dawning of Beatlemania. Among the first 45's I owned was "I Want to Hold Your Hand"/"I Saw Her Standing There," a gift from my dad. I was seven years old. I saw the Ed Sullivan broadcast and reports on the news showing teen girls screaming and literally swooning over Paul, John, George and Ringo. That sort of thing probably started with Elvis, but it was the first I had seen such behavior. I found it fascinating. I could understand it on a certain level, but clearly one needed to be "an older girl" to react to rock 'n' roll that way. Of course this didn't stop my neighborhood friends and I from playing Beatles in the yard, screaming and keeling over in the grass. (Screaming and keeling over in the grass had its own charm for grade schoolers.)

I learned a lot about sex from watching "Star Trek." Interestingly, I was pre-pubescent when the show first aired, and watched the reruns after the Big Change. So as time passed I understood more about sex as it was portrayed on the show. It was, being sci-fi, always exotic. And it seemed like the ongoing theme was that lust never failed to turn your reason upside down and make you do terrible, dangerous, improper things. When Captain Kirk was under the influence of some tribal medicine woman's charms, or the magical tears of an alien woman, he would forget duty and become oblivious to everything but getting some. When the emotionless Vulcan Mr. Spock fell under his biological mating urge, or was hit by aphrodisiacal plant spores, he lost his self-control and became violent and animalistic. It was an interesting lesson to teach an impressionable young thing such as myself. From "Star Trek" I gathered that sex was mystical and dangerous and, yes, quite exciting.

Meanwhile, during my junior high and high school years, the hippie movement kicked into full swing. The most profound way hippies touched my personal life was via the rock musical "Hair," which charmed my dad when he took clients to see the show in Chicago. He thought the music was fantastic, but the lyrics, which focused largely on sex and drugs, might not be the best influence on his 13-year-old daughter. Fortunately, at this time the Moog synthesizer, the first electronic instrument, was invented, and among the first LPs recorded in the Moog was a collection of songs from "Hair." I loved it. This lyric-free record satisfied my dad for only so long though; it wasn't too many months before he bought the soundtrack anyway, with a careful introduction to me and encouragement to ask questions.

I remember sitting with our big Webster's dictionary looking up the words in the song "Sodomy." The book did not include very many of them. I could only guess what "fellatio," "cunnilingus," and "pederasty" might mean. And no, I didn't ask. :-)

I had such mixed emotions about this sort of thing when I was thirteen. I thought the two guys who wrote and starred in the show were "really cute," or as I'd put it today, "hot." I was beginning to understand sexual desire. But the hippie movement scared the crap out of me. While it did seem more in touch with reality and human nature than American society had been i the 50's, I didn't like that "free love" also meant being short-sighted and irresponsible. And the link between sex and drugs also seemed pretty counter-productive to me.

Face it, I was born in the 50's and could identify a lot better with the Cleavers and their good manners, Gidget's wholesomeness, and the happily-ever-after, true-love-wins-the-day themes of the Broadway musicals other than "Hair." Sex in the 60's was to me a fascinating combination of scary, thrilling, mysterious and dangerous.

And I guess, from what I write today, it still is.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Cubs Crush: Kerry Wood

Yes, if you are not into baseball or are a Brewers, Cardinals, or White Sox fan, feel free to bail on reading this post right now. For I am about to indulge myself and rhapsodize about my favorite Chicago Cub, current closing pitcher Kerry Wood.

I was first drawn to Kerry a few years back for several reasons of varying silliness. In the pretty silly category: I am a sucker for blond guys with beards. Also, I loved the look in his eye when he’d watch the catcher for the signs.

In the not-so-silly category--and see also my post on my awe fetish--Kerry is a talented guy. In May of 1998, when I was obsessed with hockey and two months into my total fixation on Guy Carbonneau, Kerry Wood made the sports headlines in a big way. So big that this hockey fan actually read about him--a baseball player! Kerry struck out 20 batters in a game at Wrigley Field against the Houston Astros. It was only his sixth outing in the majors and he was 20 years old. The 20K performance tied the all-time major league record. I never forgot who Kerry was. When I became a Cubs fan in 2003, I fell for this illustrious starter with his mean fastball and ability to occasionally hit home runs.

The road since then has been a rocky one. Kerry has been plagued by injuries and it’s seemed to me he spent more time on the disabled list than pitching. Many a time I have asked myself why having recovered from crushing on a sports guy about to retire (M. Carbonneau) I chose a sports guy who was always hurt. I did, however, have the good fortune to go to a game at Wrigley in 2006 after which a bunch of players greeted fans in the parking lot. I got within a couple yards of my hero. Nevertheless, it hasn’t been easy for me to get to see him pitch over the years.

Kerry won a spot in the bullpen in 2007 and enamored himself all the more to me by signing a one year contract that (by MLB standards) was astonishingly cheap. He felt he owed this to the Chicago Cubs for having been injured for so much of his career. He missed two-thirds of the season (argh!) but returned to pitch in relief really well the final months. He signed a new contract with the Cubs for 2008, turning down more lucrative deals from other teams, enamoring me even more! Kerry is now the longest-standing active player for the Cubs, as loyal to the team as are its crazy fans.

In spring training 2008, Kerry earned the closer role. This job is plenty sexy and plenty scary. I hate it when the win depends on Kerry getting three guys out...because sometimes he doesn’t. Fortunately, hardly ever: he currently has 14 saves in 18 chances. We joke that if Kerry hits the first batter, we’re doomed, but if he doesn’t, he’ll get the save. As for plenty sexy: There’s nothing like watching him destroy three guys with his 96 mph fastball and then step down from the mound to the shouts of “Cubs win!” with the faintest smile on his face, as if he doesn’t want to look too conceited.

Kerry Wood is not a superhero though, really. Some days he is on, some days off, like any professional player. That said, he is still one of the best in the game and does plenty of things to make me proud. And fortunately, in terms of character he is “on his game” every single day. He’s charitable, a team player, loyal, and good-hearted.

That look he gets before letting loose with an unhittable pitch doesn’t hurt either, nor does the blond beard. Kerry Wood is my Cubs Crush, and if no goats or Steve Bartman’s get in the way, maybe this fall he’ll be part of a World Series team.

Champagne in the blond beard wouldn’t hurt either.