Imagine this nightmare scenario: As a young reporter in New York — a fact checker, actually, if you want to be technical about it — you hook up with a divorced, older writer. It’s a messy, booze-filled affair, because at the time, yours always were. You meet in bars (surrounded by your friends, who are almost a decade younger than he is) and end up in his bedroom every time, shagging away until you drunkenly lose interest and let him know that he’s welcome to finish without you, thanks. He makes you nervous — he’s so much smoother, more urbane, more established than you are — and you wonder what he’s doing with you. But he also laughs at your jokes, praises your looks, has flattering predictions about your career. You figure that maybe babes his own age aren’t interested in him because he’s not that cute. In fact, to friends who haven’t met him, you say he looks like Bart’s glasses-wearing, asthmatic friend Milhouse on “The Simpsons.”
So gingerly, once, you hint at future hookups, some continuity. He looks at you like you have two heads. Then, he starts answering your calls erratically — nothing, nothing, and just as you’re about to fade away, a phone call. Confused, you pursue, pursue, pursue — until you’re humiliated and just sick of yourself. When you run into him months later in front of Banana Republic, his eyes dart around like he’s a rodent trying to escape. You feel guilty, ashamed; you leave him alone. And then you forget about him.
Until six years after, that is. That’s when you find out that, while all this time you’ve been trying to repress the memory of your yucky, low-point-of-life misdirected affection, Milhouse has been reveling in the memories. Maybe not of you, personally, but of other girls like you, girls who had sex too quickly and then called a lot, girls who thought that when he said he was interested in them, he actually was. In fact, your old flame has been thinking of himself as quite the chick magnet, the rascal, the Casanova. How do you know? Because your former lover is Rick Marin, and he’s just published his memoir, “Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor.”
The book would be, I read in the trades, exactly what it sounded like: A roll call of all the bad dates, careless hookups and messy entanglements that the author had undergone in the years between his early marriage and divorce, and the present, now that he was settled down and engaged to former New York Times editor Ilene Rosenzweig. (The text identifies her just by her first name, but they’re a very public couple). In a mixture of fear and guilty enthusiasm, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. Would I be in it? Jesus, would it talk about that time I stubbornly stopped on the sidewalk and refused to move, annoyed at something or another? Any more intimate, embarrassing details? In my mind, our fling hadn’t been pretty, and I’d gotten old enough that I didn’t want it rehashed — especially in print, for friends and colleagues to cluck over.
Well, don’t flatter yourself, honey. There wasn’t a word in there about me, not even a clause, unless there was some stolen detail that I didn’t recognize (the pair of socks, left on the floor after the removal of boots, that “no man should be allowed to see”?) I didn’t rank — which was both a huge relief and kind of a bummer. No one likes to feel unmemorable, especially in a book that, like Rick’s, seems to mention every B- and C-list player — both personal and professional — that ever crossed his path.
That’s not to say there weren’t delicious details in it for me, revelations I wouldn’t have been privy to any other way. The first time I dropped by Rick’s spare, modern Flatiron District apartment, for example, he left off all the lights, and put on Frank Sinatra’s “I Have a Crush on You.” I admired his moxie, the risk he was taking in using irony for seduction. But the move was even ballsier than I thought: The “friend” he told me had introduced him to the joys of the Rat Pack was Ilene. In fact, I learned in the book that on their first date they went to a Museum of Television showing of 1965′s “Frank Sinatra Spectacular.” Until then, he writes, he “wasn’t particularly into the Chairman or his Board.” After, he used him to charm the ladies.
Other details fall into the same oh-no-he-didn’t bin. Was Billy’s Topless just “the closest bar” for him and his friends to meet at, as he had once in all seriousness claimed? Read the chapter “What Can I Getcha, Hon?” and you’ll learn that — surprise! — he and his friends went there because it was “like a regular bar — with naked chicks.” Was he telling the truth when I asked him if he was sleeping with anyone else and he said no? Um, not quite — there were probably at least two other contenders, not counting Ilene. (Gosh, I hope they weren’t having unprotected sex, too.)
But as I read on, another revelation became increasingly clear: For years, our tryst had been a bad memory for me; I had felt guilty and awful about liking him so much, so inappropriately. I’d felt like a pest and a needy little person. Well, no worries. In Rick’s memoir, women scream at him on the phone, douse him in lice shampoo, force him to visit, literally, an insane asylum. And that’s just by Page 130. “Did you know his first wife cut off all her hair and put it in a suitcase in the closet?” my friend Sara called to ask me, after she got her hands on her own copy. “Honey, whatever you did, you would have had to be a whole lot crazier to make this book.”
It turns out, Rick likes crazy girls — until he doesn’t. Again and again, he makes terrible choices, picking partners who, as one of his friends describes them, are “witch wom[e]n, pallid, with wrist scars.” Then he gets angry, freaked out and dismissive because they turn out to be, well, bananas. If his wife didn’t already regret the marriage, she has good reason to now: She’s a one-dimensional nut-job in this book. He might want to talk to someone about how much anger he can still work against her.
There is an argument to be made that what makes Rick a cad is not what he did, but that he wrote about it. “I was a critic, I was a takedown artist, a master of finding fault,” he writes of his stint as a TV critic at the Washington Times. On a basic level, he’s taken the same approach to his sex life, and that of his partners, selling them out for a book-and-movie deal. No one escapes his acid tongue. He lavishes a string of choice adjectives on his ex-wife: “petulant,” “inscrutable,” “troubled,” “weird.” And heaps scornful prose on girls who did nothing wrong but have the bad sense to sleep with him, girls like “the chubby speech therapist in L.A. who flopped around the Sunset Marquis hot tub like a manatee.”
Cad? Hmm. Maybe there’s a better word.