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In witty slice-of-life vignettes and laugh-out-loud cultural riffs, Elizabeth Warner shares her divinely demented view of the world. Raised by a mild-mannered psychiatrist father and a slightly off-kilter mother, Warner opted out of the life that awaited the youth of WASP heaven (aka Philadelphia’s Main Line)–that is, to be “typically weaned, whelped, and privately schooled, whereupon you move on to the roost-and-spawn phase.”
Yet no matter how far afield she ventures–to New York to become a master junk-mail marketer or to L.A. to do a little acting–Warner can’t help but feel that sometimes she’s getting nowhere fast on “some kind of Protestant monorail to doom.”
Whether she’s spelling out the invisible word “help” on a guy’s shoulder blades during unfulfilling sex, getting out of jury duty by smearing herself with soy sauce, or convincing her mother that the words “career girl” are not her death knell, Warner proves that sometimes it doesn’t matter where you go in life–just as long as you’ve got a killer punch line.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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About the Author
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Read an Excerpt
Ditched by Dr. Right
By Elizabeth Warner
Random HouseElizabeth Warner
All right reserved.
This is a true story.
When you grow up in the Protestant blood clot that is suburban Philadelphia, there's very much a plan at work. One is typically weaned, whelped, and privately schooled, whereupon you move on to the roost-and-spawn phase, with the occasional rinse & repeat. And that's that. The plan is proven, it's time-honored, it's genetically appropriate. Curiously, however, it neither applied to nor worked for me.
In my case, the best-laid plans of mice and men are best left to mice and men.
As the youngest of seven (the next child being seven years older), I grew up in a family that remains astonished I can button a garment and walk upright at the same time. Nor will this change. Were I to develop a fun, easy, at-home way to split the atom, or stem the tide of Parkinson's disease, they'd still say, Oh, the little one? She doesn't do too much. But she has nice hair.
They're pretty sure I put the I in inertia.
My mother, a pathologically elegant woman whom we'll call the Widow Warner, has maybe four big concerns. The Four Horsemen of her Anglican Apocalypse are
1.post-Soviet Communist domination;
2.my marital status;
4.the network cancellation of JAG.
On the day I announced that I was considering a departure from Manhattan, in order to try a Year Abroad in Los Angeles, nobody really knew what to do. Although everyone certainly had something to say. (The Year Abroad actually turned into several, but that's another story.)
Plus, my proposed relocation seemed even more implausible given that until recently I had regarded Southern California as a kind of backyard to the Antichrist. It was New York's slower, spoiled, thicker, and more slothful sibling (and I'd never even seen Canada).
Mother was shocked. Then worried. Then horrified. And finally, what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-tell-people bewildered. For one thing, she has always viewed California as a kind of lost, vestigial Spanish colony. And two, she's long felt that human interaction, fiscal negotiating, and air travel are not the kinds of things her youngest should try to tackle unsupervised. I reminded my family that they had all seen my initial move to New York--where one's entire net worth would no doubt be forcibly removed either at gunpoint or at Barney's--as yet another testament to my immaturity. Apparently nobody could recall ever saying anything of the sort. I was sure this and other observations had naturally been relegated to that emotional cedar closet that every youngest child has, which is always chockablock full of accusations, observations, pronouncements, and edicts elder siblings will eternally deny ever having made.
Additionally, we all well remembered that our own great-aunt (a noted ambassador, playwright, and significant backer of causes that seemed uncomfortably Aryan to me) had always said, "California? You can't get a Goddamned thing fixed in Southern California when you want to. And when do they always tell you it'll be ready? Mañana. Mañana. Everything's mañana." My siblings and I had ignored what may have been her senility, her cultural imperialism, or her genuine racism.
Of course, the Year Abroad idea would simmer codependently for a long while. In the time it might take to (a) groom and promote a boy band, (b) triple the U.S. national debt, or (c) run out the lease on a Jetta, I would acquire some small degree of penny-wisdom. I would fall hopelessly in love with a bright, grumpy, whinging journalist. With whom I was smitten, and who was funny, like you read about. We would be charitably referred to as the Jew and the Shrew. I would spend my twenties stumbling haplessly through the greatest city on earth. I would become wildly proficient at a job that was as heady and rewarding as it was toxic. I would disappoint and embarrass most of my family. All this before I could summon the capacity to awkwardly stare doubt, familial roadblocks, and nonrefundable airfares in the face. And even begin to consider boarding the last Leap of Faith train to the coast.
Nor would any of this have transpired had it not been for the swiftly agonizing departure of one Dr. Right. Here's what happened.
Everything began one Ides-riddled March. When I had the world by the tail. Or at least by a hind leg. I was a Senior Promotional Copywriter at Time Inc.'s Consumer Marketing Group. This is the in-house advertising agency responsible for the promotion of some twelve magazines to the general public. I authored persuasive marketing copy to readers and consumers. The goal was to bring in new magazine subscribers and keep them on board for the rest of their lives. I was most definitely part of the plan. And thus far, it was working. I was going to live snappily ever after. I had a superb office with several windows and an enormous hexagonal coffee table, largely because I could. I authored million-dollar sweepstakes. My job was to lure unsuspecting Middle Americans into purchasing magazines they didn't want, wouldn't like, and probably couldn't read, all with the promise that they'd love the sneaker phone we'd also send them the instant we got their check or money order. With really tangible results. If we did our job well enough, which I almost accidentally did, we could whip Middle Americans into such a buying frenzy that they'd eat their young if they thought there was an AM/FM clock radio in the deal.
I was genuinely enjoying a kind of secular rot in New York City. But in a good way. The kind of spiritual decay that's actually quite comforting, particularly when it's complained about in smart, buzzy bistros brought to you by the colors taupe and veldt. I had a one-bedroom apartment slightly larger than a votive candle in an antiseptic but deceptively cheery part of midtown Manhattan. And most essentially, I was enrolled in a rigorous program of healthy, expensive psychotherapy.
It was a lovely, mindless time of income and ascent. I couldn't help but bask in the burl walnut finish of familial approval. My family--especially my mother--was delighted. The little one's on her way. She's a three-bedroom co-op away from the rest of her life. The best part? I was living with, sleeping with, scheduled to build a future with (and quite satisfied by) a good-natured anesthesiologist heretofore known as Dr. Right. Who really was my soul mate, my future, and the love of my lifestyle. Together we frequented parties where the women all wore black suits and that shell-shaped jewelry that's supposed to look modest but was purchased with proceeds from IPOs of little start-ups like GM and Exxon. And the impossibly appealing men with that ruddy, Northeastern skin that wants to shout "sun" and "tropics" but really whispers "gin."
Which may be why, on that lovely spring morning as I watched Dr. Right leave me, I began to spiral and suddenly found myself formally introduced to the concept of introspection. He'd skulked out the door on Gucci-clad cloven hooves, into the stunning, dappled daylight of disgrace and taxis. And he'd dropped his bags dramatically at his feet, and he'd looked up at me and wiped his brow in that noonday-sun kind of way that men do in deodorant ads and Steinbeck novels. Leaning out our third-floor window, I had said, "Don't forget this"--and catapulted his prize brass cigarette lighter out, watching as it bounced expensively on the hood of his beloved convertible. And he had looked back up at me, a meaty Teutonic fist clenched in defiance, and said four parting words.
"Don't scratch the enamel!"
To anybody observing him glancing helplessly up at me with his Poppin' Fresh Dough eyes, his would appear a desperate and soulful plea for one last try, for some kind of reconciliation. It actually wasn't. And I knew better. I'd seen that fawn thing before. And no way was I going to jump right back into Lake Him. Still, I was the one physically, palpably, and incomprehensibly racked with guilt. Absolutely riddled by it. And that would be why? Why? Why had I spent two years with a man who was so blatantly unable to see the earth's passage of time as anything other than one long autumn afternoon in Connecticut? And we lived in New York.
Don't get me wrong: this was a terribly attractive guy. Clark R. M. Wheeler, M.D., wasn't a brain trust, but he was one of those people with an uncanny sense for what was relevant. He had sort of a cultural suntan. The kind of guy who'd invoke an arcane but incredibly hip name reference--and invoke it disparagingly--at parties. But enough so that people would figure, if he could disparage, then at least he could comprehend far better than they. He'd say things like "That woman there thinks she's Susan Sontag." Or he'd deliberately mix up Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Paul Gaultier so people would think film and fashion. How multimedia. Or he'd remind us all at brunch what a profound impact, ya know, the Velvet Underground had had. Dear Nico. And how the mood on Prince Street just hadn't been the same since Andy died. Of course, privately to me he'd inquire about things like whether Lanford Wilson and August Wilson were actually brothers. Or just cousins. And I remember one evening at a big dinner party hearing him refer to Tony Blair as a technocrat.
I'd pulled him aside and said, "Don't you Yvette Mimieux me, Clark. Do you even know what a technocrat is?"
"Not at all," he'd answered, "but nobody here does either, so I'm fine."
I had genuinely loved him. It was that good, comfortable, this-is-how-it's-going-to-be love. Born of time, afternoons, and I'm here, you're here, let's-make-dinner ease.
And I could say not one word when he left. Not a single one.
Given the world of Marketing & Promotion, which claimed me as an early, willing, postgraduate casualty, I'm not without the blemish of veneer myself. After all, I do write promotional materials for a living. And have always been a little stunned that people paid me (and financed my health and dental repair) just to sit around and dream up ideas to coerce unwitting or distracted people to make purchases, buy magazines, contribute to political causes, and join any number of clubs. I am amply rewarded for creating a huge and growing expanse of wilderness between Americans and their income.
Copywriting is not rocket science, but it does have its own experiential learning curve. I created contests. I dared Americans not to believe that they might have already won. I kept dreams alive because I authored million-dollar sweepstakes. And renewals. And bills. And you-like-this-magazine-why-not-try-this-one? pieces of direct mail. And everything comes Risk-Free, and it all has a Free Gift of marginal value attached somewhere. And the fact is, I had a certain knack for it. It was as if God had said, That fellow? I'll make him lead a country out of war. Or, That child? He'll bring hope to Zimbabwe. And then He'd said, That one? The little redhead? She'll be aces in the junk-mail arena.
Junk mail is one of civilization's great gifts. It's a necessary evil for a number of reasons. One, it allows people to live reasonably comfortably in antiseptic midtown-Manhattan co-ops. Two, it saves companies millions, because when they only want to reach, say, five or six million people but they don't want to reach an additional eleven million people (who'd never buy their product anyway), they simply send out direct mail. It's perfect. A genuinely targeted way to spend only what they need, to wind up in exactly the right mailboxes.
At lunch with literate, moral types I say I'm in publishing. At cocktail parties, I just go ahead and admit I'm in advertising. And thus, when I met and fell for Clark R. M. Wheeler, M.D., I have to say I kind of knew what I was getting into. I had a pretty good rent-stabilized Glass House myself.
Plus, things with Clark had been coming along kind of swimmingly. We'd met at an auction (my first and last, his 546th) to benefit either Russian dissidents or glaucoma or Kurdish unity, and we had both gotten terribly drunk. Clark lit my cigarette but announced rather boldly that he didn't want me to think he was one of those guys who went around lighting people's cigarettes. Not that I cared. He smiled a lot after he said things, as if startled by his own ability to speak, and then he'd look at you like you'd shared some inside joke about his newfound skill. Which I thought was a huge connection for us.
After about three weeks of rather formal courtship, Clark and I entered into an emotional lease agreement. After another three months we were perceived as dull and sweatered.
Until sixteen months later, when he announced that he could no longer deny the woman who had touched his soul. And it turned out, she and I were not the same woman. In fact, she was my very own cousin, a feral, oppressively blond homemaker with a penchant for Joyce Carol Oates, olestra, and Kansas--the band.
And with that, Clark said, he wanted to explore other avenues. Just breezily, like people say they want to reduce their carb intake. And despite the fact that I hoped they'd be avenues teeming with late, machete-wielding bike messengers, I said nothing. I simply affixed both eyes upon him (easier said than done, since I have a bad wandering eye--the left one is frequently at a ninety-degree angle to my nose). I just glared. Silently. Before shedding one tiny, Lifetime Cable--ready tear. Whereupon I began to clean. And then he was gone.
Twenty-eight minutes later I called my psychotherapist, an Andie MacDowell/Nurse Ratched hybrid. I left a whining message on her machine, and she left me one two hours later, saying she'd love to see me, but the Jitney to Quogue was boarding in three minutes--and maybe I should go back home to Philadelphia for a stint, "because you always feel better when you do." And then she said also not to forget to love myself a little, and also not to forget that I still owed her for January.
Excerpted from Ditched by Dr. Right by Elizabeth Warner Excerpted by permission.
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