Poor Johnny Smith.
At age thirty-three, the house painter has been a best man a whopping eight times, when all he’s ever really wanted is to be a groom. But despite being everyone’s favorite dude, Johnny has yet to find The One. Or even anyone. So when he meets high-powered District Attorney Helen Troy, and falls for her hard, he follows the advice of family and friends. Since Helen seems to hate sports, Johnny pretends he does too. No more Jets. No more Mets. At least not in public. He redecorates his condo. He gets a cat. He takes up watching soap operas. Anything he thinks will earn him Helen, Johnny is willing to do. There’s just one hitch: If he does finally win her heart, who will he be?
“There are so many memorable moments in this book that I could spend page after page quoting them.” —USA Today
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I Am Born
(and I begin as life intends me to go on)
Right from the start, I've been a disappointment to women.
Here's me at my own birth:
On January 1, 1977, after thirty-two hours, fourteen minutes and fifty-three seconds of labor, most of it during a heat wave so bad there are citywide power outages — a heat wave that would have been perfectly normal in Florida, but in New England, not so much — my mother, Francesca Smith, gives birth to me at home at exactly 2:19 P.M.
She insisted on the home birth because she said it would be more natural.
Alfresca Tivoli, Francesca's sister, is present as Francesca's birthing coach because my father, John Smith, says it's women's work. Plus, he's scared shitless.
As I emerge from between my mother's legs — all thirteen pounds, eight ounces of me — Alfresca catches me. Then I do the usual baby stuff: I get my cord cut, I'm slapped, I cry, I get weighed and measured, someone wipes the cheesy stuff off my hairy head, and finally I get handed off to my mother.
"Oh," Francesca says, gently parting the swaddling to examine my body further, "it's a boy. This wasn't what I was expecting at all. I was so sure, all along, I was going to have a girl."
Then, she dies.
"If you'd been a girl," Alfresca says, taking me from my dead mother's arms as the midwife tries in vain to resuscitate my disappointed mother, "this never would have happened."
I know all this, not because I was born with some kind of precocious baby-genius capability to instantly understand language, but rather, because Aunt Alfresca has spent the last thirty-three years reminding me, at fairly regular intervals but with surprisingly little malice, that I killed her sister.
As I said, right from the start, I've been a disappointment to women.
Some people would tell you it couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
All of those people would be men.
Here I am in grade school:
You'd think my father would hate me for, you know, killing his wife, but such was not the case.
Occasionally, feeling guilty about my part in my mother's death, I'd say that it sure would be nice to have a woman around the house; you know, someone other than Aunt Alfresca.
"But we can tell fart jokes as much as we want to," he'd say back. "Hell, we can fart as much as we want to! Drink orange juice straight from the carton, burritos every night, leave the seat up in the toilet, no need to pick up our dirty clothes from the floor, sports on the TV all weekend long, scratch our balls without embarrassment — now, this is living!"
Don't get me wrong. He'd loved his wife, still keeps their wedding picture on his night table to this day so he can kiss her goodnight last thing before going to bed and greet her first thing in the morning, but he also loved us being just-two-guys-together-in- this-thing-called-life, which was pretty much what we were all the time. Well, except for whenever Aunt Alfresca came for a visit.
"Go outside and play, Johnny," Aunt Alfresca directs me. "After killing your mother, it's the least you can do."
I'm called Johnny because my mother had intended to call the baby that was supposed to be a girl Johnesca to honor my father. Since there was already one John in the family, to honor her wishes my father put Johnny on my birth certificate, restyling himself Big John.
Not wanting to make Aunt Alfresca any madder than she always is, I go outside.
It's not hard for me to get other kids in our Danbury neighborhood together for a game of kickball. At least, it's not hard to get other boys to play. Tall for my age and lean, despite the thirteen and a half pounds at birth, at eight years old I have the athletic prowess of a far older kid. Every boy likes to play with me, especially if they get picked to be on my team. So before long, I've got six boys who are eager to play.
"We need one more," says Drew Bailey, "so sides'll be even."
But we don't have one more boy on our street.
"I'll go ask Alice," I say, referring to the girl who lives right next door to me.
"Aw, don't do that," Billy Keller whines his disgust. "We don't need her. You're so good, you could count as two people on your team."
But I'm already at her door.
Knock, knock. Press my thumb on the bell until someone answers.
And there's Alice — Alice who is eight, like me, and damn cute.
"Um, you wanna come play kickball with us?" I shuffle my feet. "We kinda need one more player so sides'll be even."
"Nice way to ask, Smith," she says with a toss of her chestnut hair and a glare of her chocolate eyes. "'We kinda need one more,'" she mimics me, and does an incredible job of imitating my voice I might add. Then she sneers, "You don't want me, specifically. You just want your stupid sides to be even."
"Go outside and play," I hear Mrs. Knox yell from within the house. "It's a beautiful day. The exercise will do you good."
Alice narrows her eyes at me. "Thanks a lot." Then she comes outside, slamming the door behind her.
After we join the others, it's decided that me and Billy Keller will be captains. I win the shoot-out to see who picks first — natch — and I'm about to pick Drew, who's the third best after me and Billy, when I get a brilliant idea.
Alice, for all her cuteness, sucks at sports. Alice, therefore, whether in the neighborhood or at school, is always picked last. As my finger's about to point at Drew, it occurs to me how lousy that must feel. And I, who have never been picked last at sports in my entire life, have my first real flash of human empathy. No wonder Alice never wants to play with us! No wonder she'll only do it if her mother makes her.
I decide right then to make her day.
Today, Alice will be first.
As Drew stands there looking smug, expecting to be tagged first, as the other four guys around him strain their arms in my direction — "Pick me! Pick me!" — I point my thumb at Alice before jerking it over my shoulder. And so there's no mistaking who I'm picking, I specify, "Alice. My team."
I don't know what I was expecting. A kiss on the cheek? An enthusiastic hug? No, probably neither of those, certainly not with everyone else watching. But some form of gratitude. Home-baked cookies, maybe just a sweet smile ...
As Alice trudges to take her place behind me, Drew thrusts his arms out, palms up, as if to ask, "What the fuck, dude?"
And as Billy immediately moves to tap Drew for his team, Alice leans forward to whisper in my ear.
"You suck, Smith. Way to make me look bad. Everyone knows you only picked me first because you felt sorry for me. Now — whoop-de-doo — I get to be the weakest link on your team."
Even though Alice doesn't get to base once, even though she never catches one ball or throws another player out, even though she gets hit in the head and later knocked over by a teammate trying to make a catch, we still win 18-7. Like Billy says, I'm as good as having two players.
"You suck, Smith."
No. Definitely not gratitude.
Here's me in middle school, just barely middle school, so sixth grade to be exact:
I'm in the cafeteria with Billy and Drew and the rest, waiting in line to get my orange tray. Mm, sloppy joes ... I'm not even kidding about that mm — I love those things!
Standing right in front of me is, yeah, Alice Knox. It's the first day this year with a real promise of spring in the air and, like a lot of the other girls, she's dressed as though it's the middle of summer, instead of, you know, fifty-three degrees. She has on a pink tank top, not loose in the slightest I might add, and in the past four years since that kickball game her figure has, um, changed.
Alice Knox has the nicest breasts of any girl in our class. Hell, the nicest breasts of any girl in the whole school — throw in seventh and eighth grades, because those are some amazing world- class breasts!
Which is why, as she receives her tray with a salad on it and I reach for my own orange tray with one hand, I reach out the other hand, place one finger under the suddenly blinding white bra strap that's peeking out from beneath her pink tank and snap it.
Which is almost immediately followed by ...
Oh yeah, and that's almost immediately followed by Alice dumping her tray over my head.
And that is immediately followed by Alice seething, "I hate you, Smith," before helping herself to a fresh tray.
You'd think the guys would laugh at my humiliation, being covered with no-calorie, fat-free Italian salad dressing and all, never mind the lettuce leaves and shredded carrots on my shoulders, but such is not the case. Instead, there's high-fives and choruses of "Awesome, dude!" all around. At least from the guys.
Now here's the thing: I do know that was a colossally rude thing to do to Alice, but, in the moment, I couldn't help myself. Something came over me. And it's not like I did anything borderline illegal like, say, reach out and actually grab one of her breasts, which you can't blame a guy for wanting to do since, in the entire history of the world and if God really did create the human body, nothing has ever been invented yet to rival the beautiful glory of the female breast. (And if you're about to psychoanalyze that sentence, maybe try to tie it in to the fact that my mother died on the date of my birth and therefore was never able to breastfeed me, well, don't.) But I would never do that. I would never disrespect Alice in that way. As a matter of fact, respect was exactly what I'd been trying to show her. Just like if Billy stole second base, I might give him a pat on the butt to signify, "Yo, nice job," with nothing sexual about it at all, I was simply trying to give Alice a similar compliment; you know, something along the lines of, "Yo, Alice, nice job — great work on those breasts!"
OK, so maybe that does sound sexual, but that's not how I meant it to come across. I swear.
Now here's the other thing: The guys may think it's hysterical — like, pretty much every guy in the whole school hears about it by the end of the day — but the girls don't. From that day forward, the girls christen me The Snapper and mostly they stay far away from me.
I'd be lying if I said I'd had no female contact since The Snapper incident six years ago, but I'd also be lying if I said any of it could be categorized as something more than cursory, fumbling, brief or "before the girl in question found out I was The Snapper."
The theme song for prom is Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"
No, Elton, I'm sorry to say, I really can't.
I can't feel it because I'm going to senior prom with seven other guys in a limo I rented for the night with some of the money I've saved helping my dad out in his painting business. It used to be called John Smith's Painting, Interiors and Exteriors, but after Mom died he renamed it simply Big John's.
It's not like I wouldn't like to be taking a girl to the prom; actually, one girl in particular. There was only ever one girl in that school I'd buy a corsage for. But as I walked up to her in front of her locker about three weeks before the big day, getting up my nerve to ask, I could hear the response already: "You suck, Smith." So, not really wanting to hear those words directed at me yet again, I asked to borrow a pencil instead.
"Really, Smith?" Alice said. "What — am I the only person in this school who might have a spare writing implement? Do I look like a pencil factory to you?"
So that's as close to inviting a girl to prom as I ever got.
Oh, and when word got out that I was going, but going stag, and seven of my buddies decided to go stag with me because they figured it would be more fun? Pretty much every dateless girl in school decided they hated my guts for taking seven guys off the prom market.
Anyway, it's the big night and I'm wearing a regular black tux with white shirt because my dad always says that any color other than black, like something trendy, you regret later in life when you look back at the pictures. He should know. In the wedding photo he's got on his night table, he's wearing an all-white tux with wide lapels, with lots of big gold chains and medallions dangling down from his neck.
In the pocket of my black tux, I've got the condom Dad slipped me on the way out the door.
"You know," he said awkwardly as we shared our big bonding moment, "just in case."
Then he reached out, smoothed my lapel with one hand while he crushed his beer can with the other. "Your mother would be so proud."
Really, Dad? Mom would be proud of her dateless son? I'm thinking no.
I'm still thinking that as I climb into the limo and later as we pick each of my seven friends up at their houses.
"Hey," Mike II says when he climbs into the limo, the last to be picked up, "look what my dad gave me." I'm thinking he's going to pull out a beer and, whoop-de-doo, we'll share it eight ways for a whopping one-point-five ounces each. But instead he pulls out a condom. And before you know it, all the rest are excitedly pulling out condoms too, all courtesy of their dads.
What are the dads in this town, like, the most optimistic guys in the world ever? Do they really think that eight stag guys are going to somehow magically pick up eight dateless girls at prom and somehow score?
As my friends high-five each other over their new prophylactic prowess, I'm figuring by dawn we'll be using these to throw water balloons at each other.
As we make our big entrance at prom, I can tell the other guys still think it's so cool we're going stag together, and I can tell that even a lot of the guys who have dates wish they were us, free to do whatever we want all night instead of having to pretend we like to dance or that we care about corsages.
Secretly, I'd love to dance with a girl. I'd even love to get stabbed by the pin of some stupid corsage I bought a girl if it means I get to slow dance with her.
And the girl I'd really like to dance with most just walked in on the arm of Mark Leblanc: Alice Knox, who's wearing a simple long white sheath dress, shoulderless on one side and not at all like the elaborate dresses all the other girls have on, the kind they'll regret later in life when they see themselves in pictures. Alice's chestnut hair is gathered into a high ponytail, the tresses flowing beautifully, and around the crown of her head is a narrow sparkling circlet thing that looks just perfect and proves to be prophetic when later on she and Mark win King and Queen of the Prom.
I'd be jealous right now, but I just can't be as they dance to Prince's "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," because she deserves this. She is the most beautiful girl in the world and she's nice, even if she's always telling me she hates me and that I suck. And while I'd really like to hate Mark, I can't do that either, because he's like the definition of nice and I know he's good to her and that he'd, you know, never snap her bra in public. Hey, wait a second: Did Mark's dad give him a condom too?
I shake that thought away.
And I realize then that I might as well give up on girls, at least for the night, that my dad's condom-in-the sky dreams for me aren't going to come true at prom and even though I'd been secretly hoping to at least get some girl to dance with me once, I decide to do what Luther Vandross says in his remake and "Love the One You're With."
Unfortunately, in my case that means Billy, Drew, Pete, Mike I, Mike II, Steve and Matt, the latter of whose long hair I hold away from his face as he pukes out the window of the limo a few hours later. As some puke flies back onto my tux sleeve, I'm thinking all those dateless girls should be thanking me for taking Matt off the prom-date market.
"You're my best friend, man," Matt says, eyes closed as he collapses back against the seat.
Why is it, I wonder now, that I'm so good at so many things (even if I'm the one saying so) and admired by so many (well, it's not immodesty when, obviously, all guys admire me), but I have no luck with girls? This is beginning to bother me.
"No," Billy says to Matt, "he's my best friend."
"No," Drew starts to say, but never finishes because right then Mike II stands up, sticks his head out the sunroof of the limo, waves his bottle of J.D. at the city of Danbury and shouts, "This limo rocks!"
And now I'm thinking that the theme for my own personal senior prom should be Seal's "Prayer for the Dying."
That's right. Oh, and by the way? Fuck you, Elton John.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Bro-Magnet"
Copyright © 2011 Lauren Baratz-Logsted.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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