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A 'Real Man' Takes Aim at '80s Dating

November 27, 1986|BETH ANN KRIER | Times Staff Writer

In 1982, Bruce Feirstein's "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" satirically divided the masculine gender into two basic camps: guys who start the day with such foods as flapjacks and bacon ("or--if possible--roofing nails") and those sensitive souls who prefer eggs Benedict, yogurt, quiche or any other members of "the wimp food group."

The joke was extended for 93 pages, sold 2.1. million copies and was translated into 16 languages. Feirstein's romp with masculinity was taken seriously enough to serve as a textbook in a Rutgers University men's studies class. And it inspired one wiseacre in Yankee Stadium to unleash a banner reading "Reggie Eats Quiche."

Three Worst Words

Feirstein is back. And this time he's taken aim not just at men. This time, in his recently published "Nice Guys Sleep Alone, Dating in the Difficult Eighties" (Dell), his subject is women, too. He's dedicated the book "to anyone who's ever heard the three worst words in the English language: 'Let's be friends' . . . and to anyone who's ever had the intelligence to respond: 'That's nice--but at this point, I don't need any more friends.' "

Once again, there are plenty of laughs, many on the raunchy side. And Feirstein offers witty observations on everything from why call waiting is the most important technological breakthrough in modern romance since the Pill (it lets you know precisely where you stand with somebody) to how to read between the lines of a singles ad ("A 'gentleman' is '45+, recently divorced and terrified to make a move on the first date.' Also read Volvo, boring. 'Stunning beauty' means 'lots of makeup.' 'Sensitive' is 'five years of therapy.' ")

But this time out, there's also a bittersweet, sadder-but-wiser tone that's obvious in Feirstein's work. Just listen to his commentary on why--not to mention the risk of picking up a sexually transmitted disease--caring people are increasingly giving up recreational sex and choosing to sleep alone: "Yes, the sexual revolution is over. The battle was fought on the beaches (Fort Lauderdale, Malibu) , in the air ('Dynasty,' Dr. Ruth) and even at sea (remember water beds?) . . . I mean, come on. At this point haven't we all had enough of those awkward early morning conversations where somebody says 'I'll call you' and then adds, 'It was nice to meet you. Would you mind closing the door on your way out?' What follows in this book is a guide to dating during the Eighties. A time when people are playing for keeps."

However sensible as that might sound, Feirstein was not in a reflective, social-observer-disguised-as-humorist mood during an interview at his West Hollywood home, a furnished condo, sublet from friends, just up the hill from Spago.

At least not at first. For a while, a dutiful let's-promote-the-book/here's-some-good-quotes attitude prevailed.

But even before that, Feirstein had to make sure it was clear he was not responsible for the fish (large, painted fish sculptures incorporated in the condo's modern decor). And the wiry-haired author, who is also a screenwriter, made a few jokes about such things as his age ("33 . . . 26 in Hollywood") and whether he considers himself a nice guy ("I'm still doing research on the book . . . ").

Indeed, Feirstein has been around the journalistic ballpark and knows the strike zone of interviewing from the pitcher's and hitter's point of view. He was a journalism major at Boston University, has worked as a substitute columnist for the New York Times' Russell Baker, contributes to Playboy, Mademoiselle and the New Republic and was the editor of the acclaimed parody, "Off the Wall Street Journal." All this occurred, except for college, after he left a successful career on Madison Avenue at age 26, having scored nine times in the Clio Awards, the World Series of advertising.

Feirstein's quotable one-liners continued (what else do you expect from the man who coined the phrase "BMW--the Ultimate Driving Machine"), but eventually he acknowledged that he really does like it when readers perceive the messages lurking just beneath his madness.

And it was clear he's concerned about such deceptively trivial issues as whether dating ("the sport of teen-agers") was ever supposed to continue for two decades in a person's life.

"Twenty-five years ago, dating was strictly a short-term event," Feirstein explained, sitting on the floor, burying a series of Vantage cigarettes in a smokeless ashtray. "Once the sexual revolution changed all that (the standard pattern of dating and waiting to have sex until after marriage) dating became a process that could go on indefinitely."

In his own case, Feirstein revealed, the dating process has gone on for the last nine years. He married his college sweetheart at age 22 and was divorced two years later. "No one should get married at 22," he declared, not even attempting a joke.

What does he do for comedic inspiration? Listen to comedians? Frequent comedy clubs?

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