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Advice for the Lovelorn

Books: In researching her romance guide, Merrill Markoe boldly ventures into the world of advice seminars and telephone psychics.

March 21, 1997|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here is Merrill Markoe's recipe for love: Saute chanterelle mushrooms and pearl onions in a dollop of sesame oil. Mix in edible underwear, two per person.

"I don't think they would look good on," says the chef of romance, "so I think you might as well just saute them."

Tra la. Spring is upon us, and that's the time a comedy writer's thoughts turn to love. In Markoe's world, that's a thrilling--if terrifying--experience, a veritable minefield of l'amour only for the most intrepid. To help you navigate its treacherous course, Markoe has obligingly written the book on it, "Merrill Markoe's Guide to Love" (Atlantic Monthly Press). Her third book features tips on such bugaboos of love as dating a crazy person and finding romance on the astral plane.

Not that she's an expert on the subject. Au contraire.

"Now that I'm in my 40s," says the ebullient Markoe, "I have a lifelong track record of no success at love. When you're in your 30s, you don't really know that you've hit a big pattern. You hit your 40s, and suddenly it's like, oops."

Under the circumstances, Markoe thought she'd better take a closer look at love, which by the way, everybody else is interested in too, judging from all the songs written about it.

"Obviously, it's a big area," she says.

Markoe's expertise lies in the area of humor--multimedia humor, actually. She's a four-time Emmy winner and magazine columnist, formerly for Buzz and L.A. Style and currently for New Woman. She has regaled audiences with her skewed view of the world in regular spots on Michael Moore's "TV Nation" and KCOP-TV Channel 13. The Chicago Tribune hailed her latest collection of essays as "a hilarious, refreshing lampoon of the endless self-help resources on romance." The Baltimore Sun called her "damn funny."

Indeed, Markoe can find the silver lining in the otherwise excruciating. At the moment, the California native is sitting at the dining table of her Malibu home surrounded by some of her favorite things--dogs, cherries jubilee-flavored whipped cream and fake breasts. She's writing the whipped cream and fake breasts off on her taxes, but don't try that at home.

Markoe bought the fake breasts to give them a test run for the book. This was not as easy as it might sound.

"I was trying to wear them with a running bra, which leads to the question, are they too high? Once you step into the land of fraud, you're not sure."

Among the other vital love services she provides is attending a cornucopia of seminars on romance, mostly of the Learning Annex ilk, so that you don't have to.

"They're pretty much a living hell," she observes. "Most people don't want to go, and they're correct in their reasoning. So I think this is the painless way to find out what happens, because I've bothered to work really hard to make it amusing for you rather than have you sacrifice five hours of your evening."

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The first seminar Markoe attended featured tips for women on performing oral sex.

"She called it the sophisticates' seminar. And she gave us these replicas of the male anatomy on a white china plate, and right off the bat I thought, 'Well this makes a lot of sense because we're sophisticates and we like a simple china pattern.' "

Not all the seminars were so hands-on. In fact, in one, a Christian romance expert suggested lover wannabes keep their hands off.

"She was saying that what you want to do to find love is basically nothing. Just put it in God's hands. Which was kind of frustrating. A gentleman in the class raised his hand, cleared his throat and said, 'So while you're doing nothing, what would be your social posture exactly?' "

Markoe was more inspired by self-declared former nebbish, current cognitive therapist Pat Allen's seminar on getting to "I do."

"A lot of these seminars exist because right now there are millions of 38-year-old women who have been in a two-year relationship and are going, 'I have a biological clock and he doesn't want to get married, and I'm stuck. I don't know what the rules are.' Everybody was floundering, so there had to be some people show up with some rules.

"Pat Allen's got a lot of rules. Millions of rules. She's a talk show waiting to happen."

While Allen lists her postgraduate education, other seminar leaders take a more casual approach to assuming the mantle of expert.

"I think you can just say you are, and then you are. If you bother to instruct a class, I don't think anybody questions your credentials after that. Also, a lot of them have things for sale. I think that qualifies you too."

*

Markoe also consulted phone and pet-divining psychics, as well as a love channeler. She even explores the poetry of Hallmark cards for the sociopathic: "I know it's no excuse, but those times when I'm the most difficult are probably the times I'm loving you the most and I can't bear the thought of life without you."

In Southern California, the lovelorn need all the help they can get, given the native fauna they have to choose from.

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