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JOEL STEIN

How to apologize to a feminist

He wasn't very clever. He wasn't very nice. And he's been trying to make it up to a certain red-haired columnist ever since.

January 03, 2006|JOEL STEIN

MAUREEN DOWD doesn't like me. This is not unusual. But unlike a lot of people, the New York Times columnist has a good reason.

Despite her new book, "Are Men Necessary?" it's not just because I'm male. And I have no argument with her book, either. The way I see it, perhaps men aren't necessary, but we are very entertaining.

Dowd apparently doesn't see it that way. Her hatred began with a column I wrote several years ago about singer Robert Goulet, who had sent me a letter asking to be my pen pal.

The next time I was in Las Vegas, I visited Goulet. That's when I discovered that I wasn't the only columnist he enjoyed.

Goulet read Dowd's column to me out loud, in a Broadway baritone that made it sound like the tale of the knights of the Round Table. Next to nearly every sentence he had jotted "Wow!" Unfortunately, in my column I described Goulet's outpouring of love as "giving her more wows than Michael Douglas ever did." Douglas is Dowd's ex-boyfriend and current legal guardian to Catherine Zeta-Jones.

This, as you probably noticed, was not a particularly clever joke. It also was not that nice. These are things that Maureen Dowd noticed as well.

She immediately called a colleague of mine and complained. She thought it was patently sexist and revealed a long history of sexism at my thenpublication, Time magazine. I could see her point since it was a publication that, for a long time, chose a Man of the Year.

My colleague then told me to apologize to Dowd. Being a man of very little pride, I called her immediately.

It is surprisingly easy to reach Maureen Dowd. It is, however, surprisingly difficult to apologize to her. I started by admitting the joke was a cheap shot, to which she grunted in agreement.

Mostly though, for the entire conversation, she did the reporter trick of not talking so I'd keep babbling and saying more incriminating things. By the time I hung up, I was pretty sure I'd made things worse.

Hearing how I'd struck out, my friend at Time suggested that I send her flowers. Although I don't remember specifically reading this in Simone de Beauvoir, sending flowers to a feminist accusing you of sexism seemed to me about as good an idea as telling her she looked good in a sweater.

But when I went online to pick a fruit basket, I found out they were very expensive. Was I a $150-caliber sexist? And more important, could I expense that much guilt? I decided to ask an editor.

The editor wisely suggested a good bottle of wine. Then he called her friend, New York Times writer Alessandra Stanley, to find out what kind of wine Dowd liked.

The next sentences I heard were: "Actually, in person, he's a really nice guy.... Well, he makes more fun of himself than anybody else.... Joel, how about you pick out a case of really good California chardonnay?"

A FEW DAYS later, the really good case showed up in my own office, returned unopened with a note that said, "Mr. Stein, keep the wine."

Luckily, just a few weeks later, I saw Art Cooper, then the editor of GQ, at a restaurant where, he told me, he was meeting Dowd for lunch and would straighten things out for me. She showed up nearly an hour late for their lunch; I sent a really good bottle of chardonnay to their table. Then I went over to re-re-apologize.

The GQ editor gave me a look that could have been interpreted either as "Go away as fast as you can" or "Go away as fast you can, moron." I left. Quickly. Apparently, she did not accept the wine.

I have since employed various people in Washington and New York to call me whenever Dowd is at a restaurant so I can have a bottle of unwanted chardonnay sent to her table. I do not think a court of law could rule this as some kind of wine stalking, but I am not afraid to find out.

I will not rest until I get Dowd to stop hating me. Maybe it's male to pursue the one who rejects you, but I think it's just that I don't want to be dismissed by someone I respect.

She may believe, as she says in her book, that men are put off by women in power -- that her Pulitzer cost her dates. But, to me, it just makes her hotter.

I know that's going to cost me another bottle of chardonnay. But it's worth it.

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