But yet, and still, you’re trying to be fly I ask you a question, I wanna know why: Why’d you have to make a record ’bout me The R-O-X-A-N-N-E? —Roxanne Shante, Rebuttal to UTFO from ‘Roxanne’s Revenge,’ 1984
This is the second time Dave Itzkoff has written about having sex with me.
This time he includes me in Lads: A Memoir of Manhood (just out from Villard), his lugubrious account of being an entry-level editorial assistant at Details and an editor at Maxim. It’s the second time I’ve ripped through pages to get to the part about me, curious about the details he remembered that I didn’t and curious about how he describes the sex, especially since we never had it. Three years ago, he told me he had written an article for Marie Claire but he never said it was about me, about us. I found out at the Dennis Publishing Christmas party. (I was freelancing at Stuff; he was at Maxim.) The Stuff boys talked behind Dave’s back and directly in front of him about how emasculated, how pathetic, how downright sad Dave must have been to write down and sell a sentence to a hot-pink girlie rag that included the words “I just went home and quietly cried myself to sleep.” The Stuff edit staff, always up for a razzing, ganged up on li’l Dave. At first the boys spoke loudly and liberally, insulting each other and then insulting each other’s magazines—a thorough Stuff vs. Maxim chest-thumping.
Whoa, lads. Settle down.
The exchange ended with Dave stammering some insult and marching his angry frame full of angry bones away to fume in a corner. I later read the column and recognized the source of the tears as a night he had spent at my house, in my bed. Every detail mine and me except for the sex he said we had, which we hadn’t.
I wrote him a note, practically apologizing on this precious red-and-gold Chinese stationery: “I really liked your article. I suspect it meant more to me than your average Marie Claire reader.” Because it did. It was the first time I actually understood how much he wanted to date, to have sex, to continue this fantasy of who I might be to him.
I was flattered and starstruck. My own experience was worthy enough to warrant a column—someone else’s column! My bed, my door, my kiss were words renting space in a monthly. I didn’t even care that our night was reduced to a plot point. I worked for and obsessed over magazines too—I knew that something had to happen to warrant a column. And if that column happens to be under the “sex” rubric, well, it’s generally expected to actually include sex. So fine, whatever.
Dave was one of my first New York friends—one that I met post-college. He was the only person at Condé Nast who wasn’t intimidating, largely because he didn’t wear stilettos. He writes a lot in Lads about how he looks, his fading bleach-blond streaks, his surprisingly out-of-place tattoo, his height, his nose. He looked like someone I could be friends with. I’d call him on Sundays while he was watching cartoons; we’d meet at delis and eat fatty pastrami and drink Cel-Ray sodas, go to blockbusters, stand next to each other at concerts, drink through our respective office parties. We were surrogate dates.
Dave was always my therapist’s favorite. Dr. Schwartz would mention him first when I complained about boys and their badness and their badness toward me. He still talks about Dave because Dave was the only boy in my stable of self-obsessed flakes who actually stood me on a corner and said unequivocally, “I have a crush on you.”
And with that I feel something bitter toward Dave for turning the rubble of our friendship into something so clichéd and trite as a failed fuck. A version that has me stomping around as some free-spirit army-boot-wearing loon who says things that only would appear in my nightmares, like “You think you have feelings for me, but you don’t. That’s just the city talking. It makes people lonely.” God help me if those words ever passed my lips.
It’s an out-of-body experience to see yourself and your choices and who you might be reflected in someone else’s mirror. Modigliani rarely named his female subjects. Those portraits all had this blank, vague, pupil-less stare, a fixed state of emotions—just shells of flesh draped into walls of dense color. I can only assume that the three female peripheral characters in Lads that are given such cloying names as Orphan, Cow Girl, and Baby Doll are a combination of Dave’s fervid imagination and a splash of sincere friendship, because they come off as flat and lifeless as a Modigliani muse.
I can’t help but wonder if Dave wondered who would read this and how they would react. And if he was secretly hoping old friends might emerge. When did it become OK to pass off friends, family, and co-workers as characters, and conversations as dialogue? How much of a memoir is accountable to reality or to the people who serve as sideshows? And how much of it is tweaked for the sake of the story and flow of what just might sound better if you flip that and reverse and maybe sex it up a little—you know, something a Maxim editor might have some experience with?
Maybe I’m cross because I’m left wondering what else in a book that is so rubbed raw might be stretched truths. Lads is so brutally revealing of a pathetic, difficult, and self-obsessed man-child and his relationship to a world that constantly shits on him. He’s got this destroyed father in a permanent-robe shuffle, a petty magazine industry that just feeds his misogynistic predisposition, and a world half populated by those Martian women with their erratic tempers and low-cut blouses tempting and pawing but never actually allowing him in.
My small spotlight (nine pages of glory) comes early in the book, in the chapter entitled “At Last, Some Fucking.” If I haven’t made it clear, that fucking is completely fucking fictional. But worse, the fantasy sex he writes about having with me is fantasy bad sex. He describes me lying still while he’s thrusting and struggling with a condom. Then the passage gets weird and uncomfortable because Dave goes on to describe an imaginary rape scene of what would happen if he just kept going. I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t know what this means, but I’m not surprised we’re not friends anymore.
I’m glad Dave got the description of my bathroom right on. He obsesses over the cleanliness factor—there’s a “fetid toilet” and a “cesspool” and it’s full of “dirt and hair clumps.” It’s not so dirty that he can’t masturbate. I got the feeling he was pissed to spend more time in there than in my bed. (He writes, in a later passage, “I don’t mean to brag, but I can masturbate to anything.”)
Maybe I deserved a phone call, a warning, or or a simple e-mail asking how I felt about his rendition of our time together. The few close moments we shared were between us until they were arbitrarily fair game for his fodder. In most of the book Dave is critical of Maxim and his fellow lads for being so easily distracted and manipulated by a pair of airbrushed tits and spread thighs, but all he can do is chronicle his mostly failed conquests in the same backslapping locker-room jock talk.
The rest of Lads revels in episodic loneliness, heartbreaking and angry diatribes, and hysterical scenes of family dysfunction. When Dave writes about his family—at home and at the office—he’s writing what he knows about and it’s reflected in the cadence and ease of his voice. The women though, well, they’re always at a distance. Even though I’ve read my nine pages a bazillion times, I think the 268 other pages are better.
Jaime Lowe writes for Sports Illustrated and has written for Talk, Variety, and other publications.