The Man Who Came to Dinner

I'm 31. Thirty-one years, one month, and 27 days at the time of this printing, to be exact. So that's about a year and change since I crossed over into the dreaded black hole that many consider bona fide adulthood.

In their new book Facing 30, co-authors Lauren Dockett and Kristin Beck explore this "life stage" transition and, specifically, its effect on women of the current generation.

I was able to secure a copy of their book just days prior to my Man Who Came to Dinner date with Lauren and Kristin. I was fairly confident of my ability to get through the book's 160 pages in time, however, and to that end took up transitory residence in several local coffeehouses. My only distraction was the fear that someone I knew (or didn't know, for that matter) would spot my nose buried behind a cover that screams Facing 30 above a photograph of a delicate-looking model, who appears to be whispering: "Oh ... having trouble dealing, are we?"

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I reminded myself of the free meal on the other end and decided to suck it up.

The book is a great big literary hug for all women heading for, or retreating from, their big day. It's insightful, well-researched, and filled with a surprising amount of humor. Chicken soup for the so-old.

As I read I was, naturally, comparing my own relationship with 30 to those of the women chronicled in the book. The feminine experience of passing into the great three-oh, I gathered, seems to be significantly more significant -- if not downright life-shattering.

I honestly don't recall how I spent my 30th birthday. And I certainly don't remember having any real emotional crisis surrounding the event. Perhaps I'm in denial; postponing the trauma until it's too late do anything about my poor wretched self. Or maybe I'm just a man -- fortuitously imbued with a temporary advantage in this particular event on the gender Olympics score card.

In the end I decided to leave it to the experts, and headed across the bridge for a consultation with the authors themselves.

Dinner was at Kristin's house, a spacious apartment above a vacant store in Oakland's Little Ethiopia. Lauren greeted me at the door and, as we made our way up the long stairwell, informed me that they'd invited a few of their friends to join us.

Friends are good.
Upstairs I met Kristin, wearing an authentic, grease-stained short-order cook's apron. I was also introduced to Catharine and Carole, the surprise guests and, not coincidentally, two of the women whose pre-30 stories are told throughout the book.

Settling into my seat at a great old wooden table with a glass of French white wine, I was suddenly overcome by a mild panic attack as I assessed the situation: I was Barry. And I was with four Facing 30 women. What, I wondered, had I gotten myself into?

Oblivious to my personal crisis, all four women began speaking to each other at the same time. I attempted to follow the conversation for several minutes, developing a case of tennis-match head. Moments later, all talking ceased and all eyes came to rest on me.

Kristin began the official discussion with the story of how she and Lauren approached their then-soon-to-be publisher with the idea for Facing 30. "It just completely freaked him out. 'Thirty was such a horrible, stressful time,' he said. He went off for 20 minutes."

"Well," explained Catharine, "the last generation was even more freaked out because they were the ones who coined 'Don't trust anyone over 30.' "

Carole agreed. "At least now we can face it ass out."
"Exactly," said Kristin. She turned back to Carole. "What's that?"
"You know," explained Carole to four blank faces. "Ass out."
I volunteered, "Oh, it's like a baboon reference."
This actually appeared to make sense to everyone.
"I get it," exclaimed Kristin. "You mean the anus flower."
Yes. I suppose I did.
We all laughed and enjoyed a series of jokes about monkey butt.

"But I don't think it's the monkey with the anus flower," said Catharine. Turning to me she asked, "Do you know which animal actually has the anus flower?"

"Well," I offered, "I have a friend with an anus flower. But that's more about personal hygiene."

Having calibrated the tone for the evening at the highest common denominator, Kristin rewarded us with a plate of sliced local bread and a wedge of Mont Briac cheese, an especially creamy bluish brie.

In a feeble attempt to shift the conversation to higher ground I introduced some of my observations about the book. "In case you haven't noticed," I began, "I'm male."

"Are you really?" gasped Carole.
"That's so weird," said Kristin. "I knew there was something different about you."

I continued with my thought about how a great deal of the book was equally applicable to me as a man facing 30. "I think the feminist issues and the motherhood issues are huge, but otherwise I'd say most of the book was highly relevant to me."

"So it's all pretty much about you," joked Kristin.
"Hey," I said defensively, "wasn't that your intention, to donate yourselves to the readers?"

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