Off in a lonely corner at River North's Brehon Pub two Saturdays ago a guy in baggy jeans and a T-shirt twiddled away at a Golden Tee arcade game. "See that guy over there?" Michael Burke asked me. "He's our target audience."
Michael and his brother Tim were signing copies of their new book, Die Happy: 499 Things Every Guy's Gotta Do While He Still Can. While he still can? "When is it too late?" I asked the brothers, both advertising executives in Chicago, their hometown. When you're married, they replied.
"Hey, let's face it," the book begins, "there are certain things in life that unfortunately come with an expiration date. . . . And most likely, you won't even realize this until it is way, way too late. It may hit you as you're standing with a pricing gun loosely gripped in your hand while your bride-to-be debates which bathroom towel she longs to put on the registry."
They recommend, before it's too late, expensive trips to the Virgin Islands, Prague, Puerto Rico, Quebec, New York, Georgia, Munich, Key West, Cannes, Barcelona, Thailand, Los Angeles, Belize, the Cayman Islands, and Rhode Island for resorts and sex festivals and sports events. They provide handy checklists with directives like "order a Zima at a biker bar," "get a lap dance wearing Umbros," "shit in the woods," "ride a Harley," "hang-glide," "share a hot tub with women who are topless, bottomless, or both," "take home a hot bartender," "be the water guy at a wet T-shirt contest," "make sweet love to a woman ten years older than you, a.k.a. 'bang a cougar,'" and "drink a Redheaded Slut, then go home with one."
So get off your fat ass, bro-heim. Pull your dick out of the damn video game and stick it in some sweet honey in Rio de Janeiro! Go spend Saint Patrick's Day puking in Dublin! Run with the bulls in Pamplona! Get the clap in Vegas! Because someday real soon you will be married to some ballbuster obsessed with housewares who makes you do yard work and shop for khakis in strip malls and perform other lame, soul-crushing duties for the rest of your life. You will get up at 5 AM to toil away in some cube in hopes of someday, maybe if you're lucky, getting a window. You will drive a minivan because you will have a screaming brat (or hopefully more!) who constantly wants to go to Disneyland, and you will teach him how to play baseball if he's a boy or give her money to shop with if she's a girl. And so on and so forth until you die. Because that's life. That's just the way it works.
If getting married is so emasculating, why do it? I asked them. Or why marry a woman like that? Why have kids? Why shop at Old Navy?
For a split second they got a hopeful twinkle in their eyes like, Holy shit, what distant land did you come from? And then they spat out some programming about enjoying all phases of life: the phase where you're single and the phase where you're not. "You don't want to be the creepy old guy at Mardi Gras asking girls to show their tits," said Tim, who's 33 and married, with a six-month-old son. Michael, who's single and 31 (but looks 40), nodded in agreement. Neither of them seemed to realize you can be a creep at any age.
The whole event reeked of misogyny, from a friend of the Burkes asking me if I was an intern at the Reader after looking disappointedly at my bustline to the Jagermeister models wearing red flashing LED reflectors on their low-cut tops to the posters on the wood-paneled walls. On one, a stiff in a tie stood obediently next to a woman with a prim bob and red lips. "Sign #27 that your days are numbered," it said above them. "Your girlfriend and you have a list of GREAT DATE PLACES." The speech bubble above the woman's head read, "We just love going to Ruby Tuesday's on Tuesdays. Isn't that funny?"
The Burkes' book implies that there are two kinds of women: the kind you bang and the kind you marry. The former is too stupid to catch on to your bullshit and too loose to care anyway, and the latter is scheming to control your wallet, behavior, and brain. This woman lives to crush dreams and creativity, to exploit emotions and free time. I asked the brothers about their message.
"Oh, you missed our chapter on snuggling," Michael said. That was a joke. But in all seriousness he asked, "Should there be a book like this for women?"
I carried Die Happy around for a week, morbidly fascinated, incredulously sampling it in small doses, sharing particularly thickheaded sentences with friends. Last weekend I decided I'd done enough bitching--it was time to try out some of the book's suggestions. I couldn't afford most of their ideas, and it was too cold to go streaking or jump in a public fountain, so I partook of the only reasonable option: I hosted a drinking-games party.
The night started with shots of root beer DeKuyper, Old Crow, and Pabst and a few healthy rounds of I Never, the game where one person admits to something he or she has never done, and anyone who has done it has to take a shot. Of about a dozen of us, roughly half had snuck weed onto a plane, half had masturbated in a public place. Only one person had shot heroin. Only one person had robbed a grave. None of us had ever had sex with someone named Paul.
This is how the Burkes imagine a drinking-games party: "Your shirt is soaked with beer, the floor is sticky, liquid is dripping from the ceiling, and you're screaming 'Drink, you big pussy!!!'" And that's how mine went too. The Burkes urge their readers to make up rules as they go along and wear war paint for intimidation. At my party, I Never switched to I Have, where we drank in solidarity with the confessor; later someone busted out a bottle of fake blood and doused everybody.
After about eight shots in a row I realized I was smashed. We started playing Drink or Dare, which turned into Dare but Drink Anyway. My roommate plucked hairs from a friend's bikini line, then had my former intern lick almond butter off her foot. In turn, he had a friend get naked and make an outfit out of toilet paper. Three more of us took our clothes off and followed suit.
The next thing I knew I was wearing a diaper made of Scott's finest and pink gaffer's tape. Fake blood ran down my face, there was piss on the floor, a rug caught on fire, and a few people were making out with a stuffed deer head.
Trashed family heirlooms notwithstanding (rug, table, armchair--sorry, mom and dad), it was a pretty good time. Die Happy really does boil down to one simple message: make the most of your life. Which is solid advice. But why hurry up and then quit? Why not do what you want until you die? If you don't want to marry that controlling harpy, don't. She's probably better off without you anyway.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Andrea Bauer.