From the #1 New York Times bestseller author of Sh*t My Dad Says, Justin Halpern, comes a laugh-out-loud funny and deeply touching collection of personal stories about relationships with the opposite sex, from a first kiss to getting engaged and all the awkward moments in between. With Sh*t My Dad Says, Halpern brought his brand of talented comedic writing to the world. Now, with this equally poignant, hilarious, and provocative memoir, he establishes himself as one of popular writing’s great humorists among the likes of David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, and David Rakoff. Fans of biting, honor-infused memoirs such as Me Talk Pretty One Day and Assassination Vacation will find Halpern’s I Suck at Girls an unforgettable journey into the best and worst moments of one man’s adventures in romance.
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About the Author
Justin Halpern is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Sh*t My Dad Says, inspired by his massively popular Twitter feed. SPOILER ALERT: He lives with his wife in Los Angeles.
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I Suck at Girls
By Justin Halpern
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2012 Justin Halpern
All rights reserved.
You Could Probably Be Happily Married to a Hundred and Fifty Million Different Women
In May 2008, after being dumped by my girlfriend of almost three years, I moved back home with my parents. After patting me on the back and telling me not to "leave my bedroom looking like it was used for a gang bang," my retired seventy-three-year-old father soon started treating me as his full-time conversation partner, the proverbial wall against which he'd fling all his comments to see what stuck.
One day I decided to start chronicling the absurd things that came out of his mouth in a Twitter feed called "Shit My Dad Says". What began as an attempt to take my mind off my heartache, and make a couple friends laugh, exploded: within two months I had more than half a million followers, a book deal with a major publisher, and a TV deal, which is all the more ridiculous when you take into account that it was solely because I was just writing down things my dad said. They weren't even my words. To say I was "lucky" would be inaccurate. Finding your wallet after you've left it in a crowded bar is lucky. Getting a book deal and a TV show based on less than five hundred total words is a level of luck reserved for people who survive plane crashes or find out they're Oprah's long-lost sister.
But none of the events of the past year and a half would have occurred if my girlfriend, Amanda, hadn't broken up with me. If she'd never dumped me, I would never have moved home. If I hadn't moved home, I would never have started chronicling the shit my dad says. And if I hadn't started doing that, I would probably still be sitting in the public library next to a homeless man, just as I am right now, but I wouldn't be writing a book. I'd be stealing rolls of toilet paper since I couldn't afford to buy them.
A couple months after I moved home, before I even started the Twitter feed, Amanda called and said she wanted to meet for lunch to talk. It was the first time we'd spoken since the breakup, and I wasn't sure how I felt about seeing her again. We had dated for almost three years, and though calling someone "The One" makes her sound like she was chosen to lead a rebellion against an evil ruler of the galaxy, I genuinely thought Amanda was the person I wanted to spend my life with. It had taken me the two months we hadn't spoken just to start feeling normal again. So the thought of seeing her now was frightening. Seeing someone you used to date is a lot like watching highlights of your favorite team losing in the Super Bowl: just the sight of it hits you like a punch in the gut and makes you remember how upset you were when it all went down in flames.
After I got off the phone with Amanda, I hopped up off the air mattress on my bedroom floor and walked into my dad's office. I told him that Amanda wanted to talk with me and I wasn't sure what to do. "You're not fucking perfect," he said as he swiveled his chair away from me and back to his desk where he was writing.
"What? I didn't say anything about being perfect. I just wanted to know what you thought," I said, shifting my weight from foot to foot in his doorway.
He swiveled back toward me. "That's what I think. I think you're not perfect."
I explained to him as patiently as I could that I had absolutely no idea what question he was answering, but I was pretty sure it wasn't the one I asked.
"Human beings do dumb shit. You do dumb shit. She does dumb shit. Everyone does dumb shit. Then, every once in a while, we have a moment where we don't do dumb shit, and then we throw a god- damned parade and we forget all the dumb shit we did. So what I'm saying to you is, don't do something, or not do something, to punish someone because you think they did something dumb. Do what you want to do, because it's what you want to do. Also, bring me a grapefruit from the kitchen and some salt and pepper."
I decided to have lunch with Amanda.
A year later, I sat across from my father in a booth at Pizza Nova, a small restaurant on the San Diego harbor.
"I have big news," I said, barely containing my smile.
"You're in trouble. Is it money? It's money," he said.
"What? No. Why would I say 'I have big news' if it was something bad?"
"'I have big news; I shot and killed a man.' See, that would be big news to tell someone," he said.
"People don't use that phrase that way," I said.
"Oh, I forgot, you're a writer. You know how everyone in the world fucking talks," he responded.
You can't drive a conversation with my dad. You have to let him drive it, yell directions to him when you can, and hold on until, God willing, you arrive safely at the destination you were hoping to reach. And it's even worse when he's hungry, which he was just then.
"Okay, well, I don't have bad big news, then. I have good big news," I said, treading more carefully.
"Hit me with it," he said, as he perused the menu.
"I'm going to propose to Amanda," I declared. I had finally said the words out loud to another human being. A giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
"Good for you. I think I'm going to get the romaine and watercress salad. I know I always get it, but it's tasty, and what the hell, right?" he said.
My dad's not a real excitable guy, but I'd been hoping for a better response than you'd get by telling someone, "I just won tickets to a Depeche Mode concert."
I waited a few more moments, hoping maybe he had something more to add.
"You know what? I should get a pizza," he said, picking the menu back up again.
I fiddled with the straw in my iced tea, trying to figure out how to get back on track. He was the first person I'd told about my plan, and I was determined to get a response that matched how I was feeling.
"So, yep. I'm gonna propose. And then we're going to get married. I'm really excited," I said, staring at the menu in front of his face.
"Good stuff," he said from behind it.
"Dad. I'm telling you I'm getting married. I thought you'd be more excited about this. It's a big deal for me."
My dad pulled the menu down, revealing the same deadpan look he had as he sat through the Ashton Kutcher movie "What Happens in Vegas" after my mother rented it.
"Son, this is me excited. I don't know what you want from me. I'm happy for you and Amanda, and I like you both very much, but it's not a surprise. You've been dating her for four years. It ain't like you found a parallel fucking universe," he said before flagging down our waitress, who came over and took our orders.
He was right. It wasn't a surprise. And I should have known better anyway. I love my father dearly, but if I was looking for someone to jump up and down with excitement, why did I choose the man who called my sixth-grade graduation "boring as dog shit"?
"I think you have what we in the medical profession call a 'taut sphincter,'" my dad said.
"A tight asshole. You're nervous, that's why you're trying to fill dead air with garbage. I'm old and I'm hungry, so cut through the bullshit and just say what you want to say, son," he said.
The day before, I had purchased an engagement ring from a little jewelry shop in La Jolla, California, and up until that moment, I hadn't felt the least bit squeamish about getting married. But then, after I handed my down payment to the eighty-year-old behind the counter and had the ring in my hand, a memory came to me: I was nine years old and crouching in the corner of the bathroom with my pants around my ankles, trying to pee into a water balloon. The idea was to throw the pee-filled balloon at my brothers in revenge for their merciless bouts of picking on me. Then, suddenly, the door opened, revealing my father. I froze in fear, the water balloon attached to my privates. My dad stared in silence for a moment, then said, "First of all, you can't fill up a water balloon like that, dumbshit. Secondly, life is fucking long, especially if you're stupid." That phrase became a regular for him, one I've heard many times throughout my life. Holding that engagement ring in my hand made me think about just how long my life had already felt, and how many stupid things I had done. For the first time, it occurred to me that maybe I didn't know what I was doing.
Which is why, all these years later, I was looking to him for advice. "You really like Amanda," I said to my dad, unsure if I was making a statement or asking a question.
"I mean, we haven't sat in a foxhole shooting at fucking Germans, but from what I know of her, yes, I like her a whole lot. But who gives a shit if I like her?" he said.
"Bullshit. You don't give a rat's ass, and you know why?" he said, cocking his head and raising an eyebrow.
"Because no one in the history of relationships has ever given a flying fuck about what other people think about their relationships - until they're over," he said. "Now that's a pizza! Thank you kindly, ma'am," he chirped as the waitress dropped off our orders.
"Well, it's a big decision," I said, "so I'm trying to get some perspective. I just want to make sure I'm not making a mistake - that I'm not going to end up screwing her over, or me, you know? I think that's a pretty normal feeling most people have," I explained, suddenly feeling defensive and embarrassed.
"Most people are stupid. Nothing seems like a mistake until it's a mistake. You stand in front of an electric fence and whip your dick out to take a piss on it, it's pretty clear you're about to make a mistake. Other than that, you pretty much have no way of knowing." I leaned back in the booth, quietly gratified that my dad still reached back twenty-five years, to the time when my brother urinated on our neighbor's electric fence, as his template for a mistake. Between voracious bites of pizza, my dad noticed that I wasn't satisfied by his response, so he wiped his mouth and said, "All right. I'm gonna tell you two things. But neither of them is advice, okay? Advice is bullshit. It's just one asshole's opinion."
"Fair enough," I replied.
"First and foremost, I'm a scientist," he said, clearing his throat.
"I don't give a shit if you agree. It's not up for debate. I'm telling you: First and foremost, I'm a scientist. And as a scientist, I can't help but think about things critically. Sometimes it can be a curse. What I wouldn't give every once in a while to be a blithering idiot skipping through life with shit in my pants like it's a goddamned party."
I sprinkled red chili flakes on my barbecue chicken pizza and sat back to listen.
"So, scientifically speaking, marriage breaks down like this: There are six billion people on the planet. Say half are women. Now, taking into account age ranges and all that, even if you were picky -"
"I'm picky," I interrupted.
"I'm speaking universally, not about you specifically. The world doesn't constantly revolve around you. Just eat your fucking pizza and listen."
He waited silently until I grabbed a slice of pizza and shoved it in my mouth.
"Okay, so even if you were picky, you could probably be happily married to any one of a hundred and fifty million different women," he said.
This was surprising. My parents had been married thirty-two years and my dad worshiped my mother. He was never shy about telling us that she came first. Once, when I was six, my dad put down a science journal he was reading over breakfast. It had a giant asteroid on the cover. He looked at me and my brothers and said, "If an asteroid hit the earth and it was a nuclear holocaust and the air was breathable, which it wouldn't be, I could be okay with your mother and I being the last two people alive."
"What about us?" my brother Evan asked.
"Well, I wouldn't just move on. There'd be a grieving period, obviously. I'm not an asshole," my dad replied before letting out a big belly laugh. My dad loves my mother as if he has a biological need to be with her. So hearing him tell me casually that any one of us could be happily married to one hundred and fifty million different people seemed inconsistent with his own example.
"You don't buy that. I know you don't think you could have what you have with Mom with someone else," I said.
"I said I had two things to tell you. Now, scientifically, that's how it breaks down. But we're complex animals and we're constantly changing. Things I thought ten years ago seem like absolute bullshit now. So there's no scientific formula to predict how things are going to work out with a marriage, because a marriage in year one is completely different from the same marriage ten years later. So when you're dealing with something incredibly unpredictable, like human beings, numbers and formulas don't mean shit. The best you can do is take all the information you have and, scientifically speaking, do what?" he asked, staring at me, awaiting an answer.
"Uh ... I don't know," I said, unsure if this was a rhetorical question.
Excerpted from I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern. Copyright © 2012 by Justin Halpern. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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“Justin Halpern is brilliant, and his dad is brilliant-er.”