Cover image for On the loose : big city days and nights of three single women
On the loose : big city days and nights of three single women
Roth, Melissa.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Morrow, [1999]

Physical Description:
x, 239 pages ; 22 cm
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Material Type
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HQ800.4.U6 R68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Everyone is fascinated with the plight of the single girl -- look at the success of Bridget Jone's Diary, unforgettable "Elaine" of Seinfeld fame, and the new HBO series Sex and the City. On the page and the screen, these women make dates, pursue careers, and wonder about their ticking biological clock, all with humor and tenacity. But does this reflect women's lives today in the real world?

Journalist Melissa Roth followed three young women for one year, to find out the truth. They are of the "Free to Be" generation but the mantra of The Rules hums through their daily lives: Jen a 29-year-old Hollywood producer, thrives on whirlwind days and nights but sometimes longs for the simpler pleasures of her hometown. Anna a 31-year-old advertising executive in San Francisco who married right out of college, struggles in a wry Nora Ephron-esque manner with her divorce, her job, and sex with her new boyfriends; and Casey; 33, finds calm through yoga, stimulation through late nights with rock bands (it's her job), and fury when her boyfriend reveals he's somebody else's husband.

Roth gathers together their tales of the wrong men and near-perfect romances, promotions and unemployment, sushi lessons and the New Year's Eve flu to skillfully create a three-pronged narrative that reads like a lively novel. Smart, enormously witty, and candid, the women reveal that single life offers the most amazing sense of freedom they've ever known.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Most libraries have patrons who will be interested in one or more of these books--a wide-ranging survey of what science is learning about women's bodies and minds; biographies of two of the most important (and controversial) definers of second-stage feminism; and a year in the life of three women too young to remember women's lib. Hales is a medical journalist who has written books about depression and other forms of mental illness and about high-risk pregnancies. Here, she summarizes the results to date of research on gender, devoting full chapters in part 1 to animal behavior studies, anthropology, genetics and endocrinology, and clinical medicine. Part 2 examines women's life stages from menarche through menopause, and part 3 assesses gender aspects of women's brains, emotions, psychiatric vulnerability, sexuality, and spirituality. Although some of those areas are potentially controversial, Hales' straightforward discussions of research and conflicting theories allow readers to draw their own conclusions while learning a good deal of relatively new information. Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer both wrote seminal feminist works, and both have alienated past colleagues, in part, at least, because they've bad-mouthed so many of them. And Greer is angry about Wallace's biography: she objects to literary biography, especially of living authors, and she responded to publication of this one by calling Wallace "a dung beetle" and "flesh-eating bacteria." The reaction seems excessive: although Wallace certainly criticizes Greer and traces elements of her character to her dysfunctional family (as Greer herself has done), the biographer, who lives in Greer's native Australia, gives her subject full credit for the life-changing shock of recognition many women felt when they read The Female Eunuch. Hennessee had a more collaborative relationship with Friedan. When another author's planned biography fell through, Friedan met with Hennessee several times, and the author also interviewed members of Friedan's family and dozens of past and present friends and colleagues. Briefly stated, Hennessee's "fix" on Friedan is that she is "a woman of profound contradictions," committed to lofty goals but often prickly, dogmatic, even vengeful regarding those who disagreed with her or valued her less highly than she felt she deserved. Readers will not always like Betty Friedan in this involving narrative, but they can hardly fail to marvel at what she has accomplished over the years. The women Roth met and talked with over the course of a year are two generations younger than Friedan: a single, 29-year-old Hollywood film producer; a San Francisco ad exec who's 31 and divorced just long enough to be getting used to it; and a single, 33-year-old New Yorker who handles publicity for rock bands. From one vernal equinox to the next, Roth's informants let her in on their lives: interesting but not always satisfying jobs; family and friends; love interests of one degree of seriousness or another. These are the women who are said to be hearing their biological clocks, and all three do wonder whether marriage and kids are in their future. But they're also involved in other aspects of their lives and seem to have learned an essential truth: being alone has its own joys. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Roth, a freelance journalist, doesn't get far beyond fashion magazine chirpiness in her exploration of the lives and loves (or lusts) of three single, upper-middle-class white women ranging in age from 29 to 33. She set out to understand and portray independent women who are not desperate to find husbands. Despite the fact that Jen, a Los Angeles film producer; Anna, a San Francisco advertising executive; and Casey, a New Yorker who handles media relations for a record company, are different from one another, Roth fails to individualize them or bring them to life. The three describe a variety of romantic and sexual encounters with both married and unmarried men that appear to end badly. All, however, express satisfaction with their choices. As Roth interviews her subjects and listens in on their conversations with friends, the picture that emerges is not flattering: "Lynn is shaking her head. She just broke up with a forty-four-year-old real estate broker. `I fired him,' Lynn says when Jen asks her about the real estate guy. `You downsized?' `Had to.'" Maybe in real life this girl-talk was accompanied by arched eyebrows and wit, but, on the page, it comes across as the most superficial kind of irony‘a tone from which the book seldom diverges. Little of life is revealed beyond stressful well-paid jobs, work-related travel, exotic vacations and the restaurants and bars the women frequent. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Given the popularity of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary (LJ 5/15/98) and its American TV cousin Ally McBeal, it was inevitable that a spate of books dealing with singleness would crop up. Although Roth and Rutkowski have produced two very different books, their purposes are identical: to assure the Bridgets and Allys of the world that just because they're single doesn't mean they're doomed to loneliness and heartbreak. Roth attempts to prove this point by following three successful and busy single women in their late 20s or early 30s for one year. Each woman has a glamorous job‘ad exec, movie producer, and media relations expert for a record company. Each woman also has hankerings for men that readers know intuitively are wrong for them‘a mentor/ father figure, a strong and silent cowboy, a 23-year-old boy toy. Despite all the conversations Roth conveys and the lengthy descriptions she gives of each woman, this is pretty much all you learn about them. Some libraries may want to consider this book (especially where Bridget's a hit), but it's a marginal purchase. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/98.] Rutkowski, whose credentials include 11 years of writing on "the human experience" and several years of "being happy, very happy" despite being alone, goes at things differently from Roth. He maintains, as countless others have maintained before him, that the only way to be happy is not to count on others to make you happy. He provides 66 chapters of hints on how to foster happiness in yourself. The hints range from the lame (read dictionaries to make yourself knowledgeable and therefore happy) to the obvious (emulate a child's sense of wonder). All in all, not recommended.‘Pamela A. Matthews, Gettysburg Coll. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



March Eligible: suitable or desirable for marriage. --Webster's Third Chapter One Jen March 22, 1997, is the vernal equinox, the day when the sun crosses the equator and the season of fertility begins. In medieval times, the new year began on this day, marking the point when winter ends and the earth is reborn.     In Los Angeles, the arrival of spring is about one thing: apparel angst. The end of March is awards ceremony time, and awards ceremonies are about dresses. For Jen Carroll, the most exciting of these events is the independent film awards, held each year on the Saturday before the Oscars under a big tent on the beach.     Jen is a twenty-nine-year-old development executive at a Hollywood studio. She is always on the lookout for viable scripts--scripts that will make lots of money. She sits in a sunny office, wears an operator's headset, and pushes buttons to take calls, talk plots, drop figures. Then she pushes more buttons and meets people for lunch. At least once a week, she is obliged to go to some Hollywood event most of us only get to watch on E.T. "Most of the guys I meet," she says, "wear shiny black shoes and more hair gel than me."     Jen grew up in an L. L. Bean town outside Boston, full of boys in bowl cuts and camp shoes. She herself has a half-girl, half-woman face, big blinking brown eyes, and strong Irish cheekbones. She moved to L.A. from New York just over a year ago, and lately she has found herself drifting toward the young "indie" crowd, moody low-budget actors and tortured writers. "They're the thinking woman's crowd," she explains. "They don't look down your dress when they talk to you. Not many men out here can manage that."     Several of her current interests should be at the awards, bespectacled boyish men who went to impressive schools. "You know the type," she says. "You can't tell if they're being funny or making fun of you."     Appearances still count, however, and "the Indies" provokes the greatest dress crisis. The basic black number just won't cut it. Nor will anything too trendy, too "Oscar wannabe," Jen explains. And you can't spend much money, either. These are professional flea market shoppers.     Duress. The morning of the event, Jen's sister Becca arrives at her house at nine A.M., carrying a Starbucks nonfat grande latte, double shot of espresso. There is work to be done. She heads straight for the bedroom to see what Jen has laid out for round one: a long, black straight skirt with a shiny Chinese brocade top. Jen sips the foam off her coffee and twists her hair as she awaits the verdict.     "Where's the flesh here?" comes the response from the bedroom.     Becca works for a film production company, but she is thirty-three and married, and she skips these events. She still loves dressing up her younger sister, a favorite childhood hobby. When they were in elementary school, they played "bridesmaids," and Becca would drape them both in tablecloths and curtains to wobble down their hallway in their mother's heels. Five years ago, Jen traded in the tablecloth for a Laura Ashley dress and stood by as her sister married a grown man with a bowl cut.     Now when Becca dresses her, she needles her into "working it." "She is always trying to get me to hike up my skirt or unbutton my blouse ... show midriff," Jen says. "I usually go along with it, but I can't be embarrassed. And I'm not going to have my belly hanging out."     When they were in high school, Becca threatened to tell on Jen when she caught her wearing a miniskirt to a football game. "I was not about to let my little sister become a sleaze ," she laughs. Today she is rummaging through Jen's closet trying to find something, well, mini-er.     After a few rounds, they reach a settlement: a nude-colored strappy dress with a thigh-high slit and a clingy black sweater. The dress is Becca's idea. The sweater, Jen's. Jen pulls her brown hair back into a low ponytail, a few strands escaping to her face. Then she pokes two chopsticks into her hair clip, a final stab at "indie."     At noon, Jen's date pulls up in an old Chevy convertible. It's Emily, her friend from work, and Jen moans when she sees her get out of the car. "Will you look at her outfit! She just makes me look so ... Connecticut. Where is that Japanese kimono thing?"     Emily is wearing a filmy blue embroidered sundress, tiny blue-tinted sunglasses, and platform slip-ons. She is always the envy of everybody on the awards ceremony-circuit. She mixes the perfect palette, paints the perfect portrait, and somehow strikes the perfect balance between appropriate and cool. Jen throws on a pair of square-framed sunglasses with a buggy-yellow tint. After a half-hour of party predictions and two more shots of espresso, they are on their way.     They drive down Santa Monica Boulevard in Emily's old convertible, listening to indie music, punching the rewind button over and over, repeating the only song they actually like. "Shady lane ..." they sing (they know only the refrain), "... everybody wants one." Their voices quaver a little as they pull off the boulevard and spot the big beach tents.     Wobbling down the red-roped runway, they try not to look at any of the ninety photographers whose cameras dangle listlessly from their necks. "We're nobodies," Jen says of the awkward "entrance" she has grown accustomed to making. "They can spot a nobody car when it pulls up." Still, she catches herself staring down at the red carpet, a coy celebrity affect, except that she is just trying to make sure she doesn't trip on a cable cord and end up in some bloopers show, slit ripped up to her ribs.     At the end of the entrance ramp, Jen and Emily part. They head to separate bars. "The bar wait is one of the highlights," Jen explains. "You're mushed in with the crowds, forced to talk to whoever might be waiting for a drink next to you. It's major eye-contact time." She has a moment with one of her men, a short, mop-topped chain-smoker in the corner. He holds her gaze for a few extra seconds, then turns away and exhales a big loop of smoke. She flinches and turns back to the bar.     She orders a cranberry and seltzer, a fake drink. "I don't like to get drunk at these things anymore. It's my only insurance against embarrassment." Then she spots Bridey, an old friend from New York. They give each other air kisses, then admire each other's dresses. "You look fab ulous," they say in mock L.A., and then spend several serious minutes studying each other's contraptions. Bridey is wearing a sheer strappy dress with strappy shoes--open toes and open breasts. (It's all about lumps.)     Jen asks about friends back East. "How's Dennis? Is he still into Buddhism?"     "Mm, no. He's into AA now. I think the ratio is better there."     "Oh, no. Well, I hear you've moved on. Lynn tells me you're in love?"     "Well ... yes. It's official." Bridey holds out her hand.     "Wow! Congratulations--it's beautiful," Jen says, taking Bridey's fingers. "I mean, it's huge! You must be so excited."     "Yeah, I'm just a little freaked out these days," Bridey says. "You heard about Lori and Rob?"     " No . Not them. They were great together."     "I know. They got married at twenty-four, before any of the pressure set in, and I always thought they were the real thing. I thought I was going to be planning her baby shower any day. Divorced at thirty-one. She had no idea." Bridey shakes her head and sips her drink.     "I can't believe they're getting divorced. And to think, Courtney is getting married."     "Courtney? The one who hooked up with every guy in the summer share?"     "I know. Twisted. The people we thought had the most perfect marriage are getting divorced at thirty-one. The biggest party girl we know is getting married after six months."     "What is it with all these six-month quickies?"     Jen shakes her head. She is still trying to imagine being divorced.     "I think it's about dog years," Bridey answers her own question, staring into her drink. "People turn thirty and they convert time to dog years. The quickies happen because the men suddenly decide they're ready. All their friends get married, and they have nothing to do anymore. No one to go out with. They want to lock in a buddy who won't leave them for another woman."     "It's really about the male clock, isn't it?" Jen says, eyeing her carefully.     Emily comes over toting a tall, blond, ponytailed man, presenting him to Jen like a retriever with a pheasant. "When Emily brings someone over to me," she explains later, "it's usually because she's scoped him out and decided he was too young for her." Emily is thirty-seven. She's moved on to men. Jen is impressed with her find. He's a little oversized, but he has the grin of a sixteen-year-old. There's just one problem: he's wearing the sneakers, the blue Chuck Taylors with the star and the chevron. "I draw the line at fifth-grade sneakers," Jen says in her gym teacher voice. "But I guess guys out here wear them as a sort of creative badge. Like, `I don't have a job-job where I have to wear real shoes.'"     Bridey recognizes the man from her old job. "Well, hello there, Sir James," she says, smacking him playfully in the gut. "I saw you pull up in that two-seater. They're calling it the `me-people' car. You can't pick anyone up in the airport in that little number."     "Exactly," he says.     "Me-me-me," Emily jeers. "I'd offer you a lift, but there's just no room for you and the DVD player."     Sir James turns to Jen and squints. "How do I know you?"     This is L.A. for What have you been in? Jen knows. She asks him if maybe they met at one of Bridey's parties in New York. No, no, that's not it. Then he asks her if she's been on Chicago Hope . "He thought I was the actress who pushes the cart around!" she cries later. "It's so annoying . You don't exist here unless you're a B actress on a TV show."     Jen tells him that she works for a studio, and as she describes her job, his eyes widen and his head tilts earnestly. "The problem with these events is that you can't tell if people are scamming for work or scamming for sex," she explains later. "And rarely can you think they are scamming for anything else. The friendliness is always a little suspect."     Halfway into the awards ceremony, Jen and Emily take their seats at their assigned table. James soon joins them, carrying drinks and a chair. He talks in Jen's ear throughout the ceremony, narrating the event. "When Muhammad Ali got up to get his award, he started singing that song from third grade--`floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee.' I was probably the only one at our table who thought it was cute. Everyone else was giving him the hairy eyeball."     By the end of the ceremony, Jen starts to get a little embarrassed. Still, she agrees to look for James later that evening at the party for The English Patient . When she gets home to change there is a message from Nate, the man she likes to call her future ex-husband. He wants to know if she'll meet him at a record release. Horn-rimmed and smart, Nate moved to L.A. for a TV production job six months ago, leaving behind a girlfriend of five years in New York. They were in the midst of a long-term breakup, but he's having a little trouble with the breakup part, and so he goes back every four weeks to visit her. In between, he calls Jen under the guise of being lonely-transplant friends. "Then we get together, have a little too much to drink, and start kissing. We never talk about it. I don't want to be the miffed woman. But I'm miffed. I'm starting to really like him. He'll call me up the next day and start talking about his girlfriend again as if nothing happened ... or maybe because something happened."     Jen decides to meet Nate "just for a little while." She gets into her car and drives down the Sunset Strip to the Viper Room club. Her mood drops a little when she hears that her favorite nineteen-year-old valet just left to be in a movie. The club is dark and full of dates. When she finally finds Nate, she whispers hello but refuses to look at him. "I'm mad at myself for agreeing to meet him." After about a half-hour of silence, Nate asks her why she's being so "distant." "I shake my head, mumble `no reason' into my drink, then get madder. `I've just been thinking a little too much lately,' I say. Long pause. I can tell he's sorry he asked. Too late. So I tell him he needs to make up his mind about where his head is at.     "`I know, it's really unfair, isn't it?' he says.     "I tell him I don't want him to have to dump his girlfriend just so we can hang out (lie), but I don't play second fiddle very well, and it really makes me feel bad. He just stares into his drink. `So until you figure it out,' I say, `let's just be friends.' He nods his head and then tries to apologize. Next thing you know, we're watching Saturday Night Live on his couch, making out. Typical. Meanwhile, I completely forgot about Sir James." Anna The spring equinox also marks the point of perfect balance, when night and day are of equal length. This doesn't mean much in San Francisco. The bay looks like a giant bog, gray and smoky, and it's hard to tell exactly if it's day or night or something in between.     Anna Kendricks and her friend Lizzie are walking toward the Marina Green, down by the Golden Gate Bridge. Anna moved here two years ago when a West Coast advertising agency recruited her to be a management supervisor. Now she oversees national consumer products campaigns and a staff of three, working nine-hour days and traveling every two weeks for client meetings. Most of the-time she works out of the agency--an old lofty warehouse building with high brick walls and skylights. There are people walking by her office who look a little like Gary from thirtysomething . They wear jeans and throw Nerf balls into small plastic hoops in the upstairs rec room.     Anna herself looks as if she stepped out of an old Levi's ad--dusty 501's and a familiar blue-eyed face framed in dusty-blond hair. She is part California sunny, part New York edgy, but she is actually from the Great Plains. She grew up in a wide-open frontier town with schoolteachers and insurance brokers and grain farmers. "There was a lot of trust," she says. "We never locked our house."     At thirty-one she has been married and separated, part of the wave of twenty-something couples whose marriages falter just as the third-wheel single friends disappear into domestic bliss. She married her college boyfriend, but after a secure transition into official adulthood, they realized they were not much more than friends. They finally separated two years ago, just before Anna moved out west.     As a newly single woman, Anna has had to make new friends--male and female. Lizzie used to work for Anna as an account executive. She is twenty-six and funny, and they swapped stories and impressions in Anna's office, laughing until they were hunched over. Pretty soon, it became clear that they were not getting much work done, so Lizzie was moved down the hall to the food account group.     Now they do all of their laughing on the weekends. Lizzie likes to visit Anna's neighborhood. Lizzie lives in the Castro, a gay neighborhood, and lately she has found herself staking out construction sites. "Yellow hats. I can spot them five blocks away," she confesses, shading her eyes. "I walk by them on my lunch break. I just need to be reminded that I am, in fact, a sexual object."     Anna lives in Russian Hill, an old Victorian neighborhood that was once a burial ground for the city's seal hunters. After growing up on the Plains, Anna has developed an attachment to hills. She likes knowing she is above sea level. But Lizzie likes to drag her down to the flat townhoused stretch by the marina. The Marina District is full of windblown sailing-skin types and overgrown fraternity types. Their common denominator: rock-ribbed heterosexuality.     On the way to the water, they stop at a small wooden news shack and flip through the papers. A twelve-year-old boy was expelled from the San Francisco Science Fair for neglecting his fruit flies. Twelve army officers have been charged with sexual harassment. A female fighter pilot was charged with having an affair with a married civilian. A Houston businessman has launched a catalog of wealthy forty-year-old Texas bachelors....     Anna announces that she is heading to Texas again for a client meeting. She got pulled into a new business pitch for an Austin high-tech account a few months ago, and the client really liked her. Now the client wants her involved in the campaign.     "Does the bad cowboy have any bad friends?" Lizzie asks, lifting her sunglasses as they walk toward the bay.     The bad cowboy is Ethan, the thirty-seven-year-old Texan illustrator Anna hired to draw the storyboards for the high-tech client last November. They met when she went to Austin for the pitch, and since then they have been having a five-month phone flirtation. Ethan has a strong, carved face, and he hunts and fishes. He also builds things.     Ever since Anna visited Austin last November, she has come to believe that Texas is where all the straight men have congregated. San Francisco has a few straight boys, but Texas has cavalries of straight men. "Austin coffee shops," she tells Lizzie. "That's where his friends go. They sit by themselves and swig straight black coffee. None of this latte crap." Lizzie and Anna have decided they've had it with San Francisco's café culture. They're on a mission to meet straight-black-coffee men. Bad cowboys. They are willing to fly for this.     They walk up Polk Street and head to their favorite breakfast spot, an old soda fountain diner that feels like a Norman Rockwell painting. They grab the last two swivel stools at the counter and order egg-white omelets and caffeine-free diet Cokes.     Just as the food comes, two guys walk in wearing baseball hats and college T-shirts. "Don't look," Lizzie whispers to Anna, dropping her chin to her chest. "The Jeweler." The guys slide into a booth and search the diner for their waiter, and one of them spots Anna at the counter, looking. "Hey there," he says cheerfully from across the diner. Lizzie is forced to look up from her omelet. "Oh, hey!" she says waving and chewing.     Lizzie dated the guy in the Notre Dame hat for about a month last year, and the first time they fooled around he asked if he could give her a "pearl necklace," the kind made out of ... excitement , helped along by ... cleavage. From then on he became known as The Jeweler. Anna and Lizzie are in the business of naming things: The Suds Buster, The Thirst Quencher. No one gets by them without a tagline.     The Jeweler comes over to the counter, gives each of them a kiss, and begins to massage Lizzie's shoulders as he tells them about his new software job. When Lizzie tenses her back in discomfort, he starts in on Anna. She drops her head and rolls it around. "Could you do my neck?"     Lizzie starts to giggle. She had forgotten about The Jeweler. He was very friendly. And very into the neck region. She looks over at his friend in the booth; he is smiling back at her, a sort of demented, young-Jack-Nicholson grin. He looks like he could be The Bedazzler.     They finish their omelets, wave good-bye to the boys, and walk over to Chestnut Street to meet Jeanne, another work friend. They're headed to Tiburon, the tiny peninsula town that juts out into the bay on the other side of the bridge. Whenever it is warm, they like to sit on the crammed deck of Sam's Anchor Café drinking Bloody Marys and waiting for the fog to lift so they can admire their blue-and-white hill city across the bay.     "You wouldn't know it from looking at it, but that pile of buildings over there is the most righteous place on earth," Lizzie says chewing on her celery stick after they arrive. The San Francisco skyline is just starting to poke through the fog.     Lizzie is very philosophical. She likes to contemplate how people can drink something called Bloody Marys and why people make semen necklaces and whether San Francisco can turn liberals into conservatives.     "Uh-oh," Anna says, "I met an investment banker once who used the word `righteous.' Don't tell me it's happening to you."     "I'm serious," Lizzie says. "This place has a way of throwing off all your reference points. Everyone comes here thinking they're liberal and open-minded, but then there's always someone around the corner waiting to pounce, waiting to accuse you of being Satan."     "Competitive righteousness," Jeanne adds. "This place is actually more righteous than the Bible Belt."     "Brad asked me how I can work in advertising. He said he could never exploit people for a living," Lizzie says.     "Tell Brad you could never insult people for free ," Jeanne says, now chewing on her straw. She has lived in the Haight for the last six years, and the counterculture is wearing on her. "And tell Brad you could never exploit other people's money." Brad is one of San Francisco's trust fund bohemians. He wears tattered Brooks Brothers shirts and Tevas and throws Frisbees in Golden Gate Park during the week.     "Lizzie, you shove stuffing down people's throats for a living, sodium puffs," Anna interjects. Lizzie has been working on a boxed-instant-stuffing campaign. "You are Satan."     Anna likes her philosophy with punch lines. The last time the word "righteous" came up, it turned into a fight about religion. She is in the process of finalizing a divorce; she doesn't want any more fights. She decides to change the subject.     "I'm sick of feeling guilty about not mountain biking and windsurfing every weekend. I just want to sleep in and read my magazines and drink Bloody Marys. There's something unnatural about this need to be outside all the time."     "They don't mountain bike or windsurf on Suddenly Susan ," Lizzie says pensively.     "That show is so unrealistic," Anna says. "Susan would never fall for Judd Nelson. He made a lot of bad movies in the eighties."     "And there are no men in this city who look like that photographer," Jeanne adds.     "Uh-uh. All the sexy men go to sexy cities like New York or Denver or ..."     "Austin," Anna adds.     "Yeah, Austin."     If San Francisco can turn liberals into conservatives, it can also make otherwise healthy women boy crazy. Anna and her friends claim they were never as focused on sex and dating before they moved to San Francisco. This is because everywhere else they have lived, there were plenty of straight men looking at them and thinking about it for them.     Not here. The tables are clearly turned. With the ratio in the straight man's favor, all of the straight women do the thinking for them. The men just live, get ogled, shrug their shoulders, and get laid.     So Anna flies to Texas. "It's all about ratios." Casey March 22 is also the first day of the zodiac year, Casey Barr explains. The first constellation lines up in the Milky Way, and the astrological year is ready to start over.     Casey is a green-eyed Pisces with an irrepressible smile and a smooth, gliding voice. She never really paid much attention to horoscopes until her gynecologist pointed out that the female cycles are the same as the lunar laps. Four weeks for ovulation--the moon's full lap around the earth. She decided there had to be something to all of that orbiting.     Some sort of planetary force pulled her to New York twelve years ago. She was booking music acts at Ohio State when she met a band manager with a Dutch accent who said to look him up if she ever came to New York. A year later he found her an entry-level job in the music business. Now thirty-three, Casey handles media relations for a record company. It's her job to see that the new releases on her company's label get lots of press. To do this, she spends most of her days on the phone and many of her nights at music shows.     Casey just got back from a video conference in San Francisco. She hasn't eaten anything since yesterday, when she lost her appetite, lust a week ago, she was counting the days until Stefan would be back from Tokyo. Stefan is the Dutch man who helped her land her first job. He's become her mentor over the years, taking her out for sushi lunches and talking about music reviewers and foreign cities and Billboard charts.     First she fell in love with the sushi: red and orange squishy fish wraps. Stefan introduced her to sashimi, ginger, and cold sakè drinks in cedar boxes. Then one day, Stefan and the sashimi got rolled up together in her mind, and she fell in love with him.     "Stefan hasn't exactly cared for his vessel," she says, wrinkling up her nose over drinks one night at a "kava" bar in the Village. She's trying to explain how this all happened. "He dresses like Austin Powers. He's losing his hair. But the man can work a waiter. He's smart and charming, commanding. And I guess on some level he makes me feel protected. I know that, professionally at least, he'll never let me drown."     Two months ago, after a late dinner and three porcelain carafes of sakè, they ended up back at his apartment. He waited until after they had sex to tell her he was still married. He'd been meaning to get a divorce for four years, he said, and he finally had a reason. Casey hid from him for a week. He sent flowers to her office, then left a message explaining that the divorce was in the works. Then she hid for two weeks. Finally one day last month he showed up at her apartment covered in snow, holding a handful of long-stemmed somethings, and she let him in.     "I've never been courted like this before," she explained one night while he was away. "He sends notes and flowers all the time. It's kind of hard for me not to reciprocate."     By the time he left for his business trip, they had been spending every other night together--at movies and music shows and sakè bars. But that was before he left for Tokyo. And that was before she left for San Francisco.     What happened was this: a cameraman in the hotel pool the day after the conference. She lowered herself into the shallow end, and when she looked up she saw a young Ryan O'Neal, like a male mermaid, half submerged and staring back at her. He had watery-blue eyes and strong, tanned arms, draped across the back of the pool. He smiled at her and didn't say anything. He dropped his head back, closed his eyes, and appeared to fall asleep. Then he stopped her as she was leaving the pool and asked if she wanted to take a drive to Muir Woods.     She spent the rest of the day in the passenger seat of his car, her knees pulled up to her chest, talking to a spot on the windshield. She couldn't look at him. He was too much to look at from too close. Then he told her about his Austrian mother and his soccer team and his Rolling Stones collection.     Casey spent her teenage years in Europe and Illinois, and sometimes this makes it hard for her to relate to people. She hit puberty surrounded by foreign accents and foreign boys, and she learned to make friends through music--first Kiss, then the Rolling Stones--and sports: track and coed soccer and dodgeball. "The flirtations began there--soccer or dodgeball. Ping-Pong. We would pummel one another with whatever ball we could find. That's how we communicated." It was during all this ball-thrashing that Casey developed an early taste for foreign boys. "They were just sweeter and more romantic. It was okay to be a Casanova. The American boys were always posturing--it was not cool to fall for girls; girls fell for them."     At Muir Woods, an old-growth forest just north of the city, Casey and the cameraman hiked through a grove of redwoods. When they reached an overlook with a view of the ocean, she stared at his knapsack and tried to imagine what was in each zipped pocket. He didn't turn to kiss her until later, when he dropped her off at the airport.     Back home in her apartment, she is sorting through her stack of mail. There is a letter from Stefan, written on hotel stationery: "If only you were here." She leaves the letter in the pile by her front door and collapses on the couch. She wants to talk to her brother Brett.     Casey is close to her family. Her father worked for an international retail company when she was younger, and the family moved around a lot--she spent fifth grade in Germany, eighth grade in Switzerland, and tenth grade outside Chicago. "It was hard moving ... all the time. But we learned pretty quickly that good things would always come of it." Her younger brother Brett is her chief counselor, talking to her twice a week from St. Paul, Minnesota. He puts a midwestern balance on what can sometimes be a highly distorted New York life. Her younger sister calls every Sunday from Virginia and puts her four-year-old on the phone. "Having my younger sister get married first definitely caused some anxiety," Casey explains. "But my family has always been genuinely excited about my life. They make me feel like my life is great the way it is. And they've never encouraged me to stay with anyone if I wasn't happy."     Brett upholds that standard when Casey tells him about her weekend.     "I didn't plan this," she sighs. "I think people come into your life for a reason. I'm supposed to learn something from this."     "Case, you put up with Bruce for almost four years. Learn from that," he tells her.     Bruce was one of the "anyones," her last serious boyfriend. They met when she was twenty-five. "It was very love-at-first-sight," she recalls. "We stared at each other from across this dark bar. He had this Flock of Seagulls haircut and a look in his eye. There was something really familiar about him." Six months later, Bruce moved in. "It was great. We fixed up my apartment together. I would go out and do my music thing during the week, and then on weekends we would stay in and order Chinese and pay-per-view."     Two years into the relationship, Bruce joined the marketing team for a single-malt liquor company, and he became deeply loyal to his product. He had boxes of it in their apartment, and they were always open. He found a neighborhood bar and became a regular on the nights when Casey was out for work. "That was fine, but you don't have to stay out until five in the morning and pass out on the living room rug," she says, her even voice teetering just a little. She finally got the courage to talk to him about it. And when that didn't work, she finally got the courage to kick him out. "I know," she tells her brother when she remembers the ending with Bruce. "I can't jump back into that. I think I want a whole collection of men."     "I would really love to see you pull that off," Brett laughs.     Casey picks up Stefan's note again. He said he was due back on Sunday, the very next day. She leaves her apartment and goes to back-to-back yoga classes. She needs to exhale a lot of stuffy air from the bottom of her lungs before she can figure out what's next. This big man--Stefan--has been a sheltering presence in her life for over a decade. He practically raised her. Her whole sense of things, people, the next life phase--it's all wrapped up in him. And now she is entranced with a faraway man she can hardly speak to.     Brett asks Casey if she could ever leave New York, move out west. "I don't know," she tells him. "I need to run around for a while. If I were to leave town, live somewhere else, I would feel the `settle down' pressure. But I'm lust not scared here. I have had great relationships, but I'm not done kissing all of my frogs yet. And each frog is an upgrade. I'm all for continual upgrades."     Brett tells her she should find someone and upgrade together. She says she is not ready for that. Copyright © 1999 Melissa Roth. All rights reserved.