A Field Guide to “Cool Older Men”

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Be careful with that Anthony Bourdain crush.

I met a girl at a party recently who told me about her Anthony Bourdain fantasy.

"He takes me to his loft and shows me all the tchotchkes he bought around the world. And then we’re in bed and he’s on top of me, and he’s wearing this medallion that he got in Thailand or whatever, and it keeps hitting me in the forehead, over and over, with every thrust. Then, the next morning, he’s brewing espresso and I say I’m going to leave, but he’s like ‘No, don’t leave.’ And I put on a kimono that he got in Kobe, and he serves me a breakfast of ricotta and honey in bed."

We laughed triumphantly at her well-crafted ode to TV’s most virile chef (sorry, Guy Fieri), and then our laughs petered out in a sigh of recognition.

Most girls have had crushes on Bourdain types: the older guy who likes rock music, the "don’t stand so close to me"-style English professor, the boss who puts his feet up on his desk and conspiratorially tells you he thought that meeting was bullshit.

They seem to be more ubiquitous than when Clinton got in trouble for fooling around with an intern not much older than his daughter. Remember — we were supposed to buy that he was the first "cool" president since Kennedy, because he wore Ray-Bans on Arsenio Hall and played the sax? Now that we have an actual cool guy who’s president, and David Letterman is the one schtupping interns, the parade of pop-culture middle-age swagger seems a little posed and crusty.

My first crush — like, hugely sexual crush — was on character actor John Larroquette.

But it certainly took long enough for the cool old guy thing to get old. My first crush — like, hugely sexual crush — was on character actor John Larroquette, who was silver-haired and smarmy even in his thirties. I write in my book about attending a sleepover at Melissa Ackerman’s house when I was twelve, and getting, um, erotically distracted from the evening’s social agenda once Melissa turned on a syndicated Night Court episode in which Larroquette’s Dan Fielding saves Markie Post’s Christine Sullivan from choking, and in return, she has to let him fuck her.

That was twenty years ago. Today, my attitude towards John Larroquette is decidedly less lustful. I hadn’t even thought about him until recently, when I found his Twitter feed, which I now follow. Unlike most ’80s sitcom television actors’, Larroquette’s online presence has its own appeal. It’s not so much about, "Look how funny it is that I remember this washed-up person who’s saying crazy stupid stuff now!" (Scott Baio) — it’s that John Larroquette’s Twitter is one-stop shopping for musings of that specific, Bourdainian sexy-old-guy type.

Online, Larroquette regularly weighs in on Bob Dylan, attractive women, chess, Picasso, strawberry-rhubarb pie, giving money to homeless people, and jazz. Most of his tweets link to MP3s of songs he describes briefly and poetically ("Neil Young: like warm wood"), but he also posts quotes ("Fascism is Capitalism plus murder — Upton Sinclair"), tells 140-character showbiz anecdotes ("John Lennon was murdered while we were filming Stripes…"), and, most memorably, displays a fascination with sex. "What am I doing? Hmm, thinking of small feet, long hair…" reads one decidedly libidinous Larroquette tweet.

John Laroquette is just one tweeting example of the kind of baby-boomer sexuality that used to appeal to me when I was a teenage babysitter getting a ride home from my charge’s dad, wondering what it would be like if he kissed me at the red traffic lights. But now, the peacocking of men who may or may not need Viagra to make love to their second wives no longer seems novel. It’s just another predictable qualifier of middle age from a generation of men who grew up with rock ‘n roll.

A field guide to the Bourdainians:

They are "cool guys" whose notions of "cool" are intact from when they were formed. Say, around the time they first discovered Lenny Bruce or the Sex Pistols, or when they decided to grow the hair they still had past their ears.

They can be married, never married, or divorced. They’ll wear leather jackets with Levi 501s. They have daughters named "Grace" (after Slick) and ex-wives they met at work. They’re gourmands who’ve replaced lackluster marital sex with hobby cooking and drinking: "This steak is amazing. This rye is sublime. Let me tell you about the time I ate this salmon."

They are fans of Mamet, Bukowski, and Waits; oenophiles who will tell you with eyes glazed how they used to smoke pot — which is a boring thing to say, until you realize they’re really telling you about when they were single.

Things they hate include hypocrisy, the Bush administration (yes, still), reality TV, gossip, any music that doesn’t conform to their classic-rock standard of kick-ass circa ’71, tofu, circumcision, IMing, and what they classify as the "puritan hysteria" of any reaction to a sex scandal, whether it’s Mark Sanford’s or Tiger Woods’.

I think they like talking about beautiful women more than beautiful women themselves.

Things they love: Patti Smith on vinyl, Philip Roth, lamb chops, the phrase "that’s before you were born," the New York Times, giving their kids guitar lessons, Europe, and speeding in Lexus convertibles. 

They also love talking about how much they love beautiful women. I think they like talking about beautiful women more than beautiful women themselves. "Oh, Brigitte Bardot." "God, Veronica Lake." "Sophia Loren, don’t get me started." Charlotte Gainsbourg, Penelope Cruz, Scarlett Johansson, Carla Bruni, Rachel Weisz. They are fascinated by their own taste in girls, and expect you to ooh and ahh when you’re told of their preference for brunettes over blondes, as though their proclivities make them somehow less shallow.

These are men in a state of perpetual reverie for simple pleasures. The way they see it, being horny, wanting to eat well, and liking music is brake-screechingly original, even poetic. But "cool" middle-aged men, no matter how dirty, are just like every other old guy clogging up Match.com with photos of himself on vacation in Greece. They want you to think their worldview is revolutionary because they had the privilege of growing up during the emergence of the American counterculture. The anti-war movement, Dylan going electric, civil rights, LSD, and everything else that predated feminism are all reduced to schtick. It is all that’s left for them from the sixties.

When women still fall for these guys, it’s not because we’re not wise — it’s because we’re sick of the alternative. A mess of a man is still a man, and a man is hard to find, good or otherwise. There are plenty of guys. That’s why we go bananas and crackers over Jon Hamm on Mad Men. If that show were called Mad Guys, it might star Joe Pesci, and nobody wants to see that. (Okay, I sort of want to see that.)

We are sick of hooking up with guys. Guys talk about Star Wars like it’s not a movie made for people half their age; a guy’s idea of a perfect night is a hang around the PlayStation with his bandmates, or a trip to Vegas with his college friends. Guys feed you Chipotle and ride their bikes in traffic. They are more like the kids we babysat than the dads who drove us home.

And while neither might fit who we are and what we want, Bourdainians beat the alternative if only because, clichéd or not, they are adults.

Buy Julie Klausner’s book, I Don’t Care About Your Band, on Amazon.