You better run for your life if you can, little girl; hide your head in the sand, little girl

Dear J.,

Excellent question! I can tell you from personal experience that it is in fact possible to be a flirty son of a bitch and have a stable happy homelife with a loving wife. And as you well know, the majority of my friends are hot sexy women. There are several techniques I have used to maintain this extremely enviable existence.

One of the key techniques I use, first, is not to fuck other women. This is a point that many men overlook. Other men tell their wives that they love them, yes, and bring them flowers, yes, but then they run out and get fellated by some random skank down at the Office Bar. Not so, John Byrd. I am certain that many attendees at the Dickens Fair would tell you otherwise, but in my personal experience, not having sex with anyone else is a key ingredient to a stable marriage.

Once you have the not fucking anyone else part down, you’re ready to build on that. In my case, I recall when we were putting on the Rocky Horror Show, the wife was frequently sad and upset with me. Was it because I was making lots of female friends and spending lots of time with them? No. Was it because I was engaging in frottage with random audience members four or five times a night? No. It was because I wasn’t able to dedicate a significant chunk of time to spend with her. I had no time to tell her (see point one) that I was not having sex with other women. She was upset because she wanted my TIME, and at that time I had no time to offer.

“Although I must say,” interjects Mandy, reading over my shoulder, “the no-time-with-me thing leads to the concern that there was somebody charming or lovely in the Rocky group that you preferred to me.

You see? Every significant other is different, and the fears and insecurities they carry around are all different. Now were I the proprietor of a hot perky-breasted twenty-something blonde like yourself who worked in a gym and was constantly surrounded by guys, would I be jealous? You bet your sweet ass I would be jealous, but only if I felt there was a possibility you would run off behind the leg flexor with one of your overbuff workout buddies and fellate him there.

In Mandy’s case I found a great solution to her time concerns. I simply dragged her along to several of our Rocky shindigs. Before we tied the knot, the wife and I used to party pretty hard in college — one of our first dates was a Rocky Horror show — and if you put a couple beers into her she’ll be shaking it like a Polaroid picture. I gave her specific orders to have fun and not be judgemental of the group. I was a little worried about integrating her into the Rocky crowd — hell, she might have been impregnated — but in fact it worked out gloriously and everybody turned out as friends.

So this makes me wonder whether your husband could be dragged into the after-hours socialization that you are currently experiencing. It all depends on what he’s insecure about. Time allotted? Your faithfulness? Penis size? Many factors to consider here. Whatever his concern is, you’ve got to find the core of the concern, which frequently is not “you can’t have friends of the opposite sex.”

Every time the sun goes down, Sugar Babe

I grabbed Alex, held her close. “I’m sorry,” I begged. “I’m sorry.”

Her fists were clenched against my chest. “That’s all right, let me go,” she said.

I held her tighter. “I hope your dreams come true … I really do …”

“They won’t! They never will!” she wailed. She twisted in my arms. “Because I’m plain!”

I held her steady and looked deep into her green-hazel eyes. “There is no such thing as a plain woman.” I caressed her soft black hair and she untensed fractionally. She dropped her eyes, doubtful, miserable. “Take your hair down,” I whispered to her. I tugged at the hair clip, and her black hair cascaded about her shoulders.

“Now,” I said, holding her against me. “Say, I’m pretty.”

I’m pretty,” she said dully.

“Mean it,” I said.

“I’m pretty. I’m pretty. I’m pretty!” she said. And she was.

So I kissed her, full on and proper, as she trembled in my arms. Her lips shivered against mine.

Look in my eyes,” I said, “and tell me what you see.”

And she saw her reflection in my shining eyes, and asked, “Is that really me?

I nodded. And the next time we kissed, she put her arms around me, and kissed me back passionately.

Ten minutes later, Alex said, “I am so glad that we got the kissing out of the way early. If you don’t do it early in the rehearsal process, then it can become the five-foot high neon-lit THE KISS. And the kiss can get inappropriately emotionally charged.”

To say the least. I half-remembered my personal obsession: life inside a white house that has only ever existed in my imagination.

“I agree one hundred percent,” I said.

Now I’ve got that feeling once again, I cannot explain, you would not understand

Before me was a wireframe pyramid spinning around its center. Soft-hued patches and panels peeled off from the pyramid, floated like birds of prey in the air, and came to land on the pyramid again, docking, merging with the pyramid. The pyramid sent out harmonious, bell-like ringing tones in three octaves. Before the pyramid appeared the ghost image of a woman’s face, floating serenely before me. Her head was translucent, and the warm yellow light glinted off the bare orbs of her eyeballs and her soft brain tissue.

She spoke. “There is no cause for alarm. The dreams you are now experiencing are due to the TheraFlu cold medication you took earlier tonight. Simply proceed into your normal post-REM sleep cycle as usual.”

I fell asleep.

Am I too old? Is it too late?

First off, who she wasn’t. She wasn’t Valerie Allen, with her thick hazel eyes and her ten-terabyte brain. And she wasn’t Becky Bielski, with her musical Mississippi drawl and her twenty-four karat heart. Nor was she Amanda Kalikow, with her natural pout and save-the-world wit.

She was Alex Alexandra, square-jawed and soft-spoken, blocky glasses perched upon her nose, a splay of black hair twisted sharply up into a bun, grinning apologetically. Nice to finally meet you, Lizzie! I’ve read every syllable you and I will ever speak, over one hundred times now, and I know them all by heart.

The first read-through of Rainmaker felt solid, substantial. Despite my snot-laden, virus-filled head and my overacting, there were moments of honesty, even at this early date. No one sucked. The early prognosis for the patient is good.

While I looked around for my possibilities

Thirty miles south of Madison on I-90. A rust-red barn, squat and firm on the horizon. A stainless steel silo glinting, implacable, in the crisp day air. The first snow came and went early this morning, leaving an achingly bright Wisconsin afternoon. The sky is sharp blue, cracking blue, with frosted jet contrails looping gently across it, like garlands iced onto a wedding cake. The ground is a mottled olive-brown with sparkling gilt edges. I have the specific sense that, were I to stop the car and wander into one of the ploughed-under cornfields and plunge my hands into the earth, the ground itself would yield up stories upon stories of work and pain and love, tales of the men and women who haunt this delicate, hand-hewn place.

No time for Midwestern romance today. Driving at ninety miles per hour, the leafless trees are upraised hands, waving hello and goodbye, both in one instant.

Come on, baby don’t you want to go

After a while, all cities in the United States begin to look like one another. Toll roads, twists of cloverleaved Interstate highways, twenty-four hour restaurants, skeins of power lines slicing a blustering gray sky. I flew into Chicago O’Hare half an hour ago. The overhead lamps in this restaurant are festooned with plastic twists of pine and red bows. A color-coordinated set of teddy bears loll on a high shelf to my right, next to a patchwork Santa with beady black eyes. To my left are four jars of syrup that look exactly like the four jars of syrup on the table next to that, and the table next to that, and so on, stretching in a complete chain of pancake restaurants, all the way to San Francisco and back again. Butter pecan, blueberry, strawberry, boysenberry. You take your choice of exactly four focus-tested, shelf-stable, can’t-go-wrong flavors. America!