Valentine’s Day Reminder: Avoid Professional Observers

Everyone knows that Manhattan is filled with women who can status-check in a nanosecond.

Cad: Confessions of a Toxic Bachelor , by Rick Marin. Hyperion, 284 pages, $23.95.

Everyone knows that Manhattan is filled with women who can status-check in a nanosecond. A flick-of-the-eyes subway scan tells them if the shoes are Prada or knockoff, how much the purse cost, whether the highlights came from Anna Wintour’s latest salon pet or the storefront Jean Louis David colorist.

Given this daily gauntlet, only the most energetically, determinedly hip woman would choose to start her days pulling on skivvies in front of a man whose job duties include knowing-at 20 paces-whether the cashmere twin set came from TSE or Club Monaco.

Wise women, when it comes to selecting a mate, proceed with caution around all professional observers. Writers, journalists, shrinks and their ilk charm with the intensity of their attention. It’s flattering at first, even sexy if you pass muster. Soon, though, you will be found wanting. Worse, he’s probably taking notes.

A particularly dangerous subspecies of professional observer prowling latter-day New York is the “style” journalist. His job is to write “what’s IN, what’s OUT” lists on New Year’s Eve. GQ , Esquire or Vogue might have hired him to define the new black. He’s paid by Time or Newsweek to spot “national trends”-whatever’s current around his midtown office and downtown Manhattan pad. He’s got an expense account earmarked for the hippest threads, restaurants, hotels.

He knows at a glance exactly how cool you are. Or not.

Does there exist the supermodel with a Ph.D. and a staff of costume and location assistants to keep her au courant enough to withstand that kind of scrutiny? And would she pass inspection? To his great dismay (and certainly to the dismay of Miramax, which optioned the film rights to his book a couple of years before it came out), no supermodels prance in the parade of vixens, neurotics, bimbos, social X-rays and downtown hipsters who dated former New York Times Sunday Styles writer Rick Marin. But there was no shortage of real women willing to fling themselves into his path, and hence into the crosshairs of his memoir, Cad .

Thanks to their hapless efforts to snare him, the pages of Mr. Marin’s book are strewn with the sex toys, bad breath and screwy behavior of dozens of victims from the author’s days as a “toxic bachelor” in Manhattan.

This is a guy’s version of Lucinda Rosenfeld’s novel What She Saw … , a much more literary take on ex-boyfriends. Ms. Rosenfeld contributed a blurb to the back of Mr. Marin’s memoirs; so did Candace Bushnell. No matter who the author is, the technique remains the same: date, take notes, eviscerate.

The names have been changed to protect the intimately exposed-or perhaps to avoid retaliation. Only the women Mr. Marin hasn’t boinked get identified. For example, there’s a chaste scene included, apparently for name-dropping verisimilitude, with Times writer Alex Kuczynski in a black bra working a Weber grill.

Woe to the women identified by first name only: Most of them are real-life members of the New York media community, and Mr. Marin has carnal knowledge of them. Since the narrative isn’t exactly compelling-a bunch of style vignettes loosely held together by a not-terribly-convincing emotional arc-it was the clef factor alone that held my attention to the end of the book. I was scanning for details that might identify pals and acquaintances. Watch for bulk sales in Manhattan and L.A., where women who’ve dated Mr. Marin will be rushing out to snap up every copy before their friends and colleagues have a chance to get their hands on published details of private humiliations.

Despite the book’s title and his modus operandi , Mr. Marin is not a classiccigar-gnawing,Wall Street–swaggering, lap-dance-loving cad (though he does hang out in a topless bar). We know from the start that he’s got a mushy center. His wife has just dumped him for another man-his excuse for a rampage through the ranks of mid-1990’s Manhattan women. He relied greatly on a sensitive-guy persona to get laid. The journalistic habit of asking questions and appearing to be interested in the answers served him well.

But Mr. Marin is too self-conscious to be a genuine cad. Sitting in a bar on a blind date with a woman whose huge breasts are bouncing around inside a William Shakespeare T-shirt, he gets annoyed. “She might as well have been wearing a Mensa baseball cap. I mean, we know Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language, don’t we? … Cynthia had been fine on the phone …. Now I saw she was a geek blessed (or cursed) with the body of a centerfold …. I can latch onto almost any common ground or opinion or quirk to justify my lust for a desirable woman. At the same time, the slightest misstep will send me into hypercritical frenzy.”

In the happy ending, Mr. Marin finds his Holy Grail, a woman who will never infect him with style-crisis cooties because she happens to be one of the arbiters of cool in our generation. He’s set to marry Ilene Rosenzweig, co-author (with designer Cynthia Rowley) of Swell , an entertaining advice book for slick chicks, and now co-founder of Swellco, which sells cool home furnishings to Target.

Cad and Swell could become essential tomes on bookshelves in certain precincts of Manhattan and Brooklyn-or anywhere women still dream of learning how to walk, talk and act in the hip, fun, culturally savvy yet post-ironic style that might make them ideal mates for guys like Rick Marin.

Nina Burleigh is a writer living in Paris . Valentine’s Day Reminder: Avoid Professional Observers