wOw’s own Julia Reed reflects on what matters in a man — and how she finally walked down the aisle
When it comes to a man, I look for a number of basic qualities: kindness; comfort in one’s on skin; a sense of humor — and an ability to laugh at oneself; brains — and wit, which is different; curiosity; vitality; the ability to commit; a certain fearlessness, both emotionally and every other way; a certain sense of entitlement. That last item corresponds to what my friend the brilliant writer Henry Allen told me he felt like when he started wearing a Hamburg hat: “like I had a loaded gun in my pocket.” I gotta have a guy that secure, who is carrying a figurative loaded gun — and NOT in the way Mae West meant it, though that’s okay too, because you definitely want them to be glad to see you. Also, I was writing somewhere about the abysmally depressing Oscar broadcast, which I compared to Oscar broadcasts of yore. Remember the year of the streaker, when the naked guy ran across the page flashing the peace sign when the totally dashing and unflappable David Niven was about the introduce the best picture nominees? He barely changed expression. He just looked out at the audience and said, “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping … and by showing his shortcomings.” That right there, that ability, that delivery, that utter élan — that’s another thing I value in a man.
What also matters is music — the ability to play it, or at the very least, a deep appreciation of it. When I was growing up one of my father’s closest friends played the guitar — a great bluesy guitar, songs like “Big Boss Man” and “Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now)”, “Corinna Corinna” and “Scotch and Soda.” He was a cotton farmer named Ug McGee –well, his actually name was Humphreys but he was called Ug because he was so damn pretty and completely sexy, especially when he played the guitar. Daddy had another friend, a Brit named Dick Goodwin, another cotton farmer who drove a big motorcycle and played the vibes. I cannot tell you how in love I was with both these men as a child. My father had a lot of friends like that. At my rehearsal dinner I gave a toast to all the men in the room with whom I’d grown up (who, at that point included Ug’s two sons, who also sing and play), and said I’d been so spoiled by them, it took me a long time to find a man to actually marry, that coming from where I came from made me think every man was good looking as hell, rich, funny, and could play the guitar. And then I went out into the world and found out that those guys are in short supply. It turns out most of them weren’t all that rich — they lived from crop to crop after all — but they sure acted like it (that gun in the pocket thing again) and anyway, the funny thing and the music thing were way more important.
Two stories: Bill Buckley comes to town to see my father and my parents throw a dinner party for him and Pat. Ug is there and so is Dick Goodwin and after dinner Ug starts playing and singing and Dick chimes in on the vibes, and Buckley sits down at the piano and starts singing a rousing version of “Cielita Lindo,” and before long Ug’s daughter Chargee is dancing on the card table. I am indeed spoiled. Change some of the names and pretty much all the nights in our house ended like that and still do. At the engagement party my parents gave me when I was 29, before I called off the wedding in question, my fiance went to bed in the poolhouse before midnight. Which meant he wasn’t there when my old boyfriend came through the front door unannounced. It so happened Ug had taught him to play the guitar and he was really, really good at it, and a gifted (and published) songwriter to boot, so my best friend (who is also a songwriter) called my neighbor who brought over his guitar and we all sang and played until 7 o’clock in the morning. It was one of the most hilarious nights of my life — the old boyfriend was making up songs on the spot re the fall of Romania and Yugoslavia, which was going on at the time and was funnier (the singing about it) than it sounds –and the man I was about to marry slept through the whole thing. Which was a clue, and which also leads me to the next story.
I meet my husband after a friend’s wedding when the hotel bar had shut down and we are all desperate for a drink. There is a piano in the lobby and he convinces the desk clerk (with an astutely palmed few bills) to let him play and he brings down a bunch of booze he happens to have in his room and the lobby party was way more fun than the wedding (I had the same fiance then — he was passed out on a sofa). I recognized that gun in the pocket thing right away and he had these bad boy eyes and then he sang “Night Owl” and all the other songs he knew how to do on the piano and I started paying a whole lot of attention. Cut to more than a decade later and we are the ones who are engaged. One night in a bar in Jackson, Mississippi, “Little Red Riding Hood” is playing on the jukebox and I jokingly tell John that one of the conditions of our marriage is that he has to sing the song at our wedding. I forget all about it and during the reception I go inside to change out of a big Carolina Herrera dress into a much smaller Carolina Herrera dress. As I walk out onto our terrace I hear the band playing “Riding Hood’s” opening bars from the tent, and when I look up there’s John onstage, singing his heart out, just like he did as the long ago lead singer of The Mersey Shores. And that night we BOTH stayed up most of the night playing and singing and having a hell of a time.