• U.S.

A Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to Stern

4 minute read
Joel Stein

We all have a couple we idealize. For some it’s Burns and Allen, for others it’s Tracy and Hepburn, and for yet others it’s Siegfried and Roy. For me it was Howard and Alison Stern. I became infatuated with their marriage in sixth grade, listening to Stern’s local radio show after school. Here was a guy who was married but getting away with spanking strippers. As an 11-year-old I didn’t know much about marriage, but if it included spanking strippers, I was ready to take my vows.

I knew more about the Stern marriage than my parents’–since I listened to him for four hours a day and really couldn’t take more than about seven minutes of my parents. This may be because they rarely mentioned spanking, which, according to Dr. Spock, was actually a good thing. I was so enthralled with Howard, I even went with my father to see him perform at a New Jersey nightclub called Club Bene. With parenting like that, you can understand why I turned to the Sterns as role models.

Through Howard, I had learned not only about fidelity but also that the key to a stable, long-term relationship is to publish the personal details of your life while simultaneously using your job as an excuse to meet loose women. So when the Sterns announced that they were separating after 21 years of marriage, my entire relationship philosophy was shaken. I had blindly assumed that just because it was working for an immature, oversexed Jewish man with bad hair, it would work for someone like me too. But now I had to question that. You see, sometimes my girlfriend, like Alison, gets mad about what I do for a living. This usually happens when I write about my attraction to Pamela Anderson Lee. Or when I find myself “assigned” yet another story about porn stars, supermodels or roller-derby queens. Or when I claim that I don’t get any dates and am actually a very, very lonely man.

But now that Alison has decided to leave Howard, I’m starting to think that maybe all this public self-revelation, while promoting honesty and openness, isn’t such a good game plan for a relationship. This became clearer as I realized most couples don’t leave the Jerry Springer Show with a lot of issue resolution.

This summer, sitting at L.A.’s babe-filled Sky Bar, I was looking at an older, married guy on a business trip who was wistfully scoping out the action. I asked my two friends, both of whom had girlfriends, if they thought we’d wind up like him, as sexually stunted as Stanley Kubrick must have been when he directed Eyes Wide Shut. “By the time I’m his age, you know what I’ll be thinking about?” one of them asked, staring at a hot but annoyingly giggly blond. “Pie. A nice piece of pie. Even right now if you offered me her or an entire Cookie Puss, I’m not sure which I’d pick.” My other friend and I nodded in agreement, until he told us that a Cookie Puss was some sort of ice-cream cake. Then we made fun of him.

But I want to be a pie guy. On Monday, when asked if he’s going to date strippers, Howard, who had promised to have sex with every floozy he ever met the moment his wife died, said, “Obviously, I’m not the type who goes out with bimbos.” On Wednesday, he didn’t show up for work. Spanking, it seems, is less fun when temptation is replaced by reality.

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