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Jewish World Review July 12, 2001/ 21 Tamuz, 5761

Jonathan Yardley

It Takes a Village Idiot:
Complicating the Simple Life -- TO DATE, Jim Mullen's chief distinction -- no small one, it says here -- has been as author of "Hot Sheet," a column in Entertainment Weekly of wholly irreverent and sometimes deliciously funny comments on what passes for the cultural scene. In it, Mullen reveals an encyclopedic knowledge of innumerable aspects of the pop world, few of which can really be worth knowing, and a refreshing cynicism about the bloated egos who perch atop that world. He makes me laugh even when I haven't the foggiest idea what he's talking about.

One would assume from this that Mullen is your more or less basic hip Manhattanite, and a few years ago one would have been exactly right. He and his wife, Sue, lived on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, "the center of the gay universe," and he couldn't imagine living anywhere else:


It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life

By Jim Mullen
Hardcover - 288 pages
Simon & Schuster

click on title. Sales help fund JWR

"We are so New York that it's hard to talk to people who don't live in Manhattan. We'd visit relatives out of town and be shocked to find they didn't know who Isaac Mizrahi was, they didn't know that conch carpaccio from St. Kitts-Nevis was going to be the next big thing in food, they weren't all atwitter that Wendy Wasserstein has a new play opening next week. They hadn't read about Pina Bausch in W. They hadn't read what Hal Rubenstein said about the food at Moomba in New York magazine."

Then, about a decade ago, Sue stopped smoking. She "needed a project, something to keep her nonsmoking hands busy," and she "started talking about buying a weekend house." Mullen, whose notions of such had been shaped by the wretched excess of the Hamptons, was aghast. Over his objections, Sue ventured out of the city in search of a place, not on Long Island but upstate, which "is to New York City what Canada is to the United States -- a great, empty space to the north that most people are quite happy to know nothing about."

At last she bought a house and barn near Walleye in Catskills County (both names are fictional). It all looked perfect -- "A Martha Stewart starter kit, a Kodak moment" -- but on the inside the house turned out to be "a museum of every horrible idea in interior design of the past fifteen decades." As they began to settle in, Mullen thought with despair, "My G-d, we're living in a Loretta Lynn record."

You know, of course, that Mullen is going to end up falling in love with the house and the barn and the farm and the neighbors, though you may not know that eventually he and Sue will forsake Christopher Street entirely -- one day they found "a note from the co-op board shoved under our door advising us that it is expressly forbidden in the co-op bylaws to have sex on the folding tables in the laundry room" -- selling the apartment and moving to the country full time. But even if the end of the story is mostly predictable, the story itself is not.

Mullen is even funnier here than in the little word-bites that Entertainment Weekly pays him to provide. He does a pungent and pointed riff, for example, on Home Depot and its clientele:

"On one day . . . I had to use the restroom, which is about a two-mile walk from the front door, past guys who are buying screen doors, miter boxes, arc welders, PVC pipe, crushed marble, and hardware cloth. I get to the men's room, walk up to the urinal, and it's full of pee. How is it that I'm in a store full of guys who can buy and install a toilet using sophisticated power tools but they can't flush one? What is it about flushing a toilet that men find so much harder to do than installing one?"

Mullen is similarly amusing about the local fauna ("Between the turkeys, the grouse, groundhogs, rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, raccoons, possums, coyotes and the deer we could be living in a 'Wild Kingdom' episode"), the septic tank and the car that this car-hating city boy ended up having to buy. As his comments about Home Depot and "Wild Kingdom" suggest, in fact he's still in many ways a city boy at heart, proving once and for all the truth of this newly minted adage: You can take the boy out of the city but you can't take the city out of the boy.

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