The Day Dan Zevin Turned Uncool

USA TODAY By Anne Stephenson


The premise of Dan Zevin’s new book is really just an excuse for Dan Zevin to write about Dan Zevin, and that’s not a bad thing.

Dave Barry has made a career of writing about Dave Barry, and now he has more money than Dave Barry ever dreamed he would have. P.J. O’Rourke writes about P.J. O’Rourke (and, unfortunately, his politics, but let’s not go there), and David Sedaris writes about David Sedaris and the strange Sedaris clan into which he was born.

You could throw Zevin in with any of them and he would hold his own. He might even float to the top. Like Sedaris, he spreads the laughs throughout his essays and avoids zingers — he tells stories, not jokes. But the persona he creates for himself is more like Barry’s. Zevin wants us to know that he’s just a guy who was once a boy, and that the boy is still alive inside the guy, and that neither of them is entirely comfortable with the grown-up they’ve become.

Of course, if you’ve read the title, you already know that Zevin, 37, is not a perfect fit for the adult world. But he’s trying.

Imagine his surprise at finding himself, a former bad boy, living in a starter home in Massachusetts, fertilizing his lawn with his new drop spreader and donning “devil-may-care trousers” to attend golf lessons.

He plans to convert to a Roth IRA as soon as he figures out what a Roth IRA is, and he’s making headway in the realm of home repair so his wife won’t think he’s a big Nancy boy when he can’t fix the drainpipe.

And he has a list of professionals —  roofers, exterminators, mechanics — to recommend whenever friends call.

Then there’s the little matter of his weight gain. “I have worn the same pants size since I was a skinny, Stridex-dependent sixteen-year-old in brown Levi’s corduroys,” he writes. “It has not been easy to face the fact that I am now a person who secretly unbuttons his pants before sitting. At first I blamed the dryer for shrinking my pants. Then I blamed the dryer for shrinking the waist but not the length of my pants.”

Then he joined a health club, hired a cleaning lady, started drinking white wine instead of beer, and refused to attend any concert at which he could not sit down.

Then he saw the income-enhancing potential in all of these things — a grown-up instinct if I’ve ever seen one — and sat down to write this book. It’s very funny. Not guffawing and rolling-on-the-floor funny, but consistently funny, which is a better pace for grown-up readers, anyway.

It also shares a side effect with Zevin’s last book, The Nearly-Wed Handbook. Readers related to that one. “He knew exactly how I felt when I got married,” a friend told me.

Now he knows how we feel as we leave our carousing years behind. We hire that cleaning lady and feel guilty about it. We spend our parental urges on our pets because they’re safer than real kids. We think about our own parents differently (Zevin went to a Bruce Springsteen concert with his dad, who high-fived him during Born to Run) and worry about the future.

Zevin delivers the laughs because he knows, like all good humorists, that they make weathering life’s little traumas just that much easier. And don’t forget, if you ever need a roofer, give him a call.

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