People Are Unappealing

SaraBarron_PeopleAreGotham teacher Sara Barron’s book, People Are Unappealing,
a collection of humorous memoir pieces, was just released in March.
The book has already kicked up a bit of controversy, with items in the New York Post and New York Magazine, due to allusions to certain celebrities Baron encountered while waitressing at a certain New York restaurant. But the real draw isn’t the gossip; it’s the humor. Sloane Crosley calls the book, “wickedly funny and dirty,” and Andy Borowitz says, “Sara Barron establishes herself as the Michael Phelps of complaining.”

Here’s a slice:
I’ve always preferred sedentary activities to active activities. In my tweenage years, I shirked anything labeled ‘extra-curricular’ for the chance to head home after school to sit in my bathroom. I preferred the bathroom to my bedroom because it had a lock on the door for much needed privacy, and I’d spend my time there alternately cramming the ambiguous genitalia of my Barbie and Ken dolls together, and then interviewing myself about my imagined acting career. Pretending an electric toothbrush was a microphone I’d ask, “What’s it like being a movie-star?”

“It’s fun,” I’d answer back. “Yesterday I had sex with Kirk Cameron.”

I’d sustain this clever banter until my father knocked on the door. My father is a creature of habit, so from Monday to Friday for eighteen years he arrived home from work at 5:32pm. First he’d set down his briefcase and file his nails, and then he’d “get lucky.” This was the euphemism coined by my Metamucil-addict of a mother. “What I wouldn’t do for your father’s small intestine,” she says. “The man is blessed.” He’d plan it this way since the use of public bathrooms always prompted his panicked descent into oblivion. “A person ought to be able to relax and enjoy himself,” he’d say. “I like a little space, a little ‘me’ time. Is that so bizarre?”

Ousted from the bathroom, I’d head downstairs to the living room where he’d join me fifteen minutes later. “I feel like a new man!” he’d say, and then unwind with a bottle of blush wine and one of his many musical albums. By ‘musical albums,’ I do not mean, simply, albums. I’m not being redundant. I mean musical as in musicals: Marvin Hamlisch. Kander. Ebb. “Are you listening to this?!” he’d ask over the blare of the title song from Oklahoma! “Doesn’t it just…..gosh! I don’t know . . . doesn’t it make you want to dance?!” Then with the flourish of an imaginary cape, he’d twirl his hips in tight, concentric circles.

Usually it’s a father who catches the seed of a lisp in his son or a talent for eyeballing another man’s inseam, and he bristles with fear at the prospect of a conversation that starts, “Dad, I’d like you to meet Johnny….” That my father could recite the entire oeuvre of Rogers and Hammerstein, that his sock drawer was flecked with freesia potpourri, forced my younger brother Sam into a reversed situation.

“Sometimes daddy’s like a lady,” Sam would say.

This was true. But it didn’t faze me. On the contrary, my father’s off-beat behavior left me feeling optimistic. “At least if dad’s gay,” I pointed out, “he’s not doing mom.”

My mother, in a pair of heels with her hair teased, has a good eight inches on my dad. Size-wise, they look like Golden Girls Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty respectively, a resemblance emphasized by my mother’s affection for tunics and my father’s clothing staple, a shapeless, taupe cardigan. Parents and sex is an unhappy combination for most, and with an atypical height discrepancy like theirs and with the fashion tastes of Floridian retirees, I’ve always found the notion especially upsetting. If they weren’t having sex – and if my father’s weak wrists and sibilant ‘s’ were to blame – it was no sweat off my back. My parents were among the few still married in our wealthy, Jewish suburb of Chicago. And while in later years I’d come to appreciate this fact, when I was young, the notion of divorced parents struck me as chic. Very now. The possibility of two separate homes seemed wonderfully decadent, and I hoped for divorce lest one of the two of them landed someone with a heated pool.

“You should’ve seen the way dad was eyeing Dr. Cohen,” I’d tell my mom after a father/daughter visit to the dentist, “He kept saying how much he liked his tie. Then his shoes. It was…. I don’t know....weird.”

“Nice try,” she’d say. “Your dad’s not doing Dr. Cohen.”

Elsewhere, a father of questionable sexual orientation cripples a family into silence. But not us. Father: effeminate. Mother: psychotherapist. (This is a woman who coined the phrase, “Don’t repress, instead express!”) So we discussed it over dinner, the conversation underscored by the 1975 musical blockbuster, A Chorus Line.

“Listen to the lyrics, children!” my father would instruct. “It’s a song about chasing your dreams. I hope you both chase your dreams.” Then his eyes would glass over.

“Dad’s a homo!” Sam would shout, “He cries like a homo!”“Your father’s not gay,” my mother
chimed in. “He’s effeminate.” 

“Oh, I’m gay!” my father countered, “Who here knows what ‘gay’ really means?”  My father writes dictionary definitions for a living. Never in your life have you met someone more enthused about alternate meanings.“Homo!” Sam shouted.


“Happy,” my mother offered. “Your father’s happy and effeminate.”
Reprinted by permission of Three Rivers Press. For more information on Sara and her book, visit Find People Are Unappealing online at