Momma's boy

Dating habits are not hereditary. If they were, Brett Leveridge's first novel would be called My Mom Was a Big-Time Playa and So Am I instead of Men My Mom Dated (And Other Mostly True Tales). But maybe genetics isn't to blame for poor Brett's lack of dating success. After all, times have changed. Girls and boys can be friends and hang out without the pretense of a date. In fact, by modern standards, many of Mother Leveridge's trysts wouldn't be considered dates. That doesn't make the 20 stories about her '50s exploits any less funny, or that her son has taken her nostalgic anecdotes about former lovers and added his own details to create short stories any less creepy. Luckily the humor wins out, and the eventual Mrs. Leveridge becomes a character detached from the author who just happens to be called Mom.

Leveridge has been embellishing his mom's tales for years as columns for the now-defunct Might humor magazine and on his Web page He wrote 10 more for the book, ranging from a few sentences to nearly 10 pages. They're placed randomly, not chronologically, beginning with Mom's first arrest after a drunken cat fight at a frat party ("Bob Petronick") and ending with "The Wager," in which Mom wins a bet by attending five dates with five different guys within 18 hours. While five boys in one day might seem like a good day's work for a hooker today, Mom doesn't even get that dreaded '50s threat--a bad reputation. But that isn't the most outrageous story. She saw The Eddie Cantor Story six times in two weeks. She fractured her leg spying on a boy who spurned her. (It would be considered stalking these days). She ran away with a circus' clumsy knife-thrower. Her female roommate made a pass at her.

But are the stories true? Leveridge says they're mostly true but fictitious enough that (he is hopeful) no one can sue. He's probably sweating two chapters, though. In one, Mom spends the summer waiting tables at her aunt's all-night diner in Amarillo, where she meets Jack Kerouac as he heads south to Mexico. Later, after she's married, Bob Wills hits on her at one of his concerts in Oklahoma City. Apparently his "Texas Playboy" title has less to do with playing the fiddle than it does with grabbing the asses of much younger women on the dance floor. Somehow through the stories Mom remains sexy and pure-hearted, practical and rebellious.

While Brett inherited her charm and spunk, he certainly didn't inherit her dating skills. The second half of the book contains short stories about his life as a single 30- and 40-year-old man in New York. He discusses the frequent occurrences when passersby assume he's gay and music-store employees direct him to the show-tunes section. He's learned to take it as a compliment because, in reality, he can't dance well and has a messy apartment. He compares finding long-term relationships to choosing the right car to buy and breaking up to getting fired. He enters a Dusty Springfield look-alike contest, places a personal ad, and makes New Year's resolutions he knows he can keep (like "I won't steal anymore cars" and "no more shoplifting"). Some of the stories have been featured on National Public Radio during This American Life and All Things Considered, including "My Life Among the Elite," about how the opinions of complete strangers can hold an incredible amount of meaning.

Also "mostly true," Brett's stories are honest and just as funny as Mom's adventures. After giving his nephew a subscription to Mad magazine as a present, he is chagrined when his nephew brings a pie chart from an issue that says 1 percent of subscriptions are gifts from "that weird uncle who never married." He examines himself to find that his quirks and traits, which might be considered odd by the Okies in his hometown, actually make him a little boring in New York City. Maybe that's why his mother's stories are so attractive to him. Or maybe Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, was correct when he said, "It's amazing what an ingenious man can achieve with a high school yearbook, a word processor, and an Oedipal complex."

Shannon Sutlief

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Shannon Sutlief