October 10, 2002
Guilty Pleasure

miles to go: 454.25

David calls me in the middle of the afternoon on Wednesday, just as I'm returning from lunch. "What were those two names again?" he whispers furtively. "Stephanie and Marsha? Jessica and Vickie?"

I glance around the Dirt Company office to make sure nobody can hear me. "Helene and Gwen," I murmur, cupping one hand around the receiver. "And maybe Brooke, too, if she doesn't get bumped off tonight. But mostly Helene and Gwen."

There is momentary silence on his end. I assume this means he's busily scribbling the names down on a Post-It Note or a Subway napkin or the back of his hand. (I hope it's NOT the back of his hand: that would make it a lot harder for him to eat the information, after we hang up.)

"OK," he says finally. "I'll pass those names along to Leslie."

I hang up the phone, a moment later, feeling deliciously sneaky. It's like being part of some groovy secret underground movement ... except that Leslie isn't a fellow subversive: she's a woman David works with at the newspaper. And the names we're providing her with aren't the names of operatives or *moles* or local publishing-empire heiresses, ripe for brainwashing and bank robbing duty.

They're contestants on "The Bachelor."

Specifically, they're the names of the two (possibly three) young women I believe will make it through the next several weeks of demeaning group dates, overblown media scrutiny and abject public humiliation ... all the way to that golden, *Sweeps Week Moment* when The Bachelor pulls the little black box out of his tuxedo pocket and says those four magic words we've been waiting all season to hear him say:

"Hey ... wanna go steady?"

I'm anxious to see whether Leslie -- my brand-new "Bachelor"-watching buddy -- agrees with my picks.

I found Leslie by accident. David came home a couple of weeks ago and mentioned that he'd had an interesting conversation with a woman in his office, all about the new crop of fall TV shows: the new CSI, the new Star Trek, the new medical drama set in San Francisco, the other new medical drama set in San Francisco ... and, of course, the new season of reality shows. One thing led to another, and eventually Leslie confessed that she was a "Bachelor" fan.

"My wife loves that show!" he told her. And thus a kinship was born.

It's not easy finding other people who like "The Bachelor." If "Survivor" has morphed into the Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes of reality shows, over the past couple of seasons -- the easily-digested, All-American comfort food that everybody eats now, even your boss and your brother-in-law and your oral surgeon -- then "The Bachelor" remains the cheap Chinese food of the genre. It's your favorite guilty pleasure: you love it ... you eat it at least once a week, preferably right out of the flimsy styrofoam container with a stale pork bun on the side ... you would probably eat it every single day if you could.

You just don't want anyone to KNOW that you eat it.

I love "The Bachelor" for all of the reasons I'm not supposed to love "The Bachelor." It's tacky. It's sexist. It's deliberately designed to offend the women (trampolines?? oh please! ) and to titillate the men (trampolines?? oh PLEASE! ). And of course it's manipulative as hell. You're going to fill a beach house with fifteen beautiful, ambitious, emotionally-unevolved young women, and then dangle one marginally-cute single guy in front of them, like a single carrot in front of a herd of starving cannibal bunnies? How do you suppose THAT'S going to turn out? Plus the show is obviously not targeted to *my* particular demographic ... otherwise the actual Bachelor himself would look a lot more like Matt Lauer and a lot less like Matt Damon.

By all rights, I should hate this show with a passion.

But I don't. I watch it every week. It's part of my ongoing fascination with the slice-of-life narrative ... along with memoirs and documentaries and (yes) Internet journals. Furthermore, David watches it with me. It's true that I had to bargain with him in the beginning -- "One hour of my sleazy, morally-ambiguous reality show for one hour of your Boring Old Fart droning on & on about the stock market" -- but now he's parked in front of the TV at 9 p.m. on Wednesday nights, ready to dish and diss right along with his reality-junkie wife. (We both agree that Bachelor Aaron is infinitely more likeable and more engaging and more human than Bachelor Alex, who always looked like he might have bodies stuffed in the crawlspace. Bachelor Aaron, at least, has the good grace to look stricken when his starving cannibal bunnies turn on each other.)

Now David is every bit as much a "Bachelor" fan as I am.

And now I have him running covert messages back and forth to Leslie, my "Bachelor Buddy" ... the only other female adult human being on the planet I know who watches the show as religiously as I do. So far it's working out pretty well. I can hardly wait to hear back from her and find out what she thought of last night's episode. (Is it just me, or is that Christy person constantly weeping into a bucket of wine?) In fact, maybe one of these days I'll show up at the newspaper office, unannounced, and invite my special *Bachelor Buddy* out to lunch, so we can compare notes in person.

We'll be ordering cheap Chinese, of course.

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pork buns are BETTER when they're stale, anyway.