Flirting With Disaster: Inside Stories

Long ago a celebrity woman shared her hard-won wisdom with me: “Do you know who the best seducers are? Salesmen. They know how to close the deal.”

By that definition, men who do things (like generals) rather than sell themselves (like politicians) are disadvantaged in extracurricular sex. In light of current flirting follies by military leaders, my own experiences recall sadly how little has changed in over half a century.

In 1965 I became editor of the world’s largest women’s magazine, and my calendar suddenly filled up with names from society pages—-ambitious young wives of elderly politicians, middle-aged beauties who had married well and often, dowager queens of the Social Register.

I was being recruited for activities previously unknown to me. “Tell them,” my beautiful well-grounded wife advised drily, “that up close you’re not that interesting.”

No matter. At a Washington restaurant, I ran into Perle Mesta, the fabled political hostess whose gossip column I had canceled when I became editor of McCalls.

“You naughty boy,” she exclaimed, “you fired me.” After my most winsome smile, she added, “Never mind, I like you anyway.”

When I sent Nora Ephron to interview toadlike Henry Kissinger about his publicized bachelor dating, he told her, “Power is an aphrodisiac. Now when I bore women, they think it’s their fault.”

So it went in that world and sadly still seems to: flattery and foolishness rampant in the name of elusive influence.

Notable today is a scarcity of actual sex. Gen. Petraeus admits to it, but even those liaisons must have been more athletic than passionate. Can you expect afterglow from an ambitious Amazon?

Maureen Dowd, who once dated Rush Limbaugh in the line of duty, sums up today’s scene neatly.

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Author: ROBERT STEIN