by Jim Piechota
44 Horrible Dates by Eddie Campbell; Sourcebooks, $14.99
Love can be a tricky thing. It can make life worth living and bring a sense of peaceful, lovely cohesion to every day, week, month, and year of our lives. And then again, there are times when love can rip your heart to shreds. Yet more often than not, it's not the ups and downs of actual romance but the intricate search for it that makes the ride worth the trip.
Los Angeles native Eddie Campbell, a longtime art director for an impressive list of hit television shows, generously and often hilariously shares his adventures looking for love in 44 Horrible Dates, assuring readers that "unfortunately and sometimes unbelievably, these stories of my horrible dates are all true." He considers the 44 bad dates he describes as "therapy" for single people everywhere (and "the 50% of married people who will end up single") in the hopes of acquiring some semblance of solidarity with them, but instead of trying to socially validate his collection of hook-up horrors, the book is better served up with no preamble, and best read with an open mind and a heaping helping of humor.
He begins in 1994 with a six-mile trek (which takes 45 minutes on Southern California streets) to pick up a guy (whom he met at a bar while drunk) for a date that collapses once the dude gets into the car and expresses himself through some repeated, high-octane flatulence. From there, things get much worse, and Campbell even goes the extra step of commemorating each first date with a sometimes comical, sometimes mean-spirited "nickname." One guy was late after doing a pre-date bump of cocaine, one wanted a hot dog inserted into his butt, and another liked feet just a bit too much. Others run the gamut from bad breath, herpes, a foul-smelling penis ("dirty socks and cheddar cheese"), road rage, and a choking fetish to chatting through movies, dressing poorly, no resemblance to his e-mailed picture (Craigslist), a condom allergy, a guy who was blessed with being both cross-eyed and a magician, and men who tastelessly check their Grindr profiles right at the dinner table. Is dating in Los Angeles this much of a minefield?
Along the way, Campbell divulges personal factoids about his life. Now in his 30s, he holds two degrees from USC, was raised in the San Fernando Valley ("like growing up in an amusement park without any rides"), and remains unhappily single. Perusing his website, he's not an unattractive man, either. So combining a book of unbelievably bad dating experiences with a smart, handsome, successful Hollywood guy begs the questions: Are Campbell's standards set too high? Is he too picky to settle down, or too snarky for his own good? Or was he just born under a bad sign?
Granted, a good portion of Campbell's disastrous dates took place more than 10 years ago, so technology and attitudes have changed the dating process (is there even a "process" any longer?), but hopefully, as of this writing, the author has found his match, or something/someone that closely resembles one.
His first book, a splashy pictorial history of the mega-soap opera Days of Our Lives (Days of Our Lives 45 Years, A Celebration in Photos, 2010), brought fans directly on-set and into the dressing rooms of the long-running serial's stars. This one sweeps us into the first-date mindset of a single gay guy living in L.A. and takes us along for the ride with a puzzling procession of farters, crazies, and cell-phone-obsessed nymphomaniacs. It's a work that's uproarious if you have a sturdy funny bone, and kind of sad for those with a soft heart (like me).