Amy Alkon, the “Advice Goddess” who has played Ann Landers at laweekly.com and other newspapers and websites for more than 20 years, was doing what she does best to a standing-room-only crowd at Diesel Books in Brentwood last night: giving solicited advice.
How to split checks on girls' night out? People should assume the check will be split equally and prepare to do their part, she explains, although if someone orders a really expensive entree, they should take the initiative and kick in more money.
Is it OK to ask guests to take off their shoes when they come inside your home? Definitely not: “If you can't get your carpets cleaned,” Alkon says, “don't have people over.”
What to do about a rude neighbor who blocks your driveway? “Oh, we tow,” Alkon says. “We tow fast.” She adds, “That's a big thing in my book. Don't be walked on.”
The book in question is called Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck (that asterisk is Alkon's and not the Weekly's), and the event at Diesel is its launch party. Think wine in plastic cups, a bit of cheese and crackers, and a lot of writer (and screenwriter) friends out to lend support.
Out this week from St. Martin's Griffin, the book breezy and funny, with the sort of joking modernity you'd suspect of an advice columnist who, when asked whether it's OK to pet on the first date, first responds, “Your dog, or your girlfriend?” – only to quip, “I'm a fan of sex on the first date, actually.” Miss Manners, she ain't.
She is, though, endlessly engaging. Strikingly tall and strikingly redheaded, Alkon lives in Venice but lacks its famously laid-back style; for the reading, she wears a sleeveless purple blouse with a dramatic bodice and a long black mermaid-style skirt that ends in very expensive looking ruffles. Her fashion sense, she explains, is one reason she can't get behind the whole shoes-off-at-parties thing: “There are a lot of times when you wear pants – I have outfits where if I don't wear heels, they're just dragging.”
Of all the pieces of advice Alkon doles out, it's her suggestion that carpet is not worth preserving that the Westside crowd finds most astonishing. But Alkon holds her ground. “Especially in this town,” she says, “people wear shoes that cost more than carpets.”
“Or flip flops,” one woman suggests helpfully.
“I don't want to see your hairy toe knuckles,” the Advice Goddess parlays back.
Later, Alkon explains that while she was being provocative about the sex-on-the-first-date suggestion, there is some truth to her reply. “It depends on what your strategy is,” she says.
“If a woman is able to deal with the possible consequences – that a guy might not be into her after sex – she can go ahead and have casual sex,” she says. “The thing is to just be aware of the risks and be sure you accept them before you take them. I joke that I had sex with my boyfriend before the first date. We met at the Apple Store at the Grove, sat and talked at the Farmer's Market for three hours, and then he had to leave town immediately afterward. We talked on the phone for a week while he was away, and then he came to pick me up for our first date but we ended up not getting out of my house! But, at that point, I didn't care enough about having a boyfriend to care enough to hold back. What matters is that you know what the risks are and choose accordingly.”
There is a fascinating story in Good Manners for Nice People Who Say F*ck about how, as a struggling writer in New York in the early '90s, Alkon started talking to a guy in an AOL chat room who turned out to be, yes, Marlon Brando. After they talked on the phone, she finally figured out who he was, and after she moved out to L.A., they became really good friends.
But rather than memoir, the book really is all about the advice – funny advice, advice for the 21st century, and advice that urges we all be a bit more civilized and assertive at the same time. Alkon is into people sticking to their guns, even while urging each of us to try to understand the other.
“Has Abbot-Kinney gotten ruder as it's gotten trendier?”
“It's horrible, horrible!” Alkon declares, but she springboards from a description of the horror to a call for empathy.
There is time for one more question.
“What do you think about people who say 'fuck' a lot?” a woman asks.
“I fucking love them,” the Advice Goddess replies, and the room erupts in applause.
Follow the writer on Twitter @sarahfenske.