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August 16, 2008

World's Worst Person: Philip Nobel

Why is Philip Nobel today's Worst Person? It's not that 35-year-old Philip Nobel left his wife of ten years and his "beautiful but demanding babies" for a 22-year-old research assistant.

No, it's because he took to the pages of Elle to beg for sympathy and chide the women who won't give it to him.

Nobel writes:

There’s no arguing with the optics. When a 35-year-old once-nice Jewish boy, gray where he’s not bald, and not particularly fit, walks out on his supportive but demanding wife and his beautiful but demanding babies so he can find possibility and (one hopes, eventually) “himself” with his snarky, 22-year-old shiksa research assistant with a nose ring and big tits (however brilliant beyond her years Ingrid was, however thoroughly beloved); when they break up and, brokenhearted, he embarks on the spree he had reasoned in his twenties he could go a lifetime without; when that womanizing in turn triggers its own cascade of trial-and-error joy and loneliness—the guy at the local pizza place who sees the morning parade now calls me “Danger Man”—it’s time to own it.

Maybe the "optics" of Nobel's Brooklyn pad are such that the local pizza chef can't miss the evidence of his conquests. Maybe his local pizzeria opens unusually early. Maybe the chef is captivated by the belated bildungsroman of Nobel's life. Maybe he opens the pizza parlor early just to live vicariously through Nobel.

I have my doubts about the "Danger Man" origin myth. But since Nobel wants the nickname so badly, I'll oblige him. A nickname was probably one of the many, many things that Nobel missed out on when he chose to mary his college sweetheart at 25. So, I'm not going to begrudge him one now, even if it means the Danger Mouse theme's stuck in my head all day.

Danger Man wants us to know that it wasn't easy being supported by his wife while he struggled to make his name as an architecture critic:

It took a lot of hard work to get here. For nearly 10 years, I’d been in secret, high-functioning misery, but I didn’t know why. Then I did know why, and I convinced myself I didn’t. Then I really did, and I just hid it. I’d be standing at a swing set in Prospect Park, pushing a kid through the motions of a happy childhood, dreaming of escape to Manhattan streets and galleries; new, witty cliques; distant utopias where the choices of youth could be undone without hurting.

And to add insult to injury, Danger Man's wife didn't understand him. Naturally, it was her problem. The poor thing just wasn't smart enough to satisfy Danger Man's voracious intellectual appetites. One wonders how she managed to hold down the job that was supporting the entire family:

I was also bored. Just bored. For years, I later realized, I had been adjusting my diction with my wife, self-censoring, editing out of conversation the allusions I didn’t think she would get. I see it now with my kids: When their little brains aren’t engaged, they act out.

Danger Man couldn't help acting out. He's like a bored kid, a really smart bored kid.

Danger Man likes smart women, which obviously makes him a good guy and very cutting edge.

His 22-year-old girlfriend was really smart. Yet somehow Danger Man "fucked up" and cheated on her, too...with her best friend.

I can't stress enough that Danger Man suffers, and neither can he.

For one thing, he's very disappointed in his "otherwise intelligent" female friends who can't accept that he's not just any old guy who left his wife in the throes of a mid-life crisis:

No one wants to hear it. I’ve learned that otherwise intelligent, urbane, and morally imaginative women—the bulk of my friends—often cannot bring themselves, even when they invite the conversation, to sit through my stories, to deviate from a high-contrast model of human behavior, to see how gray it can be in practice, to see the devil in their friend. It’s a formidable blind spot—too close to home, a last taboo. I had lunch with an old friend, a married mother of two in her late forties. She listened stonily as I told her what I’d learned from this fling and that, how, by being free to bounce through different situations each night, I had matured more in a few months than I had during years of self-abnegating stasis. “I’m not sure you’re suffering enough,” she said.

  I’ve suffered plenty. I still suffer. But our reigning cultural norms demand that, like Hank Moody in Californication, I suffer more.

Danger Man is special. Sure, he did all those things. Why can't society accept that that he's not like those guys?

At each point the choices I’ve made have been my own, I thought: original; considered to a standstill if not always wise; not intended to harm even when panicked, irresponsible, or simply stupid; and not at all easy. I didn’t plan to be a poster boy for male recklessness and marital disaster, wicked, dismissable, a cliché. But the more I wriggle—I’m a good person! I’m a good father! It’s complicated!—the more I settle into that grip.

He's indignant that his neighbors judge him and his friends don't want anything to do with him. Clearly, he's the victim of a closed minded community.

Finally Danger Man diagnoses his own problem, with help of some suspiciously apropos remarks from his small, wise children: He just didn't treat himself well enough over the years, and look at the devastation this self-imposed deprivation just happened to bring about:

But I hadn’t been. I was just dumb. I chose badly, not in women, but in time. It wasn’t only that I didn’t give myself the years I needed to grow up. I didn’t give myself the years I needed to know what it would mean to grow up. And that haste, prolonged by fear, free of malice, had a devastating effect on five lives, one of them probably too young to be a player in her own devastation, and two of them certainly so.

The moral of this story is that, going forward, Danger Man would simply be irresponsible not to indulge himself at every turn. If he doesn't, innocent people will get hurt.

[Apologies to Keith Olbermann, hat tip to InternAnna at Jezebel.]


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Dear God, what a schmuck. What a mish-mash of self-involvement and self-delusion. This sucker's a Danger Man, all right--a danger to any other human being who comes in contact with him. My only question is, what in Hell is he doing publishing this in a fashion magazine?

I wish he were a designer on Project Runway, so that I could watch Nina Garcia rip him a new one.

Hey, I'm at least as smart as that guy, and I'm not even married, so where are my 22-year-old hot brainy babes? I'll even take a hot brainy babe my own age.

I thought the worst person in the world was Bush. Or Olbermann. I can never remember.

Several things occur to me about this fellow.

1) He was clearly trading sex-and-games time for money. Had he shown some work ethic, he probably could have made more money and afforded more house, especially were he willing to live outside the trendy, cool-for-picking-up-chix zones.

E.g. where I live in DC, Fort Totten, is designed to facilitate my quick commute by rail to my paycheck, but is not in a party zone. There are no restaurants here, maybe 5 businesses within 3/4 mile, of which two are fast food and two are dull liquor stores. There's no "come back to my place, baby" factor. But that's fine. The purpose of my apartment is to facilitate my commute and accommodate my children every chance I can get. The CityPaper here rated it as one of the least desirable neighborhoods for cool people - but for me, a grown-ass man, being responsible as an earner and father is as cool as it gets.

Surely Mr. Danger Man could find a similar location in Queens or North Jersey to accommodate his responsibilities as a father, instead of the drab-but-trendy Lower East Side.

2) He writes like crap, which fact gives me hope about earning money as a writer. His topic is self-indulgence, but it's also his writing M.O.

3) I don't fault the fellow for a divorce if happiness with his ex was strictly impossible, but to disrespect his ex this way and to abandon his children is just obscene, unspeakable. He is failing his children now, but is more interested in navel gazing than in being an upright example of a solid, loving father. The fact that his CHILDREN are mocking his immature romantic choices just makes me want to cry and tear my hair out.

4) I am 39, about this fellow's age. How a man roughly my age finds the company of most women in their early twenties even tolerable is beyond me. Sorry if that's derogatory or judgmental, I am sure there are awesome 22-year-old women out there, but how does one even find the common ground to maintain a conversation? Philip should be dating these women's mothers, if single and interested (unlikely in the extreme, I would suspect.) Then again, I find it hard as a divorcing dad to have a social conversation with non-parents, period. People whose greatest concern is the latest indie band sound at the 9:30 Club have nothing in common with someome whose greatest concern is that his 5 and 3 year-old autistic boys may someday be able to function in society, earn a paycheck and live safely.

Frankly, were I to meet Nobel and hear him spout the way that he types, I would find it tempting to slap him hard across the mouth, and am surprised that his friends have not apparently done so. If that's judgmental, good. We need more judgmentalism about men who don't step up, if not for their wives, then for their children. If that makes me a wingnut, so be it.

More like Rationalization Man

Talk about a self-deluded scumbag... not even smart enough to realize that he IS just like those other guys, not perceptive enough to hear THEIR claims, each and everyone, that THEY aren't like all those other guys with a string of girlfriends and abandoned kids as well.

I get so sick of the pedestal these shallow, over-educated schmucks live on. He's not a bit smarter than the guy down the road that fixes my Honda - he's just had the advantage of being born in fortunate circumstances.

Dear lord, it's George Costanza, Real Life Division.

What a sham of a mockery of a sham of a travesty of a sham.

I think it's kind of interesting how many times he was out with his kids totally not stalking his brainy beautiful big-titted blond former-whatever who everybody loves and accidentally bumped into her anyway.

I mean, he was even foresightful enough to tell his kids it was going to happen, although he was of course terribly surprised when it did.

I'm mystified that all the dull, intellectually-stunted friends his own age who were working for a living like his wife all those years that he was searching for his lost teen years like fucking Rosebud don't like him much now.

Thank goodness he finally realized he didn't need the wizard to give him his adolescence back because he never really lost it to begin with.

And now he can share it with his sons!

I could save him a lot of trouble "finding himself" if he'd hear this out: he's just another asshole. Period.

I can see why a magazine would publish his neurotic bullshit. People do need to understand how jerks like this think. It's helpful information.

The pizza guy should be calling him "Asshole," and he should own that. I imagine that *every* guy who leaves his wife in the throes of a mid-life crisis wants to think that "he's not just any old guy who left his wife in the throes of a mid-life crisis."

But, he is. And, given his writing, this guy is hardly the most brilliant, erudite Jewish cat to ever do it... so, sorry, Nobel, you don't even get that brownie point. (I mean, come on, man, you're gonna try to sell that in *New York*?!?)

Own up to being an asshole, Nobel – not an ironic, witty, brilliant rascal of an asshole, but just a garden-variety asshole who hurt and betrayed a number of people to get his rocks off. Then man up, spend a lot of time with your kids, try not to be a continuing prick to your ex-wife – oh, and shut the fuck up, please.

The spelling is Bildungsroman not bildingsroman (u instead of i).

A heads up that your link is to page 7 of the article. Not sure if you intended that.

I've passed your entry along to Jezebel because this guy's a shoe in for their "crap email from a dude" column

One day the youngster he ditched his wife and kids for will ditch him for a younger model and he'll write another self-pitying column about what bitches women are. (No doubt.)

Oh shoot, I didn't see your hat tip to Jezebel until just now...oh well.

I wonder if this guy has ever read Phillip Roth. I think not because he is such a stereotype himself, a quintessential Portnoy, he's an embarrassment to himself and his family. I pity his kids.

The narcissism...godz, he's certainly blessed with a lot of it isn't he?

Btw, "Danger Man" was, and always will be, Patrick McGoohan.

That the whinging idiot writing in Elle would see himself as John Drake is hilarious (unless there's another "danger man" out there I don't know about).

Sheesh. I've never exactly thought of myself as [fill in name of deity]'s gift to woman, but at least I don't expect to be congratulated for recognizing my own jerkitude.

Lotta psychopath signs here. Remember, two or three or maybe four out of every hundred people have no perception of your humanity. All that matters, all that is real, is them and their desires. With the sexual/sadist subcategory, if you have to die for their orgasm, that's fine. Hey, a turkey and a sweet potato have to die for Thanksgiving dinner, right? These folks see utterly no difference.

This is hard, disturbing, to come to terms with. But it's the only line that makes sense of a nasty batch of human behavior.

I've had a relative for about 20 years now who makes it no accident that I've become much, much more interested in the psychopathic personality than I ever was before. The florid ones make the headlines. The contained ones make acres of misery on the ground.

Hmmm, lots of agreement that this is a horrible guy. I am 50, I get along well with 18-25 year old college kids, not so well with women older than this, especially if they have been married, divorced or had kids, (events which I never participated in). Sometimes they seem a little bitter. Guess there is something wrong with me. Well, people should really conform, or I guess find another blog. But I was enjoying this one so much...
"Thank God for the decent people"
-Hunter S. Thompson

Stop projecting, Professor. No one dislikes this guy because he "gets along well with 18-25 year old college kids." They dislike him because he wants us all to celebrate what an exciting intellectual rebel he is, so brilliant that no one but a fresh and wide eyed (and large breasted) college senior can appreciate him. He wants us all to put on party hats and tell him what a clever lad he is, so brave and put upon to have abandoned his family for hitherto unknown nooky. He wants us to agree that he's not the desperate cliché that he knows deep down he is, and shout huzzah at this Second Coming of Mailer.

Do you think we could introduce him to Rachel Marsden? Perhaps we could kill two stones with one bird?

What a wanker. He doesn't even realize that when the pizza man calls him "Danger Man" his voice is dripping with sarcasm.

I've started to notice that some people are shocked at making the most basic moral judgments. The author himself doesn't seem to realize that people are only "morally imaginative" when everyone consents and no one gets hurt. He thinks he's entitled to tell people about the stupid, hurtful things he did without having them tell him, "you made a bunch of idiotic decisions." He should be thankful he still has friends.

Woody Allen? An adult woman is too scary and independent. Daughters are good. If you start young enough.

This man needs some real danger. May I suggest enlistment for Iraq/Afghanistan? He can have stories to impress girls, a true sense of what is danger, and more respect from his neighbors.

Do you think we could introduce him to Rachel Marsden? Perhaps we could kill two stones with one bird?

Who's Rachel Mardsen? Is that the woman Lindsay blogged about last year, who describes in lurid detail how much she hates the homeless?

He thinks he's entitled to tell people about the stupid, hurtful things he did without having them tell him, "you made a bunch of idiotic decisions."

Yeah, whatever happened to being embarrassed by leaving your wife and abandoning your commitment to your kids over a 22 year old with a nice rack?

Is his world so full of self-indulgent assholery that he's genuinely shocked, shocked I tell you, that his adult female friends are able to distinguish victim from asshole? He should get out more. I'm with Bruce, if no one has slapped the taste out of his mouth after that play for sympathy, he's one lucky whiner.

I read the Elle article earlier today. From the very first lines I got this feeling of profound disgust towards the author. Glad to see I'm not the only one.

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