Let's say you're a guy and you've got nine of your best male friends over to watch Supercross on OLN. After three hours of crushing beer cans and watching bikes flip, you and your boys decide to paint the town brown. Do you: (a) go to the nightclub where your odds of going home with a member of the opposite sex are relatively good; or (b) head to the corner tavern, where it's all guys and ESPN Classic's Lakers-Celtics reruns stand in for music? Where Men Hide is an exhaustive exploration of why the answer, at least among many straight males, is almost always (b). A University of Florida advertising professor, James B. Twitchell (Branded Nation) chose this subject after ingesting an Esquire photo essay titled "Men's Rooms" by Ken Ross. Twitchell then asked Ross to snap a few more photos to pad out an essay of his own (emphasis on essay). Simply put, Ross' nostalgic black-and-white photography is the highlight of this slim yet engaging book, and there's nowhere near enough of it peppered throughout Twitchell's musings. Still, the combined project succeeds as a sympathetic literary companion to Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. While Twitchell digs early and often at straight manhood's insecurities and subconscious homophobia, you can tell he misses the days when Mason halls, fraternities, hunting lodges, barbershops, workshops, and truck stops provided a comfortable, chick-free domain. He argues that men today also need an excuse to get together and talk dude talk, to cry manly tears together about the death of Dale Earnhardt. And if that sounds a little gay, a little Oprah, Twitchell isn't disagreeing with you. Amid the crack psychology, Twitchell's at his best when he stops to consider, say, the evolution of the barbershop. This well- researched history gives his theories backbone—making them weightier than those of your average barstool philosopher. He also pulls off a sly evisceration of Promise Keepers and religion's devolution into pop-pandering megachurches. That said, his commentaries on SUVs and metrosexuality are instantly dated—an ad guy who knows the whimsical nature of consumerism should have known better. Which doesn't detract at all from Ross' too-few photos. Twitchell classifies them as having "a kind of dreariness" in his intro, but they're more than that. They could've been taken anytime in the last 40 years. Carefully composed to capture what might be called the aesthetic of male clutter, they're timeless, unlike the accompanying essays, and provide evidence that the institutions whose demise Twitchell laments are still hanging on by a sliver.
James B. Twitchell appears at University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., 206-634-3400, www.bookstore.washington.edu. Free. 7 p.m. Tues., May 23.