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Yenta Takes Manhattan


The relative importance of male and female clients is clear from the get-go with Janis. The first step for a man who wants to become her client is a lengthy meal. "And you know I don't go to McDonald's," she says. On the other hand, female clients are scheduled in back-to-back half-hour consultations at DT.UT, a Second Avenue café around the corner from her apartment. Unlike men, who simply buy Janis dinner in a non-McDonald's-like environment, women pay $250 for their consultations plus a mandatory $45 fee for a subscription to her newsletter. "These girls want to deal with the best," she says. "They've got to pay the piper."

Stuffing their checks into a pink zippered purse, Janis receives a half-dozen women from her perch at the back of the café one afternoon. She claims -- claims -- more than 550 calls a week from women looking to become clients, and says she will agree to work with only two or three. Today she meets a blond widower from Park Avenue; a 31-year-old investment banker whose mom forced her into this meeting; and a Korean hedge-fund manager in an elegantly tailored purple suit. "I don't know, that Oriental one is Wharton and MIT," says Janis, shrugging her shoulders. "Normally I wouldn't do . . . that, but there are some guys who are into . . . that." She laughs. "Jewish man wants a nice Korean wife. His mother would love me."

Janis is harshest in her assessment of a 45-year-old female editor looking to get married for the second time. "That one was just beyond," wails Janis. "Now, my friend Christina Oxenberg raved and raved and raved about this girl, and she was not someone to rave about. She was plain, she had no makeup on, she had a haircut from World War II. Now, I'm not saying I look so great today, I'm like a fat person, but I'm not the one looking for a husband."

Arriving late in the afternoon is a best-selling author. She's 42 years old, with a 9-year-old child and two ex-husbands, a hard-bodied five-four ensconced in tight tan leather pants. "Okay, let's get going," says the author as soon as her spike heels hit the café floor. "I'm a very late bloomer. In the past two years I've hit the woman that I am. I had a long, hard road. The kind of guys I went out with, including my ex-husband, who is a loser and a schnorrer, have not been on my level. The last guy I went out with was self-medicating himself with heavy drinking, sex, deals, and food. The guy before that has been a porn addict since he was nine." She pauses. "I have a very strong soft side, that you're not seeing right now, but it's dominant in me. The right man brings out a very feminine woman who goes bare-legged and wears sexy dresses. But I need a guy guy -- masculine, not macho. Someone who can be my best friend. I need someone. I have a gaping hole in my life."

This is the kind of nakedness that each of her clients shows Janis, and even after all these years it is a lot to deal with. "These women are desperate desperate desperate," says Janis in a far quieter tone of voice than usual. She spends much more than the allotted time with the author and is quite gentle with her, talking about housekeepers, therapy, and island vacations. "I've had people start to cry, begging me with their checkbook," says Janis. "One girl went crazy on me: Thank God she was a chain-smoker -- I got out of it by telling her I don't take smokers." She sighs. "Of course, it makes me sad, but I can't find someone for everyone."

It's a balmy september day when I next see Janis. Her hair is wilder than ever, and she's shaking with excitement. In her hands are the typical shopping bags she uses as purses, but today she seems to be carrying a few more than usual. "I'm coming from my daughter's school for this meet-the-new-headmistress night and I see on Lexington that there's something going on in front of this new restaurant," she says. "I see that there are all these 'beautiful people' " -- that phrase gets in-air quote marks -- "so I march right in. The party is something about Race to Deliver, who knows what, and boom boom boom, in five minutes I'm out of there with two goody bags from Polo Sport!"

Crossing Second Avenue against the light, to the honking of many taxi horns, Janis starts talking about how she met her husband, and a dreamy smile crosses her face. "I remember how he first saw me in my little pigtails and pink bandanna at the 56th Street Health & Racquet Club and said to his friend, 'You see that tall one, I'm going to marry her,' " says Janis. "I had just broken up with someone after four years and I was sick sick sick in love with this jerk, and I said, 'Well now, that is quite a line.' " She laughs at the memory. "He followed me home from the gym, and before we went to Tony Roma's he drank a whole bottle of wine in my living room, he was so nervous. Now I went back to that jerk 88 times while we were dating and I treated my husband like a piece of garbage, but I married him. It's the best thing in my life." She laughs. "You know, I do believe in love."


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