ROMANCING THE STONE TO GET THE BIG ROCK

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Oh, the wonder of spring, when thoughts turn to romance: laughter in the rain, strolling in the park, and scheming to get that clueless commitment-phobe to pop the question.

This is, after all, not just spring, but spring in the '00s, and it's not like we have all day! Thankfully, "proposal pushing" women need not scheme alone: The editors of the May Mademoiselle and Cosmopolitan are looking out for them.

Both mags approach the issue from a corporate frame of mind. Cosmo offers four "strategies that will seal the deal," such as taking girl- only vacations so the guy can get in touch with how essential you are, and keeping a few social secrets, which a subject studmuffin, Jason, admits can be "kind of irritating but so enticing."

Mademoiselle goes further than just the analogy, though, painting the problem as a clash of the can-do executive woman and a tradition in which the man is still in charge. "I'd been able to dictate my life until that point," Sophie Delaney, 28, tells writer Denise Maher. "I didn't know what he was thinking. I had no say, and I didn't like that."

The next case study, Sarah Anderson, also 28, didn't like it either, and her reaction was "proposal bombing": leaving "magazines open to diamond ads and even [placing] herself in front of posters of ring ads while she and Geoff waited for the subway. When hints didn't work, Sarah issued threats."

As a strategy, it wasn't working, and that might have been the end for them had Sarah not fallen ill, a "distraction" (her word) that gave Geoff time to act on his own. Mademoiselle's moral, spoken by Sarah: "I should just have let him know what I wanted and then stepped back. It was either going to happen or it wasn't."

Essence for May offers an antidote to all this strategizing with an issue devoted to passion. Pleasingly, the editors survey the range instead of focusing just on the romantic sort, but still, the high point of the package comes from that arena. We hear from dream hampton (who, affectatiously, doesn't use capital letters in her name), writing about the lover she can't be with, who can't - or won't - be with her:

"I visualize the mature, whole relationships I'm told to want. I even make attempts at them, but it is our love, burdened by the irreversible pain we have caused each other, that occupies, as if in protest, the seat of my heart."

Second drafts of history

It must also be the season for presidential history, as three magazines continue to fill in the gaps of episodes and careers we thought we already knew.

Two, in the May Brill's Content and in the April 23 and 30 New Yorker, stem from the same work, Dennis McDougal's new book on Otis Chandler and the Los Angeles Times. The article in Brill's is an adaptation of the book that carries McDougal's byline. The New Yorker's piece is a review of the book by media writer Hendrik Hertzberg.

It seems unfair to say that Hertzberg's is the better read, since it was McDougal, a former Times reporter, who started the conversation and did all the work. It's not that McDougal has nothing to offer; there's plenty of research and rich anecdotes. But Hertzberg has the advantage of being able to comment not only on McDougal's reporting, but on McDougal: "(His years on the paper apparently left him with some scores to settle, and he settles them with gusto.) McDougal writes out of the side of his mouth. `Privileged Son' is pulp nonfiction, purple and slangy."

The April Atlantic Monthly, meanwhile, takes readers inside the White House situation room the day Ronald Reagan was shot, which was 20 years and a couple of weeks ago. The byline is Richard Allen's, the national security advisor who brought a tape recorder to the table.

It too is replete with detail, none more delicious than when, in what must have been a product of the moment's madness, Treasury Secretary Donald Regan suggests of handgun control, "we better think that policy through again in light of this."

Another outstanding feature of the transcript excerpts is what they reveal about Secretary of State Al Haig's fumbling and bluster. I had always held the minority view that Haig's declaration in the first hours after the shooting that he was in charge was just poorly worded. But he really did think he was in charge while the vice president was en route, even if, as Allen writes, "the other cabinet members and senior staff knew better - there were three others ahead of Haig in the constitutional succession. But Haig's demeanor signaled that he might be ready for a quarrel, and there was no point in provoking one."

Also worth reading in the Atlantic is William Langeweische's dispatch from Butte, Mont., a city that is building a new life for itself on the foundation, literally, of decades of toxic waste.

Back of the book

Also in the May Brill's are a few pages that would fit well into Yahoo! Internet Life, whose primary virtue is helping to sort out the better-than-a-billion sites on the Internet. "Sites We Like" is supplemented by sites "they" like, the choice destinations for David Byrne, federal judge Alex Kozinski, violinist Joshua Bell, and others. YIL, by the way, introduces its redesign this month. . . . Downbeat's April cover promises a landscape of African pop music, but the inside disappoints. Most of the articles - on Angelique Kidjo, Youssou N'Dour, et. al - are short and shallow, but the lead, on Nigerian Femi Kuti, has a decent rhythm.