“This is Shakespearean,” said Ted Kavanau, one of the founders of Channel 5′s 10 o’clock news, as he surveyed the sea of taut, ruddy faces, piercing eyes and accessible smiles.
“It certainly isn’t Freudian,” replied agent Richard Liebner.
Actually, the term “Serlingesque”-as in Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling-came to mind. Gathered in the back room of Elaine’s on Sept. 3 was a collection of local on-air talent that, seen in a single setting, boggled the mind. These were men-and with one exception, they were all men-meant to be viewed at a safe distance through the cool medium of television. But for one night they broke through the fourth wall and gathered in a single, sweaty space, reminiscent of one of Mr. Serling’s ambulatory nightmares, mixed with a little of Paddy Chayefsky’s The Bachelor Party .
Which it was: John Roland, master of the Dry Look, Channel 5 anchor, veteran of the airwaves since 1969-when John Kluge, not Rupert Murdoch, owned the station-with a long, legendary history as a man about town and Westhampton, was about to get hitched for the third time, to the financial planner Joanna O’Rourke. (The wedding took place on Sept. 6 in Westhampton.) “She was marvelous to me when I was very, very sick,” the apple-cheeked, 61-year-old Mr. Roland told The Transom, referring to his bout with diverticulitis last year. “This one’s going to work.”
Near the makeshift bar was veteran Channel 11 reporter Marvin Scott, decked out in a retro flecked tweed jacket that looked straight off the set of L.A. Confidential, posing for a photo with doe-eyed Channel 2 anchor Ernie Anastos, Channel 4′s mustachioed medical reporter Dr. Max Gomez, and slightly spastic Channel 2 sports reporter Warner Wolf. National talk-show host Maury Povich, his hair perfectly tousled, caught up on gossip with bantam-like former Channel 5 news director Ian Rae. Elsewhere in the crowd were Channel 5′s sunny-faced weatherman Nick Gregory , beefy reporter Bob O’Brien and snowy-haired Good Day New York anchor Jim Ryan, New York Post reporter Steve Dunleavy-who looks as if he’s slowly turning into a lead statue-and, for a little while, Fox 5 news anchor Rosanna Scotto, who came in a flowing beard and man’s suit, compared facial hair with attorney Barry Slotnick and grabbed her crotch at least once before she left.
Ms. Scotto came in drag because the evening’s proceedings were meant to be a Friars’ Roast-style bachelor party for her Fox 5 news colleague, whose friends weren’t about to let him forget his past. “Does the bride-to-be know that the cumulative marriage time preceding her is 52 months?” Mr. Liebner-who represents a lot of the men in the room, including Mr. Roland-said aloud to no one in particular shortly before the festivities started. About the same time, Mr. Povich made an early exit, leaving the $125 that each of the guests were supposed to pay for the evening. When Mr. Scott said something about giving Mr. Povich his money back, Mr. Liebner said: “He’s a millionaire. Give it to U.J.A.”
Even though agents are some of the funniest people on earth-and not necessarily intentionally-for some reason Mr. Liebner was not designated as one of the Roland roasters, but he should have been: He seemed to have the Friars spirit in his blood. “Say ‘pussy’!” the agent’s nasal voice boomed at one point in a game attempt to stir up the boys.
Frankly that’s why The Transom had come to cover the festivities. We’ve long suspected that Mr. Ryan, Mr. Wolf and Dr. Gomez could work blue with the best of them, and we were hoping to hit paydirt. We wanted to hear Mr. Wolf say “pussy” instead of “Let’s go to the videotape!”, or to witness Mr. Anastos sneer “cocksucker!” instead of “Goodnight, Dana.”
But perhaps mindful of their public images, the on-air guys left most of the cussing to the behind-the-scenes guys like Mr. Rae, who is both Australian and a former news director, which makes him prone to foul language. Suffolk County Surrogate Court Judge John Czygier, who M.C.’d the evening, told the crowd that the party’s organizers had decided to go with a sit-down meal in honor of Mr. Rae because “Ian’s from Australia” and “usually by this time of night he’s at the sterno in the chafing dishes.”
“You sonuvabitch, I’ll get you,” shouted Mr. Rae, whose arm was in a cast.
Turning his attention to Mr. Roland, who was decked out in a black-and-white hound’s-tooth patterned jacket, black shirt and black pants, the judge recalled the time that Mr. Roland came to tell him that he was going to marry Ms. O’Rourke. “And knowing John and knowing the way he lived, I was just so pleased that he would come to me and ask,” Judge Czygier said.
“I said, ‘John, are you fucking out of your mind? I mean, you bring a different girl out every weekend and bang her like a dinner gong on the Ponderosa!’”
“Oh my God!” brayed Mr. Rae.
Judge Czygier continued, saying that he told Mr. Roland that “if you’re leaving the world of bachelordom, you can’t just leave and forget your past. You have to leave a legacy, because we all know John. We’ve all seen him around town.
“And John said, ‘You know what? I’m going to give you something and you can pass it on.’”
“Gonorrhea!” said Mr. Liebner.
Later, Ralph Nathan, one of Mr. Roland’s oldest friends, read from a long, long list of Mr. Roland’s old girlfriends, including “Linda the liquor lady,” whoever that was.
“I think I’m coming,” Mr. Roland said about three-quarters through the list.
“Me, too,” said Marvin Scott, who was sitting at the same table.
But Mr. Roland visibly shuddered when Mr. Nathan included, at the end of list, “your abbreviated affair with Billie Boggs.”
In 1988, Mr. Roland was suspended from Channel 5 after a testy interview with Joyce Brown-a homeless woman who took her alias from another Channel 5 on-air personality, Bill Boggs-in which Mr. Roland accused her of defecating on the sidewalk near the station’s studios. He eventually apologized.
Mr. Scott was up next, and he had clearly prepared a lot of material. “We did try to find a stripper tonight, but we couldn’t find someone you haven’t already dated,” Mr. Scott told Mr. Roland.
“Stop using Alan King’s stuff!” someone yelled.
Like we said, Mr. Scott had prepared a lot of material. “I got two more pages,” he said when the crowd began to chant for Mr. Rae. “I paid 125 bucks for this, would you get on with it?” Mr. Ryan yelled.
Mr. Scott reeled off a top-ten list of the things you shouldn’t say on your wedding night. Number seven was “I think biting is romantic, don’t you?”
“Marv Albert said that,” Mr. Roland rebutted.
There was applause and groans, and, finally, Mr. Rae made like the news director that he once was: “All right, mate, yer out,” he said.
“Fuck you all, ” Mr. Scott told his colleagues.
Mr. Rae, whose right arm was in a sling-a fracture incurred during a game of golf, according to his tablemates-had been waiting all evening to tell the room the “real” reason for his injury.
“Roland lent me a Viagra pill and nobody showed up,” he said as paced back and forth in front of the room, holding a glass of red wine in his left hand.
Mr. Ryan followed and recalled the time in 1983 when Mr. Roland disarmed and shot one of the three gunmen who tried to rob the Racing Club, a hangout for Channel 5 and Murdoch lifers on East 67th Street.
“How fucking drunk were you?” Mr. Ryan wanted to know.
Replied Mr. Roland: “I’m an anchor man-what can I tell you?”
Michiko Masher Scores!
Rule No. 1 for writers: Don’t try to hit on New York Times reviewers. Or maybe you should. Take a lesson from Leslie Epstein, author of nine books of fiction, including King of the Jews and Pandaemonium . “When I heard last night that Michiko Kakutani was going to review San Remo Drive , I didn’t know what to think,” said Mr. Epstein from his home in Boston. Given his last interaction with The Times ‘ chief book critic, he had reason to sweat.
Following the 1999 release of his last novel, Ice Fire Water , Mr. Epstein took out a series of classified ads decrying Ms. Kakutani’s silence. “DEAR SWEET MISS MICHIKO K.-Call your Leib Goldkorn,” begged one, which ran in one of those little spaces at the bottom of The Times ‘ front page in October 1999. Leib Goldkorn, the recurring 94-year-old protagonist of several of Mr. Epstein’s books, just so happened to have a crush on the reclusive book critic. “Why?” you might ask. Because, in the novel, she just adored the elderly Goldkorn’s latest book-and even fictional authors can’t resist the adoration of finicky critics. “I thought it was cute and was hoping she would find it cute, too,” said Mr. Epstein of his ploy-or, should we say, Mr. Goldkorn’s ploy-to woo Ms. Kakutani through the pages of her own paper. “But she didn’t.”
Ms. Kakutani was not interested in Mr. Epstein’s aged character at all. Instead, after half a dozen of the ads ran-costing Mr. Epstein a cool six grand, the better part of his $10,000 advance-she demanded that the paper’s advertising department pull his upcoming November ad, which read, “YOO-HOO! MY CUTE KAKUTANI!-Leib Goldkorn is calling,” along with the six remaining ads to follow.
“I never heard from her and was going send her a note, but I thought it would come across as slavish,” said Mr. Epstein, who bowed out without a fight when the advertising department let him know that the object of his affections likened him to a stalker.
When San Remo Drive , a novel based on his own Hollywood childhood-he’s the son of Casablanca co-writer Philip Epstein-was published in April of this year with no review from The Times , Mr. Epstein began to sweat. “I lost hope and thought they’d never review me. I thought I’d just foolishly burned my bridges,” said Mr. Epstein. This time he waited sheepishly, understanding Ms. Kakutani’s silence. “I think she felt her privacy was invaded and was plenty pissed.”
Then, on Monday night, he received an e-mail from his publicist: Ms. Kakutani was reviewing his latest. And, to his even greater surprise, he woke up yesterday morning to a glowing review. Ms. Kakutani called the novel “a keenly observed portrait of Los Angeles” and compared him to F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joan Didion. If the Times reviewer did hold a grudge against Mr. Epstein, she hid it well.
“She believes in art,” said Mr. Epstein. “If there’s a subtext that she’s forgiven me, I’m pleased.”
Through a spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis, Ms. Kakutani said that she “has no memory of these ads, and they had no relationship with the review.”
“She set everything that’s between us aside and wrote a generous review,” said Mr. Epstein. “Maybe I can blow her a kiss through this column.”
Glengarry Glen Rastafarian?
Actor Alec Baldwin may have been used to adoring teenage girls and Hunt for Red October fans, but he wasn’t prepared for a scruffy, bearded man on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 77th Street who offered him marijuana. It was still light out at 6:45 p.m. on Sept. 8, when Mr. Baldwin rolled up in a town car to CNBC chief executive Pamela Thomas-Graham’s party for Tina Brown and David Faber’s television shows in the Georgian Suite of 1A East 77th Street. As he walked toward the entrance while talking on his cell phone, a tall black man wearing a bushy beard, scruffy jeans and a ripped gray T-shirt approached him and offered what looked like a joint to the State and Main star. Mr. Baldwin waved his hands and motioned the man away and, once inside, seemed to have shrugged off the incident as he mingled with writer George Plimpton, media mogul Barry Diller, former diplomat Henry Kissinger and literary agent Lynn Nesbit. “That was weird,” said Mr. Baldwin of the incident. And when The Transom asked the actor if the man smelled like he’d been smoking something, Mr. Baldwin said: “I hope that guy was on something, otherwise he was a severely deranged person.”
F**k, Gone Amuck
In a July Salon.com article, artist Ken Courtney-creator of an exclusive line of one-of-a-kind T-shirts that say “I fucked ______” (fill in the blank with Anna Wintour or Gisele or the name of whatever over-hyped celebrity you please)-defined his “art” (i.e., his shirts) as a reflection of what he describes as our society’s tendency to “name-fuck.”
“[N]ame-fucking [is] using this commodity of the celebrity name to buy coolness, or insider status, or whatever,” he said. Included in the article was a list of people whose names were, he felt, potentially fuckable.
Among those names were actress Chloë Sevigny, bizarro artist Matthew Barney and writer J.T. LeRoy.
Mr. LeRoy is the 23-year-old two-time novelist who has attracted attention in recent years because of his roster of celebrity “friends” (Winona, Madonna, Tatum, etc.) and his raw accounts of growing up in and out of foster homes and truck stops. A former heroin-addicted, transvestite child-prostitute, Mr. LeRoy has indeed been fucked by a lot of people.
So it’s to be expected that the reclusive Wunderkind might’ve been offended when someone forwarded him a copy of the Salon article in which he was mentioned. But, in fact, Mr. LeRoy saw the irony and quickly called Mr. Courtney to see if he could get one of the T-shirts for Asia Argento, who is directing and starring in a movie version of Mr. LeRoy’s book The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things .
“I was honored that he included my name in the same sentence as all these other people,” said Mr. LeRoy, speaking from his San Francisco home. The rarely photographed writer has an extremely childlike, effeminate voice and a West Virginian drawl. “I like the lack of sacredness. I mean, the worst thing you can say to someone is ‘fuck you,’ right? And I don’t wanna be anyone’s sacred pedestal toy.” Mr. Courtney had not yet created an “I fucked J.T. LeRoy” shirt, but at the young writer’s request he made one-with white felt letters on a vintage blue sports jersey-and then photographed it and put it on the home page of his Web site, justanotherrichkid.com.
Then last week, the shirt came to the attention of Mr. LeRoy’s fans, roughly 300 of whom correspond with each other and with Mr. LeRoy, through a Yahoo list serve called Terminator (named after the auteur’s “street” moniker). Many of the list’s “Termies” (as they call themselves) are transgendered or homosexual or the victims of child abuse. They were not amused by the garment.
“They’ve formed a real community, and a lot of people in that community are wounded people who find comfort and safeness through the list,” said Nancy Murdock, a 45-year-old Boston-area grammar-school teacher who moonlights as Mr. LeRoy’s assistant. “I think that when they saw the shirts, a lot of them felt like, ‘Who is this person trying to make money off J.T., and bringing up the past in such an in-your-face kind of way?’ They just wanted to protect him. He brings out a maternal instinct in people.”
Deeply peeved and unaware that Mr. LeRoy had sanctioned the shirt, the list serve’s owner, Kai Fisher, a 22-year-old Mount Vernon, Wash., bookstore clerk, pounced. “We’ve had our fair share of stalkers on the list because of, shall we say, our ‘colored sexual orientation,’ if we can call it that. So I’ve always helped J.T. track down these people. Like we’ve had mail bombs to members and J.T.’s account has been hacked,” said Mr. Fisher, who has run the list for three years. “When I saw these shirts, it just didn’t seem right and I just flipped.”
He considered hacking into Mr. Courtney’s site and taking down the photo. But before doing anything so rash, he got Mr. Courtney’s e-mail off his site and wrote an angry note, saying that he “was a longtime friend” of the writer and had a “big problem” with the shirts.
“I wrote him back and said, ‘Hey, if you’re J.T.’s ‘longtime friend,’ why didn’t you check with him first before e-mailing me?’” Mr. Courtney, 31, told The Transom. “And then I’m sitting here later that day and my cell phone rings and there’s this deep, stalker-like voice on the other end, saying like, ‘So what are you going to do about those shirts?’ I felt like I was in a fucking Tarantino movie!”
Mr. Courtney returned fire. “So I was like, ‘Yo!’ I just totally ripped him apart, and told him he was out of line and not to ever fucking call me again and to go talk to J.T.”
Mr. Fisher did check with Mr. LeRoy, then bowed out of the melee. “I kind of felt like a fool,” he said.
But by that point, the list-serve campaign against Mr. Courtney had taken on a life of its own.
Mr. Fisher tried to assuage the group with repeated postings telling them that Mr. LeRoy was behind the shirts, but many Termies seemed to insist on being outraged.
“It is tacky!” wrote one. “Them designers are just a bunch a cowboys without the lasso,” wrote another. A few list-members tried to organize an “e-mail bomb”-that is, getting everyone on the list to bombard Mr. Courtney’s e-mail address with a dozen bogus orders. Even after Mr. Fisher’s repeated explanations that Mr. LeRoy was a friend of Mr. Courtney’s, the fans begged to have their grievances heard. “This is funny. Sort of like, if a tree falls in the woods, does J.T. approve?” wrote one. “[W]e’re all supposed to say what we think and feel-even if it isn’t what the Cherub-in-Charge thinks or feels. J.T.’s got enough sycophantic fawns about. I think he probably appreciates hearing unvarnished responses.”
Discouraged, Mr. Fisher suggested he resign as a list-owner.
But Mr. LeRoy effusively thanked Mr. Fisher for “looking out” for him and eventually tamed the Termies with a posting: “I used ta be a prostitute. The shirts make a joke outta that. Ya know, it’s like those Chinese finger puzzles where you put a finger into each side of a woven tube and, when you try to pull your fingers out, they just get more stuck. You gotta move your fingers deeper into the tube to get unstuck. So, that’s what I’m doing, pushing my fingers in, gettin unstuck and wearing these cool shirts while I do it.”
The Termies backed off, and apologies were exchanged between Mr. Courtney and Mr. Fisher. Mr. Courtney offered to send a T-shirt to the devoted list-serve owner, but Mr. Fisher declined. “I couldn’t wear it here. I’d get attacked,” he said. “I live in a rural county.”
“I think this whole thing is an interesting issue because it has very little to do with me,” Mr. LeRoy told The Transom. “I mean, I run into this a lot, where people say to me, like, ‘Oh, I want to hug you.’ I think there’s this way that some people fetishize me-they read the book and forget that I’m no longer the same person as the person I describe in the book. I’ve had almost 10 years of therapy, you know?”
He and Mr. Courtney are currently collaborating on a design for a special edition of an “I fucked J.T. LeRoy” T-shirt that they are hoping to sell at a reading of Mr. LeRoy’s to be held at the Coral Room on Sept. 13.
“I guess some people feel their role is to protect other people, and I guess if you’re on the street and you’re dealing with drugs and sex, that’s one thing,” said Mr. Courtney, whose line of shirts are available for around $80 at boutiques in Paris and Brooklyn. “If you’re a hustler in the Tenderloin in San Francisco or on the streets of New York maybe. But these are fucking T-shirts.”
-Anna Jane Grossman
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