Puffy Combs’ trial on gun possession and bribery charges hasn’t
only put a dent in his
routine-described by his retainers, both past and present as a magic-carpet
ride of limousines, Lincoln Navigator pursuit vehicles, helicopters and almost
POTUS-like advance work for the rap mogul’s arrival. The case has also scrambled
Before the proceedings (now threatening to meander into
mid-March) started, and on days I didn’t have to walk my daughters to school, I
could hang out in bed until 8, 8:30, sometimes not getting to the office,
located in the building where I live, until 10 or 10:30. I frankly can’t
remember the last time I took the subway at rush hour.
All that has changed.
I’ve been forced to become a working stiff, rising at the crack of dawn and
clawing my way onto the downtown Lexington Avenue express to make certain I get
a seat at the trial (forget about one on the subway)-which, judging by the
armada of microphones and TV cameras awaiting Puffy’s arrival each morning in
front of 111 Centre Street and the number of reporters elbowing each other in
the press section, is becoming an increasingly hot ticket. As I write this,
word is that Jennifer Lopez won’t be testifying on Puffy’s behalf-which is both
a disappointment and a relief.
A disappointment because one would like to take the star’s
measure in person (her lawyer, Louis Aidala, who attends court each day sitting
in the front row next to the sketch artists, told me confidentially that while
he didn’t know what his client would wear were she asked to testify, it would
probably be determined by the weather), but also a relief because God only
knows the jostling and ugliness that would ensue for the limited number of
Thus far, the media has been limited to the Associated
Press, the local newspapers, TV and all-news radio stations, plus a smattering
of reporters for Court TV, MTV, etc. The only journalist of national stature
who’s shown up on a fairly regular basis is ABC’s John Miller, who dresses
better than anybody on either side of the railing, with the possible exception
of Johnnie Cochran, who seems not to have worn the same suit twice.
But one can easily imagine the celebrity journalists who
would demand admittance were J. Lo to mount the witness stand, place her pretty
hand on the Bible and swear to tell the whole truth. Brokaw, Jennings, Rather,
Blitzer and Geraldo for starters would need to be there. Room would also have
to be made for the analysts and historians-Stephanopoulos, Gergen, Shields,
Russert, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Mike Bechloss-who just might be able to
explain why the trial, despite the strenuous efforts of those of us in daily
attendance, hasn’t more fully engaged the public’s imagination. Hell, Dominick
Dunne hasn’t even shown up once!
Maybe it’s because Puffy’s brooding countenance-unlike, say,
O.J.’s or Bill Clinton’s-doesn’t have the same narcotic, all-is-forgiven,
lovable-rogue effect on the general public (though he can muster a winning
smile for his supporters and kids seeking autographs).
In the face of the big boys, I doubt it would do any good if
I argued that I deserved a place simply by virtue of the fact that I have a
near-perfect attendance record. The court officers-and one of them in
particular, a barrel-chested gentleman possessed of Colin Powell’s posture but
none of the former four-star general’s sense of humor-patrol the aisles and
brook no disobedience, ordering us to put away the newspapers that inevitably
pop up during lulls in the action, and bouncing us from the courtroom for any
Just such an incident
arose on a recent afternoon. Judge Charles Solomon-who, had the trial been
televised, would probably already have book offers and a lecture agent, so
deftly does he keep the proceedings moving along, and so unmoved does he appear
by both the prosecution’s petulance and the defense’s star power (and make no
mistake about it, Mr. Cochran’s ability to charm borders on the
supernatural)-frequently reminds everyone to turn off their cell phones.
But one day, John
Miller’s producer forgot. Its ring drew a discouraged glance from the bench,
and a moment later that no-nonsense court officer was standing at the head of
our aisle, motioning the malefactor to follow him from the courtroom. I felt
for her, flashing back to first grade, when misconduct was punished by a visit
to the headmaster’s office, a fellow one wanted to avoid at all costs-at least
until after lunch at his club when, under the therapeutic power of his favorite
beverages, his mood mellowed considerably.
In this instance, the young lady was allowed to return to
court, though her cell phone was confiscated.
Perhaps the most dramatic effect the trial has had on my
lifestyle has been to make me, once again and after many years in hiding, a
member of a professional community .
The last time I reported to an office with co-workers was during the 1980’s.
Since then I’ve labored alone, either working out of my apartment or, now, in
lonely isolation, my office facing a brick wall reminiscent of the yard in Van
Gogh’s Prisoners Exercising .
To say I have little contact with the outside world wouldn’t
be an overstatement. The most exciting thing that happened lately was the
unexpected visit of a pigeon. He fluttered down from the heavens, helped
himself to some birdseed I’d tossed outside the window months earlier in the
lost hope of attracting the occasional member of his species, and then startled
me by perching on the sill of my open window and threatening to join me.
I’d recently received some blood work that had concerned my
doctor, and even though it turned out to be nothing, so starved was I for company
and disoriented by the pigeon’s arrival that I began to wonder whether he might
be some sort of harbinger, come either to offer me reassurance or to tell me to
get my will in order.
So it’s been something of a switch to get up each morning,
join the multitudes heading downtown, and then take my place in the line of
coffee-guzzling reporters and spectators waiting to gain admission to the
While my social skills remain rusty and I still prefer to
lunch alone, I did dine once with a fellow
journalist I’d known previously, though the deli we picked didn’t lend
itself to bonding. And, on another occasion, I escorted a reporter for a cup of
morning coffee during one of the trial’s frequent breaks, without incident.
However, I apparently made something of a faux pas-and
probably exhausted whatever limited respect I’d accrued among my
colleagues-when, during another break in the action after an especially tedious
stretch of testimony, I asked one of the defense lawyers what he did on such
occasions to keep his mind occupied.
He started to answer, and I started to take notes. But
another reporter standing with us-one of the courthouse regulars-reminded me
that there was a gag order in place and reprimanded me rather severely. I guess
I’ve still got a ways to go before I fit in.