Countdown to Bliss

Bill Hoffmann and Sandra Peterson

Met: Aug. 19, 2002

Engaged: Jan. 16, 2002

Projected Wedding Date: Summer 2003

Bill Hoffmann, the author of the New York Post ‘s “Weird But True” column and a 24-year veteran of the daily, has his own strange yarn to share: After a whirlwind courtship, the 48-year-old Mr. Hoffmann is marrying Sandra Peterson, 25, a fair-skinned reporter for Australia’s Sunday Times . The location has yet to be decided. (She’ll pick out a diamond ring when she moves into his Greenwich Village one-bedroom this summer.)

Both papers are owned by Rupert Murdoch, and the relationship bloomed at the Post ‘s apparently wanton Sixth Avenue headquarters when Ms. Peterson was visiting on a two-week exchange program. “It’s a very sexy environment,” Mr. Hoffmann said. “It’s easy to fall into bed with people there.” With his deep-set eyes and expressive brows, this self-declared “tabloid grunt” apparently had something of a reputation in the newsroom: There was a five-year romance with a Post editorial assistant in the mid-90’s, followed by a lot of “serial first dates.” Just call him the working man’s Rick Marin.

He was vacationing at his cottage in Ballydehob, in the southwest of Ireland, when Ms. Peterson arrived and set up shop next to his empty desk. “There were all these photos of him next to all these different women,” she said groggily by phone from Perth. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this must be the biggest womanizer in town!'”

After a week, Mr. Hoffmann returned. “There was this petite, crazed, snarling, sexy little Aussie girl,” he said. “She was sassy-sounding, with long dark hair, and I said, ‘Hello, hey, how are ya, honey?’ Sort of like that.”

Ms. Peterson’s weak Australian dollars were going fast, so when Mr. Hoffmann asked her out to dinner, she felt she couldn’t refuse. “I wouldn’t have gone out with him if I hadn’t been so hungry ,” she said. “I felt like a famine victim.”

They shared a pie at Arturo’s Pizzeria on West Houston Street, then canoodled at 55 Bar, a dive on Christopher Street. “I felt such a connection with him,” Ms. Peterson said. “She had my number,” Mr. Hoffmann said.

After she returned Down Under, the affair continued via e-mails and phone calls twice a day. She asked him to visit. “My guy friends were saying, ‘Are you kidding? What are you going to do, turn her over and burp her?'” Mr. Hoffmann said. Then Page Six’s Paula Froelich and column alumna Jeane MacIntosh swooped in. “They said, ‘What, are you out of your mind? Are you an old man? This girl seems like she really digs you, Hoffmann! You only live once! Go, go!'”

During their two weeks together in Australia, the couple took the proverbial long walks on the beach, regaling each other with their respective continents’ best flatulence jokes. “We both love foul toilet humor,” Mr. Hoffmann said. Over dinner on his last night, Ms. Peterson suddenly burst into tears, announcing that she would gladly people the earth with his progeny. This prompted an impulsive proposal from Mr. Hoffmann.

“I melted,” he said. “I should have just passed out right then, knowing how the old Hoffmann was. The old Hoffmann would have been like Road Runner-he’d have torn off! ‘See ya, honey!’ The old Hoffmann was a roguish scoundrel. But the new Hoffmann”-improved by a year of therapy-“said, ‘ Yeee-ah ! Wow!’ I realized I just had to let go and live my life.”

Aliza Phillips and Ira Stoll

Met: May 1999

Engaged: March 9, 2003

Projected Wedding Date: December 2003

Ira Stoll, managing editor of the weekday broadsheet The New York Sun , is engaged to Aliza Phillips, features editor of the Jewish weekly The Forward . Mr. Stoll, 30, has long lived a life spent tracking the movements of The New York Times . In 2000, before helping found The Sun , which competes in the same market as the mammoth daily, he started SmarterTimes.com, a Web site devoted to critiquing and correcting The New York Times . Funnily enough, the day he decided to slip a delicate round diamond set in white gold on his girlfriend’s ring finger at Ellis Island turned out to be the same day that Manhattan’s most prominent media figures were gathered in midtown, lavishly toasting the second marriage of Times executive editor Howell Raines. “Ira is always afraid of getting scooped by The Times ,” Ms. Phillips said wryly. “He felt scooped on both engagement and marriage.”

She wasn’t long out of Cornell when she accepted a job as his assistant at The Forward , where Mr. Stoll-one of those doggedly fast-track Harvard Crimson types-had already zoomed to the position of managing editor. “My previous assistants hadn’t really worked out,” he said. But this one? “I was top-notch, if I do say so myself,” said Ms. Phillips, 27, a brunette with thick, black-rimmed, oval glasses and pouty lips. Mr. Stoll pronounced her “terrific … organized, upbeat, intelligent.” She thought her olive-skinned, dark-haired, slender boss was “cute.” And talented. “I liked the way he types,” she said. “He rolls up his sleeves. He has nice hands …. I had my eye on him. I always thought there was some tension. But Ira is more professional than I am, a little more decorous. I think he, you know, definitely wanted to keep the boundaries.”

After Mr. Stoll split The Forward to work for The Jerusalem Post in May of 2000, however, those “boundaries” rapidly got fuzzier than the demarcation line of the West Bank. The pair first made out during a viewing of Meet the Parents at a theater on the Upper West Side, alternating smooches with cackles (they have identical laughs, which remind one of mating barking seals). “We just have a lot of fun together,” Mr. Stoll said, flashing one of his easy, unabashed smiles. “She’s a very good listener.”

“As a boss, he’s exacting and demanding, but as a boyfriend, he’s incredibly understanding and sweet and compassionate,” said Ms. Phillips, adding, “I never feel like his assistant any more.” She lives in a studio on the Upper West Side but will soon move into his Brooklyn Heights one-bedroom, where Mr. Stoll enjoys baking kosher chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies-a variation on the “reparations” recipe that Hillary Clinton released during the 1992 campaign-and trawling The Times for errors.

But work for rival publications has forced them to keep some secrets from each other-perhaps an essential skill for urban marrieds. “I don’t tell him what’s going to be in The Forward the next week, and he doesn’t tell me about some hot scoop he’s working on in The Sun ,” Ms. Phillips said, apparently without irony.

They’re collaborating closely on a Conservative Jewish wedding to be held either in Massachusetts, where they both grew up, or in Manhattan. They’re planning to precede the ceremony with a bedeken , a tradition that involves a lot of table-pounding by the men, leading up to the moment when, as a reminder of the biblical story of Jacob marrying the wrong sister, Mr. Stoll will approach his enthroned bride and lift her veil, praying he’s not suddenly going to be looking at Maureen Dowd.

Rebecca Lobo and Steve Rushin

Met: May 2001

Engaged: Sept. 22, 2002

Projected Wedding Date: April 12, 2003

In 2000, Sports Illustrated “Air and Space” columnist Steve Rushin began a story this way: “Much like Wilt Chamberlain, last night I slept with 6,800 women: I was at a WNBA game.” Rebecca Lobo, the square-jawed, brown-eyed star forward of the New York Liberty team and an Olympic medalist, read those words and understandably took umbrage. When she met Mr. Rushin through another SI writer at Dublin House, the grungy 79th Street pub, she asked if he was the “jerk” who had written some joke about the WNBA being boring to watch. “And then she asked me how many WNBA games I’d actually seen,” he said sheepishly. “And I said, ‘None.’ She just shook her head …. I felt alternately ashamed and flattered that she’d seen my stuff.”

However, Mr. Rushin had one thing going for him: He’s 6-foot-5. Ms. Lobo, who has since been traded to the Connecticut Sun, is 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds-a bit more than most Manhattan men can handle. “I never really dated a lot, by any stretch of the imagination,” she said. “I’d only had one other boyfriend, and he was a shorter guy.” So when she heard the journalist was planning to visit his hometown of Minneapolis, she invited him to an “away” game. And, well, her dribbling left him dumbfounded. “I thought, ‘She could kill me!'” he said.

Dining together later, Mr. Rushin limply brought up a couple of big free throws he had scored back in high school. “After a 10-second pause, she just burst out laughing,” he said. “That was the last time I ever mentioned anything about my basketball career.”

Fortunately, they had other things in common. “We like to go for a long run outside, but at night neither of us wants to go out to the club and get our groove on,” said Ms. Lobo, 29. “We stay home”-either her house in Hartford, Conn., or his Upper West Side pied-à-terre -“and play Scrabble and do crosswords. He makes me laugh all the time, and that’s incredibly important.”

“We’re both nerds,” said Mr. Rushin, 36, who has a high forehead and a cleft in his chin large enough to play basketball in. “She’s definitely ‘the one’-I don’t know how else to put it. She’s smarter and funnier than most professional athletes. They’re mostly knuckleheads.”

He bought her a brilliant round diamond solitaire in platinum from Tiffany (running into Mike Tyson as he emerged), and proposed shortly afterward on Central Park’s verdant Sheep Meadow. “I looked like I was about to give CPR,” he said, “because she was lying down and I was on my knees.” “I’d just bought an $8 pair of blue-tinted sunglasses on the street,” Ms. Lobo said. “I started crying, but he couldn’t see my reaction.”

Later that afternoon, the pair hopped a plane for London, where he was covering the Ryder Cup Golf Tournament, and went for a celebratory jog in Hyde Park.

The wedding will be on a court at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., sans any gimmicky bouquet-basket toss or newlywed one-on-one, thank you very much. Miss Lobo will wear low heels and an ivory gown … extra-long.

Countdown to Bliss