Hurley-Gurley: Journalistic Party Boy Puts Aside Childish Things, Pens Memoir

Mr. Gurley

At a dim Park Slope bar named for a neighborhood in Paris, George Gurley took a pad of Post-Its out of his breast pocket. In a tiny hand, he had written a to-do list of tasks on the scale of buying paper towels, returning a Netflix disk and exercising. That one was circled.

“Sometimes I do things just to write them down and cross them off,” Mr. Gurley said of the daily ritual.

He crossed off “exercise” with a red felt tip pen.

“It’s very satisfying.”

Satisfaction is not a sentiment one expects from Mr. Gurley, a journalist and writer whose personal columns (published in this paper) were animated by his impertinence, self-loathing, libido and exhibitionism. For more than a decade, these traits fueled all-night journalistic odysseys during which he sought satisfaction in debauched dens like Siberia or Bungalow 8 (whichever one he wasn’t already at).

He played word association with Kate Moss and talked pansexuality with Liv Tyler. He got high with Hunter S. Thompson and was once called Ann Coulter’s handmaiden. He met everyone he ever wanted to, except Ken Kesey and Jerry Garcia.

That version of Mr. Gurley had no business in Brooklyn, let alone Park Slope.

But as of Tuesday, with the publication of his first book, George and Hilly: Anatomy of a Relationship (Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books), Mr. Gurley is practically a statistic: a 43-year-old memoirist living with his fiancée and their cat, Baba, in a one-bedroom in South Slope.

George and Hilly tells the story of Mr. Gurley’s 10-year relationship with Hilly, a luxury goods executive, which previously supplied material for his newspaper column detailing the couple’s therapy sessions. At the same time, it offers up a lovably unconvincing cautionary tale about Manhattan vices such as alcohol, credit cards and ambition.

The river has put a safe distance between Mr. Gurley and the temptations of his former lifestyle. He waits for Hilly to get home all day, emailing high school friends and working on the to-do list. Then they have a drink, watch a documentary and talk to the cat. She goes to bed and he “does what he does,” which only means “drinking all night in the city” once or twice a month these days.

Mr. Gurley has been in Park Slope two and a half years now. “I haven’t made any friends,” he said. He and Hilly know one other couple in the neighborhood, and Mr. Gurley likes one bartender though he can’t remember the name of the bar where she works. Only a half dozen people have been to their apartment.

“We just have to get there before Hilly gets home from work,” Mr. Gurley said, striding up Sixth Avenue. When we hit 16th Street, he called her.

“Hilly, where are you? Are you home? … I’m coming back to the house with a reporter. She’s writing about me because of the book. She’s cool. She really likes the book. Do you need a few minutes? … Hilly?”

“She hung up,” he said, taking out his keys.

Mr. Gurley and Hilly live in a cozy apartment with original moulding and a fine layout that is compromised by the fact that they require separate beds. Mr. Gurley ushered us past Hilly’s bedroom, which is the dining room, and through his bedroom (with the upright pillow for his acid reflux), to the living room, which is where someone else might have put the bedroom.

Hilly was at home, doing dishes, looking like a sorority girl in pj’s and braided pigtails. Mr. Gurley joined her for a loud pow wow in the kitchen, in which Hilly compared our impromptu visit to the scene in Mommy Dearest when Joan Crawford has to pick up Christina from boarding school because she got caught making out with a guy. Christina says that Joan never really wanted children in front of a reporter, and Joan flips out and starts to strangle her.

“O.K., Hilly,” Mr. Gurley said. “Can we laugh?”

“Does Joan Crawford laugh?” she replied.

Born in Kansas City in the revolutionary month of May 1968, Mr. Gurley came by journalism honestly. His father, also named George Gurley, is a columnist for the Lawrence Journal-World and is Little George’s favorite writer besides Tom Wolfe.

When Mr. Gurley fled back to Kansas to focus on the book for two weeks, Mr. Gurley senior read an early draft and advised him to restructure it thematically: a chapter on drinking, a chapter on antidepressants, a chapter on Debtor’s Anonymous.

“It was like grad school,” Mr. Gurley said.

Mr. Gurley’s mother, the Sotheby’s agent Katherine Bryan, divorced his father in the early ’70s, moved to New York and was quickly immersed in Upper East Side society, which meant that Little George got to rub elbows with New York luminaries, including Mr. Wolfe, who was Mr. Gurley’s first big interview, and George Plimpton, whose lawn he mowed.

Mr. Gurley’s first journalism job after college was assistant to the editor in chief of Avenue magazine. His primary duties were to answer the phones and attend parties.

“It was the best first job in the world,” Mr. Gurley said in the back of a cab as flew past the Gowanus Canal. “I lasted six months. I had a bad attitude.”

He later became a freelance fact-checker at a variety of magazines including Allure, House Beautiful and The New Yorker, where he was swiftly phased out for beleaguering the writers, even on Shouts and Murmurs.

“I called up Calvin Trillin and grilled him on every line,” he said. “I would read him back a sentence and he would be like, ‘It’s a joke. Joke. Joke. Joke.’”

At the New Yorker holiday party last month, Mr. Gurley approached Mr. Trillin twice to apologize.

The car let us out at Milano’s on Houston, where we settled into a table within arm’s reach of the jukebox.

“I just went out and talked to drunk people,” he said of his reporting technique. “It’s so easy. You get your script down, the tape recorder gives you authority, it’s a passport.”

Some of the resulting stories: “My Vagina Monologue,” “The Top Ten Sexual Fantasies of Women at the Beatrice Inn” and “Hey! Yeah you! What’s Your Gay Quotient?”

While Mr. Gurley fed the machine singles, we fetched a round of Bud Light and Dewar’s. When we came back he was chatting up a graying guy in a pork pie hat.

“Can you imagine if Buddy Holly had lived through the ’60s and ’70s?” Mr. Gurley was asking him. “He was better than Elvis.”

The two of them closed their eyes and air-guitared side-by-side to Rush for a few seconds, and then Mr. Gurley sat down.

“Who’s that?” we asked.

“No idea.”

Mr. Gurley made a name for himself with a reporting technique he called “giving them the rope to hang themselves with.” He first nailed the genre with “Blueblood Belles,” a vicious profile of six rising socialites Vogue had crowned the junior jet set.

“Jim Windolf ripped the page out and said, ‘Find these girls.’” Mr. Gurley said. “It was April 1997. How lame is it that I know all these dates?”

Permitted to speak at length, this is what the junior jet set sounded like: “In New York, particularly, it’s like blacks almost have the upper hand. … They’re always pointing the finger at us.”

The paper’s editors loved it. Mr. Gurley had been lobbying for a job for years in unorthodox ways, like sending obscene missives, dropping by to take coffee and milkshake orders, answering to “Clown Boy” and sometimes doing a “Clown Dance.” The story secured the gig.

“The girls were mad at me for maybe a few months and then forgot about it,” he said. “I suffered.” (Mr. Gurley has since apologized.)

The story also caused Mr. Gurley’s sponsorship for membership at a country club to evaporate. Exile is something of a leitmotif in Mr. Gurley’s biography. He has been physically ejected from Kenmare, banned from Beatrice Inn, asked firmly to leave Bungalow 8, evicted from an sublet on Central Park West (“destroyed the bathroom”) and a studio on MacDougal street (“minor vandalism”), dismissed from his fraternity pledge class, and kicked off the JV tennis team.

“I’m not bragging,” Mr. Gurley said about the foggy Kenmare incident. “It’s pathetic. I’m not proud of this. I want to get banned from all nightclubs. I have nightclub tunnel vision.”

But airing it out in the therapy column or other first-person pieces was a way of taking a vacation from those hit jobs.

“You have to admit, I laid myself as bare as anyone else I wrote about,” he said.

 

We made our way to the place Mr. Gurley is least likely to get kicked out of in the city: Kitchen, a nondescript galley bar run by Tracy Westmoreland, former owner of the legendary Hell’s Kitchen dive Siberia that was, for a time, Mr. Gurley’s clubhouse.

Siberians call the new bar, one block south of the original, Sanctuary.

In the back room, Mr. Westmoreland, a burly gentleman with wide set eyes and a ponytail, regaled us with what raunchy stories about Mr. Gurley in the Siberia days, except that all of them ended with Mr. Westmoreland doing something to a girl Mr. Gurley had thought hot.

In fact, George and Hilly’s romance may be the purest thing to come out of place. They had their first kiss down the block and, improbably, George told her he wanted to start dating exclusively the same night, back in Siberia. Mr. Westmoreland once let Hilly try bartending when she needed extra money.

“But then one of the guys behind the bar goes to her, ‘What time it is,’” Mr. Westmoreland said, “Not, ‘What time is it?,’ ‘What time it is.’ She looks down at his watch, and he’s got his dick wrapped around his wrist.”

Mr. Gurley entered the room. “You didn’t tell her the story?” he said, looking slightly panicked.

Mr. Westmoreland shook his head.

After a brief lament for Bungalow 8—he was kicked out by Amy Sacco herself for asking Glenn Close about the importance of vagina size (“It was an assignment,” he explained)—Mr. Gurley ended the night at Electric Room.

The space was foreign to him but it was populated by familiar faces.

Mr. Gurley waved at a graying guy in a pork pie hat in front of the booth. Not the guy from Milano’s. This one he knew. “That’s Angelo,” he said, as in Angelo Bianchi, the Electric Room partner who had been the door tyrant at Beatrice Inn.

Beatrice owner Paul Sevigny famously banned Mr. Gurley from the club in 2008 after he wrote “The Definitive Guide to Beatrice Inn” for Fashion Week Daily.

“I defied Paul,” Mr. Gurley said. The ban would be in force until Mr. Gurley showed up in a clown suit, which he did, after about six months of exile.

It was getting late, but we had the sense the party had barely begun at Electric Room. The DJ, Todd Smolar, said Kanye was coming.

We remembered a story Mr. Gurley told us. Over lunch at Gardenia, Peter Kaplan told him to start getting home by one, that he didn’t get anything useful after that.

On our way out, we found Mr. Bianchi inside the bar. He explained, in a slow, deliberate, tone how “unfortunate” it was that Mr. Gurley had to be banned from the Beatrice.

“George Gurley is a special character,” Mr. Bianchi said.

kstoeffel@observer.com

 

Hurley-Gurley: Journalistic Party Boy Puts Aside Childish Things, Pens Memoir