Discover more from Adventures In "Journalism" by Sari Botton
We couldn't have been more mismatched, but we bonded as workaholics.
For years I’ve been telling myself the same story about my relationship with The Paparazzo: that we were a baffling mismatch. I’ve finally figured out what drew us together for six months in 1993, when we were both in our late 20s — what helped us to remain friends:
We were (are) both workaholics.
The Paparazzo was all other kinds of -holic, too, which in those days was still an unconscious, self-destructive attraction for me. It would take me another eight years and a lot of therapy to fully figure it out and kick my addict-habit.
P. and I met inadvertently through mutual friends. It wasn’t any kind of setup. Nobody was setting P. up on blind dates with newly divorced nice, Jewish girls (even though P. was also Jewish), or anyone for that matter. Tall, handsome P. didn’t need any help meeting women. He was constantly out at The Tunnel, Limelight, Nell’s, and other Manhattan nightclubs, trawling for celebrity photo-ops he could turn into credits the next day on Page Six, Rush & Molloy, or in People, US Magazine and other gossip rags, and trawling for pretty women.
At the end of each night, after dropping off canisters of spent 35mm film at his stock agency, he’d go home with someone — a club kid, a model, a stripper. Anyone. Women were all around him all the time. Photos of them littered his scabies-infested Alphabet City studio. (Cue the strangely bonding visit together to a dermatologist named Dr. Demento.)
I was recovering from a breakup with another beautiful mess, another alcoholic, when I went along for a ride with my friend A., who needed to first make a quick stop at P.’s studio. Afterward, A. and his wife watched, dumbfounded, as P. and I — outwardly the most unlikely of their friends to hook up — struck up a relationship.
When we started dating, P. was in the early stages of what would turn out to be a brief sober phase. He seemed to view me — non-drinking, nerdy, prudish, hard-working — as a wholesome component of his new self-improvement regimen. It was short-lived. It was a disaster.
But. P. was a freelance hustler, and so was I. He helped me take my hustle to another level.
An other thing P. and I had in common: we were both divorce kids who’d had to fend for ourselves through our parents’ hard times, in families where step- or half-siblings had infinitely more money. (His much younger half-brother would go on to become wildly famous.) We’d both put ourselves through college, juggling various jobs while going to school. It prepared us each for a lifetime of job-juggling.
When we met, I was busy trying to lift myself out of the trade publication rut I felt stuck in. By day, I worked the decorative pillows, luxury linens, and personal alarms beats for Home Furnishings Network. By night, I was a freelancing beast, simultaneously trying to re-establish myself in the arts journalism I’d gotten a taste of as an intern at New York Newsday, and to get some traction as a personal essayist.
At my prior boyfriend’s band’s gigs I’d met editors from Billboard, Creem, and Rolling Stone who were now giving me assignments. I’d conduct phone interviews during my lunch hour, then write the articles in the evenings at home, when I returned from work at HFN. I’d file them with the magazines via 14.4kbps dial-up modem, typing “ATDT” and other codes.
I worked incessantly. I was desperate to move myself to another place career-wise, but also I was sad and lonely, and non-stop work and non-committal men proved to be effective distractions from all that.
P. was kind of the perfect combo platter, a non-committal non-stop worker in an arts journalism-adjacent field.
Our “dates” coincided with work. After a quick bite, P. would take me along to nightclubs, or to stalk celebrities in places where he’d gotten tips they could be found. We once spent several hours sitting on a stoop across from Nell’s on a tip that a major celebrity might show up. We gave up around 3am and went back to P.’s place. Then his beeper went off. He jumped on his skateboard, cruising across 14th Street to get the shot.
Walking down the aisle with my suburban Jewish salesman husband in June of 1989, I could not have predicted that a few years later I’d find myself out at all hours many nights, observing famous people and their hangers-on partying to excess — drinking, dancing, snorting things, hooking up in the shadows. I was both repulsed and riveted. I’ve never truly felt I belonged anywhere, but in the nightlife scene, that was even more pronounced. It provided a kind of thrill I hadn’t experienced before.
Early on, P. suggested I bring along a reporter’s notebook. “Take notes,” he said. “Maybe get some quotes to go with my photos.”
This presented a new kind of challenge for me. I was awkward, shy, self-conscious. But I recognized this as an opportunity. I had to get over myself and take it. And I did.
Suddenly I was wearing yet another hat. In addition to being a trade reporter, arts journalist, and aspiring essayist, I was now also a gossip reporter — a job I’d long looked down on.
P. and I packaged his photos and my reporting together and sold them to various outlets, including the Eye Page at WWD and W, the publications headquartered at the opposite end of the Fairchild newsroom on 34th Street — the publications I would eventually wend my way over to in the years to come, and where I’d eventually (long after we broke up) help P. land a full-time job.
But first I’d turn nightlife into my beat for the New York Times City section. My first piece, on the House of Blues’ failed attempt to move into a former bank in Union Square, would appear in March, 1995.
I’m only now realizing how much of a role my brief relationship — and longstanding friendship — with P. had in helping me break into the New York Times, and otherwise transform my career.
All these years later, I am still a workaholic, juggling several jobs and career angles at once. I work days, nights, early morning, weekends. I am the dumb schmuck who consistently does about 50% more work than I’m contracted for. (Fortunately I’m married to someone who spends his non-job hours doggedly working on his creative pursuits. Often we work side-by-side, at home.) I believe it’s one part a matter of necessity in the gig economy; one part my personality; one part a distraction from painful feelings, which seems to be a standard M.O. for me.
I’m working on it, okay?