We couldn't have been more mismatched, but we bonded as workaholics.
This is a piece I originally published four years ago, in January 2020—back when this newsletter was maybe six months old, and I had something like 100 subscribers. I’m reprinting it now for what’s grown to an audience of nearly 2K of you (with a bit of re-editing) because on Monday I posted an essay by iconic NYC nightlife writer Michael Musto, prompting people to ask how I knew him. The answer is, I’ve known Musto since the early 90s, during a period in my career in which I worked as a gossip writer—in part to claw my way out of the trenches of trade magazine writing, where I’d been stuck since the late 80s.
If you know me personally, or even professionally, you will likely find it strange that I worked in celebrity gossip. Even I find it funny. I’m like, the tender-personal-essays-and-memoir lady, and also the giving-voice-to-old-people lady. What the hell was I doing trawling The Tunnel and Limelight at 2am for instances of A-, B-, and C-list celebrities misbehaving?? It felt surreal while I was doing it, too. But it was also kind of an adventure…in *journalism*!
So, yeah, I did my fair share of gossip writing, for WWD and W, and the New York Daily News, where I often did stints on the Rush & Molloy column. And for a time, when Joanna and George were on vacation, I filled in with three other women, writing our own gossip column called “The 411.” I wish I could find the banner from that column, with the four of us in “serious” poses with our arms crossed. It’s hilarious. Maybe it’s in the garage...but it’s too cold right now to go out there.
Anyway, with no further ado… -Sari
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 that 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 and handsome, P. didn’t need any help meeting women. He was constantly out at The Tunnel, Limelight, Coffee Shop, 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 active alcoholic uninterested in getting well, 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.
Another 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 multiple-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 with the kind of 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, after I returned from work at Home Furnishings Network. 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 Prince 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.
Four years prior, 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, and self-conscious. But I recognized this as an opportunity. I had to get over myself and take the chance. And I did.
Suddenly I was wearing yet another hat. In addition to being a trade reporter, freelance 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 (RIP). 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 six-month 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 still work too much, juggling three newsletters, a bit of teaching, and some writing of my own that could use more attention, if I’d only streamline everything else.
Wheninterviewed me recently about intentions and resolutions for her newsletter, I said I needed to learn to say NO more—not only to people asking things of me, but to myself, when I find I’m knee-jerk grasping every single opportunity that’s put in front of me. I’m trying to learn that sometimes saying no to something is saying yes to me, and my larger goals. I need to get on board with this soon, because I am burning myself out. (I’ve been describing myself as feeling “burned out” since roughly 2017. 😂)
I partly blame the gig economy, and capitalism, and the tenuous field(s) I work in. I also partly blame my fairly precarious upbringing. I grew up adjacent to people with family money, but in a family with very little of our own. I’ve also always felt like an outsider in my field(s), not having been able to afford to attend a great college (I paid my way, often working as many as three jobs) and the connections that come with that. So, no matter how much I achieve, no matter how many great clips I accrue, I never feel as if I’ve arrived, or am good enough.
To be honest, I’m probably also avoiding some stuff by never giving myself a break. I do have a taste for the old work-ahol. I should probably take a look at that.