This Side of Grub Street


. . . in the late 20th century.

Readers wanted to know all about their celebrities, or at least about my encounters with them. From A-listers and B-listers right down to Z-listers. The whole stupid alphabet top to bottom. Names to be forgotten one day.* They needed the publicity and I needed the job. I wasn’t a star fucker—I’ll say that, having come from the newsroom with no more interest in celebrities than any routine reporter. I was a stand-in for star fuckers.​ One night I was talking to Paul Simon. It was nearly midnight. We sank into one of the two sofas planted cozily in the middle of his vast livingroom. It had a sweeping view of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline. A wide staircase led to the upper recesses of an apartment as large as a mansion. Behind us was a concert grand piano and a floor-to-ceiling Helen Frankenthaler stain painting. As we spoke, he noodled on a guitar. Noticing my roving eye, he pointed out a tiny drawing hanging inconspicuously on a wall panel. It was a Rembrandt. I had missed that. He was proud of it, pround to own it. When I asked him about it, he didn’t reply at first. Then he said, “Television will make you famous. Movies will make you glamorous. Rock’n’roll will make you rich.” He cocked his head and looked at me with a certain amusement, and I asked myself what I was doing on Grub Street.

Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Dolly Parton, Dustin Hoffman, Shirley MacLaine, Charlton Heston, Jessica Lange, Gregory Peck, Andy Warhol, Daryl Hannah, Will Ferrell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rod Steiger, David Mamet, Dan Ackroyd, Gary Marshall, Jerry Lewis, Bob Fosse, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Liberace for crissake.


It wasn’t all show biz thank god.
Stories that led off like these earned me a living.



Awaiting his arraignment for larceny at the Manhattan Detention Center, better known as the Tombs, John Homer stared at the ceiling. “I shoulda never went two hundred. I go a hundred and the dad gets on his plane and flies back to Chicago.” Homer’s lantern-jawed face had the ashen pallor of a junk-sick junkie. At 27, he looked as used up as the stepped-on cigarette butts that had collected beneath his shoe. “Now I’m facing a year back on Rikers.” He was right about the year, wrong about Chicago. The victim came from Minneapolis.


At his glass-walled mansion on a California mountain top, the perpetual bad boy of Borland International was having trouble being good. His corporate advisers had counseled him to sanitize his style. They wanted him to adopt the manner of a pinstriped executive. He should not only stop shooting off his mouth, he should be punctual and quit wearing those loud Hawaiian shirts. So here it was almost midnight and his dinner guests were still waiting for him. Nobody was surprised. Philippe Kahn had not become an overnight millionaire [today a billionaire] by being punctual. When he did arrive, explaining without apology that he had spent the evening polishing his tennis game, he began regaling everyone with anecdotes that would have made his corporate advisers cringe.


Sexy is when you stroke a women with a feather. Kinky is when you rub her with the whole chicken. In a year’s worth of testimony from hundreds of witnesses, the U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography never heard a more entertaining definition than that one by a Miami vice cop. And it’s not as if the all-white, middle-aged commissioners mandated to stop the spread of dirty pictures didn’t get to hear an awful lot of colorful testimony.


Hannah, a first-year med student at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, leads a double life. She studies by day and turns tricks by night. Tall, raven-haired, and stylish, she has worked for the past eight months in a middle-class brothel on the Upper West Side where she earns $1,000 a week on average for three shifts a week. Straight sex with Hannah costs $150 an hour, or $80 per half-hour. Extras, like spanking, “Greek,” or “Around the World,” cost an additional $30.  It helps pay her tuition.


When Alberto Sicilia-Falcon was arrested in the bedroom of his Mexico City apartment, he reached for his checkbook on the night table, tore off a check and wrote in six zeros. Then he handed it to the Mexican police commander and said: “Put any number you like in front of the zeros and get the hell out of here.” Falcon, an international drug trafficker, could well afford the bribe. Among the various bankbooks stashed in his Tijuana fortress, just two of them from a single Zurich bank held $266 million. His top security man, a professional assassin who had learned his trade in the CIA’s Phoenix Program, claimed that Falcon’s payroll of bribed officials came to $16 million a year. . . .


The emergency room of New York’s Presbyterian Hospital was in a state of controlled chaos. Gurneys lined the walls with patients. Some were moaning in hoarse whispers that broke like waves of despair over waiting relatives. Others simply lay alone in dazed silence. Cops and ambulance drivers came and went, fortified by coffee. Sirens wailed in the distance. At the nerve center of the turmoil, a dozen hospital staffers manned the phones and hunched over their computers ordering lab tests and drugs. In an adjacent waiting room Tom Cruise and Kelly McGillis were playing a “Top Gun” love scene on a small television hanging from a corner of the ceiling. It drew as little attention as the  “Patients’ Bill of Rights” posted on the wall. “Welcome to the zoo,” the chief resident physician on duty muttered to no one in particular as he strode past two security guards. . . .


History’s shorthand invariably distorts. “The Rolling Stone generation,” which sounds like a circulation director’s pious hope, came to signify a decade. Jann Wenner should have been pleased. No editor’s rise to power stirred so much trendy gossip as Wenner’s. His success was stunning precisely because it was so unlikely, swift, and complete. And nothing in Robert Sam Anson’s Gone Crazy and Back Again: The Rise and Fall of the Rolling Stone Generation diminished that mythic standing—not even scores of unflattering details. They served to burnish the image. “You’ve probably heard that I’m a cheat and a liar and a lot of other things,” Wenner is quoted as saying. “Well, the truth is, I’m really not very nice. It only adds to the blackness of my mystique.” . . .


This Side of Grub Street

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