For as long as I can remember, I wanted to work at Celebrity Magazine. There were other magazines, obviously—anemic things, catalogs with incidental copy—but if you were interested in real stories, about real people, then you needed to be at the magazine that Newman and Redford built.
That’s the spiel I gave all our new hires, and for the most part, I believed it. True, we hadn’t had the best summer. Our publisher, Robert De Niro, left the magazine in July, and by August, news had broken that he was starting a competing mag with his old pal Marty Scorsese. Newman and Redford played it off—“business is business”—but that’s when I started to detect a faraway look in their eyes, a look that said they’d rather be in Bolivia, smoking a giant fatty in some three-story hacienda. But that fall, the magazine was still a great place to work. Circulation was steady. Ad sales were up. The thin and earnest news pamphlet they’d started years ago had grown into a substantial glossy, almost thick as the phonebook. When you tossed the magazine on your desk, it landed with a thunk. Sometimes Newman did just that, for no reason but to hear the sound.
“You’ll have my copy tomorrow at noon, Drew,” said Vince Vaughn, as he rushed past me, toward the break room coffee pot. “You have my word.”
“And if I don’t get your story,” I said, slipping him a sideways grin, “I’ll have your balls.”
My name is Drew Barrymore, and I came to the magazine almost a decade ago, as a reporter. Since then I’ve traded in my notebook and mini-cassette recorder for a corner office and a higher spot on the masthead. I used to leave this place after midnight sometimes, just trying to make deadline. Now I wear heels instead of hoodies, and check page proofs for serial commas.
That morning—if you could call 11:30 a.m. morning, which most of us did—I was giving an office tour to a potential new intern named Lindsay, another bright-eyed beauty with cover-story dreams. “There are other magazines,” I told her, “but they’re anemic things, catalogs with incidental copy.” Like most of our interns, Lindsay came to us with a clip book of high-school puffery and a lot of fawning nonsense about wanting to learn from pros. Frankly, she struck me as a mallrat with a visible thong. But Newman saw potential. And no one argued with Newman.
I turned back to Lindsay. “If you want—”
“Was that Vince Vaughn?” she hissed. “I love him!”
Vince reappeared, almost immediately. Among his many talents—for spinning a few phone calls into a cover story, for turning in every piece at least three days late—was a bloodhound’s nose for groupies. “I like this girl, Drew,” he said, grabbing a seat. “She’s got taste.”
Vince was our golden boy, a three-time winner for Best Reporter, although he was as fabled for his epic drinking as he was for his hard-hitting stories. There was a joke that you could tell Vince’s age by counting the rings beneath his eyes. More accurately, you could count the number of last night’s tequila shots. By the looks of him that morning, I’d have said seven.
“I must be the hundred-millionth person to tell you this,” Lindsay said, twirling an auburn lock around her manicured finger. “But that piece on the corrupt police chief? Wow!”
Vince raised his eyebrows twice. “A real kneecapper, huh?”
I cleared my throat. “I think Mr. Vaughn has a deadline to meet.” Actually, Vince’s copy wasn’t due the next day at noon. It was due the next Monday at noon. But his lateness was so chronic we bumped every deadline by at least three days. “Get that story in, or face the consequences.” I twisted my hand and made a ripping noise.
Vince whispered to Lindsay, behind one hand: “She’s always such a flirt.”
“Buenos dias, amigos.” Matthew McConaughey stumbled into the break room wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a cowboy hat. “Mateo needs some grub.”
McConaughey’s tongue bulged lewdly underneath his bottom lip, as if he were sucking on chaw. On second thought, maybe he was sucking on chaw. As our resident sports writer, McConaughey was no great shakes, prone to pointless tangents about the price of hot dogs and the significance of goatees. But the readers loved him. The coaches and players loved him. Women loved him. I wasn’t sure how he did it. Some combination of choirboy smile, Texan flattery, half-amusing anecdotes, and dick-swinging dudeness had coalesced into a minor sports columnist career, with a major Lothario sideline.
“And who is this lovely senorita?” McConaughey’s eyes ran all over Lindsay.
“This is our new intern,” said Vince.
Lindsay blushed. “I haven’t been hired yet.”
“Don’t worry, I know the management.” McConaughey’s tongue bulged lewdly underneath his bottom lip, as if he were sucking on chaw. On second thought, maybe he was sucking on chaw.
“Gentlemen, excuse us.” I ushered Lindsay to my office and closed the door. “You’ll have to forgive them,” I said, dropping into my new Office Depot chair so that it emitted a little poof. “The boys preen like high school football players when there’s a new face around.”
I shuffled some papers on my desk and prepared to return to my script: the part about the writing opportunities she might enjoy between filing papers and fact-checking, the part about how we could pay her more in experience than we could in dollars. And, of course, there was the abstention policy for interns (nicknamed “the Tara Reid Clause”), enacted after a drunken office party during which the policy’s namesake and McConaughey were caught in the copy room playing each other’s bongos. After all that, I’d take Lindsay to meet the Big Guys, say a few words, handshakes all around. If she was hired, I’d give her a parking pass. If she wasn’t, I’d toss her a free keychain.
“I feel like I’ve known you guys all my life,” Lindsay said, sitting on my couch so that her knees splayed open. “I mean, Vince Vaughn! He’s, like, the best reporter around. And Parker Posey, and Antonio Banderas, and Heath Ledger? And, you know, my grandmother is practically in love with Mickey Rooney. Cause, like, she has a lot of cats.”
I nodded. “For as long as I can remember, the magazine has been the only place I wanted to work,” I said this and, embarrassingly, realized I already had.
“Here’s what I can’t figure,” she said. “Why did you stop writing?”
It was something I had never been able to explain, and I wasn’t about to start. It had happened quick, a blistering rash of anxiety and fear. Suddenly, I hated knocking on doors. I sat for hours with a phone in my hand, building the confidence to cold-call. I hated going after people, rooting around for the nearest vein. “Blood is an acquired taste, like Scotch,” I wrote in my resignation letter. “And I am a beer-and-wine girl.” Newman tore up that letter in favor of a new contract, which came with a raise and a view of the skyline.
“You were, like, my favorite writer when I was a kid,” Lindsay babbled on. “I practically grew up reading your stuff.”
I checked my BlackBerry. There was a new message from KNIGHTLEY_85: “did you hear vince broke up with what’s-her-name?”
“I’ll have to cut our meeting short,” I said to Lindsay, opening the office door. “On your way out, why don’t you grab a free keychain?”
Keira Knightley was our copy editor, and one of my best friends at the magazine. “It’s all the jib-jab in Advertising,” she said, setting her dainty lunch bag on my desk. “He dumped her over the weekend.”
Months ago, Vince appeared at our staff softball game with a mysterious divorcee. She was corporate cute, fussy layered hair and waxy tan legs. I thought she was eh; the male members of the outfield were agog. The funny thing was how secretive Vince was about the whole thing—wouldn’t talk about where he met her, didn’t introduce her, nothing. The more the staff ribbed him about it, the more his motormouth went on lockdown.
“You can’t trust Advertising,’ I said, plunging a fork into my Cobb salad. “They’re the ones who said Rooney peed in the bushes at the Christmas party.”
“I believe that,” Keira said. “You don’t?” She assembled a few apple slices and a handful of Triscuits on a plate. She was quite a contrast to her predecessor on the copy desk, Kate Winslet, a lusty goddess who could sniff down a bacon double cheeseburger in two bites. (God, I missed that woman.) But you couldn’t hate Keira—especially when she already hated herself so much. The one time she missed a typo on the cover, she practically slit her wrists with the Chicago Manual of Style. “Anyway, I know you hate when I talk about this,” Keira continued, her eyes glistening with tears, “but I think Mateo’s dating the secretary again.”
Last May, an after-work happy hour had turned into Keira and McConaughey smashmouthed in the backseat of a taxi. He hadn’t spoken to her since.
“Bob, who reads our magazine?” asked Newman. “To be specific, who doesn’t read our magazine?” “He’s not worth all this,” I said, and passed her the Kleenex. “And please don’t call him Mateo.”
There was an awkward silence as Keira picked up a translucent slice of apple with her long, bony fingers, considered it, and set it back down on the plate. “You know, I can hear every conversation he has from my cubicle.”
I didn’t mention the headphones I’d bought her, or the offer to move her desk across the building. “I know,” I said.
She sniffed. “Enough about Mateo—I mean, Matthew. Let’s gossip about Vince.”
“Ugh, let’s not.”
She swiped a knuckle underneath wet raccoon eyes. “Is something wrong?”
Where to start? A glob of ranch dressing landed on my right breast, and I dabbed at it with a napkin. “I was just thinking about this girl I interviewed for an internship,” I lied. “Seemed like a real nosy little bitch.”
Every Tuesday at 1 p.m., the Big Guys and I had a business and strategy meeting. When De Niro was publisher, these things lasted a tidy half-hour, at which point he excused himself. Didn’t matter if we were talking about his dying grandmother: Meeting adjourned. These days, the sun could descend in the sky before the Big Guys called it a wrap.
“Drew, I need you to fire Mickey Rooney,” said Newman, sipping his Earl Grey.
“Drew, I need you to get me five of those Red Zingers from the vending machine,” said Redford.
Newman drew a loop around his teabag with the string and squeezed. “He’s fucking with you, Drew. I am not. Rooney needs to go.”
Sometimes dealing with the Big Guys’ moods and whims was like waking up inside a storm. You didn’t know how the rain began, or how long it would last. You could only react on instinct, gather evidence, and hope the skies cleared soon.
“Okayyyy, do you want to tell me why we’re firing Mickey Rooney?”
“Because if I see another story about designer dogs, or stranded cats, I’m going to fire myself. He wants to write that crap, I’m sure Shatner is hiring.”
Newman had a reputation for brilliance, but lately he had started forgetting names. Not just names of people he’d met once but names of his old friends, names of his grandchildren. It was not inconceivable that when he said, “Fire Mickey Rooney,” what he really meant was, “Fire my gardener.”
“We’re not firing Mickey Rooney,” growled Redford, kicking his boots onto his desk so that a pile of manila folders scattered to the floor.
Redford terrified the staff and, sometimes, even me. Legend had it that every picture hanging on the Big Guys’ office wall covered a spot where he had punched a hole in anger. There were seven office hangings—three magazine awards and four pictures of the guys, back in the day—and I hadn’t had the gall, or the privacy, to look underneath any of them.
“Bob, who reads our magazine?” asked Newman. “To be specific, who doesn’t read our magazine?”
We’d seen the demographics. We killed with the blue hairs, struck out with anyone under 18.
Newman turned to the safe behind his desk, a combination lock box fabled to contain anything from a stack of hundred-dollar bills to the true identity of Redford’s most infamous secret source. The truth was far more mundane: a few chalky Tums, a fifth of Maker’s Mark, and a quarter bag of weed. Newman poured out a thimble of bourbon.
“We had a bad summer, and I don’t intend to have a bad fall. Drew, are you taking notes? Item no. 1 on our agenda: Fire Mickey Rooney.” He raised his glass. “Second, hire what’s-her-name. The Lohan girl.”
It was dark when I got back to my neighborhood, and cold enough that I tucked my chin under my scarf for warmth. I was at my apartment gate when I saw him, slumped on my front steps.
“I need to talk to you about my story,” said Vince.
I kept my distance, leaning against the gate. “You could have called.”
“I need to talk to you about other stuff.”
I sighed, fiddled with my scarf fringe, and if it hadn’t been so dark, he might have seen me blush. “And what makes you think I’m gonna let you upstairs at, like, 8 o’clock on a Wednesday?”
He kicked his feet out in front of him and stared up at the sky for a while. “Well, you’ve never turned me down before.”