NEW YORK POST - “The Gleaner” with Jamal Dix – September 8, 2018
“Rags to Riches at Saint Thomas Church”
It was one of those fairytale weddings-of-the-century that makes New York go gaga.
Speaking of Gaga, she actually showed up, proof of the nuclear charisma of the media-darling groom, that gorgeous venture-capitalist, philanthropist, and most-eligible bachelor, Rexford James Bainbridge, III, 29, better known in the columns as “Sexy Rexy.”
For weeks, he had entreated the star to attend, with flowery tweets, use of his villa in Mallorca (chez Jagger is right next door, he reminded her) and a parade of strategically publicized donations to her favorite charities.
And here she was, stepping out of a modest Lincoln Town Car, at 53rd and 5th, stopping for the pulsating pool of paparazzi outside the carved limestone façade of Saint Thomas Church, New York’s Gothic Revival temple of High Episcopalian riches and rectitude.
Sadly, for Gaga, the late-summer heat was not her friend. Her pancetta leggings, though radiantly matched with a tunic woven entirely from crushed abalone shells and shredded Three Musketeers wrappers, began to wilt.
As far as The Gleaner could tell, nobody cared. Not even a somewhat greasy Gaga, nor any number of Vanity-Fair-worthy denizens of Gotham and beyond – the cable news anchors with their dazzling teeth, the towering NBA ballers, the A-minus or, more often, B-minus Listers imported from The Coast, minor Royal Family members, Liza, Martha or Regis -- could yank the limelight away from the Cinderella bride, young Megan O’Malley, 24, of Ypsilanti, Michigan.
The aspiring journalist, utterly outside her middle-class league, was about to step down the aisle and smack into that ridiculously rarified world of private hedge funds, insider real estate schemes, offshore bank accounts, exorbitantly priced charity balls, Hamptons mansions, Swedish au pairs, last-minute charter jets and Fifth Avenue penthouses replete with panic rooms that define 21st Century uber-rich life in our fair city.
“I don’t really see how the poor dear is going to pull it off,” whispered Wanda Covington, that ex-pat Londoner and Type-A socialite whose sharp-tongued wit has been known to land her in more hot water than a rock lobster at Le Bernardin. “Heaven knows, we tried to help. But when it comes to this whole Pygmalion thing, she’s a bit, well, daft, isn’t she? I mean, you can take the girl out of Walmart, but…”
As The Gleaner has reported previously, this was a production crying out for producers, and some of the most celebrated (for better or worse) socialites of the Upper East Side – friends, neighbors and assorted orbs in Sexy Rexy’s solar system – leapt at the chance. But it wasn’t easy.
“The bride is sauntering into our little milieu on rather wobbly terroir,” one of the Matrons, who insisted on anonymity, solemnly confided. “And when you’ve never summered in East Hampton or attended a polo match, when you don’t even know a fish knife from a butter knife, what else can you do but accessorize, and lavishly so?”
But pish-posh. With her striking figure, porcelain-and-rose-dust complexion, sweep of raven hair and speckled violet-gray eyes, many have invariably drawn comparisons to Liz Taylor. Sadly though, given Megan’s proletarian provenance, some of the snider members of Rex’s circle have quietly taken to calling her “Liz Trailer.”
The bridal party arrived in a white limousine carrying Megan, along with her mother, Maureen O’Malley of Greater Detroit, younger brother Todd and his boyfriend, Juan Carlos Bautista Santa Maria. It was their first big wedding, first limo ride and first time seeing actual rich people. When they pulled up, photographers rushed the car, demanding pics.
I peeked inside: The occupants looked petrified, like four trapped otters being dropped off at SeaWorld.
The great oaken doors swung open, the organ began wailing, and the bride entered the church. Megan took a deep breath as 500 faces turned around to stare at her, most of them smiling, some smirking like bored, grumpy goats.
Standing by the Rector, Canon Arthur M. Chadwick, was Rexford, this generation’s John-John Kennedy. He looked delicious with his combed-back jet-black hair, charcoal-colored eyes, cheekbones for days, a buff but not too buff build, and perfect posture to match his custom-made Dolce & Gabbana tux.
Nearby stood Thaddeus M. Pepper, MD, the best man and our sceptered isle’s somewhat uppity and most talked about Freudian Psychiatrist, revered for his magical prescription pad. Next to him stood a line of handsome young groomsmen, mostly from the “investment community.” On the other side, rather conspicuously alone, was Megan’s bridesmaid, her high-school buddy Brigit Tenpenny. Behind them on risers perched a battery of very white altar boys and, above them, not-so-white gospel-choir members from the Brooklyn Tabernacle.
The ceremony, mercifully brief and slightly uplifting, ended with the sober admonishment of the Canon that marriage was “not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently. Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”
“We will,” almost everyone said, including many who had no intention of doing anything remotely like that.
Now pronounced (rich) man and (unbelievably lucky) wife, the newlyweds walked back up the aisle to cheers, tears, applause and, it did not escape The Gleaner’s notice, more than a smattering of crossed arms and pursed lips.
It was time for some serious soiree-going at Le Cirque, followed by a flight to Bora Bora, where the happy couple will spend two weeks at Halle Berry’s “little place” by a secluded lagoon.
As they left, strangers gathered on the sidewalk commenced some raucous cheering (it was rumored they were hired by a mysterious downtown PR outfit but that has not been confirmed). The paparazzi popped. Two white peace doves were released into the sky. They were, it was noted with much fanfare in the gilded wedding program, former members of the Holy Vatican Flock, which had thrived at St. Peter’s Basilica until one chilly morning in January 2014, when Pope Francis and two small children released a pair of the birds, who were promptly eviscerated by a seagull and crow before the mortified faithful.
And then something dreadful happened.
Just as they were climbing into the vintage Bentley, with UK plates, the sound of shouting and women wailing broke out near the church doors. I saw Megan turn around to look, only to see armed federal agents with the words “I.C.E.” emblazoned on their uniforms grabbing two of Rex’s terrified maids and slapping them in handcuffs.
“They can’t do that!” Megan cried out. “Aren’t they here legally?”
Rex paused. “I’m not really sure,” I heard him grumble. “We’ll have to sort this out when we return.” Whatever the circumstances, and regardless of the maids’ immigration status, bride and groom knew, of course, that someone had turned in their staff. And today, of all days.
But who? And why?
CHAPTER ONE: Leaving, On A JetBlue Plane
A year ago, in 2017, if anyone had told Megan O’Malley she would move to New York and get swept off her feet by a handsome multi-millionaire, she would have told them to go jump in Lake Erie.
But then her best friend from Ypsilanti, Brigit, fell in love with a guy from Brooklyn and moved off to the great big city, where she’d found an administrative assistant position at the New York Post. Megan, though insanely proud of her friend, could not expel that distinct whiff of envy puffing around her mind. Megan’s dream in life was to be a journalist, a professional and successful one, with major-media bylines and a passel of awards hanging on her office wall. And if that meant moving to New York, then even better.
And now, on this frigid Michigan morning in January, Megan was preparing to leave: Brigit had landed her an interview with New York’s – and thus the nation’s – preeminent gossip columnist, her boss Jamal Dix. And even though digging up dirt on Manhattan socialites and celebrities was hardly her dream job (that would be senior political reporter at, say, The New York Times), it was a humble start. An open door is, after all, an open door. Besides, most of her journalistic experience had come from her school paper at the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor.
Megan was blasted with the aroma of burning bacon and crappy coffee wafting from the kitchen downstairs. Though she’d been back at her mom’s for seven months after graduation - arriving jobless, penniless and with three loads of laundry – she was still startled by the fake-maple sizzle of Smithfield and the bitter urgency of Maxwell House.
A stunning beauty with long chocolate hair, violet-gray eyes and a diminutive but alluring 5-foot-6 frame, Megan rose like a lazy salamander crawling from a sun-warmed mud puddle. Wrapping herself in the frayed 100-thread-count sheet, she stumbled down the hallway toward the upstairs bathroom in her mother’s creaky, rented clapboard house.
The bathroom was bolted. “Goddamn it Todd,” Megan said, slapping the hollow door with her palm. “Haven’t you pleasured yourself enough already? It’s only nine.”
A bilious fart, followed by silence, issued from behind the door.
“Breakfast!” Her mom yelled, so loudly Megan was sure everyone could hear it in downtown Detroit.
“Coming! But can you please tell your son to get out of the bathroom? Jeez. How many craps can someone take in one morning?”
“I don’t take them,” the voice said. “I leave them.”
Sometimes Megan hated her little brother. This was one of them. Swearing under her breath, she ran downstairs to her mom’s bathroom, to pee and grab a shower.
The plane to New York was leaving that afternoon. Only nuclear war, or the surprise return of her ex-boyfriend Ray, who unceremoniously dumped her during junior year, might keep Megan from getting on it. Even the sight of her AWOL dad sauntering through the door would not have deterred Megan. Her father, Drake, a burly, shaggy-haired mechanic with a lazy eye and dicey temper, ditched them when she was thirteen, only occasionally checking on his kids’ well-being after filing for a quickie divorce in Ensenada. Megan missed him; Todd refused to speak to him.
The family huddled in silence over breakfast. Maureen, their 47-year-old mom, a generously proportioned, auburn-haired former beauty fighting long-term debt and the laws of gravity, poked at her eggs, eyeing the kids warily.
“So,” she said finally, a pained expression etched on her face, which looked older and wearier beneath the unforgiving florescent overheads. “In the same week I learn my son’s gay, my beautiful daughter goes off to live a life of decadence among the media whores in New York…” she paused, then spit out the final word like an olive pit…“City.” Megan and Todd exchanged glances. “What am I to tell Father Quinn? He practically raised you two.”
“Mom, stop.” It was Todd. Tall but still somehow impish, the 21-year-old with buttery brown eyes, smooth skin and wavy ginger-colored hair, was even more obstinate than his sister. “Father Quinn tried to raise a lot more than that, if you know what I mean. I think he’ll understand about me, you know, liking boys and all.”
Megan smiled at her kid brother. Yes, he was a jerk. But he was also brave and honest. Megan, as an aspiring journalist, appreciated such qualities. Few gay kids in Ypsilanti, after all, came out to friends and family, even in this allegedly enlightened Schitt’s Creek America.
“Hey Meg,” Todd asked, “when you move to Manhattan and get all rich and famous and stuff, can you help set me up with my catering business?”
“Sure Toddie. We’ll plan a hostile takeover of Martha Stewart’s test kitchens, and then you can saute until the cows come home. Hell, you can saute the cows as they come home.”
Later, they piled into Maureen’s ‘96 Saturn for the 15-minute ride to the airport. Megan wondered if she would miss this place as they drove through the quiet, frozen streets. Ypsilanti, or “Ypsi” as the locals called it (“Let’s get tipsy in Ypsi!” Megan and her friends used to say), is not exactly the prettiest of places in the best of months. In January, it gives the word “dreary” a mournful ring.
At the airport, they climbed from the warm cocoon of the car to say goodbye. Icy tassels of fog billowed about their heads as they made small-talk in the thick winter air.
“I really hope you get this job,” Todd said. “No wait, I know you will get this job.”
Megan found herself endeared to her bratty kid brother more than ever. She would miss this little asshole. She and her mom struggled against tears, hugging goodbye. Todd stood by tentatively, unsure whether to witness this tender farewell, or check out the adorable Latino curbside-attendant helping a middle-aged couple grapple with their over-packed luggage.
Once through security and in her cramped seat, Megan pondered her brave new future. She was destined to hit the big time, she was certain, just like those other Michiganders, Madonna Ciccone, Marshall Mathers and Michael Moore. Like most writers, thoughts of fame haunted her dreams. But she intended to use the power that comes with it to make the world better – to expose injustices, right wrongs and give a voice to the voiceless, hope to the hopeless.
Megan had followed that dream all through college, where she was a rising reporter at The Michigan Daily, covering everything from the serious (“Campus Rapist Nabbed at Sorority Party”), to the sublime (“Katy Perry to Don Giant Panda Suit During Commencement.”) By the end of junior year, Megan was a leading candidate for the paper’s Editor-in-Chief position. Her job interview, with senior faculty advisor Trip Gottley (she always called him “Skip Yachtly,” for his pompous insouciance) had gone well, at first.
And then Yachtly, without a word, reached across the desk and gently cupped his right hand under her supple left breast. “Tell me how much you want it, Megan,” he slithered.
“Trip!” She swatted him away like a gnat. “I mean, Mr. Gottley! Is this how I’m supposed to get this job?’
He turned the color of farmed salmon and ordered Megan out. “You little…You wanted this position so much. And now the whole thing is out the window.”
Megan leapt up, raced out the door and across the newsroom, shame and disgust suffocating her like methane gas. She ran into the humid June air, salty tears melding with beads of sweat. Megan grabbed her cell. She wanted to call Todd. But instead dialed her boyfriend Ray, the unsettlingly ambitious journalism student who’d managed to wrangle a weekly column out of Gottley on, of all things, ethics.
She told him what happened.
“Listen, I’m pretty tight with Gottley. I’ll have a word.”
A word? Megan was dumbfounded. What did that even mean? Even worse, Ray had urged her, practically commanded her, not to report the assault. It would ruin her career, he said. She hung up on him. The next day, she met with her academic advisor, a 40-something, overfed professor named Delano Blanchard, and told him everything. What she didn’t know, however, was that Delano and Gottley were allies and strip-club buddies, sworn to help each other achieve tenure, no matter what.
“Oh my,” Delano frowned after Megan told him. “Professor Gottley is one of the most selfless, respected, no, revered members of our faculty. If you were to bring these salacious charges into the public realm, I hate to think what ugliness would arise.”
“Bring it into the public realm?” Megan had asked, incredulity flooding her face. “Isn’t that what journalists are supposed to, you know, do?”
Delano tossed Megan a murderous look, warning her, “Don’t do this. You won’t win. It’s his word against…yours. I for one don’t believe it. Nobody else will either.”
A week later, Ray left Megan, on the same day that her newspaper contract was not picked up for her senior year.
Just before takeoff, Megan’s Android went bling! A message from Todd, whose cheap-ass Blackberry (how many times had she begged him to upgrade, and didn’t those things go out with the fax machine?) had gotten the letter “T” stuck in a tiny droplet of epoxy when he was trying to repair something.
Miss you already. U have been wonderful wih mom. Much love for being my Megs. odd
On the airporter bus from Newark to Port Authority, Megan thought of the wonders that lay ahead. She had never seen the ocean. The beach, (Coney Island she imagined), was on her NYC-things-to-do list, even before the Statue of Liberty.
The traffic was sick, made up, Megan assumed, of Jersey kids heading out for a liquored-up night in the restaurants, bars and expensive nightclubs of Manhattan. She even saw a red Ferrari, belonging to a mafia Capo, she decided, snapping a photo and texting it to Todd.
Todd and Mom, Megan thought, an unexpected thump lodging in her throat. They suddenly felt so distant, back there in ice-covered Michigan. Fighting back an actual tear, Megan realized she missed her family already.
The tollbooth line moved with the lack of urgency of an old man walking in the park with nowhere to go. Horns blared, tempers flared. Megan looked up and saw, beyond the chaos, the towering city shimmering like Royal Family jewels, a jagged string of pulsating lights set against a dense, black winter sky. Megan punched something onto her Twitter account, and its 27 followers: Big Apple, get ready cuz here I come! If you don’t hear from me, please know that I died a happy camper
Outside the bus terminal, a light snow had developed and Megan, heading into it with her luggage, yanked the faux-fur collar on her cloth coat around her neck. People walked past in a mighty hurry, shivering and bitching about the cold, even though it was 33 degrees, practically springtime for Michigan. Some of the snippets of conversation she caught were epic New York.
“Don’t worry,” one stressed-out looking young man in a Burberry trench-coat said to his female colleague, also wrapped in waterproof khaki and plaid-lined comfort. “They don’t make as much money as we do.”
“OK good,” the woman said, as if this were the only thing in the universe that mattered.
She glanced at Brigit’s address: 2194 5th Avenue, 6-W. So glamorous sounding. But Megan did not fully grasp that Fifth Avenue is a very long street. Its far-northern reaches, where Brigit and her boyfriend Bill lived, was uptown, 133rd Street, far from the glittering wealth to the south. People further down the avenue liked to joke that it was colder, way up there in the northern climes of Manhattan. It was also poorer. But it was all Fifth Avenue, as far as Megan was concerned. And Fifth Avenue meant style.
There wasn’t a whole lot of style to be seen when Megan, exhausted with a case of what she called the “travel ickies,” descended the stairs from the elevated platform at 125 Street Station, unsure which way was Fifth Avenue. She approached a kind-looking middle-aged woman.
“Excuse me? Can you tell me which way is Fifth?” Megan asked with her sincere Midwestern civility. Suddenly the nice lady didn’t look so nice.
“What do I look like? A tour guide?” the woman shot back.
Megan was so taken aback she was unsure what to say. “Um, no. But is Fifth Avenue this way?” she asked, pointing west.
“Five dollars. And I’ll tell you.”
“Listen lady, I probably have less money than you do. Five dollars. Give me a fucking break,” she said, startled at her own profanity. If this is what life is like in New York, I think I can handle it, she thought.
She pulled up the map on her phone and made her way to Brigit’s dull brick building with its crumbling mortar, corroded iron cornice, and phalanx of Direct-TV dishes. Megan regarded it with trepidation. She rang the bell.
“Jose? Is that you?” A guy’s voice, sounding desperate, echoed from above.
“No! It’s me, Megan! From Ypsilanti?”
“Oh,” the voice said, deflated. “I thought you were the pot guy. Hold on.”
Megan wasn’t sure what to “hold on” for. She looked up. It was a guy with a shaggy goatee and glazed look in his eyes.
“Yo, Megan!” he shouted. “Catch!”
Megan peered up into the blurry glare of snowflakes and streetlights. And then, tinkle, tankle, CLANK. A metallic object struck her forehead before falling to the ground. A tiny drop of warm blood trickled to her mouth. “What the hell?” Megan cried. “Ouch!”
“You okay?” the male voice called back. “Did you get the keys?”
Those were keys? Don’t these people have buzzers, like on Seinfeld?
Megan scavenged around in the dirty snow, searching for the keys. It took a minute of kicking the slush before hearing their jingle. There were so many of them. This was, like, a pound of keys.
She let herself into the hallway, which smelled of boiled chicken and cat pee, and began the five-story climb. Sore and bloody, she wanted a hot shower, a cold beer, a bandage, and a nice nap.
“Megs!” her old pal Brigit greeted her. “OH-EM-GEE!” it’s so great to see you!” As Megan would soon learn, her childhood friend had picked up the rather annoying habit of spelling out abbreviations that people put in texts. “BEE-TEE-DOUBLE-YOU,” she liked to say, or her current favorite, “DOUBLE-YOU-TEE-EFF?
“Bridge!” Megan cried, unaware of the paper-thin walls. “How the hell are you?”
Brigit put a finger to her lips, ushered in her friend and introduced her to Boo-Boo, her Irish terrier, and Bill, her cute but lazy pothead boyfriend.
“Hungry?” asked Bill, a sort-of sexy guy in his late twenties, with shaggy, sandy hair, the slightest paunch, and warm brown eyes.
“Actually, I am,” Megan said, her stomach growling after a day of travel.
“Coolest of beans,” Bill said. “We have leftovers from the Polish-Korean food truck. Brigit, why don’t you heat up some of those kimchi kielbasas?” And then to Megan, “You wanna bong hit? Last of the good stuff. It’s why I’m waiting for Jose.”
It took a while for Megan to take all this in. What was kimchee? She knew what a bong hit was (Todd loved marijuana) but also knew that stuff made her paranoid. “No thanks, I’m good,” she managed a smile. “But I wouldn’t mind a beer.”
“Of course!” Brigit went to the fridge. “And a Band-aid. Anything for our weary sojourner. How was the trip? How’s the family? How the hell is Ypsilanti?”
“Long. Fine. And duller than ever,” Megan said, beginning to unwind. “Toddie says ‘yo!’and my mom says ‘thanks.’ And she’s right, Bridge. I couldn’t have done this without you.”
“Billy boy was part of the decision too, weren’t you sweetie?”
“Boom,” Bill said with a boyish grin, before hitting on some truly stinky weed. When he exhaled, the room filled with sticky smoke. It burned Megan’s eyes.
“Um. Can we open a window?” Megan asked.
“It’s fucking snowing outside!” Bill laughed, earnestly, not meanly. “I mean, jeez. What’s a little second-hand weed? Isn’t your brother a big pothead?”
Brigit opened the window. “I’ll show you to your luxurious little futon in the corner,” she said. “Believe it or not, you paying three hundred bucks a month for such splendor is a bargain.”
After showering and some first-aid, Megan joined her friends in the living room for dinner on the sofa. The kimchee-kielbasa was blisteringly spicy. She gulped down a cold beer as Bill surfed the channels on TV.
“Ooh! Stop there. I wanna see this,” Brigit said. It was the local news, featuring live coverage from one of those hyper-swank charity balls that rich people were always buying outrageously priced tickets for. This one, “Pop Against Poverty at The Pierre,” was a sea of bejeweled women in Oscar de la Renta and men in fitted Ralph Lauren tuxedos, all rocking out to Taylor Swift.
“What do you want to watch these bloated oligarchs for?” Bill whined. “They’re the most boring people in town.”
“They’re also my bread-and-butter,” Brigit said. “And part of my job description.”
Megan heaved a dreamy sigh and pointed at a gorgeous young man, seated with perfect posture at a prime table near the podium, sporting dark eyes, black hair and a smile that radiated power, self-confidence, and the slightest hint of haughty. “Who in sweet Jesus is that one?” she asked. “Some Broadway heartthrob I’ve never heard of?”
“Oh him.” Brigit said with a jaded look. “That’s Sexy Rexy. He’s not an actor. Per se.”
“Rexford Bainbridge, III. The best-looking, best-dressed, richest, single-straight-guy in the entire city. Venture capitalist. Hedge funder. Big-time philanthropist. Always in the papers. Half the debutantes on the East Side have been trying to land him – or at least bed him – for years.”
“I can see why,” Megan said. “He’s so pretty, it hurts. Are you sure he’s not gay?”
“Not entirely. There is talk. But there’s always talk with these types. I tend to doubt it.”
“And who are those women he’s with?”
“The one on the left is Beverly Gansevoort-Stein. Big-time society gal, Rex’s downstairs neighbor, pompous shrew. The other one, Mrs. Silverhair, is Wanda Covington, Beverly’s British sidekick. They’re a packaged deal, as inseparable as they are insufferable.”
“Welcome to Gotham City,” Bill said.
Just before bed, Megan asked Brigit about the interview with Jamal Dix. “I haven’t asked him yet. But I will,” she said.
Megan felt sick. “Brigit, the whole reason I came here was because of this interview. What gives? I left everything behind for this, and you didn’t even arrange it? Damn.”
Brigit grew defensive and, Megan thought, a bit snotty, for a fact-checker at the Post. “You left everything?” she said. “What everything? Your mom, who clawed her way to the middle? Or your brother, who’s stuck in Ypsilanti with a cheap spatula and a caterer’s dream? Come on Megan. You didn’t leave shit behind.” She softened after seeing the dejection on Megan’s face. “I’ve been crazy busy. But I’ll get you that interview, I swear.”
“I hope so,” Megan said. “If I don’t get that job, how am I supposed to survive here?”
“I will call him first thing tomorrow. I’m not going to let this city chew you up and spit you out, Megs. That happens too many times to too many nice people. And you are nice people. Now, nighty-night.”