By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
There was a brief flirtation with a trend piece on celebrity deaths (Johnny Cash, John Ritter, Fred "Rerun" Berry), till an editor suggested that since famous people are likely to die each year, there was not much of a story there. I also toyed with the notion of a profile of American Idol winner Ruben Studdard, though his forthcoming album of Clay Aiken covers rendered it a non-issue. There was the 2,482-word essay devoted to my obsession with Hilary Duff, rejected by this newspaper's attorneys on the grounds it was "too creepy." One piece that did run out of steam quickly was a proposed essay on how the Madonna-Britney kiss on MTV was the ultimate turn-on; all I could get out of it was 34 seconds' worth of material.
Also scheduled were follow-ups to stories about "the death of irony" and "how everything has changed" since September 11, 2001, till it was pointed out that irony was alive and well and nothing at all has changed since September 11, 2001. Axed, as well, was the column on the alleged anti-Semitism of The Passion director Mel Gibson, who has since pointed out in The New York Times that some of his best lawyers are Jewish. And gone is the whole column about Gabriel Garcia Marquez written using only "izzle," "shizzle" and "nizzle," because the piece fizzled three words in.
Looking over notebook dated "July-September 2003," I did find a few ideas I briefly considered salvaging in October, among them the piece in which I would give a homeless man a Queer Eye makeover, but that has since been taken by several daily newspapers desperately seeking Pulitzer Prize consideration, so I was forced to pass. Also found mention about how poker has become suddenly popular, then realized I had already done 14 stories on subject and, again, was forced to pass.
Here's a random entry from same notebook: "Craig Kilborn--overrated or underrated?" Most likely passed on this because he's both, though I don't really remember who Craig Kilborn is anymore, which also may have had something to do with it. (Note to self: Find out who this Jimmy Kimmel is.) Maybe like you, this year I became fascinated with the iPod--not with actually owning one but with people who spend $400 on an MP3 player and then load it with their entire CD collection consisting of hits-of-the-'80s compilations. Note to editor: I am not talking about you, at all. Also on the musical front was the piece about pro-war songs, but since I can't stand country music, I instead did a story about anti-war songs, which involved listening to hours of earnest folk music so awesome it couldn't be given away for free on the Internet.
Rejected on purely ethical grounds was my three-part series on the private life of Michael Jackson, whom I met in February and immediately fell in love with, thus rendering my special investigation tainted. We are due to be wed in the spring, after my divorce from Bachelorette Trista Rehn becomes official, though he worries that my being 7 years old makes me, in his words, "a little on the old side." I have no doubt we will reconcile our differences and find a sleep number we're both happy with. We will be married in Boston and honeymoon in San Quentin. R. Kelly will be the best man and has informed us he will not be bringing a date, so could we set him up?
Earlier this summer I was due to write a piece about how Jenna Jameson has made pornography mainstream, which doesn't mitigate embarrassment when Mom and Dad's best friends borrow said porn (The Best of Up and Cummers, Philmore Butts Taking Care of Business) to "watch" on occasion of 35th wedding anniversary. (Worse only when porn doesn't return four months later; reduced now to watching Sexual Matrix on Cinemax and bootleg videotapes of '80s TV series Angie starring Donna Pescow.) Jameson recently began shooting videos for Peach, which has taken all the sex and most of the nudity out of porn; sounds vaguely like programming on E! and Fox reality shows or Maxim (note to self: renew subscription). She was supposed to call to discuss this astonishing feat of going legit while still having things shoved up her in hard-core Vivid videos, but she didn't phone at the appointed time. Finger must have been broken, or shoved up someone. Just as well: Had no questions at all, and meeting your idols is always so disappointing.
In September I had prepped an entire series built around the premise that something is the new something, as in "Asian fusion is the new Tex-Mex" and "Writing is the new masturbating." Among the entries in this series, which had won several prestigious writing awards before publication, was the story to be headlined "Is Stupid the New Smart?" Jessica Simpson, pop star turned punch line in the time it took to forget she was ever a pop star, insists she was joking on MTV's Newlyweds when she asked whether tuna was chicken--of the sea, see? Paris Hilton, hotel heiress turned whore in the time it took to forget who she ever was, tells "reporters" at Television Critics Association convention in Los Angeles she was joking on Fox's The Simple Life when she said she didn't know what Wal-Mart is. They insist they were making themselves look stupid on purpose, to give people what they want--which is, apparently, beautiful stupid people. That makes Simpson and Hilton either brilliant or just fucking retarded. Here's where idea ran out of steam, because I remembered I just didn't care either way, and to spend any more time on subject might render me dumber than either of them. Note to self: Smart is the new smug and penniless. (Also, Paris Hilton is the new Pamela Anderson, and I am the new Tommy Lee.)
Speaking of which, is rich the new poor? The wealthy on MTV's Rich Kids embraced their money--screwed it silly, actually. Alexandria Hilfiger and Jamie Lee Gleicher spend without conscience, pity those who drive their own cars or do their own grocery shopping and live a lifestyle Caligula would have found a touch too gaudy. (And they're so stupid Paris Hilton probably thinks they're soooo stupid.) Not so the subjects of Born Rich, a documentary made by Johnson & Johnson heir Jamie Johnson, who gathered the children of the famously last-named (Bloomberg, Trump, Newhouse, etc.) to hear them bitch about being rich. (I would say whine, but that is so, like, middle-class.) I, of course, pity them all and take smug delight in knowing what I say doesn't matter to people who could buy and sell me for the meat.
On a personal note, this has been a year preoccupied by the birth of my first child, a boy (or, possibly, girl--we've yet to decide the sex despite his/her July birth). This means I have piled next to bed stack of baby books by such reputable names as Sears, Leach, Gerber and others. I read all of them, then scanned through Ann Hulbert's 2003 book Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children, which details (and often disparages) all of the books I just read in preparation for son/daughter's arrival. After pondering piece on proliferation of books containing bad advice for new parents (from Mommy, Why Are You Crying?: "Breast-feeding till he's in his early teens will strengthen immune system, raise IQ and create everlasting bond between mother and child"), the wife and I promptly disavowed having read any of said books and came to realize, far too late, that abstinence was indeed better birth control than sex without a condom. If only I had completed yearlong project of staying in locked room till I purchased every piece of property in Grand Theft Auto Vice City for PlayStation, none of this would have happened.
This was also the year in which I, like the rest of America, got my own television show--a sort of cross between Charlie Rose's chitchat joint and the celebrity infomercial starring the black guy from the old TV show Real People. What? You say you've never seen it? Well, neither has anyone who's been on the show (save Jack Black, who considers me "a genius"), because it's on Mark Cuban's nationally aired HDNet, which broadcasts in high definition and needs an expensive big-screen, HD set to be seen. Funny, but everyone who's been on the show can actually afford an HD set, except maybe David Spade, and none of them appears to have one; neither do I, but it's next on my to-buy list, just under "food" and "clothes."
Among life's most embarrassing moments is having to explain to Robert Duvall or Kevin Costner or Mark Wahlberg what high definition and HDNet is, though they seem to know who Mark Cuban is, because he bought them all within the past 13 months. I am pretty sure they all think they're being Punk'd. Next year we're thinking of adding lie detectors and human-cruelty challenges to make things more interesting; I will also conduct interviews while in a fat suit and pretending to be my cousin, which has done well for Average Joe's ratings. Speaking of, last month I did prepare a piece on how I have come to believe that my entire life is being filmed for a ratings-grabbing reality television series airing without my permission or knowledge. My editors killed it on the grounds it was "too narcissistic."