I should be there by now.
I crossed over yet another avenue. The closer I got to the Hudson, the further I was from the Manhattan I knew. The restaurants and bars which sit packed together like pickles in a jar throughout Midtown were now few and far between, no Starbucks stores bogarted street corners and the ever-present crowds with whom to fight for sidewalk real estate were nonexistent. Empty lots and vacant storefronts bearing For Sale signs made me feel like I was walking through some sort of Vanilla Sky/I Am Legend reality where Manhattan is deserted save for me and the zombies who were surely lying in wait around the next corner. Checking the address for the fourth or fifth time, I walked against the chilly November wind toward the New Jersey horizon beyond the river.
The Manhattan I knew existed within a fairly petite Midtown radius: the blocks of Hell’s Kitchen where I spent my days at a marketing internship at an off-off-Broadway theater, the Theater District offshoots of Times Square where I spent my weekends seeing Broadway shows, or the southernmost parts of Central Park where I spent afternoons writing in my journal at what I considered “my spot”–a bench by a waterfall near the 6th Avenue entrance. It was a myopic view of the city but I was blissfully happy with it. Only when a friend from Texas came into town did I venture outside of those familiar parameters but even then, it was to visit other overtly tourist-centric photo ops. I’d never really stepped foot in Chelsea except to maybe walk through it to get somewhere else.
I was approaching what felt like the edge of the world to conduct the first interview for an online magazine I’d decided to launch. I’d met David randomly and over the course of talking about my would-be magazine, he pitched himself as a subject. He’d recently taped an episode of The Millionaire Matchmaker on Bravo and was more than up for talking about the experience. I knew nothing about the makeup of the business but loved television in an insatiable, almost feral way so I figured talking to him would be an enlightening experience. Questions about the filming process and the view of reality TV from the inside didn’t even need to be written down, they’d been embedded into my curiosity for years. Not only that, but I imagined including him would add some heft to my first issue and give people a reason to flip through. Everything on Bravo was relentlessly watched and talked about so why not hitch my wagon to that train?
I hadn’t moved to New York to start a magazine. I’d moved because it was and is my favorite place in the world; the cliché sentiment of wanting to “be a part of it” was as resonant and alive in me as if Sinatra was singing it for the first time. I was a few months away from graduating with my master’s degree in Communications, interning at the little theater, and spending my spare time hunting for a job that would allow me to stay in New York when that internship ended.
I was fairly confident I’d find a job but since I didn’t know exactly what it would turn out to be, I needed a way to keep my decade’s-worth of publication design skills sharp in the event the job I landed wasn’t creatively stimulating. I ran across an online fashion magazine one afternoon and thought, I could do that. And I could probably do it better than them. Actually, why not me? Then I allowed myself to dream. What would my magazine be? What would it look like? Who would be featured? In a matter of minutes, a dream had been incubated and I began hatching a plan.
I found a website that hosted digital, flip-through issues of magazines for free. Then, I began recruiting people to join me in my amorphous, nameless idea. Every friend I approached, I did so intentionally. Each was interested in a different aspect of creative culture so I asked if they’d contribute something that would incorporate those interests to my left field idea of a magazine, should it take shape.
The pitch: “You send me the content, whatever that may be, and I’ll make it look pretty.”
It was a flimsy ask to basically do me an unpaid favor but they said yes. We were all newly graduated, our list of commitments was at the lowest it would probably ever be post-college, and we were eager to create and have an outlet with which to do so. With their yeses, that outlet materialized.
There’d be a feature on interior design, an editorial about a newly-released movie, a couple theatre reviews, an interview with a digital artist, and after reaching out to a handful of photographers I’d either met in school or during internships, I received so many commitments for photo essays it became clear that could be the theme of the issue.
I’ve always loved a good theme. In college, we’d have themed dinner parties, the best of which being a toss-up between our Christmas in July party or our Side Dishes Only party. We also watched endless hours of themed TV marathons while pretending to do our homework. But even before then, when I was a teenager and the annual themed issues of magazines were released—“The Hollywood Issue” of Vanity Fair, the “25 Under 25” issue of Teen People, the “Summer Movie” issue of Entertainment Weekly—I’d rush to Barnes and Noble to get my copy so I could analyze and discuss every photo and interview with my best friend Rachael. It felt like such an event when a theme was involved so I considered the decision made for me. My first issue would have a theme: The Photo Issue.
None of this was meticulously planned; it came together moment-by-moment and as each idea bubbled up, I allowed my brain to dream a little more. With no clear employment prospects and a dismal job market sprawling out before me like the elephant graveyard in The Lion King, working and dreaming about what could be became an efficient way to distract myself from an uncertain future. In a way, BLEEP Magazine began as a really colorful form of busy work.
The name, BLEEP Magazine, came from my sister. When she’d playfully mock something a friend or our parents would say, she’d reply back, “bleep bleep blarp,” a la Beaker from the Muppets. I always thought it was funny and when I began brainstorming names, her bleeps and blarps kept coming back to mind. I spent weeks tossing names around to anyone who would listen but I kept coming back to “Bleep.”
Bleeping something out is the audible form of censorship, the opposite of what I was planning to do with the features my contributors were sending my way, so a part of me liked that dichotomy even if not everyone would immediately make that association. And I was told precisely that.
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“If that’s the opposite of what you’re doing, why are you naming it that?”
“I don’t get it.”
But I’d pretty much made up my mind already and after designing a simple logo and placing it on a mocked-up cover, BLEEP had a name.
At that time in New York, there were entire stores and cafes dedicated to magazines. Walking through the door felt like stepping into the technicolor dreamscape of Oz or Willy Wonka’s room full of chocolate waterfalls and edible flowers. Hundreds of titles from all over the world lined every wall and upon my first visit, those literary caves became sanctums; sacred spaces to discover new ideas about the world and about myself. I did dream about something I created being on those walls but it was the autumn of 2010. Magazines were on the way out. Sure, the big ones would probably make it, but the signs were blinking high above the horizon that content needed to be online for it to reach an audience. Knowing that, I never gave print a consideration. This was an experiment at best and at the moment, all it was costing me was time. It would be created to exist online so I could share it on Facebook, the only place I knew people were sure to see it.
Building the bones and designing the initial templates of BLEEP took weeks but I also slipped right back into the groove of my 15 years of yearbook design experience as if it was second nature. Through editing and tightening the designs, I began to feel an ownership over this weird fetal idea and though I was creating within my means—my laptop didn’t have the Adobe Creative Suite I’d been using for years—I made due with what I had: Powerpoint. It took four times as long as it would’ve taken me in InDesign but I built the pages on Powerpoint slides formatted to the size of a magazine page. It was primitive but every person who has ever succeeded in New York City has had to function in the “fake it til’ you make it” mindset at some point.
It was around that time I met David and he all but begged to be interviewed. It was an easy decision because, again, talking to someone who’d been through the Bravo machine sounded like fun and would add some weight to my little magazine issue. During the previous few years, I’d gained an affinity for interviewing notable and interesting students around the Baylor campus for the yearbook, so the opportunity to do that again felt natural.
When I finally reached David’s building near the water, I was out of breath, sweating, and surprisingly nervous. At five minutes til, it became an acceptable amount of early to arrive so I went inside from the cold and met the doorman to buzz me up. The lobby was almost comically modern and I struggled to find the elevators which were hidden behind an oversized art installation. Upstairs, David greeted me at the door to his apartment with a large smile and blinky eyes.
Though his apartment building was an ultra-swanky high rise in Chelsea with views of the water, his actual apartment was, to put it mildly, disheveled. He’d had someone decorate the interior—he made a point to tell me as much—but now, any trace of intentional design had been covered by stacks and stacks of paper. Piles of mail cluttered end tables, mountains of magazines sat as tall as footstools on the floor, and after I shook his hand, he told me to follow him. He was in the middle of organizing his collection of silly bands, something he owned in every color so they’d match any outfit, and he “wouldn’t be able to focus until he finished.”
Standing in the doorway to his room, I asked how long he’d been in the building. “It looks brand new,” I said as I continued to scan the room. It was as disheveled as the rest of the apartment but hey, whose bedroom looks perfect all the time? On top of a tall dresser was a pile of hundreds of tangled silly bands he was individually plucking out to organize by color. At some point I ran out of small talk and told him I’d go get set up in the living room. I had nothing to set up beyond pressing record on my phone, but I had to do something other than stand in the doorway and watch a grown man organize silly bands.
He must’ve taken the cue because he came into the living room shortly thereafter and sat down across from me. I asked if he was ready and as he answered that he was, he began restlessly sifting through a pile of papers on the coffee table. David described himself as “somewhere between 30 and 40” years old, the owner of two apartments, and someone who made his money through a combination of being “a sort of executive headhunter to the elite and a real estate broker.” Not really knowing what that meant, I playfully asked how the second apartment compared to this one but he quickly pivoted the conversation to his wanting to be back on television. I told him before we could talk about getting back on television, we should talk about the episode that brought us together.
During the episode of The Millionaire Matchmaker in which he appeared, he told one of his dates, “I hate people,” something that became enough of a sticking point with the show’s host I felt I could ask about it. He smiled as he talked about how he came across on the show.
“I don’t regret anything I said. That’s how I live my life. Did I say I hate people? Yes. Do I hate all people? No. Do I hate some people? Yes. Am I a happy person? Yes. I don’t know how it works in L.A. but people in New York say ‘I hate people.’ A lot of people have reached out to me and said ‘I hate people too so don’t worry about it.’ It’s just a figure of speech.”
It seemed like an odd thing to be proud of having said on TV but the quip brought David exactly what he was looking for: an enormous amount of airtime on the re-air happy Bravo network. According to him, his episode was one of the highest-rated episodes of the series and having stumbled upon it three times in the past two weeks as I channel-surfed, I believed him.
He bragged about gaining around 500 Facebook friends since the episode’s airing but did so while feigning boredom. He complained about his new “super fans” but also said he was becoming used to being recognized out and about in New York at least twice a day. “I have a recognizable look and face, and I guess people thought I made for good TV since my episode was so highly rated.” He sounded an awful lot like another reality TV exaggerator from New York who made his living in real estate.
“I watch anywhere from 30 to 35 hours of television a week, which is a ton of TV if you think about it. That’s like a full-time-job,” he told me. He said Matchmaker wasn’t his first choice of show to be on but his desire to be on TV overrode his not wanting to be on a dating show. I should’ve left then.
By his own admittance, he spent every bit of his spare time scrolling through casting sites, applying for any and every reality show on TV and he proudly showed me the open applications in his browser to prove it. He’d landed on an episode of Dr. Phil at one point and claimed he was close to being cast in the LOGO reality show A-List New York but wound up being cut because he wasn’t muscular. “But I’m cute right? I mean, I’m cute enough to be on TV. I am. Right?”
I didn’t answer so he just kept talking.
“My goal is to get another show. I’m currently in the mix for three new shows but again, I’ve been in the reality show mix for years. My goal is to be on my own show. I go on castings, I answer casting calls every day and while I’m busy doing that, I’m still doing real estate. But what I really want is my own show. This is what I do. I want to be on TV.”
I realized he was the embodiment of an entire generation of people who’d grown up watching “reality” on TV and who’d witnessed the birth of being “famous for being famous.” Tabloid culture bothered me. Ever since the boy cried to leave Britney alone, I too became disinterested in placing importance on the private, the profane, or the unimportant. Part of the reason I hadn’t gone into established magazine work was my not wanting to be a part of the never-ending tabloid assault on our daily lives. Even the biggest, most substantive magazines were falling prey to the clickbait of tabloid nonsense and I couldn’t be a part of it. Yet here I was, doing my first interview for my own publication with someone who would sell his right arm to be in any tabloid in any capacity.
Though I was probably ineloquent in doing so, I wound the interview down so I could leave. I shook his hand, thanked him for making time for my little magazine experiment, and left to make the trek back to the subway, knowing I’d just made a huge mistake.
Still, I transcribed and edited his interview for the issue and during the weeks that followed, I spent all of my time designing and formatting the magazine while Julie, my boss from my college yearbook staff, read through my pages and edited them since copy editing has never been and never will be my forte.
On Christmas Eve, I got the call I’d been hired at a nonprofit and would be heading back to New York for good two weeks later. My family cheered for me like I’d scored the winning touchdown and it was a moment I’d dreamt about for five years. As I packed up my life, I also worked to complete the issue. David’s story, edited to the best of my ability, would anchor the content and I planned on writing the word “Bravo” in as many Facebook posts as I had to in order to get my friends and family to check out what I’d been working on.
Though I’d planned to have the issue posted and available on January 1, 2011, it didn’t actually post until four days later. The file wouldn’t upload correctly but after four days of frustrated back and forth, the first issue of BLEEP finally landed online.
I posted it on Facebook and the other contributors did the same. By the time I packed my bags and headed back to New York to start my job and my new life, we’d garnered around 250 readers. For something that began as colorful busywork, I thought that was pretty good. 250 people could sell out a small concert venue. 250 people could fill an Off Broadway theater. 250 people was, to me, nothing to sneeze at. The feedback was positive and the comments were almost exclusively about the photos, not David’s profile, which was just as well because I’d tired of having to relive his interview by that point.
My favorite line from the interview read, “David spends our interview answering emails and checking his laptop.” I spun that into a quip about his ability to multitask but in reality, he was doing something else the entire time we spoke. He was either organizing silly bands, shuffling papers, scrolling through reality TV casting calls, or texting. “Hold on. I have to respond to this.” He only gave me his undivided attention when he was flirting with me and wound up being nothing more than a catty man with the attention span of a ferret, desperate for his 15 minutes of fame.
But that interview wasn’t a waste of time. I saw through his act early on—aside from his being a fame-seeker at any cost, he was not, in any way, a millionaire—but I also learned something critical that day; something that would guide me a million times over in the years to come: I had to be discerning about who I’d interview. I’d always been discerning about my friends, the jobs I took and the major decisions I made so why wouldn’t I use that same discernment in who I gave both my time and my platform? Of course I wouldn’t succeed every time, my excitement or impetuousness would get the better of me on occasion, but that interview set a standard for not only the tone of the magazine but for my life as well.
To that end, a few days after I moved to New York for good, I called up my small troupe of contributors and told them, “Let’s do it again. Let’s do it every other month for the rest of this year. If we’re going to try this, let’s really try. No tabloid content. Only real artists doing real things and let’s keep everything positive no matter what.”
And that’s what we did.
BLEEP Magazine was published 2011-2018
Endnote: Nine years after our interview, I spotted David in the background of an event held for the purpose of being filmed for The Real Housewives of New York. He’s only on screen for a moment but there he is, hovering near Luann and Dorinda. I’m sure he was thrilled.