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Playboy 60th Anniversary Essay: The Noize on the Bus
  • December 26, 2013 : 15:12
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“We saw Usher the other day,” Mathew announces, prompting him to redefine the bus tour as a safari. “We’re hunting celebrities in their natural habitat!” He flicks the TVs back on, and an announcer screams hysterically that we’re in the “Lindsay Lohan Terror Zone!” Mathew brings us up to speed: She was just released from rehab, where she was supposedly endeavoring to kick her Adderall addiction; Oprah’s offered her $2 million to do a series and convinced her not to move to Europe; her recent stint guest-hosting Chelsea Lately garnered fairly favorable reviews. “She was really good!” someone yells out. (It’s the same passenger who knew about Mariska Hargitay’s relation to Jayne Mansfield.) After pointing out the alley adjacent to the Dream hotel where Lohan clipped a pedestrian with her Porsche Cayenne, Mathew declares, his voice cracking with genuine fervor, “We can’t lose Lindsay!”

“On your left is the Gansevoort hotel. Kim Kardashian stayed here. It cost $7,000 a night! Ryan Seacrest paid! Keep your eyes peeled. Last week we saw that little guy from Game of Thrones!” As we roll past the Griffin (on Gansevoort, between Washington and Greenwich), Mathew discloses that Chris Brown and Rihanna once spent 20 minutes in the nightclub’s bathroom. “What do you think they were doing in the bathroom for 20 minutes?” he wonders. I brace myself for the chipper voice of that know-it-all passenger, but there’s just an ambient murmur of speculation, and before we’re able to pursue the matter in greater depth, we’re across from Hogs & Heifers Saloon, where Julia Roberts took off her bra on top of the bar.

Apropos of the Industria Superstudio, Mathew deduces, from the fact that they haven’t been photographed together recently, that Victoria’s Secret model Miranda Kerr and actor Orlando Bloom may no longer be together, and then he declares the restroom on the bus is very clean because “no homeless people use it.” He identifies some graffiti spray-painted on a building by Jim Carrey; the Spotted Pig, co-owned by Jay Z; a house once owned by Kiefer Sutherland; Julianne Moore’s place on Greenwich and 11th, from which, Mathew says, $127,000 in Cartier jewelry was stolen; Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux’s condo on Hudson and 12th (“They moved. She hated New York”); the Bleecker Playground, where Katie brings Suri; the Magnolia Bakery, where Katie brings Suri; and the Charles Street brownstone where Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick live, and though I don’t know whether or not Katie brings Suri there, I do know (thanks to Mathew) that Sarah hosted a $40,000-a-plate fund-raiser for Obama there and that Aretha Franklin loved the chicken, though Mathew just can’t believe they’d serve chicken at a $40,000-a-plate fund-raiser. A little later, when we approach the W.i.P. nightclub (site of the notorious Chris Brown–Drake brawl), Mathew blurts out, “Drake is a rich Canadian Jew!” but he really can’t seem to believe it either.

He flicks on the canned TMZ footage that decrees Tribeca “Robert De Niro Land,” though Mathew is quick to point out that the actor actually lives in a $20 million home on Central Park West and that there was recently a serious fire in his apartment caused by a dryer’s overstuffed lint trap. Again Mathew finds this almost impossible to believe. It’s all so crazy! “A stuffed lint dryer? Really? A stuffed lint dryer?”

I get a text from my dad, reminding me—somewhat plaintively—that I’d promised to spend several days with him out in the country to commemorate his upcoming 82nd birthday.

Jacques steers the bus onto North Moore Street, and Mathew indicates the home of the late John F. Kennedy Jr. He explains his theory—based on his reading of Fifty Shades of Grey—that JFK Jr. had a “sex dungeon” in there. Again, Mathew’s theory is based on a damning absence of evidence. “No one has seen a photo inside the house—ever,” he tells us. Ergo, there must be a sex dungeon. Isn’t it equally plausible that the lack of photographs also implies that chemical weapons such as VX and sarin (or at least precursors such as monoethylene glycol and potassium cyanide) were being manufactured and stockpiled in the sex dungeon of JFK Jr.’s penthouse co-op? Can you just say anything to a bus half full with tourists? That Miley Cyrus was a Gestapo informant during World War II? That J.D. Salinger used gynecological instruments as serving utensils?

“Is that Lance Armstrong?” Mathew wonders out loud as we pass Jay Z and Beyoncé’s loft at Hudson and Desbrosses. “Bethenny Frankel lives there too.” Approaching the Trump SoHo, Mathew tells us the first of several candid autobiographical stories. “I saw Jane Lynch from Glee and I chased her down the street. She ran into Starbucks. It turned out this was the day Cory Monteith died. I felt so bad.” He flicks on the TVs as we roll by the park where Jonah Hill took cell-phone pictures of a homeless woman’s placenta moments after she gave birth. Apparently a posse of TMZ correspondents were following the actor around and everyone serendipitously happened upon the nativity scene at the same time. Hill’s tweet is legendary: “Craziest thing I’ve ever seen. A woman gave birth next to me in a park. I took a picture of the placenta and TMZ caught me. Embarrassing.”

We’re in the Village, in front of the Bitter End, where, many years ago, Lady Gaga started performing on open-mike night at the age of 14 with her mother. “I spent an entire night hanging out with Lady Gaga in Japan,” Mathew tells us excitedly. “I tweeted her to come hang out. She showed up! We got absolutely wasted! It was a karaoke bar with a glow-in-the-dark, adult-toy theme. I slapped Lady Gaga across the face with an adult toy!” Mathew walks up and down the length of the bus showing everyone a photo on his cell phone of him and Lady Gaga. (There are no marks on her face.) “Did you guys see her doing naked yoga?” In all the time I’ve known Mathew, I’ve never seen him this excited.

I wonder if anyone’s interested in me? In what I’m doing right now? I’m neither a celebrity nor homeless. But I once helped Chris Chelios butcher a deer. In Malibu! I was on an elevator once with Steven Tyler. He even called my wife “Marcy.” He said that was his favorite name! (Her name is Mercedes.) I once almost asked Arthur Miller what it was like to fuck Marilyn Monroe. (I was wasted!) And I thought I saw Kate Middleton on the elliptical at my gym in Hoboken. So in case anyone’s interested in what I’m doing…well, I’m just sitting here in my seat, fidgeting with the footrest, texting my dad.

Idling in traffic in front of the SoHo store Dash, Mathew asks, “Who’s your favorite Kardashian female?” He can’t wait for an answer. He’s still all worked up. “Mine’s Bruce!” he shouts. “Bruce is whipped!” There are isolated murmurs of assent. “What do you think of Kanye?” he asks. A passenger proffers a tentative “Douchebag?”

“He’s an absolute idiot,” Mathew cackles.

I’m not sure where I read this, but neuroscientists using brain-scanning techniques are able to identify measurable biomarkers for specific celebrities in people’s brains. Just as there are specific receptors in the brain for cocaine and cannabinoids, there are specific receptors for, say, Jennifer Aniston (in Area 25—the subcallosal cingulate region) and for Khloé Kardashian (in the right anterior insula). So somehow, in the Late Cretaceous period, we were hardwired to recognize and respond to celebrities who wouldn’t exist until millions of years later. I’m not sure if this proves or disproves the existence of God.

We have inexorably arrived at the home of the late Heath Ledger on Broome Street in SoHo. TMZ takes enormous pride in having broken the “sad news” of his tragic death. (It was also first to break the news of Michael Jackson’s death and first to report the death of actress Brittany Murphy.) Mathew tells us Mary-Kate Olsen was the first person called. (Diana Wolozin, the massage therapist who discovered Ledger’s body, used the speed dial on his cell phone to call Olsen in California before dialing 911.) Mathew wonders why Olsen was called and whether she responded with her signature catchphrase from Full House: “You got it, dude.”

To say that this is all recycled pabulum, that there’s absolutely nothing you hear on this tour that couldn’t be gleaned from the cover of any tabloid magazine, nothing a pilot couldn’t point out from 30,000 feet or that only a person who’d been in a persistent vegetative state for the past decade would find any of this the least bit interesting, would be easy and contemptible.

Sometimes, though, for long stretches, Mathew’s running commentary loses any linguistic meaning for me and becomes a series of hisses and pops, and my mind drifts back to my childhood in Jersey City.… I was an exquisitely sensitive little boy who looked upon other children my age as swine, as boors and as philistines and cringed at their approach. My pale, ethereal mother would prepare me a lunch of cream of mushroom soup, with banana Turkish Taffy for dessert, and she’d read me folktales from the Brothers Grimm as I ate, exertions that left her almost too exhausted to fend off the coarse advances of the various hook-nosed peddlers who seemed to be endlessly ringing our doorbell. I was fascinated by the nuns who seemed to float across the boulevard on rainy afternoons. I got my first hand job from a schizophrenic girl with webbed fingers.

Apropos of Canal Street (“Land of the Knockoffs”), Mathew tells us a story about shopping in Dubai and then, as we head uptown on the West Side Highway, about how, when he worked at a gym called Barry’s Bootcamp, he used to see Anne Hathaway and David Hasselhoff, this somehow segueing into an oddly somber (is Mathew, like, bipolar?) rant about Michael Jackson and how “we should remember him for the good stuff.”

Then we play Celebrity or Homeless Person. Mathew flashes the photo of a bedraggled person (face obscured) on the dangling TV screens, and we guess whether it’s a celebrity or a homeless person. It’s Courtney Love! Celebrity! The winner (who gets a TMZ T-shirt and who, I’m fairly certain, is the same person who knew Mariska Hargitay is related to Jayne Mansfield and who thought Lindsay Lohan was a great guest host on Chelsea Lately) says, “I won a beanie on the L.A. TMZ bus tour!”

Mathew tells us that André Balazs is dating Chelsea Handler, and that Sting and Trudie Styler (who supposedly practice “tantric sex”) boned in a bathroom at the top of the Standard hotel, and that Katie Holmes takes Suri to Chelsea Piers for gymnastics lessons, and that the pilot who miraculously landed US Airways Flight 1549 (after its collision with a flock of geese) on the Hudson River is named “Sully,” and for a moment I think I see Diana Nyad swimming in the Hudson, but then I realize it’s just a cardboard box…and the TV screens come back on with old stories about Zac Efron in a sex shop on Seventh Avenue, and also Casper Smart, “J. Lo’s boy toy,” at a sex shop, which prompts Mathew to exclaim, “Good for her!” and then call Farrah Abraham (the erstwhile star of MTV’s Teen Mom who made a porn film called Backdoor Teen Mom) “a terrible role model,” and now, inevitably, it’s time to talk about Amanda Bynes, or “Lindsay 2.0.”

Mathew asks us to enumerate Amanda’s recent contretemps, and passengers yell out, “Dressing room!” “Selfies!” “Wigs!” To which Mathew adds, “She threw a bong out of her apartment window at the Biltmore! She calls everyone ugly! She started a fire in L.A. with a gasoline can in the driveway with her pet Pomeranian. She was arrested. And now she’s in a mental hospital. She’s schizophrenic. Her parents are getting conservatorship. TMZ knows all the drugs they’re giving her.” And then he pauses, his tone falling to a much more somber register, and says, “It’s sad. I hope she gets better. We do love Amanda Bynes.”

We pass by the Ritz-Carlton on Central Park South and hear the story (corroborated by footage on the TV screens) of Britney Spears almost dropping her baby as she disembarks from a town car with a drink in her hand, and then (passing the Plaza) the tale of Charlie Sheen and porn star Capri Anderson and the $165,000 Patek Philippe watch she purportedly stole from him.

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read more: entertainment, Celebrities, issue january 2014

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