My Foray Into Masochism: Dinner With Jonathan Cheban


OMG! BFF!!!

You know there's a story behind this; wherein I went to dinner with the Publicist of Doom and told him to his face why he was not particularly popular.

It was random but not entirely unexpected: Jonathan Cheban, my super-favoritest publicist, wanted to meet me and, as such, our mutual acquaintances arranged a group dinner last night. Was this to be a peacekeeping mission? Was Cheban attempting to humanize himself to me? Or had he merely heard that I was hungry and in need of overpriced food from above 14th? I m a curious person, so I agreed—but not without spending quality time with some Corona before I headed out.

My plan was to get to the restaurant early enough to hit the bar before Cheban arrived. But, as I walked into Mr. Chow (it s amazing how going 60-odd blocks uptown simultaneously sends one back in time), I immediately ran into Jonathan Cheban at the coat check. He s exactly as I imagined: thin, shiny hair, wearing a t-shirt of his own design and two pieces of lightweight bling around his neck. He gave me a warm smile and offered to check my coat with his. I have your coat ticket now, you can t escape, he said. Touch , Cheban, touch .

Here's why we kind of feel momentarily sorry for Cheban: he gets prank-called a lot. Someone even called his mother in the wee hours of the morning and claimed it was Lizzie Grubman. Madame Cheban, being half-asleep and not really thinking, assumed it was indeed Lizzie and gave the caller Cheban s Sidekick number. This Lizzie-imposter has been calling Cheban ever since, claiming they met at The Marquee. During the course of dinner, Cheban ignored five or so calls from this prankster. Out of curiousity, I answered the sixth call. It's "Mandy Moore," the caller said. I was feeling tired, so I hung up on her.

Things were predictably awkward; The Chebs ordered for all of us while I pathetically begged two different waiters for a gin and tonic. We made small talk, and I learned a lot. Cheban wanted to walk out during The Aviator. Cheban promoted Lean Cuisine at Sundance and got a free pair of Timberland boots. Cheban went to an awesome restaurant in Atlanta. Cheban wants a Gawker t-shirt. All the while, his T-Mobile sidekick and Motorola cell phone sat prominently on the table. I put my cell phone out on the table too, in an attempt to gently mock Cheban, but he didn t notice. The food arrived; each new dish, according to Cheban, is the best ever.

We finally got to the inevitable discussions: Jonathan claimed that he s not capitalizing on his famous friends, that at the end of the day he s working hard to make sure Evian or whatever is merely AT the club where said famous friends will be. I politely explained to him that he is loathsome because he s a very public publicist who apparently revels in his connections, as if it were a gold medal of shit. He seemed to understand but still insisted that he s not a schmoozer. This, of course, left me wondering why we were having dinner.

Having done some work for VH1 myself, I asked Cheban what he thought about his recent ousting from the network's roster of talking heads. "They knew I was working for Evian," he claimed. When I mentioned that both he and I had taped for another, yet-to-air special, he joked, "I bet I was cut from that, too!" "Actually, you were," I replied. "I talked to the producer."

Cheban was cheerily nervous about what I would write and made sporting jokes about his suicide watch intensifying with this piece's publication. When photo time hit, Cheban expressed concern that I would frown or make a nasty face. He insisted that I give him approval over which image I used, but the one we agreed on is still less than perfect; Cheban felt that his jacket looked as if it were choking him.

At the end of the meal, The Chebs paid (to slight protestation) and offered all of us a ride home. I was hesitant (would Lizzie be waiting to attack me in the car?), but I couldn't put up a fight and, more importantly, I wanted to see his car, in hopes that it was a bulletproof Yukon or Range Rover. We walked down the street to his Mercedes SLK (disappointingly black); on the way, Jonathan identifies a patch of ice where, earlier in the evening, he slipped and fell. The ride home was quick ("This car has a little pep," he said) and, as Jonathan dropped me off, he asked for my address. He s going to mail me t-shirts from his line, which I will no doubt wear to The Star Room.