At the cocktail party preceding the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses spelling bee last night, former Star editor Joe Dolce was rubbing up against cheetah-sheathed Page Six editor Paula Froelich. Was he here to spell, like Paula? "God no." He was here to cheer on his boy, HarperCollins VP Jonathan Burnham. Joe has been mostly occupied by cheering Jonathan on lately, though he hasn't been completely at loose ends during his year of unemployment: "I was working on a web-based project about design, but I had to pull back from it recently," he said, as a very tall, beautiful woman in a houndstooth skirt and enormous diamond earrings came up behind him and mischievously grinned at everyone. It was Alex Kuczynski, who has been described by this website as a "pervert," a "body modification expert," "somewhat plastically-reconstructed," a "facially-reconfigured semiotician," and most often, "Times rich lady beat reporter." "Hi Bunny!," she said. "I looove your bangs! You look like a person on the 'Brady Bunch'!" Did she mean Cousin Oliver? Whatever, totally charmed! Nikola Tamindzic documented this.
Ira Silverberg, the fun-loving literary agent who organized this event on behalf of the CLMP, thanked everyone for showing up to support the organization. The CLMP exists to help small presses and lit mags at a time of unprecedented "conglomeration in book publishing," he informed us.
Jonathan Burnham—former Miramax Books honcho!—nodded sagely.
Then Ira introduced the evening's MC, his husband Bob Morris, who has that column in the Times about being a crotchety gay who is annoyed by email and babies and stuff. Bob in turn introduced the bee's judge, OED editor Jesse Sheidlower, who is the very definition of geek hot.
"Jesse is the top in this relationship," Bob told us, in what was to be the first of many adorably supergay, but sort of eldergay, double-entendres of the evening.
Seriously, imagine an elementary school spelling bee crossed with some sort of outtake scene from "Tales of The City" and there you go.
Jonathan Burnham was first up. He aced "pergola." Easy! Especially because he is British.
Things were about to get much tougher, though. The author Colin Channer misspelled "millennium." Then Michael Cunningham ("one of the tallest and most beautiful men in this room, and also he won a Pulitzer!" per Bob) also misspelled millennium. Paula Froelich was up next, and she flubbed millennium too! This, however, might have been hara-kiri: "That's how we spell it at Page Six," she told the audience, and scampered out the door with her date. (He was cute.)
Alex Kuczynski and "Cancer Vixen" author Marisa Marchetto were both eliminated by the word "cappuccino."
"Do you think I need some Botox, Alex?" Marisa asked, before her losing turn. "Leave her alone, she's disgraced," Bob chided. Indeed!
For the rest of the evening, Alex sat in the losers' area, complaining loudly that the other contestants' words were too easy and generally heckling. Occasionally she would get up to bring her fellow losers fresh rounds of drinks. "I just got a drink for Michael Cunningham," she told me starstruckly as she breezed by in a cloud of delicious perfume.
Next to me, New York's Jesse Oxfeld observed that Alex smelled amazing. I wondered aloud what her perfume was. "Money," Jesse said, and then went back to caressing his handheld device.
It's true, Alex does have an awful lot of money. But author Meg Wolitzer has the title of CLMP Spelling Bee reigning champion, and what's really more important?