I got assigned my first piece for the New Yorker out of nowhere. There had been a press release sent out that morning by the PR team of wrestler-turned-actor-and-musician Robert “The Work” Dante. He was holding an emergency press conference on the third level deck of his luxury yacht down in the harbor.
The press conference was a damage control move by his PR team to fight allegations of child abuse and neglect by his ex-wife. The drama has been playing out for a few months now — The Work was a beloved and clean pop culture figure before the New York Times broke the first story. The Work maintains that the rumors are only his ex-wife trying to defame him in the midst of a nasty divorce. He’s begged for privacy and of course has received none.
I got the email in the morning. I’d slept in and wasn’t expecting to hear from anyone. It said I had to be down at the docks in half an hour. I quickly got myself up and out of the house. Apparently, the sudden announcement meant that I was the closest person the magazine had a contact with, and no one else could be there in time. So the rookie got his shot. The last line of the email was, “If you fuck this up, you will not hear from us or anyone affiliated with our publication, ever again.”
I sped through side streets and fortunately didn’t kill anyone on my drive there. Upon arrival, I was first surprised at how empty the area was and then at how big the yacht was. It was parked among a slew of industrial-sized cargo carriers, and it rivaled them in scale. It looked like a cruise ship. I would later discover that The Work owns one of the largest privately owned ocean vessels in the world. He calls it “The Athena” but will probably change the name, as Athena is the name of the woman currently pursuing the allegations of child abuse.
I ran down the wharf and up the stairs. I boarded the yacht and was guided by security to the third floor of the yacht’s five level deck. Apparently The Work would give the press a statement, no questions allowed, and then embark on a “much deserved” vacation to an undisclosed location.
There was a small press pool gathered, about twenty people roped in right at the top of the stairs. The Work himself was on a podium at the front, making his statement.
“I see someone’s late,” said The Work as I took my place at the back of the scrum, the private security guards breaking the circle they’d made to escort me. “Who are you with?”
The Work was a big guy, shaved head, Hispanic descent. Today he looked like an irritated genie. He wore a white t-shirt and bulky black pants.
Everyone else turned their heads to see who was late. I didn’t see anyone I recognized at first. They all looked as irritated as The Work.
“The New Yorker,” I said.
The Work threw his hands up like he was signaling a touchdown and made an expulsion of air from between his lips, a large ungulate sound signifying great annoyance.
“Great,” he snapped. “Now I gotta give you an exclusive to catch you up.”
I thought he was kidding.
“Are you insisting?” I said. Everyone else was still glaring at me.
“Wait, someone shows up late and you give him an exclusive?” someone, I think it was Gail Barber from Vox, yelled.
“Yes, we are insisting,” said a guy who must have been his manager, coming forward and gesturing to me. “I’ve never seen you before.”
“This is my first assignment.”
The Work finished his statement to the press pool — his last words were “So I throw my gauntlet down on a vessel that was named for my love, in order to prove my love. Thank you.” He stepped off the podium as the flurry of questions descended.
He and his manager pulled me aside and gave me the skinny — he said he had been enduring a custody battle over his 4 year old son and another celebrity friend of his wife’s had bashed his fathering skills, so that morning The Work had put out a statement challenging the wife to come meet him so could have the kid decide between the two of them in public in front of the cameras. The Work was confident the kid would choose him.
I was bubbling with excitement at my great fortune — I had prepared some questions in the car — but The Work explained all this to me tersely and then said, “Thanks for being fucking late. Real professional,” before walking off without another word.
“When will the event be held?” I asked his manager.
“As Mr. Dante just stated, the date will be released via his official website once his vacation is over,” said the manager. “We will be in touch.”
“That really wasn’t an exclusive,” I said to the manager. “He just repeated his statement to me.”
“Thanks again, please quote accurately,” said the manager, who never introduced himself.
“Isn’t he worried about what this might do to his child’s psyche?” I asked. “To put this much pressure on him at such an age in public?”
“Mr. Dante loves his children,” said the manager. “Now off you go.”
He took me by the elbow and led me back to the press pool like a teacher with an impudent student. I felt very flustered. Less than an hour ago I’d been in bed on Reddit.
The Work and his entourage disappeared, and the press had some downtime before security would escort us all off the boat.
I sat around and discussed the event with Maria Knox from the Atlantic.
“I see you finally got the call,” she said. She’s friends my with my girlfriend — they both went to Amherst together.
“Yeah,” I said. “Wasn’t expecting it. Lucky to get down here in time.”
“What did he do with the exclusive?”
“It wasn’t an exclusive,” I said. “I think he just wanted to make sure I got the whole statement.”
We talked to a guy who turned out to be married to Janice Hoopenlicker — the media mogul — who said that the readership of all journalism is completely down and wouldn’t ever come back up again.
“People don’t read anymore,” the guy said sadly. “It’s really a loss.”
“I think it’ll come back,” said Maria. “My husband says people lose interest with things and then pick them up again once they realize they’re going to be gone for good.”
“I’ve never heard that,” said the guy, who also never gave us his name. He was a handsome, balding African American with a fuzzy beard. He looked to be in his mid-fifties and had a soothing, calm voice. He said he was here with the Washington Post but wasn’t doing the actual coverage. He’d just come along to “watch the fireworks”.
“I still read,” I told him. “I have my list of magazines that I go down every morning when I get up.”
“Then you’re in the minority,” said the guy. “Never thought I’d say that to a white person.”
“But you want to write for them,” Maria said to me. “Would you be reading them if you weren’t trying to write for them?”
“True,” I said. “I think people are too busy working to read nowadays. Trying to get by.”
“It is a struggle,” said the man. “Everyone struggling, ‘cept for people like this guy.” He gestured around the yacht. “Look at this thing. This cost more than all of us will make in our lifetimes.” He shook his head. I thought it was rich for him to be talking about struggle, given that he’s married to one of the most powerful women in the business, but of course I didn’t say that.
The security took their sweet time getting us off the yacht, and we weren’t allowed to leave until they came with us. I’m not sure what the hold up was. The Work had gone below deck to his suite and was talking to his captains of security, probably giving them orders for what to do after he’d gone to sea.
I asked if there was a bathroom I could use. My body was just now catching up with my quick wake up call, and my bladder was realizing it was completely full.
A short bulldog of a security guy brought me down another level to the bathroom. His gold nametag read Jones and I saw an arsenal of pepper spray, a taser, a billy club, and a Glock on his hip. He pointed to a handsome door down the hall with frosted glass and didn’t say anything. He stood with his arms crossed and his eyes forward.
I was almost to the bathroom when the door flew open. I was shocked to see The Work come swaggering out. He didn’t even look at me, made a quick right down another hallway and was gone.
The inside of the bathroom was nicer than my apartment. Crystal trim, brass fixtures, marble floors and cedar molding.
Inside the small stall I discovered an enormous, unflushable shit in the toilet that The Work had left. The turd was actually exactly what I’d expect from a protein factory like The Work — it was the size of a child’s arm and curled like said child flexing their bicep. The smell was so bad I gagged.
There was a moment where I thought about showering the stool of an international celebrity with my own urine, our bodily fluids making us one and the same in some way, but the thought passed and I elected to hold my piss until I got back onshore.
I did, however, pull out my phone and snap a picture before heading back up.