Read the Prologue of "Fairy Tale Interrupted"The office was quiet when I got in around nine o’clock. Too bad it wouldn’t stay that way for long. Once John arrived, it would be nonstop until he got on the plane for his trip to Italy.
I had an hour to organize myself before I spent the rest of the day organizing him. I checked his voice mail—the first thing I did every single morning for the five years I worked for John—and he’d received six new messages since I left the office at nine the night before. Not bad; definitely not as bad as it could get. I wrote them all down (except for the two from John, asking me to remind him of things he had to do) on message slips, which I piled up and left in a slot on my desk for him to read on his own time. I never bombarded John with information as soon as he walked in the door. He had a very calm demeanor—panic was not his style.
Instead, after a simple greeting of “Morning” when he arrived and walked past my desk, I always gave him a minute to sit in his office and get settled, and I waited for him to call me.
“Rosie?” he yelled only a few minutes later.
“Coming,” I said, rising from my chair and grabbing his calendar, a pen, and a legal pad.
I found him going through the stack of mail that I had covered in sticky notes with various instructions or questions. The whole of Central Park and the Upper West Side skyline was his backdrop as I sat across from him and the office’s wall of windows.
I started in on his day: an editorial meeting at noon; lunch immediately after at Limoncello with Jeff Sachs, his friend and the executive director of Reaching Up, the charity they cofounded; then a 3 p.m. meeting with Biz Mitchell, executive editor of John’s magazine George.
“Oh, brother, Rosie. You are going to have a miserable day if you don’t find some time in that calendar for me to work out,” he said.
So it was going to be like that today.
Whenever John was preparing to leave for a trip abroad, the atmosphere in the office was more hectic than usual, with me double-checking all the travel arrangements, getting vital answers on layouts and story ideas for editors before he was out of touch, and amassing absolutely everything he needed to have in his hands before taking off. That was on top of the regular load of phone calls, meetings, and mail. I detected a note of tension in his voice and knew he needed to release it at the gym. As I was his assistant, the more frazzled he got, the calmer I had to be.
“Okay. I’ll find you forty-five minutes for the gym. You also have to write that thank-you note to Paul Begala today.”
“No problem,” he answered, already distracted and squeezing his stress ball.
When I got back to my desk, another eight voice mail messages were waiting for me, and the phones were going crazy, as they would until about seven that night. I was so used to the ringing, I almost didn’t hear it anymore. I did hear the thud of the box of John’s mail delivered to my desk. Forget it. That would have to wait till tomorrow when John was gone.
Among the new messages were a bunch that had to do with the upcoming auction of his mother’s estate: Reporters from the New York Times, Daily News, and Time called looking for quotes. And Taylor, the woman handling the auction at Sotheby’s, left a terse “Please have John call me back.” I knew from her tone that she needed to discuss something important.
I actually didn’t know anything about the auction, except what was announced to the public: Sotheby’s was selling many items from Jackie Onassis’s estate the following week. From the minute it was announced, I got the vibe from John that he didn’t want it to take up much of his time. He refused to give me any details and dragged his feet when he had to do something for it. (I suspected his trip to Italy was perfectly timed to miss the event.) While John acted like the auction was not a priority, I was fielding numerous calls and requests—not just from the media but from people wanting to attend the event or get a catalog—yet I didn’t have any information. I didn’t even know that the brown paper shopping bag he asked me to take to the house of his sister, Caroline, the week before had been filled with $2 million’s worth of jewelry. If I had, I would have killed him. John just wanted it to be over, so I had to figure out how to handle it without asking too many annoying questions. I acted like I knew what I was doing; pretending I had been there before was my specialty.
The mad dash to get John out of the office on time began as soon as he returned that afternoon from his abbreviated workout. There were new phone messages that I had to discuss with him. (“Is Carolyn also going to that dinner with Leonard Lauder?” “No, it’s just work.” “The Robin Hood Foundation wants you to speak at the next board meeting.” “Okay, just put it on the calendar and write up some notes.”) And the auction again.
“Taylor called a few more times,” I said. “So did your sister.”
“Are you going to call them back?”
“I said I’ll call.”
That was John not dealing with it, I could tell. I wished he’d either tell me what to do or call back, but I couldn’t push him anymore unless I wanted my head taken off.
“Here’s the stationery—and pen—to write Paul’s thank-you note,” I said, putting both on his desk. “It has to go out today.”
I walked out of his office and went to the bathroom to cool off. We were together almost all day, every day. And working for John opened doors to places I never imagined I’d ever enter, like the hottest clubs in town, the most coveted events, the most exclusive restaurants, even his house in Hyannis, which he lent me for a week every summer. Carolyn, his wife, and I spoke on the phone about a hundred times a day and often hung out after work to talk about boys, clothes, and the latest celebrity gossip. John and I were as close as family, and, like family, we got on each other’s nerves.
When I returned, John’s office was empty. He had a lot to do, so where was he? I walked a short way down the hallway. He was in the publisher Michael Berman’s office, chitchatting.
“John, what are you doing?”
“Shut up, Rosie. Stop nagging.”
We were both frustrated, but he got up and returned to his office to write his thank-you note, return his last calls, and reply to editors’ story ideas.
Finally, it was five o’clock: time to get him into the car and out of my hair.
“Car’s downstairs, John,” I shouted from my chair.
Five minutes went by with no response, so I walked into his office and said,
“You have to go now.” He nodded and started to stand up when Michael walked in to tell him a funny story about his run-in with the publisher of Esquire.
“Michael! John has to go,” I pleaded, but they both ignored me and he finished his story. It took another twenty minutes to get John downstairs, because people stopped him everywhere: in the hallway, in the elevator, even in the bathroom. Finally, sweet Jesus, we made it outside.
On the way to the car, a couple of construction workers spotted John and called out to him, as people always did when they saw him in public. (When I first met John, one morning I saw him on the street as I walked to work and shouted his name, but he didn’t turn to acknowledge me. Later, I confronted him and asked why he had been so rude. “Rosie, do you know how many people yell ‘John’ when I’m walking down the street? If I turned to every one of them, I’d never get to work.”)
“Hey, John John, I like your magazine,” one of the construction guys yelled.
“Thanks, but it’s one John,” he said.
I handed him a folder that held absolutely everything he needed: his itinerary, a contact list, stories to edit, stories to review, pages to show the ad people, and more.
“Do you have your passport and wallet?” I asked.
He patted his pocket to double-check.
“John, one more thing. I’m getting a lot of calls about the auction. What should I tell people about that?”
He shot me a look. “How should I know? Do I look like I work at Sotheby’s?” Dick! He was lucky he got in that car, or else I would have choked him. Thanks a lot, John, I thought as the town car rode away.
I picked up a fresh pack of Camel Lights and packed them into my hand as I walked down the hallway to creative director Matt Berman’s office, which doubled as the magazine’s rec room. The office had every new magazine, ashtrays, Diet Coke, and a sofa—all the makings of a good lounge. That’s where Carolyn hung out whenever she visited, not in John’s office. She’d flop down on the couch, a whirlwind of handbags and stories, and spend hours leafing through magazines and smoking, so that by the time she left, Matt’s office looked like a nightclub. Now it was my turn on the couch.
“I could hear you pounding on those cigarettes from in here,” Matt said. “Bad day?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” I said, taking a drag and a sip of Diet Coke.
Once John was gone, a Coke and a cigarette on Matt’s couch was my ritual. Matt used to say he always knew when John had left for the day because he heard the can open in his office.
We weren’t supposed to smoke in the office. But it was George. We could get away with almost anything. If we’d set the curtains on fire, the publishing company would have said, “Okay, just put them out when you’re done.”
I bitched to Matt about John’s insensitivity, stubbornness, and a litany of other complaints. But truthfully, I was in heaven. With John on a plane for the next seven hours, I had something that was very rare for me—an evening all to myself. Not only could I actually leave the office by 7 p.m., I also wouldn’t have to worry about misplaced keys, last-minute letters to celebrities for requests to pose for the magazine cover, reporters on deadlines, people wanting RSVPs, or any of the other details I dealt with day and night. I planned to enjoy it, and that meant going home, ordering in, and zoning out in front of the television. Heaven.
The buzzer rang with my food (interrupting a rerun of My So Called Life), and reaching inside my bag for my wallet, I found a white envelope with my name on it. It was in John’s handwriting. I instantly pulled open the envelope. Inside, I counted ten hundred-dollar bills—a thousand dollars in cash.
Was he kidding me? I read the accompanying note.
"Rosie, this means you have to commit crimes if I ask you to. Don’t get used to it. We only auction mummy’s jewelry once a life. Thanks, baby. Enjoy! JK"
The money was awesome, but the note was even better. I hadn’t signed up for auctions when John hired me, and I felt as though he didn’t get that. But of course, he wound up acknowledging it with the most thoughtful, low-key, classy thank-you I could ever imagine receiving. Even when we bickered, John knew I appreciated everything he did for me and that I always had his back.
John’s and my lives were intertwined in many ways. Working for him, I was his gatekeeper, controlling access to someone who everyone wanted a piece of. I protected him and his time from things and people that weren’t in his best interest. As a friend, my role wasn’t all that different, except that I made him laugh. He teased me ruthlessly, and I gave it right back to him. He loved that I treated him like a normal person and not like JFK Jr. As his loyal assistant and friend, I would have done anything for him. Even though I never expected anything more than a paycheck, John gave me opportunities that changed my life forever, taking me on the most dramatic journey a girl in the City could ever dream of. Especially a girl like me.