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OPINION COLUMN: TED KRUCKEL

My Trip to Jersey for the ‘Real Housewives’ Premiere: Police Lights! A Busted Ice Sculpture! Test Tube Shots!

On Monday, I text messaged the editor in chief of this Web site around 11 p.m. to tell him I had just left a nightclub called Tribecca—which is actually in Fort Lee, New Jersey—where I was attending the Real Housewives of New Jersey Season 3 premiere screening party, hosted by Teresa Giudice.

She is, of course, the table-flipping, tough-talking star of the series. You remember her, with the dark wavy hair, the cookbooks, and the husband, Joe. They live in a gaudy N.J. mansion and recently declared bankruptcy with debts surpassing $11 million. But their bankruptcy protection is under review, since there are allegations that they lied on their application, hiding assets and income. They are due back in court in July to explain that situation. And since they filed for bankruptcy, Joe has been ordered to pay $260,000 in restitution to a former partner for forgery, and was recently arrested for attempting to get a driver’s license in his brother’s name. (His own license has been suspended because of a D.W.I., of course.)

I texted my editor to let him know we had escaped the event “BARELY ALIVE.” I had asked him to join me at the event, and expressed concern that they might “beat me up” at the party, but he was of course too busy. But I figured he still had concerns for my safety, partying with some, let’s face it, pretty tough customers.

His response the next day? “Can’t wait to read about it. But keep the story focused, please.”

Anyway, here is what went down.

8:31 p.m.: We arrive at the nightclub after having exchanged numbers with the driver, and asking him to promise to stay nearby. As we pull up, there are two police cars parked out front with lights flashing. We assume there has already been an incident.

8:33 p.m.: A rotund bouncer, standing at the front door with a red velvet rope, tells us to go around back. I ask, “Why are you standing here with a velvet rope if we can’t go in here?” He responds, “I do what I’m told. You need to go around back.”

8:34 p.m.: As we (this column’s trusted confidante Susan Murphy served as the evening’s witness/photographer) walk in the rain down a dark driveway, we are almost hit by a black S.U.V. As we jump out of the way, we see the driver is Dina Manzo, the blonde who appeared in the first two seasons but left the show. (The rumor is that her ex-husband threatened a custody battle if his daughter appeared or was mentioned in any of the segments.)

8:36 p.m.: We arrive at the back door, where another generously proportioned bouncer and a young lady at a cash register ask our names. Despite being confirmed by Bravo’s Ryan McCormick, our names are not on the list. The cash register dame is clearly at wit’s end; we can tell by looking up the stairs that the place is already packed, and that she has had a rough time. After a few minutes looking at a completely disorganized set of papers, she decides, “Oh, I guess it’s okay,” and gives us pink paper wristlets. Then the bouncer ups the ante and gives us the V.I.P. red smiley-face hand stamp. We’re in!

8:40 p.m.: We get our first drink from Gia, who is blond and wearing a very revealing tank top that shows she opted for D-cups when she had her breasts done. We are told that this will be our last free drink, since the open bar ended at 8:30. She could not be nicer and poses for our pictures.

8:43 p.m.: We notice an ice sculpture on a table. There is a giant pool of water on the floor. A guest tells us part of the ice sculpture fell and broke, and that is why there is water on the floor. The sculpture was for a tequila brand, but we can’t make out the lettering, which appears to read backwards whether you look at it from the front or the back. There is a funnel on top of the sculpture and a tube that comes out the bottom. It seems to me that you would have to be on your knees to take a shot of tequila out of the tube. As we take a close-up of the tube, I wonder what we might have missed.

8:46 p.m.: There are hundreds of empty drinks everywhere, and it seems like we are very late to this party, which is rocking. It is 90 percent women. As a rule, their appearances exceed even my wildest expectations. We meet two women who have driven more than 70 miles, from Poughkeepsie, New York. They have low-cut tops accentuated by large breasts and flashy jewelry. One of them tells us that Teresa is her hero: “She lives my life, only better.”

8:48 p.m.: There is a countdown clock on all the screens. It is all becoming very exciting. We talk with Dina Manzo, not mentioning the drive-by incident. She remembers that I am with BizBash and tells me about her new show on HGTV about parties. Remind me to check it out. I grew up in Franklin Lakes, where she lives.

8:50 p.m.: Omarosa, the Trump Apprentice diva, is here. She is much prettier than I expected in person, not that I ever expected to be in her exalted presence. We sit on the sofa and have a brief conversation. She points to a man in a black, shiny, multifaceted and textured jacket that could work in a skating competition. He is her B.F.F. from Life & Style magazine; they came together. She is shocked I don’t recognize him.

8:52 p.m.: There are ravaged food trays all around. From the detritus we can tell it was Italian. We think we recognize a blond man as Ken Pavés, the celebrity hairdresser, but it is Marc Bouwer, whom I have known for more than 20 years, and I am embarrassed. He has dressed Teresa for the night in her chiffon and sequined (of course) corseted, strapless gown. We can see her posing with guests for picture after picture in front of a step-and-repeat, and she looks very glamorous. For $75, guests got food, a one-hour open bar, and “free” pictures with her.

8:55 p.m.: Marc and I take a picture together, and the Life & Style editor jumps in the shot. He tells me his name and wants to chat, but we want to go upstairs for the show. We talk to Manny, an amiable weeble-shaped fellow who appears to be running the photo station with Teresa. We tell him who we are and that we want to ask her a few questions. He is pleasant and promises to come find us upstairs. We notice a girl in a supertight, equally short, white dress who is hanging out near the cash machine, and we wonder “What’s her story?”

9:02 p.m.: The V.I.P. room upstairs is less crowded and more civilized than the main floor, but there is inexplicably another giant puddle on the floor here. The show has started with no fanfare; there are disco lights flashing, and the sound is impenetrable. I go to the sound booth where I meet Jimmy Jabado, the owner, an older fellow who is personable. I tell him to turn down the bass on the sound and he does, which helps a lot. Then I suggest turning off the flashing lights, which he doesn’t do, but at least he slows them down and makes the effects much more subtle, which helps. We chat. He has owned the club for 30 years. Teresa came to him; she is a regular at the club. I try to get him to tell me how the deal worked and how much of the $75 a head he gets, but he is too smart for me—though he does let slide that he thinks they sold 300 tickets (hey, I.R.S., heads up!). I ask him who the caterer was (upstairs, the food trays are more presentable, but they are being very quickly ravaged as well). He forgets the name but says it is a New York caterer. Okay, Tribecca Nightclub in Fort Lee has an N.J. Housewives party, but orders the food from the city, why am I confused?

9:15 p.m.: The sound is unbearable during the commercial breaks. I tell the sound guy, “Maybe you should turn the sound down during the commercial breaks.” “Every time?” he asks, thinking it over. I explain that broadcasters transmit higher audio levels during commercial breaks. “Yeah, I’ve heard that,” he tells me, unconvincingly. He declines to adjust the sound level during this or any other commercial break. “I know what I’m doing,” he mumbles, again unconvincingly.

9:30 p.m.: The few men in the room are starting to stand out, and not in a good way. One guy sits on a chair, tells us he is a personal trainer (though his body tells us something else) from Hasbrouck Heights, and that he is in love with Teresa. He does not move from the chair once during the show, and I get the distinct impression that, were there not so many people milling about, he would be touching himself. Another guy has a black shirt buttoned to the neck with some kind of jewelry at the collar. He is a hairdresser. Then there is this tall 30-something guy, handsome, who kind of winks every time he goes by, and we decide he is there as cougar prey.

9:45 p.m.: No one goes to the cash bar in the V.I.P. room. I buy two glasses of wine from the girl who is wearing one of two black dresses in the room that are so short I do a double take, and give her a $10 tip. She says I am the best customer in the room. She also tells me the short dresses are uniforms. The other girl is selling test tubes of murky shots—“Tooters”—but we don’t buy one.

9:55 p.m.: I should mention that we’ve kind of given up on the show. You can’t really hear much. We notice Lizzie Grubman on the screen, and her face looks different. Jacqueline’s daughter, the one who pulled the extensions off of Danielle last year, is interning at Lizzie’s firm, so that makes sense. We know there is a big fight at the end of the episode, but we realize the show is 90 minutes, not an hour, and are exasperated and about to leave. I notice Dina slips out.

10:05 p.m.: Joe is here! He’s diminutive but very stout. He has a bunch of guys and is buying up the bar. We make a beeline for him.

10:15 p.m.: We are hanging with Joe, and even though we are very scared of him, he is entertaining. He is funny and having fun. We ask him about his pizza parlor, which he tells us is in Hillside, New Jersey, but when we ask him the address (we have a pad and pen, and we have to report something), he says, “I forget.” Then he tells us to “ask this guy.” “This guy” hands us an official-looking card. He is Paul Drejaj, and he is the “mayor’s aide” in the township of Hillside, and he says, “Anything you need to know about the pizza parlor, you just call me,” which we find odd in a dangerous and exciting sort of way.

I ask Joe one serious question: “With all the stuff going on in your life, does being in front of these cameras all the time make you nervous?”

“I don’t even notice them. Couldn’t care less. I just go about my life,” he says, smiling. As we leave, he invites us to the pizza parlor reopening, though he isn’t sure when it will be, but promises us free slices. We think we might like Joe.

10:34 p.m.: We are downstairs again, trying to talk to Teresa before we leave. The scene down here has deteriorated, if you can believe it. Teresa is still posing for picture after picture, and the ladies down here are much louder and drunker. As we get close to Teresa, a blonde woman, Sonia, who declines to give me her last name, inserts herself between us. We see Manny, but he does not intervene. Sonia is not friendly and not interested in having Teresa answer any questions. After tense negotiations, she agrees to allow me to ask Teresa two questions.

I tell her I write about parties, and ask, “How was this party?”

She gives me a blank stare, and Sonia says, “Energetic and exciting.” Then Teresa says, “It was an energetic and exciting party.”

“That’s not going to play well, you just saying what the publicist says,” I point out, but Sonia says, “You got your answer, next question.”

I notice that a group of ladies has surrounded our group, and they are starting to push the whole scene a foot or two in either direction. It feels like an angry mob in the dressing room at Loehmann’s.

My question is, “Given all that is going on, with the bankruptcies and your husband’s trouble with the law, are you sure that continuing on this show is in the best interest of your family?”

Sonia, of course, erupts in anger and starts pulling me by the arm and shouting at me, and I notice another lady has also put her hand on my arm.

Teresa’s eyes flash fear and she says, “What sort of a question is that?”

“It’s a direct question. Your husband had no problem answering it.”

“What did he say?”

“I’ll tell you after you answer the question. Do you think appearing on this show is in the best interests of your family?” I repeated.

“You tell me what he said first.”

By now the girls are also pulling her away, though our eyes remain locked. It is not the malevolent, violent look I’ve seen her sport on the show. She looks as if she is about to cry.

I might have said something nice to her, but now it is time to get the hell out of there and we do, racing breathlessly to the car. The Life & Style guy in the skating outfit follows us out menacingly and says to me, “You’re no journalist.”

I notice the police cars are still there and still flashing, and the next day Lieutenant Zevits from the Fort Lee department speculates that they weren’t there on official police business, that maybe the club had hired them for extra security. “I wouldn’t know, I was at Disney World that day.”

As we drive off, I wonder if hiring police to flash their lights outside Teresa’s party was such a good idea for her. Poor Teresa.


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