But promote what? Unlike many other people who’ve stumbled onto a monetizable moment, Slater could take advantage of almost none of the offers his notoriety brought him. His guilty plea allowed him to avoid jail time under an alternative-sentencing program—a strict regimen of daily 12-step meetings, therapy, biweekly drug tests, and monthly appearances before the judge. After a year of this, his felony would be downgraded to a misdemeanor, and he would be resentenced to a year of probation and required to pay $10,000 in damages to JetBlue. He couldn’t risk ruining this arrangement by essentially taunting the court with media re-creations of his crime. Plus, he was a recovering alcoholic. Any liquor-related gigs—guest bartending, club events, beer ads—were out of the question.
He is now navigating the vanishing terrain of his fame as carefully as he can. He has a publicist in L.A., a literary agent with William Morris Endeavor, and a coterie of entertainment, finance, and criminal lawyers. He is selling T-shirts (with the inscription LET IT SLIDE) to raise money for his legal defense and shopping around a book—a memoir mixed with an insider’s view of the airline industry. William Morris set him up with a co-author, to whom Slater (“no kind of writer,” in his own estimation, though a fun and garrulous talker) has been e-mailing anecdotes for later use.
While the book is in the works, he is living mainly off savings and his 401(k). He also became a paid spokesperson for an iPhone app, Line2, which allows one, among other things, to text from airplanes. From this tenuous connection to Slater’s old job, Line2’s marketing team devised something called the Mile High Text Club, wherein people share their tales of mid-flight high jinks and Slater helps pick the winning entries. His main job, however, is to go about his public life, do as much press as possible, and slip the product’s name into interviews. Slater opens his laptop and shows me a YouTube video he taped for Line2. “I’m Steven Slater!” the YouTube Slater keeps saying, mock-pompously. “See,” the real Slater explains, “I’m trying to show that I’m in on the joke.” The video has 1,987 views and two comments. Last August, Slater, like many newly public figures, became obsessed with online haters; he even created a virtual alter ego named Fannie Eubanks—“a 60-year-old from Omaha”—to defend himself. Then Barry Manilow, who shares a publicist with Slater, invited Slater to his Atlantic City show and told him to stop reading his press.
Rochelle pops into the living room, having mastered the printer hookup.
“Who’s the world’s greatest?” he asks.
“You are, pumpkinpuss,” Slater answers.
He prints out the do-not-resuscitate papers, spreads them on the kitchen table, and signs. I look in his direction. “There’s no glamour here,” he deadpans.
The Newsical publicist is on the phone. It turns out the appearance they want Slater to make is not backstage but onstage. Someone in the show has the idea that Slater should come out and yell at the man playing him. “Okay, this would be the stage-fright portion of this evening’s program,” says Slater, laughing. He elicits a promise that he’s portrayed “lovingly.” He coos and giggles—“My Broadway debut!”—and assures the caller that he’s not some spoiled celebrity. “I’m the same man I was on August 8. I have my feet on the ground.” He then calls Line2’s publicist, setting up the night’s coverage. “Page Six” is coming. NY1 is, too. Who else? TMZ. “TMZ is okay,” Slater says. “They are what they are. If they send Adam, I’m okay with Adam. But not with Kate. Listen to me—could I be more of a diva?”
Rochelle disapprovingly glares from the couch and suggests Slater call his publicist, Howard Bragman, to get his opinion on the stunt. There are no slides onstage, are there? The closest Slater has allowed the media to get to the undocumented central image of his fame—that wheeee down-the-chute moment—was to be filmed sitting at the bottom of a playground slide once, accepting a Resignation of the Year award from Bravo.
Slater convinces Rochelle the cameo is harmless. “This guy portrays me,” he explains, “and they want me to bust up onto the stage and have a little meltdown—I’m the real Steven Slater! You’re an impostor!—and throw him off the stage.”
“Oh, ha ha ha,” Rochelle replies ruefully. “I’m a businessman, I understand,” he says in an aside, as much to himself as me. “Steven needs to work on his brand. It will help with the book later.”
Slater is already back on the phone hammering out the last of the evening’s details: a cast meet-and-greet at Newsical, the hissy-fit bit, media interviews after the show, a brief stop for dinner with friends, and it’s home to Queens. Then, a few hours of sleep and a flight out to L.A., to see his mother one more time. He and Rochelle will fly coach, on full-price tickets. “But you should see what goes on when I get on planes,” Slater boasts. “Pandemonium!”