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Goodbye, Mr. Big

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With Candace Bushnell, '96.  

A few weeks ago, I met Galotti at the Popover Café on Amsterdam, a family-friendly place just around the corner from the apartment he’s subletting as he prepares his escape to Vermont. He was breakfasting with his wife, Lisa, a former U.S. downhill-skiing champion, and his 5-year-old daughter, Abigail. The last time I saw him, he was presiding over the extravagant Talk magazine launch party on Liberty Island in the summer of ’99, standing next to a radiant Tina Brown at the base of the Statue of Liberty, interrupting his chat with Salman Rushdie to kiss Kyra Sedgwick on the cheek, and later rapping onstage with Queen Latifah. Or, wait, maybe it was at that HBO party, when he was teaching Chris Noth how to say “absofuckinglutely.” In this setting, he seems serene and looks fit, in a flannel shirt and jeans, and far younger than 54. The macho, ADD demeanor I remember from some of our previous encounters has vanished—though it resurfaces periodically as we talk.

Lisa is a big, busty blonde with long, rangy limbs and freckled, sun-cured skin. If Dickinson and Bushnell were Ferraris, Lisa seems more like a Range Rover. It’s hard to picture her in an evening gown, easier to imagine her in a spandex shell on the slopes of Aspen, which is where Galotti met her. His relationship with Bushnell was winding down when he was invited to a charity skiing event by his friend George Fellows, then the president of Revlon. “At breakfast that first day, I see a very attractive blonde who turns out to be this amazing professional skier,” Galotti says, nodding toward his bride. They spent much of the next four days together, although, Galotti says, “I told her I wouldn’t sleep with her till she met my mother.” Over dinner on the last night, he told her, “The only way this is going to work is if you’re going to move to New York and have my children.”

A few months later, she did move to New York.

“I decided that I wanted to leave the ski industry,” she says as she coaxes a piece of bacon into her daughter’s mouth. “I came to New York supposedly to look for a job. But I was actually going to New York to look for him. I’d never even been to New York. I’m a mountain girl. It was a little overwhelming.”

“Honey,” Ron says, “Abbi’s getting her sleeve in the maple syrup.” From our side of the table, he’s been watching his daughter intently through this whole conversation. He is, I will discover, an almost neurotically attentive parent.

“We were talking on the phone at one point before I came to New York,” Lisa continues. “And he had some flippant comment about being in his red Ferrari driving to the Hamptons, and I said, ‘This is too much.’ I couldn’t hear anything. So he pulled over and turned off the Ferrari, and then we had a real conversation for like an hour. Those are the two sides of Ron Galotti.”

Lisa decided to bet on the down-home Galotti, the one who refused to sleep with her until he’d introduced her to his mother. Immediately after that meeting, Galotti whisked her out to his house in Water Mill in the Ferrari.

If you were a girl who was trying to decide which was the real Ron Galotti—the fast-talking, model-dating, corporate hit man or the guy who wanted you to have his children after you met his mother—the cottage in Water Mill would reassure you. The house, which recently sold for more than $2 million, has a kind of feminine, storybook quality. Driving out one Saturday a couple of weeks before they vacated, I was expecting some kind of glassy, Stanley Jaffe, postmodern architectural statement on the beach. Whereas the house on Rose Hill Lane is a gabled, gambrel-roofed, shingled Victorian cottage with meticulously pruned plantings and an oversize dollhouse tower.

“The first time we come out to the Hamptons together,” Lisa tells me over a plate of cheese on the back deck, “we make mad passionate love. And then he says to me, ‘You know those ten-mile runs you go on? Well, you should go on one now,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘My old girlfriend’s coming over to pick up her clothes.’ ”

‘‘I don’t really know if I should tell you this,’’ he says. ‘‘Only a few of my closest friends know.’’

“And Lisa’s a good-sized girl,” Galotti says. “Even then, she was not a petite girl, you understand?”

Instead of slapping the shit out of him, she cheerfully continues, “I said, ‘Where are these so-called clothes?’ And he says, ‘In the closet.’ So I go and look at these clothes to see what size they are—and they’re a size 1! And I say, ‘Please tell me there’s a zero rubbed off.’ I’m thinking, Oh, my God, there’s a girl out there who’s a size 1. So I went from being deliriously happy to miserable. I took a ten-mile run, and when I got back, Candace had picked up her clothes.”

Throughout this exchange Galotti is keeping a watchful eye on Abigail, who is running around the backyard. (I’m a parent. I like to think I’m watchful. But not like this.)

The couple had planned a big New York wedding for the following spring, with all the right accessories. “I had Van Cleef make her a ring. Vera Wang made her a dress. Then we go off skiing for Christmas. We look at each other one day on the slopes and say we don’t really need this. We decided to elope. We got married on the banks of the Roaring Fork River.”

According to both, an eventual escape from New York was always part of the plan. “I said, ‘Give me five years here, honey,’ ” he says. Children were also part of the plan. Galotti, who now suspects that his fear of becoming a father was in part responsible for the failure of his second marriage, was ready to try again.

The tabloids inevitably refer to Galotti as “Bronx-born,” an epithet that suits his brash business image, but most of his childhood was spent in Peekskill in northern Westchester, where his father owned a liquor store and the future Vermont homesteader raised chickens, earned a five-year 4-H pin from the Yorktown Grange, and learned the law of the jungle in the barnyard. “One chicken was born with a bent beak,” he recalls. “In two minutes, the other chickens had pecked it to death. I learned right then, you don’t want your beak to be bent.”

Galotti’s sister, who died recently, was born with Down syndrome. His father died when Ron was 9, at which point his mother started putting in twelve-hour days at the liquor store. Galotti seems to have developed his wise-guy persona partly in response. “The kids pretty much fended for themselves,” he says. A photograph in the bedroom of his Water Mill home shows him as a 10-year-old tough guy with a flattop crew cut, leaning against a wall with a defiant cigarette dangling from his mouth.

His mother had to plead with the high-school principal to let him graduate with his class, at which point he enrolled in the Air Force, which she judged to be the safest of the services at the time, with the Vietnam War at its height. Galotti spent three and half relatively peaceful, flightless, and profitable years in the service, attaining the rank of sergeant. Stationed in the Philippines, he supplemented his income by loan-sharking and later opened a brothel with the proceeds—a chapter of his military career that he confided to me after Lisa teased him into spilling it.

“I got married while I was in the service . . . ” he adds, trailing off, pausing for the first time in fifteen minutes. “I don’t really know if I should tell you this,” he says, finally. “Only a few of my closest friends know this.”

He proceeds to tell me about a brief stint as a contractor in Florida before circling back to the lacuna. “I had a son who died in a car accident when he was 4. He fell out of the back of a car on the highway. It ruined that marriage instantly.” He stares over my shoulder into the middle distance, nodding his head absently, pursing his lips until they almost disappear. “The importance of family . . . ” he begins and pauses, struggling to regain his composure. “It took me a lifetime to get back to the place I needed to be in my heart.”


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