Dowd’s other well-documented romance was with The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin. In May 2001, the New York Post reported that Dowd had accidentally sent “randy” e-mails intended for Aaron Sorkin to her colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin. “That’s a real cautionary tale of e-mail,” she says. “I had only met him; I didn’t really know him and I was just trying to kind of give him tidbits of political things. So I just would e-mail him funny things, and that one was a joke that some guys at a bar said, but when it appeared in the New York Post it was as if I were saying it. Which was so embarrassing, because it was just such a dumb line, and so at least if they were going to catch you with some flirtatious e-mail—which we weren’t doing at that point—you’d like it to be, like, a cool kind of line. And it was also embarrassing because I think he was married then.”
Possibly this encounter was less humiliating for Aaron Sorkin than his arrest the previous month at the Burbank airport, where he was stopped at security for attempting to catch a plane to Vegas with a stash of magic mushrooms and a $4 crack pipe. Sorkin would later admit to writing some of his best work while freebasing cocaine in his room at the Four Seasons. On Yom Kippur, I received an e-mail from him responding to my request for an interview: “I’m atoning for my sins today and that’s gonna take a while. Is tomorrow okay?”
Sorkin describes Dowd as “a dream girl. It’s always seemed to me like she stepped out of a movie from the forties—if Rita Hayworth were just a brilliant writer, that’s what Maureen would be. We would take trips—we would meet in New York or go to Hawaii for a few days, and she would have with her five suitcases of, like, lamé. It was like she was the assistant wardrobe mistress from La Cage aux Folles. It’s like, in case she’s going to need it; it brings her some kind of comfort . . . like a blankie.”
Peggy Dowd thinks that her baby sister “intimidates men with her writing and her smarts. I’ve had friends who’ve said, ‘I’d love to date her, but what would I talk about?’ ” Sorkin describes Dowd as “more independent than I would like.” Wieseltier thinks that “what’s kept her single is her integrity: It’s quite simply that she’s never found a man she loves enough to marry.”
But it’s also the case that being married or otherwise tied down removes a gal’s aura of sexual mystery. As Linda Fiorentino’s character remarks in one of Dowd’s favorite movies, The Last Seduction, “A woman loses 50 percent of her power when people find out who she’s sleeping with.” Wieseltier—who calls Dowd “Bridgid,” which is her middle name and the name of Fiorentino’s Last Seduction character—says that his friend “has created this character called Maureen Dowd who is dazzlingly glamorous.” This character is ageless. This character is single.
The next morning, Alessandra Stanley is making eggs on the Upper West Side. “When I got divorced, I finally got to cook!” she says. “You know how insufferable men are. When they cook, they have to be a chef. I had dinner at [Columbia J-school dean] Nick Lemann’s house once, and it was like we were all witnesses to genius.”
When Dowd walks in, she looks like she’s just come from a nightclub. She’s in a distressed denim skirt and very tight high-heeled, knee-high black boots with her suit jacket from yesterday and her hair up in a clip and her sunglasses on. “I just had to dump my whole purse out,” she says. “I was so afraid I was gonna leave my cell phone in the cab again. But it turned out to be in my pocket. Are you cooking? I should’ve ordered some croissants or something from room service and brought them over.”
“Yes, you should have.”
“Alessandra has the most beautiful manners of anyone outside of the first President Bush.”
“The Wasp,” says Stanley.
“That’s her Wasp side, not her Italian side,” Dowd finishes. “What time is it, exactly? I love this watch—Mike Luckovich, I met him at the White House correspondents’ dinner, and we somehow got in this conversation about how he collects vintage ties and I had a bunch of them from when I used to imitate the way Alessandra dressed, she used to wear ties. What year was that?”
“I don’t want to say.”
“It was a while back,” says Dowd. “I don’t wear them anymore, so I sent them to him and he sent me this watch. I think it’s engraved TO BLANCHE. So what time is it? I’m so happy that woman called you with the cell phone. Although phones are relatively easy, it’s when you leave your computer in the cab.”