February 6, 2008
Before closing in 1990, Boston’s Charles Street Jail held its fair share of historical icons, Malcolm X and Sacco and Vanzetti to name a few. Nearly two decades later and reopened as the luxurious Liberty Hotel, the site was well prepared to welcome yet another cultural great—one already with a mug shot in her portfolio.
Paris Hilton hit the Hub on a grey winter day to accept Harvard Lampoon’s “Woman of the Year” Award, a satire of Harvard’s more-serious-but-not-really Hasty Pudding ceremony. After accepting the honor she was scheduled to make an appearance at The Estate to celebrate the nightclub’s first anniversary. My best shot to graph her would be at the hotel where undoubtedly she would be changing into evening attire.
I found out Hilton was staying at Liberty after a tip from my buddy Lewando and headed over after meeting my wife for a quick happy hour meal at McCormick & Schmick’s in Copley. I planned my arrival to the hotel for seven o’clock knowing Paris wouldn’t be running early for her appearance. Pulling my hood tightly over my head, I didn’t know how late into the night she would run either.
Parking myself about thirty yards from the entrance, I kept an eye on the slow churn of guests while scanning for a dark SUV or limo pulling through the horseshoe-shaped lot. For a half hour I was alone with the rain. Then a fortyish guy in a New England Patriots sweatshirt headed my way, stopping a few feet away and lighting a cigarette.
“What are you doing out here?” he said.
Just waiting for someone.
“Waiting for someone? Out here?”
Waiting to get someone’s autograph.
He took a drag. “What are you getting it for a kid?” His eyes narrowed. “You selling ‘em?”
No and no.
“I just don’t understand it then,” he said, dropping the cigarette butt to the pavement and twisting a toe over it. “Seems like a waste of time to me.”
Watching the guy head back into the hotel I notice a quick burst of light in the lobby. Then another. And another. It was go time.
Standing next to the valet stand I could now see through the front doors into the atrium. More flashes. I unzipped my bag and pulled out a folder, inside an 8×10 of Hilton. I pulled out a Blue Sharpie and pocketed my camera.
The doormen made their move and the circus came into full view. First, a photographer, walking backward through the open doors snapping away. Behind him a young woman barked instructions, waving a clipboard in the direction of the limo which has pulled up. Hotel personnel rushed guests out who had clogged up the artery to the outdoors. Then several large, serious-looking men in suits paved any remaining stragglers. I took a step forward, careful not to get caught in the wave and peered back through the doorway. Strutting down the now cleared runway in exaggerated slow-motion—as if every step was a posed snapshot—was Paris Hilton.
Dressed in a silver empire waist dress beneath a snow-white fur coat, she absolutely radiated. I was taken aback (shocked, frankly) by how beautiful she looked in person. Then I remembered the 8×10 I had brought for her to sign and embarrassment became a stone in my stomach. Pulling it from my folder I looked down at Paris gazing up at me seductively as she crawled across a dining room table in a leopard-print string bikini. What was I thinking?
When she finally emerged—and surprised me again by not being taller—I said hello and asked her to sign. “Of course,” she said, taking the photo without blinking and patiently scrawling her name (and mine after requesting that she personalize).
Time for a picture? Of course.
I handed my camera to a doorman, Paris sidled up to me and—SNAP!
A single frame worth three hundred and forty more words than I could muster.