What I wear walking into my community service has no connection to what I’m going to do when I get inside. This is how I dress, and this is how I carry myself. What do they expect me to do, walk in looking all drib and drab? I’ve never looked drib and drab in my life.
There’s no plan for this week. It’s kind of unfolding as it goes. The judge at my sentencing had promised that my car could drop me off at the door of the Sanitation Department every morning. I asked for that mostly because I’ve had a stalker. But then this gentleman from the Sanitation decided I had to be dropped off outside the gates so I would have to walk past the press. After I found out about this, I was in a car with my friends Norma Augenblick and Steven Klein, and Norma said to Steven, “You should shoot this.”
I arrive at 7:50 and walk into the warehouse past a horde of press who are lined up along this drive that’s about 100 feet long, kind of like a catwalk. It’s absolutely crazy. My focus is on getting to my job, keeping my head up and looking forward to another new experience. I sign in and show my I.D. I’m not allowed to bring my cell phone in, though all the other people doing service seem to have theirs. At first I’m told I’ll have to put on my orange vest where the press can see me. Later, Mr. Barry, who is my supervisor and is absolutely lovely, says I don’t have to, but if that’s the picture they want, I’m just going to put it out there so it’s over and done.
Everyone else at the Sanitation turns out to be really pleasant too. I meet so many different sorts of people and find out how much the people who work there do for the city. Maybe doing this service at the Sanitation was meant to be like a humiliation punishment, but it isn’t at all.
I head to my locker and change into my work clothes and am told, along with two other people, to sweep the garage. We start sweeping so intently and get a rhythm going. I have to tell you, I find solace in sweeping. I have no other responsibilities. I have no phone. I have time to think. I just have, you know, peace.
As we are working, one of my coworkers tells me how he ended up here, which was basically because of alcohol. I bond with him, and I tell him I’m in recovery. I started doing drugs when I was 23, as a recreational thing. I had no idea of the effect it would have on me. I had been discovered at 14 and brought into the business at 15. There’s no handbook to teach you how to deal with this business. It’s been such a roller coaster. Before long, I started taking drugs to escape or deal with some disaster, like when someone died. I lost a lot of friends in 1997, and that was the year I really fell down emotionally. I first sought treatment for my addictions in 1999, and then went in and out of recovery. I’d be okay for a couple years and think I had things under control, but then I would relapse.
I never really looked into myself, deep below the surface.
I was just caught up in my job and flying around the world and wanting to be fabulous. But there comes a point when it all catches up with you and you have to deal with it. And that caused me to reassess myself and get real treatment for my anger and my addictions.
What I came to realize is that I had to surrender. I’m such a controlling person, but I had to just let go and let something higher than me be in control of my destiny. You have to let yourself become vulnerable again.
Some people can handle a drink or a line of cocaine, but I’ve finally come to realize that, for me, it’s all or nothing—and it has to be nothing. And my life has changed since.
I’m not saying this to excuse what I did. I threw the phone, I threw it, but I didn’t bash it, and that was wrong.
I take responsibility.
So I keep on sweeping. I’m moving so fast they tell me to slow down. I’m getting very protective of my pile of rubbish, kind of the way I feel about my Hermès handbag or my Louis Vuitton. I keep looking around to make sure no one is crossing into the area I was assigned to sweep. I guess that’s my all-or-nothing behavior again: Once I start sweeping, I have to sweep everything.
It’s time for lunch, and we order in from a Spanish restaurant. One of my coworkers gets wings; I get chicken stew. I want to treat everybody, so I pay for it. A very nice lady from the Sanitation passes out drinks. She smiles and she says to me, “Don’t you want a Diet Coke?” I say, “No, I drink regular.” And she’s like, “You’re a model. You should be drinking Diet.”
Mr. Barry takes us into an office where we can eat. He saves the day because he somehow finds me hot sauce. I always carry hot sauce in my bag, but I don’t have it with me. Mr. Barry is very cool.
After lunch we continue sweeping. The radio is tuned to an Eighties station, so I hear a lot of ABBA and Donna Summer. The time passes very fast.
When it’s time to go, I sign out and go back into the circus outside. I go to the gym, then Steven and I go to dinner at the Dylan Hotel, which has a great steak house. I go home and watch I Love New York on VH1. Then the 11 o’clock news rolls around, and my friends start calling and texting me. I try not to read the tabloids, and I am not fully aware of what’s going on, but I find out that the press is turning this whole thing into a fashion show by commenting on what I was wearing.
I say my prayers and rush to the shower. It’s freezing outside. Really cold, so I wear a Giuliana Teso fur coat. I’m rushing because I don’t want to be late. I make sure I arrive every morning early, at five to eight.
When I get out of the car, my bodyguard grabs my bag and just hands it to someone. It turns out it was a policeman. I’m not treating the police like they are my valet, like the papers will say later, it’s just that I’m used to gentlemen. Obviously I’m wrong.
I recognize one of the other Sanitation officers because he does security at night at Nobu. It’s really nice to see a familiar face. Today our assignment is to clean the walls of a corridor, which are very dirty. There are seven of us cleaning, including a lady from Poland. She wants the right products and she won’t let up. She’s relentless and very funny about it. She’s on her hands and knees, and Mr. Barry says, “Would you get off your hands and knees, please?”
We both decide we are going to clean our lunchroom. We really scrub it down. We’re both like, “We want to make sure we eat in a clean environment.”
I decide we should order lunch from Mr. Broadway Kosher, this deli I love. None of them have had kosher before, and they love it. After lunch, we finish the hallway. I’m very proud of it because it’s so clean. By 3:30, we’re done and I head up to this place in the Bronx, the Point, and read to schoolchildren. I read from Dr. Seuss, which is something I grew up with. But I’m not sure these kids understand some of the words, so I just put it in simple language. It’s great and so much fun. Finally, I go home and everything just kind of hits me. I’m wiped out. I crash.
I decide to wear black. It’s getting crazy. I’m getting all these calls from designers and stylists asking me to wear their clothes. Apparently, people on the Internet are rating my outfits. With everything happening in the world, in Iraq, in Africa, this is what they focus on? In the car, my bodyguard looks at me and says, “I know you don’t like seeing the newspapers, but you need to look at this.” And it’s that policeman carrying my bag. I feel so bad. I didn’t mean to embarrass him. When I arrive, I go straight to him and say, “I’m so sorry.” And he looks at me and goes, “It was my pleasure.”
I change in the locker room, and one of the ladies who works the night shift is complaining to me about how someone left the toilet in a not-very-nice way. I was brought up to be very, very clean and hygienic, so I’m like, “How could somebody do that?”
Then I find out that Mike, the security guy from Nobu, has been removed from my detail. He didn’t give me any special treatment, so that was unfair.
By this time I am definitely in charge of the lunch. Today, it turns out, my favorite Jamaican restaurant, Clippers, called the Sanitation and said they wanted to send lunch over. It’s on Rockaway Boulevard in Queens, and every time I come in at JFK, I stop there. It’s so good, the closest thing to my grandmother’s cooking. Everybody loves it.
It’s so interesting to get to know so many different sorts of people. The Sanitation people tell me all about Boy George, and how lovely he was, which I’m so glad to hear. Growing up in London, I was such a huge fan of his and was in two of his videos. George had called me several times before I started my service to see how I was doing.
Two of the people in the room have never been on a plane. They ask me what it’s like, and I’m embarrassed to tell them I was on seven planes the week before alone.
They tell me some of the things they’ve read about me, like that I have a diamond-encrusted BlackBerry. I start laughing. I’ve never had a diamond-encrusted phone! I’ll leave that to Paris [Hilton]. It’s not my style.
We finished the walls yesterday, so I start washing the lockers. We’ve run out of things to do. When it’s time to leave, one of my coworkers, Marc, walks me out. He’s a lovely man who works on Wall Street. He says, “Give me your bag. I’ll carry it.” Later I find out the press is describing Marc as my “boy toy”! For God’s sake! There’s nothing physical between us. It was just two people in the same boat trying to make the best of it. I realize then that the press just has to write something. They don’t care; they’ll make it up.
The people I’m working with are very protective of me and won’t talk to the press. I consider them old-school gentlemen.
That night, I invite some friends for dinner at Downtown Cipriani. I invite Marc and his wife. They’ve both become friends, and I’ll stay in touch with them. Several other pals pop by: Spike Lee, Steven Klein, my agent and my anger-management teacher, who everyone loves and asks for his card. We all tell jokes and have a lot of fun.
I start to feel the wear and tear of the week, though, and see bags under my eyes. I think, Oh my God, I need a good night’s sleep. I drop off my coworkers and go home to pass out.
I’m up at six. I pray every morning and every night. It’s something I do because I am very grateful that I’m sober today, that I’m clean. So it’s just my little ritual.
I get dressed in an Etro top and Pologeorgis fur and put on this Knicks cap that Spike gave me. On my way in today, I decide to say hello to the paparazzi, because, I mean, God bless them, it’s like they’ve been doing community service too. They’ve been out here in the cold all week.
We clean the downstairs hall. Bob Marley is on the radio, which is nice. For lunch, Mr. Barry recommends a place in Little Italy. Mr. Barry has become a friend, and I’ll keep in touch with him.
I grew up very much on my own. I never knew my father. And my mother, who was a contemporary ballet dancer, left me with a nanny from the time I was three until I was 12 while she traveled. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her to leave me, but she was a single mother and she had to work. I can’t imagine the pain she felt when my father abandoned us. I would see her on vacations, when she would pop over for a few days. It was always a delight to see my beautiful young mother. How happy I’d be when she picked me up from school.
Recently, my mother agreed to go into therapy with me. It’s something I wanted for a long time but haven’t started because now I need to get myself on the right path first. Part of that involves cutting a lot of working relationships. I don’t really have many yes-people in my life anymore. I’ve gotten away from them—all the agents, assistants, people who would never tell me the truth and watch me destroy myself. But of course many of those people maybe didn’t want to work with me anymore, either, which I totally understand.
Most people can rely on their family, but I tried to deal with everything on my own. I’m a very strong person. I never had problems with men, because if they bothered me, I’d tell them to f— off. I put that air out. I thought, That’s the best way to protect myself. I basically made a family with my friends. Quincy Jones and Chris Blackwell are like fathers to me, and Norma is like a sister. I am very, very blessed to have them in my life.
After work, I take the subway uptown. The last time I was on the subway you had to use tokens. I take Norma to Marc Jacobs because I want to buy her a present. She’s just a brilliant friend who’s stuck with me through thick and thin.
My last day. Clean the offices downstairs. Sade’s playing on the radio. The important thing to me is that I did my job, that the Sanitation people were happy with the work I did. That’s all I wanted to hear. I feel like I’ve paid my debt to society. I’m not proud of what I did, but it’s something I definitely learned from. Now I have to get on with my life, keep working on my problems and go to meetings every day.
I want to walk out of here with my head up. I want to go out in style, and fashion is what I’ve done for 21 years. It’s something that I love. So, when I’m finished with my work, I slip on the silver sequined Dolce & Gabbana demi-couture gown that I packed in my bag this morning. I put it on lying down so I can’t be snapped by the paparazzi, who can see in the window. When I get outside, they start screaming, going crazy, as I get into my friend Giuseppe Cipriani’s silver Bentley. I go back to his place and relax for an hour before I fly out to Miami, because I want to watch my friends Venus and Serena [Williams] play in the Sony Ericsson/IMG tournament. I go to sleep late, but I wake up early, thinking about my coworkers who are continuing their service. I call Marc, and he says, “We missed you today.” But life goes on, and I learned from my mistakes. I’m enjoying my life in recovery, and I don’t find it boring.
And it’s just one day at a time. That’s how I’m going to live.
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