In the Manhattan of yore — which in COVID times equates to roughly five years ago — there was no greater supervillain than Martin Shkreli. He was something out of Tom Wolfe, a character who could only have self-invented here: The smirking, creepily-adolescent looking Pharma Bro who jacked up the cost of a lifesaving AIDS drug from $13.50 to $750 per pill and then went on CNBC and up to Capitol Hill to brag about it.
Shkreli filmed himself riding his hoverboard with a $15,000 bottle of wine. He bought a rare one-off recording by the Wu-Tang Clan for $2 million then said he couldn’t be bothered to listen to it. A postmodern Gordon Gekko, Shkreli was mainstay on the then red-hot Gawker, which chronicled his every move and called him “the most hated man in pharmaceuticals and whatever ZIP code he’s currently in.”
As if to underscore how lame and unimaginative he was, Shkreli — a rich, young single man who just wanted to be in with the in-crowd — chose to live in Murray Hill.
And yet, despite all these red flags, Shkreli found love! Who says New York women are too choosy?
All while under investigation, under federal indictment, a jury selection process that had potential jurors dismissed for saying, “I’m aware of the defendant and I hate him,” “He kind of looks like a dick,” “Your Honor, totally he is guilty . . . and he disrespected the Wu-Tang Clan,” among other only-in-New-York opinions.
Even after a seven-year sentence in federal prison plus a $7.4 million fine.
Yes, this cretin found love. Then again, Harvey Weinstein still has a much-younger girlfriend who pays him jailhouse visits, proving that infamy is often, depressingly, interchangeable with fame.
Anyway, the woman who fell for this baddest of bad boys — one who lacks any of the expected bad boy traits, such as good looks or sex appeal or obscure tastes in art and music or evidence of facial hair or any other secondary sex characteristics, really — has finally gone public with her tale.
People, we have been given a great gift during this darkest of holiday seasons. No matter how badly your life has been upended, take heart in rubbernecking through this incredible story of bad decision after bad decision, of a young woman who had it all — the Park Slope apartment, the financier husband, the coveted high-profile media job — and then blew up her entire life over Martin Shkreli.
Falling in love with him, she says, was like “slowly boiling yourself to death in the bathtub.”
This most amazing piece in Elle magazine, called “The Journalist and the Pharma Bro,” is the literary equivalent of our current reality TV instant-classic “Love After Lockup.” But unlike that franchise, whose protagonists are often without cars, credit lines or many of their original teeth, this story has — had — a woman who Had It All.
Then she burned it all down.
Here is the well-groomed heroine of this romance, Christie Smythe, photographed in a dress by The Vampire’s Wife and wearing Altuzarra earrings, gazing off wistfully while thinking about her incarcerated beloved.
Spoiler #1: They have never had sex.
Spoiler #2: She is now divorced, jobless and living in a basement apartment in Harlem.
“I’m happy here,” she tells Elle’s Stephanie Clifford. “I feel like I have purpose.”
Oh, this is so great. It’s the equivalent of that frenemy who you know is secretly miserable but posts perfect-life shots on Instagram.
Like every woman who has ever dated a bad boy, Smythe insists that Shkreli is simply misunderstood. When he trolls people — such as Emily Saul, the reporter who covered his case for The New York Post — it’s “because he’s anxious,” she says, and he “really, really wants to be somebody.”
He’s somebody, alright.
Smythe would like to correct some other things. Contrary to what’s been out there, she says, Shkreli isn’t 5’7” but 5’10”. He never boosted the price of the EpiPen (small mercies). He loves his cat. He respects women, even though he did offer $5,000 to anyone who could give him a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair.
In the beginning, he treated his off-the-record interviews with Smythe like dates, meeting over cocktails and sharing stories of childhood trauma. Even if he then taunted her with the journalistic equivalent of flirting with other women — namely, giving a story to a rival reporter — it was all worth it.
So worth it that, for Shkreli, she missed 52 minutes of an hour-long couples counseling session meant to save her marriage.
How she must have felt when Shkreli livestreamed a late Friday night at his apartment, cavorting with a female social media editor at Vice, she does not say.
Yet Smythe says she felt an “earnestness” about Shkreli, nothing of “the fraudster.”
He was literally convicted of defrauding investors out of millions.
Smythe also says she basked in the limelight of his infamy, the trickle-down attention she got in his presence making her feel “like a political wife.”
Is there a sadder analogy than that?
And yet Smythe goes on, committing career suicide in the process. She was shocked, she says, when the book proposal she shopped about Shkreli was turned down by every major publisher. Why doesn’t anybody want a sympathetic take on this guy? she asks.
And so she sits in her basement apartment, having swapped sun-dappled weekends with her well-off husband, strolling with the requisite rescue dog and day-drinking on literary pub crawls in exchange for 6 a.m. prison bus rides to New Jersey, her first kiss with Shkreli in a visiting room that smelled of chicken wings, talking about high art and future plans — a podcast, of course — over microwaved burgers and vending machine junk food.
Reader, she froze her eggs for him.
It just gets sadder. Smythe shares her oh-so-sad and very basic mood-inspiration board, pinned with Internet cat-and-dog memes and vacation shots, dotted with press coverage of her intended. Edited out of the board she mailed to Shkreli was the New York Post story, dated April 20, 2020, that America’s Most Hated Man was engaged.
Ever delusional, Smythe missed the real heart of that story: Shkreli was filing for compassionate release amid COVID. The fiancée thing was just a ruse.
Now we come to this story’s surprise ending. Actually, it’s exactly what any sensible person would expect, but I must issue yet another and very serious spoiler alert for those who want to savor the whole feature: Martin Shkreli has dumped this woman. The woman who gave up everything for him.
That’s why, we learn, she has decided to go public. She’s trying to get his attention.
And yes, Smythe is shocked to have been ghosted.
But also: she understands. She says that Shkreli stopped communicating with her, you see, only because he’s so worried about her. Even when the Elle reporter shows Smythe the bloodless comment Shkreli gave her for this story — “Mr. Shkreli wishes Ms. Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavors” — she holds out hope.
“I’m gonna try,” she says. “I’ll be here.”
She points to the only photo she has of them together, pride of place on her nightstand.
“Doesn’t he look human here?”