I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
I received approximately 161,225 reporting tips during my 15-year tenure as a senior writer and deputy editor for Us Weekly. A three-line, seemingly innocuous email about Alex Rodriguez — which arrived in my in-box in October 2009 — is the only one still seared in my memory. A female editorial assistant had become friendly with a woman who had a fling with the then–New York Yankees’ third baseman. Said ex casually told her that A-Rod had two paintings of himself as a centaur on display in his Manhattan apartment. The location of one was undocumented. The other hung over his bed. “He was so vain, it was ridiculous,” said the source. Was the sighting 100 percent firsthand verified? No, your honor. But it fit like a batting glove.
If the woman had revealed that humble Yankee great Derek Jeter — or even a catch-all celebrity such as Ben Affleck — had owned the centaur portrait, we never would have fast-tracked the item. But the notion of Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez commissioning a painting of a Greek mythological figure in which his face and Adonis-like torso adorned a horse’s sturdy body explained everything. He sunbathed bare-chested in Central Park fully aware the pics would be splashed across the New York Post. He glommed onto Madonna for a Kabbalah-tinged spiritual awakening in the aftermath of his divorce. He kissed himself in a full-length mirror for a Details photo shoot. Of course he needed a permanent reminder that he was a special stallion of fanciful proportions.
At the end of the last decade, A-Rod was approaching a professional peak as the Yankees closed in on yet another World Series win. Blergh. Lock me in a Port-a-Potty on a humid day while you’re at it. Oh, this is important: I log more time watching the MLB Network than E! and Bravo combined — and hating on the haughty East Coast Yankees has been a hobby dating back to my Michigan childhood. (#GoTigers.) I was already irked that the Evil Empire had handily won three championships since I uprooted to NYC 11 years earlier. Now this image-obsessed, validation-seeking multi-millionaire was finally getting a gaudy diamond ring to go along with his frosted-tip highlights. There’s no crying in baseball, but Tom Hanks never said anything about whining. I did a lot of that, along with shouting at the TV in my office when the Yankees played tight games on deadline nights. Shepherding that centaur item into print (and subsequently providing catnip for the New York tabloids) was the ultimate “So there!!!”
My ire about that victory has since cooled. These days when I catch A-Rod opining as a baseball analyst or gazing at girlfriend Jennifer Lopez, I deconstruct the centaur in terms of my college Greek mythology class studies. A-Rod, you see, strikes me as a man struggling with his identity. On one hand, he embodies traditional masculinity. Not just because he slugged 698 home runs, with the admitted assistance of steroids. I once passed him in the bowels of Yankee Stadium before the All-Star Game. I didn’t want to care, trust me — but I gawked, mouth agape, at his strapping six-foot-three frame. He’d soon romance Kate Hudson, and Cameron Diaz would hand-feed him popcorn at the Super Bowl. Now, he and Lopez seem well matched, if only because “J.Rod” is a super-convenient moniker. Also, I could probably grate cheese off either set of abs.
Then there’s the more vulnerable Alex Rodriguez. Last year, the founder of A-Rod Corp. guested on Shark Tank; during one episode, a man from the Dominican Republic hawking a fingerprint-scanning bicycle padlock broke down while telling his hard-luck entrepreneurial tale. Rodriguez openly wept, then pleaded with him in Spanish to invest with him. I was genuinely touched by this outpouring of compassion. My brain also went straight to the centaur.
Rodriguez didn’t address our quarter-page item until he was point-blank asked about it, in 2012. “I do not have a painting of my upper body as a minotaur,” he sniped. You see the problem, right? We said centaur. Centaur. The use of present tense in his reply is suspect, too. (Madonna was put on the spot around the same time, and she coyly responded she had never seen it.) The non-denial denial is worthless to me. I’d never expect him to cop to it. He’d consider it an admission of weakness, a chink in the armor. Instead I take deep satisfaction in the fact that the Legend of the Centaur lives on.
And when I hit the pillow at night, I am content to believe that, once upon a time, Alex Rodriguez slept underneath a hand-crafted centaur painting of himself.