Mac Montandon: Diary of a freeloader

Everyone loves a freebie. But in this golden age of retail incentives, marketing gimmicks and promotional giveaways, how far can a blagger really go? Armed only with a fistful of fake business cards, Mac Montandon set out to live it up for a week - without spending a single penny
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The Independent Online

MONDAY

By 8am I'm furiously working the phone and e-mail. Topping my list is food and water for the week and a place to stay tonight. Within hours, I've convinced Glaceau to send a case of 50 Cent's vitamin water, Formula 50, to the first of my invented magazines, Deets ("For the Stylish Guy Who Doesn't Have Time for Details") and Power Bar to deliver a box to Yum!, for a story on the "Best On-The-Go Foods!"

By early afternoon, I've put out 25 requests for products. Among them: a ping-pong table, a BabyBjorn kiddy potty (scored it!) and a Smith & Wesson handgun (amazingly, the company seemed happy to oblige for a Ten-Hut! military magazine story). A free colonic appears, unappetisingly, likely for the Deets story, "50 Things You Never Wanted to Do, But Should."

Sustenance secured, I focus on tonight's sleeping arrangements. A Hilton representative tells me: "Well, I'd love to see us included," in the Party of One story "Sexy in the City", about everything sexy in the city. Unfortunately, she can't get me in until later in the year. It's a refrain I'll come to despise.

By mid-afternoon, with no place to stay, I'm starting to panic. But then, at 2pm, the manager of a hostel offers two nights to Party of One. The best part: a private room and bath!

Now, about entertaining myself. High-end socialites the Hearst sisters are throwing a costume party in an Upper East Side mansion in honour of David Patrick Columbia of the website New York Social Diary. Chances of an open bar and a stylish buffet? High. I call paparazzi photographer and notorious party crasher Steve Sands for advice on getting in.

"Only an idiot like Shaggy would give away these secrets," Sands barks, referring to another ubiquitous guest on the party circuit. Before hanging up, Sands yields the party's address and one helpful nugget: "OK, you want a tip? Grab a mask, go to the party and figure out a way in. You're smart and, remember, publicists are dumb."

Emboldened by the Jedi Knight of gate crashing, that's exactly what I do. At 10.30pm, I'm bounding up a flight of marble stairs wearing a ridiculously overdramatic bird mask - a gift years ago. I hand a party publicist a Deets card and insist that I'm on the list. Of course she can't find my name, but when I mention "e-mailing with David" earlier (this is, technically, true), she lets me in.

Within minutes I'm rubbing feathers with Ivana Trump (who is dressed as a witch), and Denise Rich (who is dressed as God knows what).

By this point I'm faint with hunger. I hit the bar for a Jack and Coke and a caterer hands me a plate of chocolate mousse. I fear removing my mask, so I must awkwardly shovel it through my furry and narrow mouth-hole. This proves disgusting. I begin pounding beers - both to fill my stomach and because a bottle fits more easily into my mask.

I wander into one of many crowded rooms, where a DJ is spinning, and begin dancing alone to George Michael's "Freedom".

A fun party, but I have to go. Heidi Klum is also hosting a costume ball downtown and I'm curious to see just how far Deets can take me.

As it turns out, not far enough. I wait an hour behind the velvet rope before approaching a bouncer while clutching a Deets card. He seems impressed - or maybe just confused by my mask - but won't let me in.

TUESDAY

Today begins with a complimentary cold bagel and coffee at the hostel.

I make more product calls and look into Wednesday's accommodation. Hickory Farms' Beef Jerky, Triple Five Soul jeans and Brooks Brothers' cashmere socks appear to soon be mine. A dog spa wants to know more about Heavy Petting magazine.

For lunch, it's a publicist meeting at the Michelin-starred Gramercy Tavern. I enjoy a gratis meal of goat's-cheese ravioli, pork tenderloin and the tavern's famous cheese plate.

That night is a boozy, brilliant blur. Dinner and drinks at the trendy club and restaurant BED, celebrating the opening of an Atlanta outpost. It's there that I learn the name of the host at that night's party in the celeb-heavy club Marquee.

I slip around the corner and present a Deets card to a doorman. "I'm on Danny A's list."

This shaved-headed hulk finds his slender, hirsute colleague. "I'm on Danny A's list," I say again.

"Oh, really?" says slender, stepping back and sizing me up. "Because I'm Danny A."

The alcohol keeps surprise off my face and without missing a beat, I reply: "I know. I think my assistant e-mailed you."

Danny A inspects my Deets card. The jig must be up, right? I mean - Deets? "OK," Danny A says, and waves me in.

WEDNESDAY

After two nights of partying, I'm ready for an evening of culture. I'd secured two tickets to the show Broadway's buzzing about, a new production of Sweeney Todd. I'm attending with my wife for Deets's HoTopics front-of-book section. I scored the seats via e-mail in about 35 minutes.

But where to sleep tonight? Boutique hotels the Mercer and the Hudson are checking on availability, and even the mighty Mandarin Oriental is considering my request. But as the afternoon fades, I'm still without a bed.

While on the phone with a bewildered Times Square B&B, my mobile beeps. It's Brooks Brothers wondering if they should still overnight the cashmere socks.

This can't be. According to the tourism association, NYC & Company, there are 70,639 hotel rooms in New York City. One of them must be mine!

And then it happens. A friend reminds me about a story she did on a Western-themed B&B. After a short call, Party of One has a room.

My most modest dinner of the week: fruit I've squirrelled away from the hostel with bread and cheese left over from Gramercy Tavern. I devour it outside the theatre before we take our seats, 12 rows from the stage.

Sweeney Todd resonates with me. On one hand it's a story of revenge. But on the other, it's about doing whatever it takes to survive. It's also about marketing a new product - in this case, meat pies made from human flesh. It's about entrepreneurship.

THURSDAY

I wake up on sheets adorned with drawings of saddles, lassos, cowboy hats and boots. After breakfast it's back to the office, lugging my overnight bag. At least tonight's accommodation at another B&B is secured.

Early in the evening, I get into a red-carpet screening of the HBO documentary, I Have Tourette's, But Tourette's Doesn't Have Me, but not for the ensuing dinner, cocktails and silent auction. That's the most Ebony and Ivory magazine gets me.

Entering the press room with my photographer, we hear a rumour of appearances by Julianne Moore and Edie Falco. I find the publicist, a classy looking fifty-something lady, and introduce myself. I'm hoping against hope that she doesn't ask for my business card. No luck. I hand it over with dread and an absurdly large rictus. I watch nervously as she reads the magazine's tagline: "Because Interracial Dating Isn't a Black-and-White Matter". I want to disappear. Or maybe die.

"Interesting," she whispers. Soon, I'm interviewing Falco.

Next I wander into the forbidden reception area, order a drink and begin shoving fresh sushi and thinly sliced roast beef into my mouth.

Though I'm already stuffed, I'm off to the Chelsea Piers bowling alley for an all-you-can-eat-and-drink pizza-and-beer press event, hosted by a company called Intec.

To this day, I have no idea what Intec does or makes. As an editor at large for Technically Speaking magazine (If it Beeps or Bleeps, We've Got it Covered!), I should find out.

FRIDAY

The vitamin water and power bars have arrived; that'll be today's lunch.

In the end, this proves to be an action-packed last day. But first, a word on trust.

Not once all week did anyone call bullshit on me. Not once did the people from the New York Comedy Festival say, "Jew York magazine ['Because the City Is Ours - All Ours!']? Yeah, right." Not once did anyone tell me that Deets is a ridiculous name. New Yorkers, and publicists the country over, want to believe. Only one person requested more information from me in the interest of making sure I didn't plan to make off with their goods - a $500 Palm handheld device called the LifeDrive, which, had I had more time to follow up, would have been sent to Deets.

By late afternoon I've contacted roughly 40 hotels and am yet to land a room. Out of desperation I do what any New Yorker in my situation would do: I call my agent. He agrees to represent Party of One. Immediately calls are returned by some who've ignored me all week.

Suddenly there's a flurry of activity: the Hotel on Rivington offers a room at its discounted media rate, and both Trump and Atlantic City's Borgata are close to "comping" me. Needing to check in somewhere before Shabbat dinner at the 92nd Street Y (for a Yum! story on the country's best Shabbat dinners), I take the Rivington offer.

I check into a $375 room for $295 with the idea of making up the difference in comps. That objective is made easier when, upon entering the room, I encounter brown bubbling matter in my toilet bowl. I explain to the concierge how awkward this is, as my Party of One story is "on the sexiest hotels in the city".

The hotel is mortified. Within minutes a bottle of wine arrives. Then another. "Hand-crafted" chocolates available only to VIP guests. A round of drinks in the bar. And, lastly, a complimentary $160 massage in the morning by the hotel's "superstar masseuse", who tells me she works with Elizabeth Taylor, Ivana Trump and Don King.

Dinner is delicious. And odd. The kid's rock group the Funky Monkeys, two of whom wear monkey costumes, are in attendance. I pour cup after plastic cup of cheap merlot while the Monkeys lead 18 hungry Jews in a folk song to the tune of Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". Everyone is pumped for the Yum! story.

That night I sleep like a wasted baby on the hotel's Temper-Pedic mattress and immaculate Italian linens.

Galina, the superstar masseuse, works me over on Saturday morning. I pack my bag, then sign for the room (the first money I've spent since last Sunday), and, as I head for the door, swipe a complimentary newspaper.

EPILOGUE

By the end of the week, I couldn't keep up with the volume of responses I'd received. I am fairly certain I could have acquired that pistol, a karaoke machine, hockey equipment, Trojan condoms, a night at a sleep therapy lab, McDonald's hamburgers and a Canadian bird-flu vaccine, among many other things.

The following week, both Atlantic City's Borgata and the Trump International Hotel in Manhattan offered me complimentary rooms.

Oh, and the free colonic? Still waiting to hear back on that.

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