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NEW YORK — Tell-all memoirs aren’t exactly a rarity these days, but few of them begin, as Elizabeth Hayt’s “I’m No Saint” does, with the admission that she performed oral sex on one of her bridesmaids mere hours before her wedding. Hayt’s not a lesbian; it was just a last hurrah before her walk down the aisle — and the first in a string of sexual exploits detailed rather sensationally in the following 292 pages.
A freelance writer for The New York Times, Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, Hayt is no stranger to fashion, either. Impeccably dressed in Yves Saint Laurent (“Different seasons,” she says. “Tom,” pointing to the skirt, and “Stefano, Stefano,” for the belt and blouse), the petite and gutsy author teeters into Via Quadrono on the Upper East Side eager to dish on her less-than-angelic past, including infidelity, abortion and addictions to the de rigueur vices of choice, alcohol and cocaine.
Writing the book “felt like sh–,” Hayt says, straight off the bat. “It was not cathartic. Reliving it felt bad, writing and reading it over felt bad. I don’t feel in any way unburdened. I feel very powerful that I succeeded in completing a very challenging task, but whatever has made me sad or has motivated me, whether negative or positive, is still there.”
Still, for someone who’s battled demons as she has, Hayt, 44, looks none the worse for wear. “Dr. Fred Brandt,” she explains, completely deadpan and continually candid. “He does my [facial] injections.”
Hayt grew up in Great Neck on Long Island, the daughter of a doctor and an artist. Her mischievous antics began as an early teenager when, among other things, she smoked pot and was promiscuous. (“You didn’t have to be a member of the Freudian Institute to figure out that my running around with boys was an attempt to escape household tension and capture Daddy’s attention,” she writes.)
She met her ex-husband, intellectual property lawyer Robert A. Atkins, while attending Barnard; he was a student at Columbia. They eventually married, but by the time their son was born, there were already signs of stress within the marriage. Atkins was a workaholic and Hayt began having affairs. After 10 years, the two split up.
Naturally, Hayt kept having sex, and, in the book, she recalls her encounters rather graphically. “I experience sex that way,” she says, defending the inclusion of more than one extremely explicit scene. “I talk about sex that way with other women and men and I also feel that sex isn’t written about honestly. Pornography doesn’t capture the twin sides of sex, the carnality and the emotional rawness. And romance writing, as opposed to erotica, sugarcoats the sex part or just all of a sudden the lights dim and the sheets are pulled back and the rest is left up to your imagination. Well, I want to know the details. I want to know what did he do, what didn’t he do, what you’d find.”
It’s likely a good thing, then, that Hayt’s 17-year-old son has yet to read her book, because she openly reveals all of those particulars. And when his friends, or even their mothers, pick it up, well, she hasn’t written anything about which she is particularly embarrassed. “What does it really matter what other people think about you?” she asks. “It seems to me if I cheated someone or bolted for a cab in front of an older lady, that’s something I would never want to be caught doing. But performing oral sex at the Mark Hotel in a coatroom? That’s not hurting anyone.”
She continues, “My [ex-]husband says I lack a discretion gene. I’m not sure what the idea of self-protection means or what it gets you. Obviously, in my case, having a lack of self-protection has gotten me very far,” at least in terms of writing a tell-all. But then she reconsiders, “When that video turns up, like Paris Hilton’s, I may eat my words.” Are there videos? “I think there are videos,” she laughs, “and photographs.”