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TheFrontPage 2005 THE NEW YORK OBSERVER, L.P.
‘I never actually made a chastity vow or anything like that.’—Dawn Eden

Eden in Exile

by George Gurley

Dawn Eden had been nervous for two days before she was called into the office of New York Post editor in chief Col Allan on Jan. 18. Ms. Eden, a 36-year-old copy editor and headline writer at the newspaper, knew she’d probably made a mistake by working some of her own pro-life views into an article she was copy-editing on women with cancer who were having babies through in-vitro fertilization.

She knew it was risky, but she’d been so utterly repulsed by the lighthearted tone of the article that she felt she just had to make it balanced.

Mr. Allan didn’t see things that way. According to Ms. Eden, he hammered away at her for adding her own spin to someone else’s article. Next he brought up her blog—which she calls "faith-friendly" and which Mr. Allan called "very disturbing." Then he fired her, for blogging on company time, according to Ms. Eden. (Mr. Allan declined to comment for this article.)

She was stunned. She told him he was making "a terrible mistake."

"Sir, you’re older than I am," she said. "You’ve been in the business longer than I have, and I’m sure that from where you’re sitting, you are making the right decision. But from where I’m sitting, it’s the wrong decision."

According to Ms. Eden, Mr. Allan’s face became red with anger as he leaned over his desk and yelled, "You are a liability!"

As she was walking out to the elevators with a cardboard box of her possessions, Ms. Eden stopped and turned around.

"Milt!" she hollered to Milt Goldstein, the weekend copy chief on duty. "For Saturday—‘The Lady Is a Trump!’"

A few days later, those words became the Post’s front-page headline celebrating the Donald Trump nuptials.

When I first got to know Dawn Eden, I didn’t know what to make of her. She’d been raised as a reformed Jew, turned Christian in her late 20’s, calling herself "a Jew who’s accepted Jesus as the Messiah," and was fired from this liberal city’s most right-wing paper for being … too right-wing. Was she a martyr or a nut case with serious issues? The coolest chick in New York City or the biggest nerd? A budding public intellectual or just a girl with a blog and a plump rump?

However, I did know that I despised the mind-set of the smug, liberal Ivy League idiot types who would excitedly dismiss Ms. Eden on their boring, crappy, morally confused blogs.

Before I met her in the flesh, I’d discovered Ms. Eden’s blog, Dawn Patrol (www.dawneden.com/blogger.html). Here was my idea of perfection: She was pretty, witty, vivacious, a real character with impeccable taste and conservative. (Blog away, liberal assholes! You’re on the wrong side of history!) I saw that she wasn’t afraid of mentioning the Devil ("the Infernal Majesty") and that she had captivating blue eyes.

A 1960’s pop historian, Ms. Eden was obsessed with bands like the Zombies and the Left Banke. She’d read deeply in Christian writers such as G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. While at the Post, she’d won a New York State Associated Press award for her headline "Hurt in the Line of Doody" (after a toilet collapsed under a city worker taking a bathroom break). She’d had many Post headline triumphs, in fact. Remember when Bob Dylan did a commercial for Victoria’s Secret and the Post headline was "Dylan Sells Out for a Thong"? Dawn Eden. Remember the headline "Amazing Gross" when The Passion of the Christ hit No. 1 at the box office, and "Felon’ Groovy" after Martha Stewart’s broker took a vacation at a spa? Dawn Eden.

After reading her blog, I went to a monthly "illiberal" salon that Ms. Eden co-hosts in the East Village. There, she told me she’d just been fired from the Post and would be heading out of town for a "blogger bash" with some Christian conservatives in Tulsa.

"The timing was perfect," she said, strolling down lower Broadway after she got back. "Because it’s always traumatic losing a job. I knew that if I hadn’t been out of town, I would have gone all introspective and just been overwhelmed with ‘What do I do now?’"

She flashed a big smile. She’s 5-foot-3 and has a Louise Brooks hairdo. She was wearing dangling silvery earrings, bright red lipstick and a cross around her neck. "Losing a job is scary, but it’s also exciting," she said. "I feel like today is the first day of my life."

It had been her first trip to Oklahoma. She stayed with bloggers that she’d met during the Republican convention in New York.

"Oklahoma’s full of real individualists and eccentrics, who often make the best bloggers," she said. "People who come from a variety of backgrounds, but not necessarily the real white-collar, media-elite background that you find among bloggers here. And so the viewpoints were unaffected and often refreshing. In New York, even the eccentrics try to fit in."

We entered the Strand Bookstore. I’d asked her to select me some reading material. Her first choice was Whittaker Chambers’ autobiography Witness.

"I identify with him in a lot of ways," she said. "For the fact that he had an actress mother who gave up her dreams to be a good stay-at-home mom, to the fact that he felt himself in some way inexorably drawn by events, drawn to take a stand on things. Oh, it is pronounced ‘in-ex-OR-ably,’ isn’t it? I learned to read before I could speak, and it shows."

Ms. Eden speaks with a slight, adorable stutter.

There were no copies of Witness, so she decided on G.K. Chesterton’s novel Father Brown, The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.

"The thing about Peter Pan is, whereas the boy doesn’t grow up quickly enough, the woman grows up too quickly," Ms. Eden said. "That’s the flip side of it that I find fascinating."

Anything here I shouldn’t read? I asked.

"Heather Has Two Mommies," she said.

Then she led me to her favorite sushi place.

We talked politics. On abortion, Ms. Eden is an absolutist to the point where she believes an 11-year-old impregnated by her blind, retarded, serial-killing father with AIDS should keep the baby.

She said she sees a "deep streak of nihilism" in abortion-rights groups. With George W. Bush re-elected, she’s optimistic about Roe v. Wade being overturned.

"He was accused of using code words to appeal to the Christian right, and that is exactly what he did, and it was the right thing," she said. "Because people who are conservative Christians see the conflict of our age as no longer being between godless communism and a Christian capitalism, but as the conflict between the culture of death and the culture of life."

Ms. Eden wanted to stress something: "I don’t believe that every person who believes in a woman’s right to choose an abortion is a card-carrying member of the culture of death and is going straight to hell. I believe that people of good hearts and very good intentions can disagree, but I also believe that the people who have the good hearts, who are in favor of aspects of the culture of death, have for the most part really not thought these things through with an open mind."

On her blog, chastity is the elephant in the middle of the room, she said.

"The message I try to put across is sort of ‘Clean up your own backyard.’ So many of the social ills can be connected to people separating sex from marriage—all the lonely women out there and all the lonely men out there. All the marriages that break up."

Ms. Eden, who said she hasn’t rounded first base for the past year or two and doesn’t have a boyfriend at the moment, would like to see the end of teaching "comprehensive sexual education" in schools and the institution of an abstinence policy.

"We have taught condoms and contraception in schools for more than 30 years," she said. "And teen pregnancies have gone up, abortions have gone up, sexually transmitted diseases are through the roof—and the reason is that anytime you teach kids to ‘use condoms’ and ‘be careful,’ kids interpret that as ‘be sexually active.’ When you do that, the floodgates are open."

Christianity began to take hold of her in 1996, when she was 27. She was interviewing the singer of the band Sugarplastic, who told her he’d been reading The Man Who Was Thursday.

"So I picked it up, having no idea what to expect," she said. "You know, G.K. Chesterton to me sounded like P.G. Wodehouse: I was expecting to read about Jeeves. And instead, I read this book that had in it the proposition that Christianity was something subversive, and that the world was controlled by darker forces where everyone was in some way the same, like sheep. And the Christians were the people who were the individualists and were oppositional. That was completely different from what I thought Christianity was, particularly from living in Galveston, Tex., as a child, where it was like, ‘Yer a Jewwww?’ I thought Christians were very white-bread and that they basically ran the world and the rest of us just live in it."

Dawn Eden Goldstein was born cross-eyed in 1968 and had to have three operations to correct it. Her mother, a psychologist and social worker, called her a "miracle baby" because a doctor had told her she was sterile.

Little Dawn, who was reading the Bible by second grade and books about witchcraft by fifth, felt like an outsider. She fell behind in school; homework was "so mind-numbingly boring." The teachers thought she was stupid: She’d act out in class, raise her hand with the word "Fuck" written on it. She hated her playmates: "They’re so non-verbal," she told her mother.

It was a liberal household, but uncentered. Her parents got divorced when she was 6. Her biochemist father, she said, was emotionally distant, and he moved from Texas to Washington, D.C., when she was 9. By 10, she was a TV addict who loved Saturday Night Live and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. She looked up SCTV’s Eugene Levy in the Galveston public library’s Toronto phone book and called to say he was "funnier than a grapefruit." She was bat-mitzvahed at 13 but then became agnostic. Dawn and her mother relocated to New Jersey.

Meanwhile, her mother got into New Age stuff, but became interested in Christianity when she toured colleges with Dawn. They were standing around a student union when her mother picked up a New Testament paperback.

"What do you think?" Dawn’s hippie mother asked. "Should I read it?"

Dawn said yes. Her mom burst into tears when she got to the Beatitudes; soon she joined a charismatic Catholic church in Newark and converted to Catholicism. (Currently she follows a faith that Dawn describes as "closer to Messianic Judaism." Dawn has posted her mother’s "spiritual autobiography" on her blog.)

A chubby loner in high school, Dawn was teased by rich kids for wearing her mom’s hand-me-downs. At 13, she fell under the spell of punk and new wave music, thanks to the Uncle Floyd show on cable TV, which featured acts like the Ramones and the Dead Boys. She began visiting St. Marks Place on Saturdays and hanging out with hipsters, skanks and aging punks.

She did well enough in high school to skip 11th grade. She started writing about oldies rock acts for music fanzines and coming into Manhattan to see 60’s revival bands like the Tryfles and the Fuzztones at Irving Plaza. She got the Mosquitos to play at her high school.

She’d flirt with much older guys in black turtlenecks. She said she developed a reputation as a tease and was dubbed "The Queen of Dry Humping." She was determined to save herself until marriage.

"I never actually made a chastity vow or anything like that," she said. "The Bible says not to make vows unless you’re absolutely sure you can keep them. I was very good at putting on red lights, like, ‘O.K. that’s enough …. No, I don’t want to.’"

Around the time she became interested in the band Joy Division, Ms. Eden began suffering from suicidal depression (it ran in her family). She’d feel terrible pain, take a few pills and cut herself. Doctors prescribed Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin, lithium and therapy.

She enrolled at New York University and decided not to watch any more TV.

"I took in all that Marshall McLuhan, and none of it made me want to own a TV set," she said. "I felt like I wanted to live in a linear world for the rest of my life."

College was a time of what she called "complete hedonism" and low grades. Her first major was music business, in the hopes of being an A.-and-R. person. Calling herself "The Petite Powerhouse," she booked acts at the nightclub Tramps and interned for a radio station, a publicity firm and a record label. She dated the guitarist from the Buzzcocks. At 23, she lost her virginity.

Through the 1990’s, she wrote liner notes for reissues of 60’s pop CD’s, contributed to music books and publications like Mojo, Goldmine and New York Press, and interviewed bands on Manhattan Cable’s Videowave show. She was the last journalist to speak to Del ("Runaway") Shannon before he committed suicide. She interviewed singer Harry Nilsson just eight days before he died. Some in the business began to snicker about a "Dawn Eden curse."

By the late 90’s, she needed full-time work. She got a job writing for a video store’s Web site, where her boss, she said, was "a communist-anarchist, French-educated, Palestinian homosexual transvestite" who was certain that she was responsible for the situation in the Middle East because she was Jewish.

"Every day I would show up and get abused," she said, adding that she began to pray regularly. She got fired and was relieved. "I felt that my prayers had been answered, but I still didn’t feel faith," she said.

She’d attend church services, be uplifted for a few days, then return to her normal self.

Then, one morning in 1999, she was lying in bed, just waking up, when she heard a woman’s voice, crisp and clear, say: "Some things are not meant to be known, some things are meant to be understood."

Ms. Eden became very frightened.

"I’m sure I heard it in my head," she said. "I don’t think there were actual sound waves in my room."

She said she was unable to move during this "hypnagogic experience." Then she heard another frightening sound.

"For years, I didn’t know what it was, and then only recently when I heard it again, I realized what it was," she said. "It was the sound of my own breath intake, through my teeth."

Next she was directed to read Romans 5:1: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace through God through Our Lord Jesus Christ."

"I got down on my knees and prayed, and from then on my life changed," she said. Within a year, she stopped taking the anti-depressants (she still takes the lithium), and her diagnosis went from "major depression" to "major depression—in remission," where it has remained the past five years.

She said she doesn’t like to brag about beating depression, though, because "that’s my ego saying I’ve done this all on my own strength. I just have to keep being hopeful and prayerful that if I keep trusting in God, He’s going to keep me out of that pit."

The Post hired her for a tryout on the copy desk in early 2002. She also began her blog: She wrote about music and having a boyfriend, but it got more political when she attacked Planned Parenthood—she tends to compare the organization to the eugenicists of Nazi Germany. Suddenly her blog was approvingly linked on National Review’s online forum.

The Post hired her full time in 2003. She loved editing and writing punning headlines. But she landed in hot water after giving an interview to Gilbert, a G.K Chesterton magazine, in which she talked about her faith and working at the Post.

She said her boss, chief copy editor Barry Gross, chided her, telling her, "Some people already think the Post is conservative, and we don’t need New York readers also thinking it’s a Christian paper and that there are Christians working there."

"I don’t recall saying that," said Mr. Gross. "But I can’t swear that I didn’t. I mean, there’s no question people think we’re conservative." He added that he did caution her to cool it a bit in the future.

There was another chat with Mr. Gross after Ms. Eden resisted working on an article about a murdered porn star. She’d made it clear that she was disgusted with the cheerful, lurid commentary.

But Mr. Gross wasn’t around on Jan. 8 this year, when Ms. Eden was given a story by Post reporter Susan Edelman to copy-edit. The story was about women with terminal cancer who want to have babies: Through in-vitro fertilization, multiple embryos are fertilized and implanted one at a time until as many as 12 survive.

According to Ms. Eden, she was repelled by what she interpreted as a "cavalier" attitude about the embryos in Ms. Edelman’s story: "Treating them as a manufactured commodity that don’t have significance as human life," Ms. Eden said. (Ms. Edelman declined to comment when reached by The Observer.)

"I got choked up," Ms. Eden said. "How are people going to ever understand the complex issues involved here, if the story they’re reading reduces it to ‘Oh, isn’t this nice? We can just make lots of embryos and not worry about whether they live or die.’"

Ms. Eden read a line in the draft of the story: "Experts have ethical qualms about this ‘Russian roulette’ path to parenthood." She saw her opportunity: She added a phrase: " … which, when in-vitro fertilization is involved, routinely results in the destruction of embryos." And where Ms. Edelman had written that one woman had three embryos implanted "and two took," Ms. Eden changed that to read: "One died. Two took."

Ms. Eden said she thought she was performing a service for the reader, since she believed that the Post had been "notoriously oblivious" to the nuances involving embryonic life.

"In retrospect, my first loyalty should have been to my employer," she said.

The article, with Ms. Eden’s alterations, came out on Jan. 16. Post editors were furious. Mr. Gross told her to apologize to the writer, Ms. Edelman, which Ms. Eden promptly did, calling her own actions "unwarranted and wrong."

Ms. Edelman replied with an e-mail under the subject heading "SABOTAGE":

"Dawn You are the most unprofessional journalist I have ever encountered in all my years in this business. A disgrace. Sue Edelman."

Things soon got worse, as editors at the Post discovered her Dawn Patrol blog.

She waited. Mr. Gross came over to tell her she couldn’t blog on company time anymore.

Mr. Allan called her into his office and fired her.

"Probably the second most surprised person in the office the day she was fired, after Dawn, was me," said Mr. Gross. "I’m still not pleased about it, but the call wasn’t mine."

"I thought it was miraculous that I hadn’t cried," Ms. Eden said. "I wasn’t going to say goodbye to any of my co-workers, but one of them ran up and gave me a hug. Then I started crying.

"I thought it was terrible from the point of view of losing a good person," she added. "And I also thought that, given the circumstances of it, [Mr. Allan] couldn’t expect it to go unnoticed. I thought he really was opening himself up for some serious criticism by doing this."

Even though she’d been fired, she wasn’t wallowing. On a recent Tuesday, she headed to Baggot Inn on West Third Street for a "Tuesday Night Trivia" party. Her team often wins. She told me about one of her team’s stars, Nick Saremef, who is blind and half-paralyzed from cerebral palsy.

"Nick has forged this life that’s so vital and so active," she said. "He’s one of the reasons I became so passionate against abortion. If Nick’s mother had done prenatal testing, if a child like him were in a mother’s womb today and had the problems that he has, he’d be a goner. It makes me furious! People like Nick are regularly aborted, and I think our society is losing something by not having people who have disabilities like Nick in our culture. It contributes to making us less compassionate.

"When Jesus said, ‘You are the light of the world,’ he didn’t say, ‘You are the light of the world unless you’re blind and have cerebral palsy,’" she said.

On another night, I met her at Magnetic Field in Brooklyn. She knew all the scenesters there and had dated the groovy rhythm guitarist onstage, Michael Lynch. He and the members of Shaw ’Nuff were decked out in mod hippie clothes as they played covers of 60’s pop songs.

Ms. Eden, wearing a black mini dress, diamond fishnet pantyhose over suntanned pantyhose, and snow boots, sipped club soda and danced the frug, then took off.

"It’s always memory lane being around that crowd," she said. "One of the reasons I stopped going to a lot of shows in that scene: I kind of milked it as far as guys to date and stuff. There was a time I felt uncomfortable going to shows because I felt like I was going to run into someone I dated.

"I just can’t believe I’m still going to see the same musicians I saw 20 years ago," she continued, "and I’m hearing them play some of the same songs and still seeing the same people. There was a while where I just thought, you know, ‘This is pathetic. Haven’t I grown?’"

Still, she hasn’t lost her passion for 60’s pop.

"The pop music is the best thing about the 60’s, period," she said. "I will say certainly some of the sexual revolution, and the Pill, are probably the worst things that came out of the 60’s. Just the breakdown of the family and how that impacted my own life."

On another night, Ms. Eden and I had coffee at the Cedar Tavern before a monthly meeting of the New York City Chesterton Society. She railed against Planned Parenthood—particularly their Web site for kids, teenwire.com, which has links to a company that sells sex toys and a section called "All About the Anus."

"They’re telling kids that virginity is something purely technical and can be ‘protected’ by having a man’s penis in your anus," she said.

Then we played a parlor game she invented called "Stump Dawn." "When I had a boyfriend years ago in my pre-Christian days, the game was called ‘Schtup Dawn,’" she said.

She explained that if I named the title of any song that hit the Billboard Top 100 singles charts in the 60’s, she could tell me the artist, record label, producer, songwriter, approximate chart position and finish up with an anecdote about the song.

I rattled off "Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)," "King Midas in Reverse" and "Don’t Bring Me Down."

I failed to schtump her.

She gave me a Gideon Bible and a hug.

You may reach George Gurley via email at: ggurley@observer.com.

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This column ran on page 1 in the 2/14/2005 edition of The New York Observer.

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