I’m sitting with Bolaris and a confidant of his we’ll call the Voice of Reason inside a sleek office building on a warm spring afternoon. (“Just an isolated risk of a thunderstorm,” Bolaris assured me earlier.) They’re both trying to frame Bolaris as the hero who’s been done dirty. What’s been buried in all the bad press and social-media howling, they say, is that two of the 17 defendants in the so-called Russians-and-roofies case pleaded guilty to fraud and agreed to testify against the others in October. Bolaris, who plans to take the stand, also won a six-figure settlement from AmEx.
That’s two significant victories. But as Bolaris rubs his temples beneath his designer eyeglasses, the weight of what he’s lost is overwhelming—his job, and the likelihood that another station in Philadelphia or New York will hire him while he’s still radioactive. His daughter is too bright to miss what’s going on. She knows Daddy’s in trouble, that the “bad magazine” hurt him. McElroy has moved back to Philadelphia with her new husband; Bolaris’s little girl now lives mere blocks away from him, just when it looks like he might have to leave. “I never felt fearful of anything,” Bolaris told me earlier. “It’s a sense of immortality, I guess. I feel like I can say anything because I’m honest and I’ve been here for so long and it won’t come back to haunt me.” His dreams imply otherwise, particularly the one where he’s walking along a riverbank. The ground gives way, and he slides down into the rushing water. Looking up, he sees his childhood friends from Long Island along the embankment and another figure, maybe a woman, featureless. They can’t save him from being swept away.
Bolaris still tries to maintain a sense of humor. One of his favorite stories is how the Voice, during a particularly trying time, tried to put his pain in perspective during a phone call.
“Are you squeezing your balls?” asked the Voice.
“What?” Bolaris replied.
“Are you squeezing your balls?”
“Squeeze your balls. Go ahead.”
“Okay,” Bolaris said. “I’m squeezing my balls.”
“Now let them go. Don’t you feel better?”
“Yes. I feel better.”
Alternative stress-relief techniques aside, Bolaris says he’s a changed man, that he needs to represent a station more professionally and understands he’s “not the exception to the rule.” I ask him about his Twitter account, which reads like the musings of a high-school kid—responding to pranksters with “Go away hater … you’re gone loser” and giving shout-outs to celebrities like Katie Couric and Jerry Seinfeld and Charlie Sheen who never shout back. Has he considered a total Bolaris communications blackout until he gets a new job?
“No Twitter?” he asks. “No anything?”
“You’re pretty active,” I say.
“But things that are relevant, in the news. Fragging. Y’know, what it does for the environment.”
The Voice of Reason chimes in. “Would it be better if he went silent for a while? Maybe.”
“Would it be?” says Bolaris, as his voice climbs to a Mickey Mouse pitch. “If I’m not myself?”
“You’re a lightning rod,” the Voice says. Bolaris sighs, resigned to the obvious truth laid before him.
“Are you addicted to Twitter?” the Voice asks. “Or could you go off it?”
Bolaris is silent for a moment, then stutters, unable to answer the question.
“If you had a job and they said, ‘Be the weatherman. Don’t be Mr. Accessible.’”
“Of course!” he squeaks. “Of course! If they said to me, one tweet, one thing, you’re fired—I’d sign it. It’s very scary in my
life, having my little girl, being frightened about … ”
Bolaris takes a deep breath. His eyes glisten.
“ … not being able to take care of things. I try to be positive, try to be the bright light. Tell my daughter, ‘You never need to worry about it, Reina.’ But inside, I deeply worry.”
Bolaris seems on the verge of a breakthrough. He’s called and texted me day and night, more than anyone I’ve ever written about; it’s partly his neuroses, but also because he sees this story as his last chance to scrub himself clean and revive his career. Local TV news isn’t kind to aging heartthrobs. He can’t afford to make mistakes anymore, personally or professionally. What he’s only beginning to understand—slowly, begrudgingly—is that the Russians and the media didn’t bury him: They simply handed him the shovel. In his naïveté, his openness, his determination to somehow simultaneously be John from Long Island and John Bolaris, weatherman and ladies’ man, he did the digging himself.
The Voice of Reason says something Bolaris seems never to have considered: “Isn’t it sad in retrospect, if you could do it over, how much better off you would have been eating the 43 grand?” In that alternate reality, he’d only be “JB” in the federal case. No Inquirer blurb, no Daily News dog-and-pony show, no Playboy. This story, too, would likely disappear.
“Yeah,” he says, recognizing, perhaps for the first time, his own role in The John Bolaris Show. “I could have made it go away.”