My Lackluster Career as a Private Eye

Eytan Bayme’s memoir, High Holiday Porn (St. Martin’s Press), is a riotously funny account of growing up Orthodox Jewish in the Bronx in the mid-1980s. There are woebegone tales of masturbating in public, dialing phone sex lines, and eating non-kosher pizza, which, in a way, everyone can relate with. Here, in an essay provided exclusively to Esquire, Bayme recounts his not-so-great stint as a private detective. — Jill Krasny

When I was 24, a friend said to me: “You’re the funniest person I know, just not right away.”

I wanted to offer some snappy reply like: “You’re the most patient person I know, just not right away,” but he had a point; words didn’t come easy to me. Even the smallest of small talk with the oldest of friends was a struggle. Usually, after fleshing my thoughts out on paper, my verbal confidence soared. And so, like anyone trying to find their voice in 2004, I started a blog. It was called the Potato Salad Cafe and it’s still there, on the Internet, laying dormant like a dog asleep in a closet for a decade.

For a couple of years, I hunched over my computer each night and posted funny stories about living with my parents, dates that didn’t go as planned and the various turtles and fish my little brother struggled to keep alive. But soon, I became hungry for more original content.

“I got a job for you,” my friend Rob said. I was 26-years-old, cobbling together a paycheck from substitute teaching, theatre managing and acting, but always looking for more exciting opportunities. “Private detective.”

My eyes widened.

He gave me the number of his friend’s aunt, whose daughter was going through an ugly divorce. Kids were involved. She suspected her son-in-law was using drugs and wanted proof to sue for custody.

“Am I the right guy for this?” I was still on my dad’s health insurance plan, my doctor was the same pediatrician I’d been seeing since I was born. This felt very adult.

“Rob said you had a car.”

I did.

“I can pay $25 dollars an hour. Just follow him around and take a few pictures.”

It was good money and would make riveting blog material. I agreed.

A few days later, a scrap of paper with an address, along with a picture of a man in a turquoise satin vest and tuxedo jacket, arrived in the mail. It was his wedding day. He looked painfully happy. The bride was torn out of the frame.

I called the mother-in-law and said it didn’t feel right. Couldn’t she just ask him if he was using drugs?

“You’d be a big help.” She sounded drained, like I was her last, mostly hopeless, resort at the end of a nasty battle.


After work the following week, I pulled a black hoodie over my buttoned down teaching shirt, wrapped some leftover chicken in silver foil, and drove out to a narrow house on a one way street in Queens.

Night fell. Beside a hydrant, across the street, I slumped in my Nissan Sentra and watched his door like paint on a midnight highway.

When the front-room light switched on and off, I readied my digital camera, but no one came or went. Hours slipped by. I finished my dinner and tossed the balled up foil to the floor. Private detective work was boring.

Around midnight, desperate for action, I hurried up his stoop, rang the doorbell and scrambled up the block behind a tree. Surely, he would pop out and snort a line of cocaine. But no one emerged. The light must have been on a timer.

Back home, I avoided my blog. This was a private story, not an amusing adventure starring me.

“He might be going to a concert next week,” the mother-in-law told me. “Can you try again?”

Years earlier a director cast me in his play and, at rehearsal, told me the role involved nude dancing. It was the only job I’d ever left without, at least partially, seeing through to the end. And even then I felt bad quitting.


At a Midtown blues club, a small jam band played to a half sold audience of mostly teenagers. I stood by a long bar in the back, wearing a leather jacket, searching.

“Can I get you anything?” a bartender asked.

“No, thanks.”

Ten feet down a guy ordered a whiskey. On paper, he sort of looked like my man: Red hair, glasses. Close enough.

I snapped him downing the shot.

“Hey! You can’t do that in here.” The bartender looked at me with pursed lips, like she knew that I knew better.

Ashamed, I apologized and hurried out. I was a good, rule abiding person. Even using a Starbucks bathroom without buying something left me draining my bladder guiltily.

On the bright subway home, I checked the camera’s display: The picture was just a yellow streak in the dark.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” I told the mother-in-law.

I gritted my teeth in anticipation of some tough encouragement, yet she seemed just as disillusioned as I.

“If you change your mind. Let me know.”

A few months later, I moved to Brooklyn and took a job at a building materials manufacturer. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it paid well and came with health benefits. After a couple of years they promoted me and I travelled to China for weeks at a time to work on large contracts. I quit the theatre and watched my bank account grow. The Potato Salad Cafe was put to rest.

One Sunday afternoon, not long before turning 30, I was watching football with an old friend at his Upper West Side apartment. Take out cartons and bottles of IPA littered the coffee table. He lived in one of those buildings full of young professionals who dropped by to watch a possession or have a beer before moving on to other gatherings on other floors.

At half time a large group of his law school buddies poured in and choked the room. I didn’t know any of them and stayed glued to the corner of the couch, picking up snippets of conversation and nodding, at waist level, over an agreeably poor call.

“You want?” a voice asked. A joint hovered before my face.

“No, thanks,”I said. “Makes me paranoid.”

“Thank God it doesn’t do that to me.”

I laughed before looking at him. “You’re …”


I bit my fist. It was him, pulling a drag of smoke. He was shorter than I imagined.

“I’m what?” he repeated.

“Nothing. Sorry.” I introduced myself to shift his focus.

He shook my hand and offered an abbreviated version of the name I knew him by. I always assumed he was older than me, but he looked my age, maybe even younger; just as lost in the packed room. “Where you from?” he asked.

“Williamsburg,” I said, eyeing my iPhone on the coffee table.

“I wish I lived there. It’s like, that’s where the world is taking place.”

“Yeah,” I chuckled. It was kind of the way I thought about it too, yet never dared to admit out loud.

“What do you do?”

I told him. Adding, like I always did, that it took me traveling across the globe. “You?”

“Roofing. I go to Staten Island sometimes.”

Years earlier, when I thought stalking him would make me more interesting, I imagined he was a dialed up, drug addict I’d need to run from after catching him in the act. But as I leaned back and left my phone where it was, I hoped he’d stay through the third quarter. His joint was the same as me trying to be the funniest person, just not right away.