In most respects, John Cusimano's life is perfectly normal. He is a dude from Long Island, 40 years old, with a law degree. He has shaggy, semi-feathered brown hair and a permanently benign expression"he's the opposite of someone who stands out in a crowd. He spent his high-school days collecting classic-rock records, fiddling with guitars, dreaming of rock stardom, and playing in a little garage band. "We called ourselves the Cringe," he says, "because the music kind of made you cringe." They were terrible, yes, but after Cusimano got older and moved to Manhattan, and even later as he started working at various law firms and got engaged, he never stopped believing that maybe, just maybe, the day would come when he could take the Cringe to the next level. There's nothing odd about this. There are plenty of grown men in the world who cling to adolescent dreams, no matter how ridiculous or unattainable they may be.
All of that brings us here, to a nightclub in lower Manhattan called the Annex, where the peculiarities of Cusimano's life begin to reveal themselves. "Hey, everyone, we're the Cringe!" he announces, standing in the middle of a small stage, staring out at a crowd that seems to consist entirely of (a) friends and family of John Cusimano and (b) friends and family of the group that played 10 minutes ago. The Cringe could be any struggling band in any dingy bar in New York, except for the fact that standing a few feet from the stage is the band's most die-hard supporter, Cusimano's wife, who happens to be one of the most famous women in America. That would be Rachael Ray, the peppy, raspy-voiced, 39-year-old Food Network star, a fiery comet of middlebrow ambition who spun a simple idea30-minute meals! into a lifestyle empire. She has a magazine (Every Day With Rachael Ray), numerous best-selling cookbooks (Rachael Ray 365: No RepeatsA Year of Deliciously Different Meals, for one), a line of cookware, lucrative endorsement deals (with Dunkin' Donuts and, at one time, Burger King and RJR Nabisco), a syndicated talk show (Rachael Ray), and two vehicles on the Food Network (30 Minute Meals and $40 a Day). Being married to such a womanand having a day job as unofficial manager of her enterpriseshas obvious benefits. What other guy could hire Saturday Night Live's drummer and a former guitarist for the French electro-pop group Air to play in a bar band that makes no money?
But such perks come with a price. Since the fall of 2006, the Ray-Cusimano union has had a number of cameos in the tabloids, beginning with reports of Cusimano's unorthodox infidelitiesa woman named Jeannine Waltz claimed he paid her to spit on him and rub her feet in his facewhich were followed by anonymous murmurings of marital strife and, finally, talk of an ugly divorce involving an obscene payout for Cusimano (National Enquirer: rachael ray $500 million divorce). The couple have repeatedly denied the rumors "John and I are happily, grotesquely, blissfully married!" Ray declared on her talk show last Novemberbut the peculiar nature of the allegations left a residue. Cusimano found himself cast as an alpha woman's beta boy, a shady kept man, a submissive gold digger. "My initial reaction was shock," he says. "But I guess it's an occupational hazard, you know? The more I get used to my position, I just kind of roll my eyes and say, 'Whatever.' If this is the worst thing I need to contend with, I'll be okay." A short pause. "We'll be okay."