NEW YORK – Sean Avery squeezes between two tables full of diners, careful to avoid jostling anyone. He quickly skims the menu at a favorite SoHo eatery and orders: the pizza with black truffles, please.
The NHL's No. 1 pest is ready to dish — about food, fashion and a most curious job as an intern.
At Vogue magazine.
"People seem to find it strange that I worked there," the New York Rangers forward said this week. "I don't."
"Fans see my on-ice character, my persona. Pushing it as far as it can go. Play it to the max, crazy. Sometimes over the line," he said. "Off the ice, what do I do?" he said. "I'm in love with music. I'm in love with clothes."
With occasional hits on MTV and the dating scene with Elisa Cuthbert and Rachel Hunter, he's more than hockey's best-known agitator.
Avery made People's "Sexiest Scars" list for a gash on his lip and recently showed up in a tabloid gossip column, where his head-to-toe black outfit at an R.E.M. looked "straight out of a 1998 J.Lo video."
So much energy, so many interests. But how to put them all together?
One night before the playoffs, in a hotel room in Pittsburgh, he wrote a letter to Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour.
"I was wondering what I would do this summer," he said.
Pretty soon, the 28-year-old Avery reported for work in a Raf Simons dress shirt, nice jeans and a bow tie.
During his month at the bible of couture, Avery did most everything. He helped set up photo shoots, served as guest editor for the Men's Vogue Web site and just wrote a farewell essay. Didn't get coffee for the bosses, but made copies.
Oh, and he spilled a plate of beef Stroganoff over a woman in the cafeteria.
"Got her pretty good," he said.
Making a mess, that's sort of how Avery does it in hockey.
He once led the league in penalty minutes and during this year's playoffs, Avery parked himself in front of New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur, waving his hand and stick in his face.
The next day, the league put in the so-called "Avery Rule" to prohibit such shenanigans — he got his revenge by scoring three goals in the series victory. But he lacerated his spleen in the following round against Pittsburgh and was finished.
Then came the invitation from Vogue to work for minimum wage. He'd seen the movie "The Devil Wears Prada," a supposed send-up of Wintour and the magazine, but hesitated to draw comparisons.
"Vogue is a very private place," Avery said, softly.
At least one former opponent liked hearing that Avery was following a pursuit that dealt more with YSL than NHL.
"Hey, he's making the most of it," said former Buffalo tough guy Rob Ray, now a Sabres broadcaster. "You've got a short period of time to lay the groundwork for after-hockey or whatever. Too many other guys sit back and, when they're done, they try to figure out what they're going to do. He's smart."
"He's got personality. And I think that's something that the league is lacking. And I think the league just wants 750 robots. But this guy walks to his own beat," he said.
His own look, too. Despite so much time around fashionistas, Avery said he's still dresses the same.
"I think personal style is exactly that: Do your own thing, wear what you feel comfortable in, and what you feel confident in," he said.
At lunch, that meant a black newsboy cap, a white T-shirt, black athletic shorts and something else on his must-have list for men, a nice watch.
His quick list for women: flats, vests, knee-high socks, skirts and T-shirts.
In the next week, Avery will fashion his future. Along with Coldplay and Pearl Jam concerts, a screening for the film "Gonzo" and a trip to Paris for a men's show, he'll pick where to play next season.
A free agent, Avery said he's not worrying.
"My biggest stress right now is finding a tour bus for the Latitude Festival in northern England," he said.
He did make time to write an essay that's now posted on www.mensvogue.com.
"Not bad for someone who didn't graduate high school," he said.
That said, be wary about teasing him over the notion that a rugged hockey player has a passion for high style.
As he writes, anyone who razzes him might wind up getting their behind kicked "by a very expensive pair of shoes — and that they'll probably match both my belt and my shirt."