Friday, January 20, 2006

Fried green whoppers

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As part of the latest in an ongoing series called "The Awful Truisms of Pop Culture," let's take a look at James Frey.

No, he is not the guy from the Eagles. That's Glenn Frey.

James Frey is a youngish author and recovering everything-addict who wrote the memoir "A Million Little Pieces." His book was picked by Oprah Winfrey's book club. To many authors, this is like winning Powerball but undergoing a painful, televised colonoscopy to find the money.

No, he did not sing "The Heat is On." Still Glenn Frey.

By now, everyone knows the story. Frey's memoir describes him battling addiction to any number of fun and/or illegal chemicals, and turning his life around after having too many gorily poignant and/or interesting-to-read experiences, like having his teeth yanked without anesthetic or getting on an airplane smothered in his own vomit with a hole in his face.

Investigative Web site The Smoking Gun does some digging and finds that some of those nightmarish events are made up or tweaked so he could sound cooler than he is. Frey at first denies it, then goes on "Larry King Live" to admit that, yeah, he did fudge some details of "A Million Little Pieces" -- but that memories are sometimes hard to remember. Also, Frey admits that there were really only about a few hundred thousand little pieces.

But it seems to be OK for Frey. Oprah herself forgave him. She said that even if he made stuff up, the overall message of kicking booze and drugs is still valid.

His publisher is 100 percent cool with Frey upping the stakes on his life, too. No crap. They made a fortune on it.

So here we have this week's Awful Truism of Pop Culture:

The truth is boring. Not only that, but few people care all that much.

All the same, I suppose it helps to have both versions of your life story circulating out there. That way, people can pick whichever one they prefer: the real but boring one or the fake but slam-bang one.

So this would probably be a good time to look back at my own career and correct some embellishments I've made in my own life history.

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Two weeks ago, I wrote that I hate the British. That is an exaggeration. While it's true that many British people are insufferable twits, I don't hate any group of people as a general rule, no matter how unpleasant their personalities or repulsive their dentition.

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In October 2004, I wrote that this very newspaper was in the midst of creating a special "scratch-'n'-sniff" version for people who like to smell their daily news. That was not entirely correct. That was, in fact, just plain silly. What I should have said was that this newspaper is looking into printing onto large flattened sheets of dried fruit, sort of like a giant Fruit Rollup, that can be unrolled, read and eaten.

--

In past phone and e-mail conversations, when I've been sure I would never actually meet someone, I've let it slip that I'm 7, 8 or even 12 feet tall. This was a slight exaggeration. Also, I once did run into someone whom I had told I was 11 feet 2 inches. I covered it up -- rather well, I thought -- by claiming that an exhaustive yoga regimen keeps my body so limber that I can stretch myself beyond the limits of mortal men, and could probably go to 15 or even 20 feet if I really concentrated, but that day I was feeling like a 5-foot-6. If you're reading this, ma'am, that was slightly false.

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Did I once tell someone I was one of three guys to wrestle in the WWF as The Ultimate Warrior? Geez. OK, let's just make it clear, no, I wasn't. Wow. Sorry.

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I've told this one so often it's embarrassing. This one time? I got a wicked bad craving for tandoori chicken? And I flew to India, and when I got there my native guide stranded me in the jungle, and somehow I found myself in hand-to-hand combat with a ferocious saber-toothed tiger, which I later grappled into submission, and tamed to the point where I rode it on its back to civilization but had to leave it in India because the customs laws prohibit saber-toothed tigers from being taken out of the country. Tried to smuggle it through, got caught, had to pay a big fine, blah blah blah. Except, I was taken out of context. I meant that it seemed like a saber-toothed tiger. They've been extinct for some time now. It was actually just a regular old tiger.

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March 2005. I wrote a column about how much I love Nutella, the amazing chocolate spread. I wrote that I did "research" for the column with two jars of it. Honestly, it was four jars.

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About the tiger story: That's partially false, too. I never actually rode the tiger.

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Despite what I've bragged about in the past, if given five minutes alone with President Bush and immunity from prosecution, the truth is I'd probably just make embarrassed chit-chat for most of those five minutes, get his autograph, and at the most maybe just ask him sternly if he ever considered trying to be nicer to poor people once in a while. Then I'd come up with a fantastic zinger much later and not get to deliver it.

--

The beard and mustache in the photo are fakes. I use Magic Marker to draw them in.

--

Fine. OK. I never went to India for tandoori chicken. I never grappled with a tiger in hand-to-hand combat. I never tried to smuggle a large jungle cat through customs. You want the real story? I once ate some KFC and rolled around on the carpet with my cats. I just remembered it wrong. So there.

Friday, January 06, 2006

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Like most people, I have an extensive list of things I plan to do as soon as somebody invents a time machine.

Tops on the list? First, go back in time. Then, pretend to invent the time machine.

Here's something new I just added to my Time Machine List. I recently tripped over a news story about a snot-nosed kid from England who built a Web site called the Million Dollar Home Page.

His scheme is aching in its simplicity. He created a Web page and sold it to advertisers, pricing his page by the pixel. Pixels are the miniscule dots that make up a computer screen image. Each miniscule dot sells for $1.

He started in mid-August with a page of one million blank pixels for ad space. It's nearly full now. The site is cluttered with tiny ads, most about the size of a pencil eraser. It looks something like a satellite photo of Tokyo.

I told my wife about it.

"The limey brat has so far made $990,000," I said over a steaming hot bowl of spite. "Imagine that -- guy sells pinprick-sized specks on a Web page and becomes a millionaire in four, five months."

"Some people got it," she said.

I wrenched a leg off the coffee table and hit myself in the head. "It's so simple! I'm simple! I should've thought of this! I hate the British!"

My wife nodded gravely. "Right. I suppose this is going on your List of Shame?"

"Time Machine List!" I cried. "And yes!"

And so it did -- item No. 852 on my Time Machine List, right between "Uninvent Dick Cheney" and "Take Better Care Of Feet."

But as I wept into my wife's hair in frustration, I started to wonder: So I didn't think of the Million Dollar Home Page idea first. Big deal! Why does this have to be one of my life's many, many regrets that can only be undone by bending the space-time continuum?

"I can still make money selling ad space!" I told my wife, suddenly brightening. "I don't have a Web site, but I do have this. This column. I could rent out subliminal ads!"

While I was discussing the British kid's get-rich-quick scheme with my wife, I was drinking an icy cold Coors Light. That Silver Bullet went down smooth, the way a good beer should. It never tasted watered down, like those other light beers. In fact, drinking Coors Light makes you cooler and sexier to unattainably beautiful women. True story.

My wife rubbed her chin. She has the most luminous chin skin, thanks to Lubriderm. Want skin as buttery soft and radiant as my wife's chin? Lubricate your derm the Lubriderm way!

"Don't you think there's already too much advertising in the world?" she said.

"Possibly," I said, opening a nacho-cheesarific bag of Doritos. "I mean, between TV, magazines, and now the Internet, it's like we can't escape. God," I said, brushing crumbs off my stomach, "these chips are fantastic. It's like there's a fiesta in my mouth -- y todos son invitados!"

"I bet that kid's Web page is ugly to look at," my wife said.

"It is. It's so cluttered with thousands of tiny ads that you can't see what you're clicking. But it made him a fortune." I scanned my Pottery Barn (www.potterybarn.com) coffee table. "There a coaster anywhere?"

"Just use that thing," she said.

I set the can down on a brand-new Microsoft Xbox 360. It's not just the best video game console around -- it has the most awesome graphics, multiplayer Internet capability, tons of wicked cool games. It even plays music. Get yours today or risk being ostracized from your friends.

"You know, I think all these ads say something about our consumerist culture," my wife said. "We're constantly driven to buy, buy, buy, especially things we're not interested in."

I combed the hair of a My Scene Barbie. "I agree," I said.

"Half the stuff you see ads for are things you'll never buy, and never want to buy. But you see ads for them so often you'll end up buying them anyway."

"Erg," I said, clutching my stomach. "Just got a sudden twinge. I think I need the Purple Pill."

"What's the Purple Pill do again?"

I shrugged.

My wife set her Nikes (Just Do It) on the coffee table. "And politicians are no help. They're all in cahoots. President Bush's method of fixing the economy is not to make sure people earn fair wages, but to tell everyone to spend money at the mall."

"Netflix!" I shouted.

We stared at each other for a long time.

"I'm not sure how that fits -- but OK," she said.

"You don't even have to go to the mall with Netflix. They mail movies right to you. No late fees." I nodded to myself. "Of course, certain movies aren't available yet. Like 'King Kong.' She's a blonde beauty afraid of love. He's a 25-foot gorilla afraid of flash photography. Together, they're afraid of losing the one thing they never knew they needed -- each other. It's the classic tale of comedy, romance and swashbuckelry. Two thumbs up! Only in theaters."

She was quiet after that, and we settled on the couch with some Orville Redenbacher's popcorn and a lineup of NBC's Must-See TV on the Magnavox. The glare from our incredibly efficient and long-lasting GE light bulbs reflected on the screen, so we snuggled by Yankee Candlelight. Later that night, we both Left The Rest To Lunesta*, set the Sleep Number Bed for a long snooze, and dreamed of a long future with each other and insurance for just pennies a day from Colonial Penn.

* Warning: Lunesta may cause irritability, dry mouth, depression, inadvertent nocturnal diarrhea, sleep aid addiction, sexual side effects best left undescribed, jimmylegs, sleeplessness and random attacks by large glowing butterflies.
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