I am not alone this Friday. Much of the county — certainly North County, where I am holed up, my foot encased in fiberglass and elevated — is rendered nearly as immobile as I am. It is, in a way, perversely reassuring that I am at one with, I figure, thousands of San Diegans on this last weekend in February, people who would otherwise be out tonight in a lust-for-leisure activity-seeking mission to leave the work week behind. Now, so much of the town and county, my fellow citizens and neighbors, are forced onto my turf, curled up with a book — or in my case, a stack of them — listening to wind’s lash of rain at the windows and rising to the challenge: how well can you entertain yourself? Or, really: to what extent can you abide your own company on a Friday night?
“This year is the worst in the four years I’ve been here. It’s been a pretty rough winter,” said Jiliana D’Amato, who works at the Harbor Pelican Deli and Mart at the Oceanside Harbor. “It was just raining. But pretty soon, the palm trees were just bending over.” — “Another Storm is Expected Tomorrow,” by Robert Krier: U.T. staff writer, 2/23/08. This appeared Saturday morning with the lead, “Get ready for a rerun of yesterday’s wet, blustery conditions.”
Certainly this is a valid topic on the subject of Fridays and Friday nights. Sooner or later we all encounter a wet and likely a somewhat discouraging one. Myself, I am hardly discouraged. If anything, I must monitor myself for any deranged cackling and the muttering to myself of welcome to my world.
In my son’s apartment in San Marcos, there is no shortage of reading material, though it is almost exclusively fantasy and science fiction, much of which I have supplied to him over time. I have probably more than the usual capacity for this kind of thing (having written the stuff for some years), but even I will cry “Uncle!” after a number of sentences along the lines of, “Captain Burt Dirk fondled the hilt of his vibra-blade and ran a palm over his cleft chin. ‘The Dragonoids of Altair IV will wish they never heard the name Dirk!’” And so it was an act of artistic mercy that one of my son’s friends retrieved from his mother’s house a copy of A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. An Oprah Selection.
I had never heard of the book. I was unaware of the sales figures or the huge controversy surrounding the thing.
After removing the Oprah sticker, I scanned passages such as, “If you do what the book [Alcoholics Anonymous] says, you will be cured. If you follow their righteous path, that path will lead you straight to redemption. If you join the club, you’re the lucky winner of a lifelong supply of bullshit. Meetings full of whining, complaining, and blaming. Praise Be the Glory. I want to get down on my knees.... Near the end, there is a section of testimonials.... They were all alcoholic disasters, they all found God, they all started dancing the Twelve Step, they all got better. As with most testimonials like this that I’ve read or heard or been forced to endure, something about them strikes me as weak, hollow, and empty. Though the people in them are no longer drinking or doing drugs, they’re still living with the obsession. Though they have achieved sobriety, their lives are based on the avoidance, discussion and vilification of the chemicals they once needed and loved. Though they function as human beings, they function because of their Meetings their Dogma and their God. Take away their Meetings and their Dogma and they have nothing. Take them away and they are back where they started. They have an addiction.”
The passage echoes my own worst thoughts, mostly unexpressed. It is a sentiment I have heard from others in the program about their early days in AA, usually accompanied by self-deprecating laughter. Reading this, I sense a sickly smile on my features, as if after throwing up. I may have said aloud, “Let it rain.”
Rather than escape in any form — from the rain, pain in my foot and leg, certain oppressive, existential facts of my life these days — this looks to be nearly 500 pages, maybe half a pound of concave mirror with its own gravity field, drawing me in, down, unable to turn away, bitterly muttering to myself with a half-mad half-smile, God, yes.
Before settling in to read, I check the weather online.
“Beaches from the border to Silver Strand State Beach in southern Coronado are closed because of contaminated sewage from the Tijuana River. A general advisory warning against water activities for 72 hours after rainfall remains in effect for all coastal waters.”
Returning to the sofa, foot draped over the arm of the thing, I open the book at the beginning. My suspicion is that Mr. Frey will eventually embrace Alcoholics Anonymous by the end of his story. My guess is that Oprah would otherwise have withheld her imprimatur. I don’t know yet. If so, I’m willing to defer to James Frey. At 150 pages or so (as I write this) I am certainly with him so far.
Fast forward, three days later: I was wrong in my suspicion. Over the past two days I have watched Frey on YouTube, dipped into the The Smoking Gun website, and checked out the hysteria surrounding Frey’s use of fictional techniques and flat-out fiction, neither of which went unnoticed by me. Neither of which do I care greatly about. For every transparent fiction in James Frey’s story, there are three truths. I would have liked to have seen Oprah turning on her creation, Frey, as celebrity and best-selling author when (after her Harpo cronies expressed — I don’t know, hurt? betrayal?) she summoned Frey onto the carpet of national television for a sound drubbing and to account for his use of license and invention. If I do get to see it, it may well inspire me to amputate more stickers from copies in bookstores and restore the artistic integrity of the original cover design.
If it remains unclear in any way, let me spit it out: I would and will defend, and vigorously, James Frey’s depiction of his experiences the way he needed to tell it, pausing now and then to applaud the end result.
Rewind to Friday night: It seems the rain will return in force on Sunday. I have prayed for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, and hefting A Million Little Pieces, I am okay with that.