|Art by Gary Tharler|
As you can imagine, being the author of the highly successful and not quite universally acclaimed memoir Pertinent Minkbite, I can’t walk into my local Mayfair without some earnest citizen tapping me on the shoulder, surreptitiously taking in the contents of my basket — Why all the Depends? That’s my little secret, fella — and asking, in a modest but vaguely resentful tone, "Say, Mister Stale, you destroyed your self-respect, hurt your loved ones, blew a career out of the water, baked your liver into a throbbing blintz packed with every two-bit, bunk narcotic known to man, and managed to turn the whole sorry-ass fiasco into a cash cow by banging out a book about it — so hey, I’m as pathetic as you are, how can I convert MY shitty life into big-time lit-bucks?"
At this point, of course, yours truly has a number of options. I can —
A. Maintain that I only resemble the aforementioned "author," pointing out that the whole "Jew-thug" look is not restricted to the ranks of tell-all, my-tracks-are-bigger-than-your-tracks autobiographers, while angrily insisting that I’m actually an up-and-coming paralegal with the firm of Barium, Bornstein, Binge and Purge.
B. Join my ambitious new acquaintance for a nice cup of herbal tea and spend three or four misty-eyed hours listening to how he drove his wife’s Nissan into a utility pole after putting the mortgage up his nose one crazy Saturday with a vicious minx he scooped up at the corner of Curson and Sunset who turned out to be named "Howie."
C. Procure my supplicant’s name, address and phone number, promise to get in touch, and — guilty as charged! — stuff it in the nearest receptacle as soon as he disappears up the houseware aisle.
But I’m kidding, of course. Gratitude is my middle name. I love the little people. And the truth is, it’s time for Jerry to give something back. And so, by way of dispensing a sort of free, Reader’s Digest–condensed version of the actual instructional volume, Market Your Inner Loser: Jerry Stahl’s 10-Step Guide to Going to Hell for Fun and Profit, soon to be gracing self-help shelves at monster book-and-cappuccino chains near you, I’ve agreed to let my good friends at L.A. Weekly publish a trio of tips to help the interested reader get started on the road to turning his or her fucked-up, destructive yesterday into an exciting, profitable and only marginally fucked-up tomorrow.STEP ONE: BE THE BIGGEST LOSER YOU CAN BE!
Not to diminish anyone’s personal trauma — it’s fucking horrible, and whoever hurt you should be hung by their thumbs, doused in Karo and fed to fire ants — but the fact is, the pain market’s been glutted. Incest is over. Addiction’s old news. Satanic possession won’t get a return call from Montel’s valet. So get creative! Think white slavery. Think "Mommy dated Manson." (You’ve been hurt, damnit! You can’t be expected to get every little detail right.) The rule here: Embellish, embellish, embellish! What are they gonna do? Put you in memoir jail? Relax!
Your mom beat you with salad tongs? Make it a lead pipe! Your stepdad had less concept of boundaries than Hitler invading Poland? Sorry, we’ve already heard that story. Remember, this is America, where one-downsmanship is a national sport. Everybody’s been abused, and if they haven’t, those recovered memories are just around the corner. Sure, it sounds callous. But don’t shoot the messenger. I’ve got as much DFC (Dysfunctional Family Cred) as the next guy. My mom used to chase me around the house with an enema the size of a turkey baster — and that’s when I was being a good boy!STEP TWO: IT’S YOUR LIFE, SO PUT SOME CELEBRITIES IN IT
People destroy their lives all the time. But, sad to say, when it comes to the grim business of shopping said destruction and expecting to get paid for it, folks are going to want names.
Okay. Let’s say your story takes place in the less than glamorous, not very erotically charged world of professional dry cleaning. Much as you’ve suffered, you may say to yourself, "What chance do I have of foisting my personal hell on Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch?" Happily, there is a solution. Did you say dry cleaning? Fine. How ’bout the time you were so loaded on those 10 Fentanyl patches stuck to your neck, you fried a dozen Armani blazers, reeled out from behind the counter and passed out on Brian Dennehy’s lap in the frozen-yogurt shop next door? Oh sure, maybe it didn’t exactly happen that way. Maybe it wasn’t even Brian Dennehy. But, jeezy-peezy, in the grips of a monstro synthetic-morphine buzz, who’s going to expect 100 percent accurate lap-identification? If it wasn’t Dennehy, maybe it was Mariah Carey, or Bob De Niro. How ’bout Zak Hanson? He likes yogurt. Readers — and more important, publishers — understand. They know what you’ve been through. They’re on your team.