So, again, relax. You want to march out that gripping saga of your "dark years" as a claims adjuster for Aetna Life & Casualty? Start typin’, amigo! Just make sure, when you’re prancing through the A story about those stolen hours sharing amphetamine suppositories and consensual sex with a certain one-legged systems analyst in the exec washroom, you toss in a B about the time you found yourself, in the grips of a five-day generic-gin binge, caressing Neve Campbell’s dented bumper for an hour and a half before the Fire Department had to show up with the Jaws of Life and pluck your tongue out of her exhaust pipe.
In Pertinent Minkbite, for the record, I managed to work in David Lynch, Bruce Willis, Cybill Shepherd, Jack Klugman, Nirvana and, if memory serves, the pope, each of whom, while hugely peripheral to the drama at hand, lent invaluable "celeb cachet" when snagging a contract. To sum up: Whatever your line of nightmare, find a way to work in some famous people, and you’re home free.
But, speaking of celebrities, allow me to get personal for a moment. Many fans have asked if I’m going to write about my much-rumored, short-lived liaison with Monica Lewinsky now that the trial’s over and Ms. L herself is set to pump out a tell-all with the late Princess Di’s biographer. ("Mons," as I used to call her, was a frolicsome 15, with baby fat in her cheeks and a heart as big as all outdoors; I was an after-school math tutor, working with "problem teens" as part of a community-service deal worked out with the court and my P.O. after a minor possession beef. The whole crazy thing was over in a month.)
The answer — and this may surprise those who view your author as some amoral, bottom-feeding fame-whore, ready to trample infants and old ladies in hopes of scraping a dime out of his own tainted history — is a firm, unwavering NO. What I had with Monica —if I had anything, and I’m not saying I did — was a beautiful, special, once-in-a-lifetime and, frankly, highly illegal relationship with a minor. So, alas, the love we may or may not have shared shall remain unchronicled. For now. Roman Polanski’s got an extra little room at his place in the south of France, and, well, let’s just see what the top garçon at Editions Paris has to say about my latest outline . . .STEP THREE: BIG-SCREEN DEGRADATION, MAKING YOUR LIFE, THE MOVIE
My advice? Get someone else to write the screenplay. Why? That’s easy. When people tell you the thing’s brilliant, you can take all the credit. ("What can I say? I just happened to lead a fascinating life.") Likewise, when folks shun you for consenting to such a despicable spectacle, you’ve got total deniability. ("Hey, I only lived it, baby, I didn’t write the script.")
Either way, everybody knows Holly wood changes everything. In my case, for a couple of tense minutes, one interested indie outfit actually wanted to film my book, but give the lead to Rosie Perez. The idea was to make "me" a talented-but-troubled Latina who climbs the Hollywood ladder, then turns to drugs when, after winning her third Emmy, she joins group therapy and realizes she’s actually a tiny Jew from Pennsylvania. You figure it out!
Perhaps the best way to illustrate what I’m talking about is to say a word or two about the film that really did get made. In the final cut of my life, much of the action centered on my massive involvement with a celebrated sitcom puppet whose rise to prominence in the late ’80s is well documented. As a dramatic device, this was terrific, and provided a zany backdrop for the character’s decline and fall. In truth, however, writing puppet jokes was but a pit stop on the smack-addled path to full-bore collapse.
The real story, of scant interest to the target demographic, was somewhat less glamorous. (If glamour is a word you can associate with ALF.) After being more or less thrown out of the TV business (where I wasn’t that successful to begin with), I ended up downtown, clambering around Eighth and Alvarado on my hands and knees, cadging junk money selling soap chips to sweaterheads from USC who wanted to "try some of that crack stuff" and thought they could trust a white guy.
In short, tell your truth as it happened. But remember, once Mister Movie Producer starts sniffing your pant leg, all bets are off. If you’re lucky, they’ll hire great actors, and it’ll all work out.
And there you are. This may not be enough to get you in the window at Barnes & Noble, but it’s a start. The point is, shame pays. If you’ve led an admirable life, hurry up and fuck it up so you have some material. If you’re already an asshole, what are you waiting for?Jerry Stahl is the author of the memoirPermanent Midnight. His new novel,Perv — A Love Story, will be published in the fall.