Percent of Las Vegans who say, “Well, you came to the right place!” when I tell them that I moved to Las Vegas to write a book on deception: 100.
Percent of Las Vegans who moved to the city “to get away from some things” or “because [they] needed a change”: 100.
Number one Las Vegas living tip I receive from people in clubs: “Stay away from the casino.”
Number one Las Vegas living tip I receive from people in the casinos: “Stay away from the clubs.”
The following is a real conversation I just had with my British roommate:
Her: Can I have a muffin?
Me: I don’t have any muffins.
Her: You bought them yesterday. I was right there.
Me: At the supermarket? No I didn’t.
Her: They’re right here.
(She pulls a bag of English muffins from the refrigerator.)
Me: Oh, you mean English muffins.
Her: Yeah, muffins.
I just finished up the first draft of the introduction to my new book, Fool’s Paradise, and I wanted to share it with all of you first. As always, praise is welcome, feedback tolerated.
Kidding; I’d love to hear anything and everything you have to say.
THE BRUTALLY HONEST INTRODUCTION TO MOST UNCOMMONLY GENUINE BOOK YOU’LL EVER READ
By Rick Lax
Lying and publishing go together like James Frey and crack. Every morning I head to the bookstore and page through men's magazines that promise me six-pack abs in 30 days and mind-blowing sex with supermodels. Sometimes I browse bestsellers that teach me how to cure cancer with milk, how to get rich by working four hours a week, and how to use the “Law of Attraction” to control the entire universe with my mind. I find these books in the nonfiction section.
My local Barnes & Noble also carries the following books, all shelved in nonfiction:
• Awakening Your Psychic Powers
• The Astrology Bible
• How Not To Look Old: Fast And Effortless Way To Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better
• Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days
• Vibrational Medicine
• The Basics of Winning The Lotto/Lottery
• When Ghosts Speak: Understanding The World of Earthbound Spirits
• Magick Cauldron: A Witch’s Guide to Casting and Conjuring
• Practical Candleburning Rituals
Until recently, I didn’t care that so many books were filled with lies. It didn’t affect me. I always identified and accounted for the deceptions and misrepresentations up front. When I picked up Get Anyone To Do Anything, I hoped to find a few tips on persuasion; I didn’t actually believe reading the book would give me absolute control over the entire human race. When I read, Think and Grow Rich, I knew that despite what the book’s title implied, there’d be more steps involved.
But then I read James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. I had no clue that book was filled with fabrications, and no clue that the fabrications would have such a devastating effect on my life. To explain how, exactly, Frey’s lies devastated me, I have to tell you something that until recently I’d only revealed to my parents, my closest friends, two of my ex-girlfriends, and a handful of social workers. I wasn’t planning on discussing this in Fool’s Paradise, but my editor assured me that “this kind of personal revelation builds trust with readers.” So here goes: I was addicted to alcohol for just under three years. From early 2003 to late 2005, to be specific. Scotch, to be really specific. My addiction wasn’t nearly as bad as James Frey’s, but it was bad alright. To make a long story short: my grades plummeted, my friendships suffered, and my relationships ended—particularly the one with my liver. The booze left me defeated, hopeless, and alone. If that sounds cliché, go to an addiction support group meeting and you’ll see that no matter the age, no matter the sex, no matter the job, and no matter the drug, all addicts go through the same breakdown and the same steps to recovery.
I saw James Frey on Oprah in October of 2005. I read his book, and then things took a turn for the better. People say this all the time—particularly on Oprah, come to think of it—so it too has become somewhat of a cliché, but in my case, it was absolutely true: the book changed my life. A Million Little Pieces broke through my hopelessness and loneliness. Frey had been through what I’d been through—worse, even (!)—and made it through. So maybe I could too. As I read the book a second and third time—for a month I carried it with me like a Bible—I began to rekindle friendships and restore relationships. I even started jogging. Bought a tracksuit and everything.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one whose life Frey’s book had touched; shortly after the Oprah appearance, Frey’s book rose to they number one slot on the New York Times Bestseller List. Within six months’ A Million Little Pieces had sold three million copies. That number alone, three million, comforted me. I felt like I was part of something bigger, a nationwide recovery.
In early 2006, I read TheSmokingGun.com’s exposé of Frey’s book, which revealed how Frey had fabricated large parts of his memoir. Among other things, the website revealed that Frey had only been in jail for a few hours, not the 87 days he had claimed, and that Frey hadn’t actually been involved with the train accident in which two girls died.
Shortly after the exposé was published, Frey admitted to Larry King that he had exaggerated some parts of his book. He also defended his decisions to do so: “A memoir is a subjective retelling of events. In every case, I did the best I could to recreate my life according to my memoir of it.” Oprah called in and defended Frey, but a few days later, she invited Frey back onto her show and told him that she felt “duped.”
“Duped” isn’t the right word to describe what I felt. “Duped” is how I felt when I learned that the mini-blender I had ordered from the infomercial required way more cleaning than the TV pitchman had led me to believe. Shattered is how I felt when I learned that my literary beacon of hope was a sham. I didn’t leave my parents’ house for a week. When I finally did leave the house for the first time, I drove to Blockbuster, where I ran into my eleventh grade math teacher Mrs. Strauss. She asked whether everything was okay, and that was all it took; I burst into tears, and she hugged me for two minutes, right there in the New Releases section.
Random House promoted A Million Little Pieces as a “brutally honest” and “uncommonly genuine” memoir. It’s unclear whether Random House meant that most memoirs aren’t genuine or that the genuineness of Frey’s memoir surpassed the genuineness of most other memoirs, but either way, Random House was wrong. That much was made clear to Random House when readers in California, Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Washington banded together and filed class action lawsuits against the publishing giant, charging it and Frey with fraud, breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and violations of various state statutes based on unfair or deceptive acts and practices. In June of 2006, the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York consolidated the lawsuits, and in September of 2006, the parties settled and Random House agreed to pay $2,350,000 in damages.
Frey wasn’t the first dishonest memoirist to get caught, and he certainly wasn’t the last. In 2008, Riverhead Books published Love and Consequences, the memoir of Half-white, half-Native American author Margaret Jones, who grew up in South-Central Los Angeles and worked as a drug runner for a gang leader at the age of 13. Thing is, Margaret Jones was really Margaret Seltzer, who grew up in a rich neighborhood and is 100% white.
Also in 2008, Jewish Holocaust survivor Misha Defonseca, whose book Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Years had been translated into 18 languages, admitted that she wasn’t Jewish and that she had spent the war years in Brussels. Defonseca issued a press statement similar to the one Frey made on Larry King Live: “Ever since I can remember, I felt Jewish...There are times when I find it difficult to differentiate between reality and my inner world. The story in the book is mine. It is not the actual reality—it was my reality, my way of surviving.”
Memoirists aren’t the only writers prone to fabrication. New York Times Staff Reporter Jayson Blair fabricated hundreds of facts for his articles on the war in Iraq, the DC Sniper case, and other issues of national and international significance. Blair’s most honest stories, it turned out, were the ones he plagiarized from the Associated Press and other media outlets.
Stephen Glass, a New Republic Staff Reporter, made up the majority of his stories, including the one he wrote about a fifteen-year-old computer hacker who was hired as an information security for a California software developer called Jukt Micronics. The New Republic editor Charles Lane grew suspicious of Glass after he couldn’t find any proof of the existence of Jukt Micronics. As Lane’s investigation progressed, Glass got his brother to pose as a Jukt executive and confirm the story’s details. Further investigation revealed that Glass had set up a shell Jukt website and voicemail account to deceive The New Republic fact checkers. Glass also produced Jukt memorandums and Jukt business cards.
When we hear about dishonest journalists and memoirists like Glass, Blair, Defonseca, Jones, and Frey, our instinct is to rope them off. “File Frey’s book in fiction,” we demand, forgetting that a made-up memoir is different from a novel. “How could they have done that?” we ask, as if we ourselves are immune to the pull of money, success, sympathy, empathy, attention, and fame. We mock and shun these discredited authors on our blogs, in our columns, and at cocktail parties, and part of the reason we engage in this psychological separation is so we can continue believing that the rest of writers we read are fully truthful. That our journalist of choice is incapable of bias, that our state representative doesn’t make empty promises, that the scientists upon whose data we rely doesn’t fabricate data, and yes, that our favorite memoirist would never lie.
I could tell you that I never lie, but, well, that’d be a lie. I could tell you that “I don’t have it in me to lie,” or that “It’s not in my nature,” but I do and it is. And I’ve got news for you: you’ve got it in you too. Lying is most certainly in your nature. And if you think otherwise, well, you’ve just proven my point by deceiving to yourself.
British scientist Richard Wiseman carried out a survey with the help of The Daily Telegraph in which majority of respondents admitted to lying about “important” matters every day. Over 60% admitted to having cheated on their partner, and over 80% of the respondents admitted to having lied to secure a job. 60 and 80 percent of people admitted doing these things. It figures that many (if not most) people who had lied at work or to their partners would either lie about having done so or simply not respond to survey.
American researches have made similar findings. Dr. David Knox at East Carolina University found that 92% of students admitted to lying to sexual partners. In The Day America Told the Truth, authors Patterson and Kim reported that 90% of Americans polled admitted that they lied. They lied about their feelings, their income, their accomplishments, their sex life, and their age.
After Richard Wiseman’s Daily Telegraph survey results came in, he conducted an experiment in which he took over a National Newsagent and instructed the cashiers to give customers too much change. Customers who paid with a five-pound note received cash for a ten-pound note. Customers who paid with a ten received change for a twenty.
How many of the customers took the extra cash?
All of them.
Many of them walked out of the shop smiling.
Wiseman suspected that some of the customers were taking the change because they hadn’t notice they’d been overpaid, so the researchers instructed to the cashiers to count the change aloud.
How many customers took still the extra cash?
All of them.
The researches then went one step further and instructed the cashiers to count the money into the subjects’ hands and then directly ask the subjects the value of the note they had used. According to Wiseman, “Almost no one told the truth. Interestingly, the shoppers often didn’t lie straight away but checked that the cashier had no way of knowing which denomination they had used (‘Can’t you look in the drawer?’) before calling the situation in their favor.”
When you read about Wiseman’s study, you think that you would be different. You think that you’d be the one person to give the change back. You’d be the honest one. You probably also think that if you sat down to write a book about yourself, you’d be fully honest.
I bet you’re wrong about that too.
When an author sits down to write about herself, she’s thrust into a position similar to that of Wiseman’s National Newsagent subjects: the benefits of lying are clear and easily within reach, and the odds of getting caught appear miniscule.
With that in mind, I kindly ask that you cast the first stone as I reveal that I was I was never actually addicted to alcohol. I can’t stand the taste of scotch. I have no idea whether “all addicts go through the same shit,” and part of the reason I don’t know is that I never read A Million Little Pieces. For all I know, addictions are like snowflakes, each one unique. My editor never told me that “personal revelations build trust with readers,” but I’m sure they do. I don’t jog, and I never bought a Nike tracksuit. I never had an eleventh grade teacher named Mrs. Strauss, and I don’t cry in public.
I said those things to show you that like James Frey, Margaret Seltzer, Misha Defonseca, Jayson Blair, and Stephen Glass, I’m capable of lying. I couldn’t have just said, “I’m capable of lying,” because you might have viewed my admission as false moral modesty. I needed to show you that I’m actually capable of lying.
And so I am. When I walk from the bookstore back to my apartment and a homeless person asks me for spare change and I tell him that I don't have any. When I reach my building and my doorman asks how my night was and I tell him it was good even if it wasn't, because I don't want to start a discussion about whatever happens to be wrong with the lie I sometimes add an “f” to and call my life.
I’m also capable of telling the truth, and in admitting my capability to deceive, I’ve demonstrated this much. I plan to do a lot truth telling in the following pages, but I’m not asking you to believe this because “I never lie,” or because “Lying is not in my nature.” Like I said, I do and it is. It’s in everybody’s nature. I’m telling you that the following story is true simply because I chose to tell it that way. Here’s why: I’m terrified of getting caught. I’ve spent the past year studying lying and deception and learning about what happens to those who get caught doing it. People get fired and go to jail, corporations go into bankruptcy, contracts are rescinded, marriages break apart, and families dissolve. It’s not worth the risk. Not for me, at least. Publishers often force discredited writers to return advances, and yank their books from the shelves.
You bargained for a nonfiction book, and that’s what you’re going to get.
Is it 100% accurate?
Of course it’s not 100% accurate.
For legal purposes, I changed the names and identifying characteristics of those involved. For practical purposes, I reconstructed dialogues and slightly altered the timeline of events. And occasionally, I changed minor details for comedic/dramatic purposes (e.g., I didn’t actually read the books Get Anyone To Do Anything or Think and Grow Rich; I just spotted them on the shelf and flipped through them. I didn’t actually order the infomercial mini-blender; I just thought about it).
So, no, this book isn’t 100% truthful. But it’s in the high 90s. I don’t know the exact percentage, but I know that it’s high enough that I feel comfortable, both legally and morally, telling you this: The following is a true story.
It’s official: my apartment receives the worst TV channels in the history of American television.
I get three Home Shopping channels, three Spanish-speaking channels, one channel that only shows Las Vegas City Council meetings, another channel that only shows Las Vegas City Council sub-committee meetings, a handful of networks that broadcast Everybody Loves Raymond and King of the Hill at least twenty hours a day. Also TBS.
My roommate’s DVD player is broken too.
Okay, Lawyer Boy’s got a legal story. Here goes. On Tuesday I met a Las Vegan named Natalie at Borders. Tonight she and I decided to grab drinks at Bellagio. We sat down at the bar in a restaurant called Sensi, and about 30 seconds after we sat down, Geoffrey Fieger sat down next to us.
For those of you who don’t know the man, Geoffrey Fieger is an eccentric trial lawyer based in Michigan. His most famous case was that of assisted suicide proponent Dr. Jack Kevorkian (aka Dr. Death). Fieger was at Bellagio giving a lecture to a group of Plaintiff’s Attorneys along with Bill Maher.
So RIGHT after he sat down—and I have no idea how I pulled this off—I said, “Natalie, this is Geoffrey. Geoffrey, this is Natalie.” As if I were expecting this to happen. We talked for about an hour, and at the end of it, Fieger asked, “How long have you two known each other?”
“The majority of the time we’ve known each other has been spent in your presence.”
He didn’t believe it.
Oh, the coolest moment of the conversation was when Fieger called his three kids “unfuckingbelievable.” You could tell by the way he said it that he meant it.
Two times this week people have ended conversations with me by saying, “Oh, by the way, if you actually write about this, somebody will probably try to kill you.” And that’s not counting the girl who told me, “If you write about this, you’ll have a team of lawyers on your ass so fast your butt will spin.”
I just finished the first 50 pages of my upcoming book, FOOL’S PARADISE: A Magician-Turned-Lawyer Investigates Deception in The City Built on Lies.
Here are three of my favorite sentences:
-“Lying and publishing go together like James Frey and crack.”
-“These women weren’t dressed like your typical prostitutes; these women were dressed like prostitutes, who, for Halloween, had decided to dress up as slutty hookers.”
“The mogul hired a philharmonic orchestra to underscore the 1,200-nozzel/50-million dollar dancing fountains’ debut with the sounds of Debussy’s Clair de Lune (the song from the end of Ocean’s Eleven) and Copland’s Appalachian Spring (the song from everything else except clashes between good and evil, which are set to Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana).”
(By the way, what do you think of the book’s working title: FOOL’S PARADISE: A Magician-Turned-Lawyer Investigates Deception in The City Built on Lies?
Last night I was playing poker at Bellago, sitting next to a guy from the town next to my hometown. (I’m from West Bloomfield, Michigan, he was from Farmington Hills, Michigan).
He lost a big pot, got pissed, and folded his cards harder and faster than I’ve ever seen anyone fold cards. They flew across the table, caught the air, and flew back up and into the shoulder of the guy sitting across from him.
“Sir, if that card had hit my face, we’d be stepping outside to discuss.”
The folder got up from the table and the drama ended there.
IN OTHER NEWS
I’m watching over my roommate’s cat Monkey Bunny and not hating it, even though cats are evil and will take over the world the first chance they get. This cat is okay, one of the good ones, but only because it acts like a dog sometimes. Big fan of head butting me too. I’ve taken to head butting it back. Usually this gets no reaction.
Last night at Starbucks I met the girl pictured above, who makes her living shooting a bow and arrow with her feet. Said she never misses.
I’m going around Las Vegas introducing myself to everybody I meet and asking for advice on living in the city. Everybody—really, EVERYBODY—is giving me a variation on the same speech:
“My best advice is don’t trust anybody. There are so many fake people here, and so many people will lie to you, so watch your back.”
Everybody thinks they’re the ONE trustworthy person in the city and that everybody else is out to get them.
I don’t think the math checks out on that one.
IN OTHER NEWS
Last night I went to Rain Nightclub at Palms with my friend Andrew the Actor. $30. Couldn’t get around it. We did get around waiting in line, though. Had a front-of-line pass. Yes, it was packed. Yes, everybody was looking good. But no, it wasn’t ALL that different from some of the Chicago clubs. The differences: they had a stage show, girls handing from wires and fabrics, which was different, and they had fire coming out of various metallic tubes and pipes.
Then Andrew and I went to the Playboy Club and Moon at Palms. Andrew’s manager set this up, so we didn’t have to pay or wait in line for that. And guess what: we had more fun there. Easier to meet people, for sure, but everybody was older and more boring than us.
Tomorrow I’m doing drinks with a “dancer.” Wish me luck.