Three Older Women Stand in Line to Yell at the Author James Frey when Malcolm-Jamal Warner Stops By with a Two-Liter of Cherry Coke Under
By Greg Boose
June 14, 2010
Helen: I’m really going to let him have it.
Susan: Oh, Helen, you’re too much.
Helen: He deserves it for what he did.
Rita: Well, don’t just get up there and immediately blow up at the jerk. You have to take him by surprise by being nice and sweet, and then you can let him have it.
Helen: He just makes me so mad!
Susan: He’s a liar.
Helen: Absolutely. I told you ladies about my brother, right?
Susan: You sure did.
Rita: I didn’t hear this.
Helen: Well, I hate to say this but my brother, Roger, is an alcoholic.
Rita: Oh, dear. I didn’t know that. I’m sorry.
Helen: It’s okay, not a lot of people know. Roger’s an alcoholic but he was trying to get better – he’s been trying for years – and so I went out and bought him James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” a few Christmases agothat everyone was talking about at the time.
Susan: And he started reading it that night, right Helen?
Helen: He sure did, Susan, and by the next morning he was crying. I found him just like that – crying at the kitchen table with his face buried in the pages. I walked in and he looked at me and told me he was sorry for everything – for stealing from my purse, for stealing my watch –
Rita: Oh my! Your watch, even?
Susan: All for drugs, right Helen?
Helen: Right – for drugs, which I didn’t know he was also doing at the time. So he cries and cries, and tells me about all these things he’s done and they’re all just so awful I don’t even want to tell you.
Rita: That’s awful.
Helen: It sure was. It was the most trying time in my life, I’ll tell you what. But then Roger read this Frey guy’s book and it really hit him hard. He sobered up, got a job at the mall as a security guard and everything. I even started to let my boys go over there and help him repaint his house, and Roger, my sweet little brother, he even started calling me a few times a week just to catch up.
Rita: That’s great!
Susan: Just hold on, Rita. Hold on.
Helen: But then everything comes out how it’s all, the book, you know, a bunch of lies.
Susan: A million pieces of lies!
Helen: That’s right! A million little pieces of lies!
Rita: A million pieces of lies!
Helen: So I get a phone call from Roger. October fourth. I remember that day. He’s screaming about how he was on the Internet and saw that James Frey lied about all those things in his book. Things that Roger really related to. Things that taught him a lesson. He’s crying and saying everything felt different and fake now.
Helen: Well, then, I mean. He stopped calling me and won’t return any of mine. My poor boys, bless their hearts, say he won’t even come outside to help them paint. We all think he’s, you know, drinking and doing drugs again.
Helen: All because that son of a bitch lied.
Helen: Well, I’m sorry but that’s what he is.
Malcolm-Jamal Warner: Excuse me.
MJW: Hi, I couldn’t help but hear you guys talking about –
Susan: Hey! Aren’t you…Aren’t you a Cosby kid?
MJW: Yeah, that’s me. I was on that show. My name’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner.
MJW: Yeah. That’s right, Theo. I’m sorry to bother you.
Susan: It’s no bother at all, Theo!
MJW: Right. I was just waiting for my friend right over there and couldn’t help but overhear your story. That’s really sad about your brother and I’m sorry to hear that. Oh, would you like some of my Cherry Coke?
Rita: Do you have cups?
MJW: Right here in my pocket. Nope. Oh, here they are.
Susan: Oh my. Well thank you, Theo.
Rita: Thank you very much.
MJW: And how about you? Would you care for some Cherry Coke?
Helen: No thank you.
Susan: I just loved you as Theo. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to say that.
MJW: It’s okay – it was a great character to play.
Rita: I don’t know it. What show was it?
Susan: The Cosby Show, Rita! Bill Cosby’s show.
Rita: I’m sorry – we didn’t have television. My husband wouldn’t allow it.
MJW: Oh, it’s okay. It was just a television show from a long time ago. But the reason I came over is to say that I also read “A Million Little Pieces,” and that I myself have family members who are alcoholics and using drugs.
Helen: And aren’t you just furious when you found out it was all a bunch of lies?
Susan: A million pieces of lies!
Rita: A million pieces of lies!
Susan: We’re furious. Just like Oprah was.
Rita: Yes – we’re as mad as Oprah was when she had him back on the show. Aren’t you mad?
MJW: Well, I don’t know. I was a little hurt when I originally heard because I found the book’s details to be so moving and inspirational. Between the four of us, I cried a couple of times.
Rita: Me, too.
Susan: I won’t tell a soul, Theo.
MJW: I was angry, you know what I’m saying, that I got so emotional over a book that I believed to be pure fact; a memoir. But I’ve talked it over with a few people – including an older cousin of mine who’s an alcoholic and has read his book – and we both decided that it’s okay. Now I’m not saying it’s okay for him to say it was all true, but more that it’s okay for those passages and stories to be out there for people to believe them as truth. Let people believe that these things really happened, and let them take away from it what they will. Some of the best fiction can teach some of life’s most serious lessons.
Helen: But they marketed it as nonfiction. It says right on there that it’s a memoir. He’s a liar. The publishers are liars, too.
Susan: That’s right, Helen!
MJW: You’ve got to stop looking at it that way. Mr. Frey didn’t do you any personal harm by embellishing the truth or with his lies, as you call them, but rather he seemed to have helped quite a few people who read his book and saw the dark side of a dark disease. Your brother relapsing is not Frey’s fault; it’s your brother’s fault. He has a disease. A book doesn’t change that. A work of fiction doesn’t change that. Listen, do you understand how many people still come up to me and say that they learned a life-lesson from my character on that show?
Susan: It was such a great show.
MJW: And that show taught people about things like dyslexia, Shakespeare, jazz, designer shirts, the great Martin Luther King, and the empowerment of women. They learned it all from watching a fake television family with plot holes and a magical doctor’s office somewhere in the basement. I’m sorry, would you care for some more Cherry Coke?
Susan: I’ll take a little more.
Rita: No more for me, thanks.
MJW: There’s my friend coming in over there. Look – I’m sorry to barge into your conversation like that. I have to go.
Susan: It was so nice to meet you.
Rita: Yes, it was.
MJW: You should rent a movie I’m in called “Contradictions of the Heart.” It’s three interconnected stories about the contradictions people live regarding love, sex, friendship and race. Vanessa Williams stars in it.
Rita: Well, he was certainly nice.
Susan: He certainly was.
Rita: Oh, it looks like the line might finally start to move.
Helen: Good. I can’t wait to let him have it. I’m really going to tear that James Frey a new one.
Susan: But what about what Mr. Theo-Jamal Warner just said?
Helen: Now, Susan. You know I don’t trust black people.