The fabulists' brunch

Stephen Glass and I nursed cups of coffee at the usual booth when James Frey arrived for our regular monthly brunch at the Denny's on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst. Traffic flowed through the suburban landscape outside the window. Glass stirred two packets of sugar into his mug as Frey sidled into his seat.

"James! Glad you made it," Glass said. "How have things been since you jumped the couch on Oprah?"

Frey's face was stubbled. He blinked at us with that deer-in-the-headlights look, then broke into a wide grin. "Sometimes you eat the worm, and sometimes the worm eats you," he shrugged.

"Give me a break," Glass said. "Within the week of Oprah, you went from #4 to #3 at Amazon. How many copies of Million Pieces sold last month?"

"Thirteen thousand, four hundred and eighty-two."

"That's still more than most books sell during their entire run," said Glass, lifting his coffee mug in salute. "The wages of sin aren't bad at all, compadre."

A relative newbie, I am privileged to keep such august company as friends. Our monthly get-togethers at Denny's for waffles and pork products -- going on 12 or so years now -- give us a chance to compare notes and hone the craft of confabulation.

Glass's cell phone chirped a reedy version of Jackson Browne's "The Pretender." He flipped it open and listened intently.

"It's Jayson," he told us. "He's held up on patrol with the 172nd Stryker Brigade outside Mosul, and is running late. He says to go ahead and order."

"Poor guy," Frey said. "I hope he has some decent body armor."

Jayson Blair came around the corner, smiling widely. "Ah-ha! Gotcha!" Blair said with a measure of pride, showing how he crinkled cellophane from a cigarette package near his cell phone to create an authentic imitation of static.

After another round of greetings and handshakes, Blair sat and considered his options on the breakfast menu. "So James," he said, "what are you working on these days besides your pallor?"

"Actually, the story of the whole debacle has been optioned by Ron Howard," Frey said. "Will Ferrell signed up to play me on the big screen."

"Really?" Glass asked.

"No," Frey replied.

"Don't sweat it," Glass said. "Who was it that said there are no second acts in life? Don't forget that Clifford Irving did nine more books after The Autobiography of Howard Hughes."

"Speaking of Cliff, I talked with him just the other day," said Bair. "You wouldn't believe what happened to him. He was the victim of black market trafficking in human transplant tissue. He had the misfortune of receiving Peter Jennings' hip, and now has insatiable cravings for back bacon sandwiches."

"Really?" Frey asked.

"No, not really," Blair replied.

"Look over there," said Glass, gesturing towards a familiar middle-aged black woman in a booth across the restaurant. "Isn't that Janet Cooke?" The woman glanced over at our table, then swiveled in her seat to face away from us, focusing intently on her platter.

"You wouldn't believe what happened to me last week," said Frey. "Some punk tried to jack my Land Rover. Put a gun to my head at a red light. I closed the window on his arm, grabbed his gun, and got out to beat the crap out of him. When the cops showed up, I punched one of them too. Took six cops and two tasers to arrest me. Spent three months in jail for that."

"Really?" asked Blair.

"No," said Frey.

"You don't own a Land Rover, do you?" Blair asked.

"No," Frey said. "That was a detail I changed to protect the identity of my car."

Such skill! I can only hope that some work of mine might show some small measure of the talent represented at this table. With these guys in my corner, there's no telling where I'll go.

The waitress arrived at our table with a tray laden with platters. She looked tired and bored, as though her feet ache and the rent's overdue, but managed to smile weakly.

"Who ordered the Moons Over My Hammy," she asked.

"I did!" we piped up in unison, collapsing into laughter.


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